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Valley of the Peacock Angel: Martin Malone

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Valley of the Peacock Angel

By Martin Malone

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Titles can be so bloody hard to get right. Ideally, it should derive from something organic within the novel.  Whilst writing a book the title should have the good manners to pop up and hit the author between the eyes – it should shout, ‘Hey! This is my name, duh!’ Unfortunately, this rarely ever happens. Titles are worked and re-worked and very often dropped into the ether for good reason or for marketing purposes(I suppose this is the best of good reasons), or it is the same or similar in title to another book already on the shelves.

My latest novel introduced its name to me very early on in the writing of it – it said, ‘Seeing as you’re writing about a member of the Yezedic religion caught up in this goddamn awful chemical weapon attack – oughtn’t you call me, ‘Valley of the Peacock Angel’?  ‘Valley is where I live, where the nightmare breathed its foggy and its invisible poison of death – Peacock Angel is Lucifer, the Lord of Light, my God – the god I worship.  Centuries ago my people were driven to the mountains to eke out a livelihood, because of my belief in this God.  What else would you call me, this story, this book of yours?’

Valley of the Peacock Angel…started life as a short story.  Unpublished and unseen by an editor, I entered it in The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize.  It was one of three stories written by Irish authors to make the 20 strong longlist.  The story was published in the Sunday Times Magazine in 2012. It will never, I believe, see print in an anthology of short stories penned by Irish writers. Why not?  It isn’t an Irish short story. By that I mean it has no Irish characters. There is no American aspect, no convent, no rural or bog-eyed view of a whimpering Celtic Tiger. Though perhaps there are parallels in terms of a question of identity – but nothing there to show that there’s an Irish eye being cast on the proceedings.  It’s a story of war, of people caught up in the most horrific chemical agents attack ever perpetrated against a civilian population.  It deals with how the past haunts, and the influence of religious ritual and mysticism…

Martin MaloneSo, how does one write from the perspective of a 15 year old Kurdish boy, an Iraqi army officer and a German philanthropist who is partly this in an attempt to expunge his guilt? It was such a difficult challenge. It helped, of course, that I was able to draw on a wealth of experience from my time in the Middle East. I was in Halabja in Iraq some 7 months after it had been turned into a human abattoir. I remember the empty town, soughing wind, mass lime-covered graves. I got to know Iraqi soldiers, drank whiskey with them  – met Kurds too. I attended a Christmas mass in their Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church and left early because an Iraqi soldier began drumming the stock of his AK 47 on the tiled floor. A gross act of intimidation in front of UN personnel…

I tried to write the story from an Irish perspective, but decided not to. I had no business. Not if I wanted to do the story real justice.  Besides, why couldn’t I write it from the abovementioned viewpoints? After all, people are the same the world over – they just want to go from A to Z in their lives with as little shit happening to them as possible.  I wanted to investigate the world through the eyes of people who’d lived through the horror – to explore the question of identity. For instance – very many people are dual passport holders. Is it right that a person can make a solemn oath of allegiance to his adopted country and still insist that he has an allegiance to the country of his birth? I’m not saying that this is wrong. I am saying that I wanted to probe the question of identity.

In my book Razak is an Iraqi Kurd who has to confront those real issues.  He is not seen as an Iraqi by the Iraqis nor as a Kurd by the Kurds…sound familiar? It is when you think Irish-American, Irish-English. Then there was another aspect I felt absolutely driven to write about: that of a German TV producer who sees his Nazi grandfather on TV, in a concentration camp. Gerd is stunned – he had no idea of this man’s past. He is identical in looks to a man whom he worshipped – and this is fuel on an already burning issue with him: his lack of empathy for the Jews of WW II. And what of Cotkar, the Kurdish boy who witnesses the chemical weapon attack on his town?  He goes on to marry a woman called Can, who shares the same name as a young girl with whom he thought was in love. A girl who was one of the 5,000 murdered in the gas attack. It is as though he is searching for a way to bring himself back to the life he had before the slaughter unfolded before his eyes – but the past has a reach, and he finds that he must endure the sin perpetrated against him till death.  There is never a return to before…

Valley of the Peacock Angel is a unique short story and an unique novel – something different on the menu. If the events of Halabja hadn’t been pushed into the shadows by the West – and it was because Iran was the USA’s chief enemy and Iraq its ally – the recent Syrian nerve agent attack on its own people might not have occurred.

Interestingly, the first chapters of three of my novels started out as short stories.  A version of ‘After Kafra‘ was published in a Phoenix Anthology edited by David Marcus. In 2003 Simon & Schuster UK published, ‘The Broken Cedar,‘ a murder mystery, in hardback and paperback. It was later nominated for an IMPAC award.  Again, the first chapter was developed from a published short story entitled ‘Mingi Street.’

So I suppose it’s important for a writer to realise that there perhaps might be other lives in his short story, his play, his poem…

In 2008 New Island published my short story collection, ‘The Mango War and Other Stories.’  These stories, bar two new ones, had been tested in the cauldron of competition. I think it’s important for someone reading the collection to understand that the stories by virtue of competition rules, and editorial determined word limits, run to a pre-determined length. That is to say these stories were ‘bred’ to comply with rules.  And this is not necessarily a good thing for a writer to form as a habit, because you could be choking a hell of a good story to death by not letting it run its natural course. It is though, I think, a sound practice for honing a writer’s attention toward detail and word choice etc.

Valley of the Peacock Angel will feature as a short story in a new collection of short stories to be published by New Island next year.  I’m not too sure if its characters are then going to enjoy a sleep…like I said, some works, some characters, scream out for a larger canvas.

(c) Martin Malone

Martin Malone is the author of five novels, a memoir, a short story collection, several radio plays and he has also written for TV. 

His first novel Us won the John B Keane/Sunday Independent Literature Bursary and was shortlisted for the Kerry Ingredients Irish Fiction Award. His second novel After Kafra was scripted for RTE TV. The Broken Cedar was nominated for an IMPAC Award and shortlisted for a Hughes & Hughes Irish Fiction Award. His short stories have been widely broadcast and published.  

In 2008, he published The Silence of the Glasshouse with New Island, a novel set in Kildare during the civil war, and in 2009, a collection of his short stories, The Mango Wars. In 2010 New Island puiblished The Only Glow of the Day a historical novel based on the Martin’s one-hour play for RTÉ Radio 1, Rosanna Night Walker.

He was longlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Short Prize. In July 2012, The Sunday Times, published an extract from his upcoming novel, Valley of the Peacock Angel  which New Island published in 2013. New Island will also publish a second short story collection in 2014.

He has also won RTE’s Francis MacManus Short Story Competition and the Killarney 250 International Short Story Award.

He has a Masters in Creative Writing (Distinction) from TCD, having gone to college for the first time as a mature student. He is the recipient of several Arts Council Bursaries for Literature. Martin is a former member of the Defence Forces. He served six tours of duty abroad – five tours of duty to Lebanon and one to Iraq.

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