Colm Herron’s third novel, The Fabricator, is reaching local shops this week and it’s not going to stay on the shelves long, I’m willing to bet.
The former school teacher has already won legions of fans for his short stories and earlier novels and this latest tome is bound to win him loads more.
Although Colm was born and raised in Derry, where he taught at Rosemount Primary School until his retirement, his roots are firmly in Donegal.
His late brother Mickey, who owned The Bookshop in Carndonagh, was known to one and all as the keeper of an unrivalled treasure trove of books of every kind.
Cloghan and Dunree
Colm’s father Jim was born in Ballykerrigan, Cloghan, the eldest in a family of ten. He was hired out at the age of 13, to the Gormley family in Co. Tyrone. Colm says “ He was lucky. They were very decent people, a farming family with good land.”
When his hiring period was over, Jim moved to Derry, where he worked in the All Cash Stores. He paved the way for four brothers who came to Derry after him, and he found them work with the All Cash Stores chain.
Colm met Mary McLaughlin, whose father William Big Jimmy was also known as The Fox. The family lived at Hillside, near Dunree. She came to Derry to work in the Rosemount Factory.
Despite these modest beginnings, it’s clear that there was great love for stories and the written word in the Herron home and Colm was by no means immune.
He recalls: “When I was a boy, I couldn’t understand why teachers had to use the strap. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t able to teach by telling people stories instead. I was aching for people to tell me stories.
“From about the age of 8, I wrote stories on the pages of discarded exercise books. I would draw on the cover, sew them up on my sister’s sewing machine and sell them for a penny each. There were no photocopiers, so as I made copies, I made improvements to the stories.
“When I started to teach and then got married, I didn’t have much time for writing. I was involved in sport and the school magazine at the school.
“I did write a few short stories the first year and brought one to Brian Friel, who lived the next street over from me, back in 1962. He told me ‘This is very profound’. You could have knocked me down! He also gave me the address of the editor of The New Yorker but I never used it.
“Over the years, I did bits and pieces, dabbled in poetry, that kind of thing.
“I got early retirement when I was in my 50s and then started writing short stories. I sent them away and got rejections. When I asked for a critique, I was told there was too much detail for a short story, I should try writing novels.
“So I did, basing the stories on my own experiences as a teenager.
“The first one was called ‘For I Have Sinned’ because of the Catholic pre-occupation with guilt. I felt the best approach was not to be earnest or laborious but to use humour as much as possible. I wrote in episodes rather than chapters - using humour with the occasional thorn, with sections that would be poignant. That was published in 2003.
“My second book, The Further Adventures of James Joyce, was published in 2010.
“I wrote two others in between which I binned because I wasn’t happy with them.
“There are characters in the second book who would have a kinship to the main character in the first book. But this was a foray into something quite different - a story about a James Joyce fantasist.
“The Fabricator is about a guy who at the age of 28 (the age I was when the Civil Rights movement started in Ireland) is completely unaware that the Sixties were happening all around him. He was a good, earnest boy.
“I then invented a bit about this decrepit character filling him in at a much later stage of life on what he missed. He sets out trying to recapture the lost years.
“In the midst of the political turmoil in Northern Ireland and across the world, he begins, in a stumbling and uncertain way, to take his first steps in the search for personal freedom.
“And then he meets a girl, and everything changes.”
“I’m not going to tell you more....you’ll have to read it and find out for yourself!”
“Somebody told me Maud died intestate,” Seamus was saying.
“Where’s that?” said Willie Henry.
Margie had her lips tight together to stop the laughing. Her glass was well down already and she was rocking back and forward nearly spilling the rest.
“Aw there’s money there,” said Seamus. “Straight up. You know she was the daughter of Hoof Hogan.”
“Hoof Hogan?” Willie Henry was frowning, eyes half closed as if in deep thought. “I never heard of him now.”
“God you must have heard of Hoof Hogan,” said Seamus. He left his glass carefully on the empty chair beside him and loosened the top button of his shirt. “Made big money in England so he did and then came home and bought a pub down in Carndonagh. They lived in Troy Park. Hoof had a wile drouth on him from when he came back.”
Margie nodded, recovered. “Aye sure he drank most of what he had but he still managed to leave a fair whack behind,” she said. “Didn’t he marry that Prod from the Waterside whatdidyoucallher? From some English or Welsh family away back wasn’t she?”
“Who?” I asked.
“Aw gee,” she said screwing up her face, “it’s on the tip of me tongue. English I think they were. Their name began with a t and hold on a minute till I think – the first vowel was u or maybe i. Naw, wait a second, wait till I try and remember, I think it started with an m — I’m not sure — but I’m definitely right about the vowel. U it was. Muggeridge ... Mulder ... Murrick ... Hold on, I’ve got it. Jenkins.”
The Fabricator is on sale in local bookshops and newsagents.