Colm Herron talks about his latest novel, ‘The Fabricator’, with fiery passion and animated enthusiasm.
Colm was born in 1940 and reared in Marlborough Street and for most of his life he worked as a primary school teacher in Rosemount Primary School in Helen Street.
Colm’s first book, ‘For I Have Sinned’, was released in 2003 and his follow-up novel ‘Further Adventures of James Joyce’ was published in 2010. He started work on ‘The Fabricator’ on January 1, 2011, and proceeded to focus the story on the relationship between a young man and a young woman living in Derry during the rise of the civil rights movement in 1968.
“I started writing the book on New Year’s Day in 2011. I only had one glass of wine the night before so I had a fresh mind that morning - that’s what happens you when you get to my age,” laughed Colm.
“When I started writing the book I wanted it to be about the sense of change felt all around the world in 1968. I couldn’t believe that as I was writing the book the ‘Arab Spring’ was taking place in places like Tunisia and Libya. The thing that struck me was that although time had moved forward 40 years, a lot of what was happening in north Africa and other Arab countries was extremely similar to what was happening in 1968.”
Colm explained that he wanted to use Derry as a “microcosm” for everything else that was happening in the world in 1968 but said that the finished draft was very different to what he’d intended it to be.
“The book evolved and if I am honest it didn’t ended up the way I thought it would. Once I started writing, new ideas just started to develop.”
One of the book’s main events sees the protagonist, Robert Browning, join the masses on the infamous Duke Street civil rights march in 1968.
Robert’s decision to go on the march is not, as many might think, because of any fervent understanding of civil rights. The reason Robert is on the march is quite different - it’s to impress a girl called Anna McTeague.
Colm’s book recounts how the young Robert ended up on the march after sharing three and a half pints of Guinness and two Hennessy brandies with Eamonn Deane the night before in The Squealin’ Pig bar in Muff.
“I wouldn’t have gone there in a fit if I hadn’t been drinking the night before in The Squealin’ Pig with a fellow called Eamonn Deane who put me through a collision course in local left wing politics which lasted the length of three and a half pints of Guinness and two Hennessy brandies, the second of which he bought by the way,” the opening page reads.
Colm said that working on ‘The Fabricator’ was the most enjoyable writing experience he has had since ‘For I Have Sinned’ almost ten years ago.
“There were times when I was writing parts of the book I was in stitches laughing - I just hope that anyone who reads the book finds it as funny as I did.
“I wanted to use Derry as a microcosm to represent the change that was happening all over the world in 1968.
“Protests took place in countries like France, Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and then of course there were the murders of Martin Luther King Jnr. in April and then Robert Kennedy in June. 1968 saw the world change in many ways and I wanted my new book to reflect that.
“I’ve included people like Eamonn McCann, Ivan Cooper and and Vinny Coyle in the book. I actually taught Vinny’s son Vincent and I have been careful to convey how charismatic and passionate he was about the civil rights movement.”
But while the initial idea behind ‘The Fabricator’ was to examine the social freedom that people were striving for, instead it became a book about personal freedom and the freedom to think without limitation, as Colm explained.
“The front cover of the book, which was designed by daughter Nuala, captures this perfectly, I think. It depicts a man with a bird cage for a head. The bird cage is open and a white bird is seen to be flying away from it.
“The cage represents the limitations of the mind and the mind. That is,. the bird can go one of two ways. It can either leave the cage and constantly question authority and narrow dogmas, or what can sometimes happen is that the bird can retreat back into the cage where it feels safe.”
Colm admitted that the character, Robert Browning, is very similar to himself and that much of the way Robert thinks is the same way he processed his own thoughts in 1968.
“I think Robert is a very plausible guy. He’s not unlike myself and essentially he ends up getting involved in the march to impress a girl. The girl he likes represents so many fiery left wing feminists of that time and when she talks to Robert about things like socialism and Rackman he just nods and pretends to understands what she’s talking about.
“Robert is very conformist and respectful of authority, organisations to do with the state and the Catholic Church, but when he starts to question certain things his mind starts to change.
“The two main characters, Robert and Anna, are impacting upon one another without either of them being aware of it.
“Robert really likes Anna and wants to be with her while Anna is looking for a convert to the cause. They both satisfy one another subconsciously.”
Colm stressed that although the love story between Robert and Anna is central to the book he wanted people to know that there is no “walking off into the sunset”.
“There is an ending but not in the traditional meaning of endings. I want the reader to think ‘I wonder what happened’ after the book is over. I want to encourage the reader to come up with their own ideas of how they think the story continues.”
Colm officially launched the book in Eason in Foyleside yesterday. He said that anyone who has read the book has liked it and many have found it very funny.
“Friends and family have read the book and they all said that they liked it.
“Some people have asked me how I can use comedy to write about such a serious time as 1968 but there are serious events that happen in the book too. I’d like to think of it as a book that encourages people to look at things differently. If that happens I will be over the moon.
‘The Fabricator’ is published by Dakota and is priced at £6.99. It’s available to buy from Eason in Foyleside. For further information on Colm Herron visit www.colmherron.com