For as long as she can remember, Geraldine Quigley has always wanted to be a writer.
“I always knew I could write and always had a desire to write,” she says. “But, in a world where alot of girls wanted to be hairdressers or work in an office, writing seemed other worldly.”
Another world, indeed.
How many times have you read accounts of published authors who spent their childhoods scribbling stories from the age of two, laying the foundations of a career that seemed destined for them?
“That wasn’t me,” says Geraldine. “My early years were spent in my own head, living out fantasies of my own making, the youngest in a big family of eleven kids. As a teenager, all ambition was abandoned in the pursuit of boys. Writing - that was a totally different world.”
Just how different, exactly?
Well, light years from the Derry Geraldine grew up in in the 1970s and 1980s - a city wracked by conflict, divided by religion and stalked by armed men - whether they be British Army or IRA.
Geraldine (nee Bradley) was one of those many young people who tried to live normal lives against the ever-present backdrop of intimidation, security alerts and constant threat of violence - colloquially known as the ‘Troubles’.
And it is in these singular surroundings that her powerful debut novel is set.
‘Music Love Drugs War’ (Fig Tree) is a unique coming-of-age story that follows a group of teenagers in 1980s Derry.
They do the things normal teenagers do - they drink, take drugs, go to the pub, listen to music and butt heads with their parents.
But, in the Northern Ireland of the early 1980s, the turmoil of the outside world is never far away and it manages to filter in to their lives in a deadly way, radically transforming the manner in which the novel’s main characters act and behave.
While based on her memories of the era and people she may or may not have known, the novel is, insists Geraldine, not autobiographical.
“People might read the book and assume that the character, ‘Liz’, is me because she hangs out in a dingy pub called ‘The Cave’ - which is where, in real life, my friends and I met up in the 1970s and 1980s. But, no, I can honestly say that the story is not drawn from real life.
“It is fiction. It’s my impressions of the time. Nothing is exaggerated. Nothing is underplayed. I wanted it to be as truthful a representation of a particular time and place as possible. I wanted to write about what Derry was like at that time.
“Yes, it was grim but it was also a place where you really had friends and family. We were looked after and our parents were incredibly strong, particularly having to deal with teenagers growing up in an extraordinary situation. It was a radicalising time and, in that way, everyone was affected.
“It’s based on what we - me, my friends, people we knew and were acquainted with - were like at the time.
The characters in the story are an amalgamation of different people.”
Geraldine, a mum of three, reveals that it took her six years to complete the finished version of the story - which developed via numerous drafts and “ended up taking on a life of its own”.
“It’s not the book I started out with,” she says. “It’s alot more political and darker than I intended. Given the story’s backdrop, with the 1981 hunger strike, I suppose it couldn’t be anything but dark. At the same time, however, I wanted to portray the crack and banter that also existed. Yes, they were terrible times and awful things happened but we also laughed and joked. It would be wrong to suggest otherwise.”
Geraldine says that, ultimately, she wanted to tell the story of ‘us’ - her friends at the time.
“Futile as it may seem, we tried to do something different. ‘The Cave’ might have been a grotty, wee place but it was somewhere that politics didn’t enter. There was a lot of friendship there and a desire to keep the real world out. It was an important place for me. It was my world. It was our world.”
Award-winning author Roddy Doyle has already given ‘Music Love Drugs War’ a glowing endorsement. He says: “Geraldine Quigley has written a novel that is warm but also unsettling and exhilarating. That’s some feat but she has managed to make it seem easy.”
* Music Love Drugs War will be launched at The Playhouse, Artillery Street, on January 15 (6.30pm). At the event, Geraldine will read an extract from the book and also sign copies.