My fourth book, Firm, is finally out in both Kindle and paperback.
The book essentially has two facets. Sectarianism (hate) and friendship (love). The first forms the background to the story in the form of the ‘religious’ divide that still colours parts of Scotland and of course Ireland. However its main outlet isn’t in the church or the chapel but, as in ancient Rome, in sport or rather football. In Glasgow its Celtic v Rangers. If you’re a catholic you support Celtic. If you’re a Protestant you support Rangers. End of. Or..
As someone with a foot in both camps (and I’ll say no more than that as you don’t need to be a referee to know all about accusations of bias) I have friends who support both teams and I’ve tried to maintain a balance. When you actually look at it objectively that’s actually quite easy as, to quote one of the protagonists, “There’s cunts oan baith sides.”
Being 178 years old I’ve have noticed real change in the hardness of the divide, especially since the Good Friday agreement introduced sanity into the politics of Northern Ireland / six counties and beyond. I’m optimistic that the friendship portrayed in the book will one day become the norm and the bitterness and hatred will be left in the past…But not the banter. Love the banter.
Which leads to the other facet. While the previous one provides the background the second is the real story, the friendship of Gary Docherty and Michael Starky, two ordinary boys who dreamed together and now as young men decide to make those dreams come to life against the backdrop of America (pre Trump). They head out on a long promised road trip taking their deceased Grandfather along for the ride to realise his dreams too. But along with these characters other come along for the ride, some in the passenger seat others in the shadows. All fairly bizarre.
I always wanted to go on a road trip across the States but given I haven’t got any younger since the earlier paragraph I was aware this may be as close as I’ll get. “So, Robert,” I said to myself, (not out loud, that would just be weird), make it memorable. Hopefully I have. I’ve tried to mix humour, adventure and a bit of the thriller in this one but essentially it’s a comedy albeit with serious undertones. It also mixes dialects which, according to a couple of American readers, helps rather than hinders with the getting the characters across.
I’ll say no more about the story and let you enjoy it for yourself. And now you can. Right here.
Still not sure? Fuck, you’re hard work.
Here’s the start…
Gary Docherty glanced down at his watch. The Sekonda told him it was almost five-thirty. He checked again. The watch hadn’t changed its mind. Five-thirty on the day of his grandfather’s funeral and he was alone… finally. After days and hours of shock, of comforting and being comforted, of planning, he was for a moment free to mourn the man who’d brought him up as a son after his father had mysteriously died in his childhood. Years later, when deemed old enough, he heard the word ‘Cancer’ but whispered lest he too may catch it. With his mother lost in childbirth, he and his sister Patricia were both taken in by their paternal grandparents. And now his grandfather was gone too.
So he stood back in a quiet spot, alone with his pain and his grief… if only for a moment, watching as friends and family made their way into the upstairs function room of The Orb to eat, drink and remember James Docherty.
“Last time I saw that face it was proppin up Senga McPhee’s arse… Sorry for your loss, wee man.”
Gary’s eyes, mouth and heart opened wide. “Staz! When did you arrive?”
“Got in last night.”
“Yae should huv said.”
“I knew you would have a lot on your plate.”
“Ach, we hidnae huv minded. I wisnae sure you would make it. Were yae at the funeral?”
“Aye. I just sat at the back. Didn’t want to cause a fuss.”
“Did yae get something tae eat?”
“I’m fine, mate. I wouldn’t have missed it, Gary. I loved your old Granda. More than my own Grampa actually, but he was a cunt.”
Gary laughed. “He wis that. Bet he’s still goat that stick.”
“The batterin stick? Na, he lost that years ago. Threw it for his dog. The dog grabbed it and just kept running. Never seen again. He died a week later.”
“Na, Grampa. He loved that stick. Hated that dog.”
“I preferred the dog to be honest.” Staz smiled, looking down at his old friend’s clump of wild red hair a good eight inches below. “I see you’re still a ginger then. Not dyed it.”
“Wae cannae all look like Elvis. Anywae, I’m proud ae it. It says I’m a Celt, I’m a warrior, I’m a—”
Gary laughed. “What about you? You still a Hun?”
“You still a soap-dodging wee Tim?”
“Faithful through and through.” Grinning, Gary wrapped his arms round the other half of the old firm. “Christ, it’s good tae see ye.”
“You too mate. You too. Lager?”
“Aye, and a couple ae shots. It’s goin to be a long night.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
“No standin here yull no.”
Gary stood alone again watching his friend, Michael Starky, aka Staz, make his way to the bar. God, he’d missed him. Had it really been six years since he’d emigrated to America. It seemed like only yesterday that every night had been like this, the two of them together in one bar or another, albeit without the dead family member. He looked over to his gran, surrounded by family, friends…Women were so much better at this stuff, or sympathy, to give it its proper name. The men, they just got pished. An old friend of Granda’s nearly didn’t survive the meal, almost drowning in his soup. A more generous portion would have finished him off for sure. Must be scary, though, feeling the reaper’s grim breath that bit stronger every time they hear the words “Have you heard? So and so’s died.” No wonder they eat, drink and feel Mary while they can. Because tomorrow…
A couple of glasses snapped him back into the room. “There you go, mate.”
“Cheers, Staz.” Gary took a long gulp. “Whit the fuck’s this?”
“You know they don’t sponsor you lot any mair, so you can stop buying their pish and buy some decent beer.”
“When did that happen?”
“Fuck them then. That’s the last penny Mr Carling gets off me,” said Staz.
“So why buy it if yae don’t like it?”
“Well, you like to do yer bit, eh” said Staz, glowering at the glass. “Thank Christ it’s over, though, because it is fucking swill. Stella from now on.”
“The wife beater?”
“I’ve heard it called that but I don’t get it. Have you ever heard of anyone saying ‘Ah didnae mean tae batter yae darlin, ah wiz jist Stella’d oot ma nut?’ Never… Buckfast maybe.”
“Aye, Buckie defo, but no Stella,” said Gary, nodding.
“Na, no Stella,”
Gary took a thoughtful sip. “Maybe it’s Brando’s fault?”
“The Marlon Brando?”
“What you saying Gaz? Marlon Brando battered his wife when he was Stella’d out his nut?”
“Naw, naw man.”
“Well, it sounded like that’s what you’re saying. Marlon Brando’s not a wife beater. Can’t be… He’s an activist.”
“Naw, naw, Staz. In the film.”
“No ah don’t know, that’s why I’m fucking askin.”
“The wan… The wan that’s no On the Waterfront.”
“Not On the Waterfront?”
“Last Tango in Paris?”
“Fuck, naw. He was definitely Stella’d out his nut in that wan.”
Gary nodded. “Aye, A Streetcar Named Desire. Mind the part where he’s pissed… Well, wan ae the bits where he’s pissed. He’s oot in the street screaming up at the windae…‘Stella! Stella!’”
“And he did get a bit physical.”
“He did. So am wonderin, mibeee that’s where it came fae.”
“Whit? Whit wuv been talkin aboot.”
“Honestly mate, I’ve kind of forgot,” replied Staz.
“Stella getting called ‘wife beater’.”
“Ah, right.” Staz thought for a moment. “I reckon you could be on to something there mate,” said a bemused Staz, shaking his head. “Your round.”
“If it’s good enough for Brando.”