How does what we believe influence our actions when life confronts us with a situation divorced from our everyday experience? As a writer of fiction, this is a theme I find myself returning to over and over with my characters. This is because it’s a question I continually ask of myself.
I grew up in Dublin in the 1960s and had a Christian Brothers education. I was immersed in a belief system, which was a potent fusion of Catholicism and Irish Nationalism. I regarded the statues of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, Daniel O’Connell, and Padraig Pearce with an undifferentiated awe and reverence. History was taught through the lens of what the British did to us for the past eight hundred years. Elsewhere in the world, monumental feats of engineering such as the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal might have been accomplished, revolutionising international trade, but what had that got to do with anything?
I left Ireland in the mid-’70s for a business career, which took me to several parts of the globe. When I returned almost forty years later, the statues and monuments of my youth were still there, but how I viewed them and the significance I attached to them had changed profoundly. So I ask myself, what is ” The Faith of our Fathers” and what role does it continue to play in my life?
In my first novel Fujita 4, a mild-mannered Irish academic, Andrew Burke, has a chance encounter with an escaped death row prisoner. Andrew has a profound moral objection to the death penalty.
Now, this abstract conviction is put to a real-life test. How Andrew addresses this challenge is the narrative of the book.
In my second novel, Analyst Session, Robert Petrie, an aspiring young politician, meets an elderly woman, one of his constituents, who asks for his assistance. Her life ends tragically. Robert comes to the conclusion that the social policies his party espouses contributed to her death. What impact does this realisation have on his future actions?
So much of who we are is shaped, almost unconsciously, by the influences of our upbringing. We walk around encased as it were in a cultural carapace. If life experiences propel us to want to shed all or part of this protective shell, we are compelled to confront what exactly at our core, we believe. Indeed, were we to be denuded of it entirely, would we survive at all? In the Greek myth, the flaying of Marsyas, the satyr Marsyas, having rashly challenged the God Apollo to a musical contest, loses and must endure the forfeit Apollo exacts, which is to be flayed alive. As Apollo sets about his gruesome task, Marsyas asks in bewilderment, “Why are you separating me from myself?”
The Ireland I have returned to is very different from the Ireland of my youth. It seems much more materialistic. The scourge of Covid has thrown up the propensity of our modern society to warehouse our elderly in care homes and asylum seekers to our shores in direct provision centres with lethal consequences for both groups.
In our pandemic-induced lockdown, we can go to hardware stores but not to Mass. What is “The Faith of our Fathers”? Does it have any relevance at all in 21st century Ireland? Or is it part of a cultural carapace which we, as a society, have discarded?
The novel I am currently working on, A Coup in Makati, concerns itself with events that took place in the capital city of the Philippines in December of 1989. There was an abortive coup against the government of President Corazon Aquino. A number of foreign businessmen were trapped in the siege of the business district, Makati. One of my characters is a young sex worker from the provinces. This is a life situation rife with moral ambiguity. In a country where abortion is illegal, contraception is frowned upon, and poverty is abject for the majority, simplistic moral judgements are wholly inappropriate. The population is deeply Catholic, so the lives of sex workers are hugely conflicted. I am trying to give a voice to this young woman and what she has to endure. Of all the characters I have created, I find that when I am writing about her, I am often overwhelmed by a feeling of profound sadness.
Writing is a solitary occupation. In a perverse way, lockdown, because it forcibly restricts external distractions, has been a very productive period. I feel very sorry for those in the performing arts for whom this pandemic has been devastating.
Before I begin writing in earnest, I have to have a clear blueprint for my book with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I also sketch my major characters. What I find though, as I have them inhabit my fictional world, is that they take on a life of their own. Propelled by their belief systems they end up doing things I never envisaged. Of course, it can wreak havoc on the plot line, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(c) Terence Gallagher
About Analyst Session by Terence Gallagher:
What would you do for love ?
Andrew Sweeney is a computer systems analyst for the Metropolitan Electricity Board in London. Early in his marriage it becomes clear to him that his wife Deirdre enjoys the good things of life – a characteristic that Andrew’s salary cannot support. Then an opportunity at work presents a solution to his problem. Andrew rigs the computer billing program to siphon off funds for his own use.
It’s ten years later. The fraud has successfully financed a comfortable lifestyle for his wife.
Andrew is threatened with exposure when the new Managing Director of the company implements a ‘State of the Art’ replacement computer system. Seriously flawed, the system threatens not only Andrew’s world, it’s impact is felt all the way to 10 Downing Street, where the Prime minister will find himself fighting for political survival.
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