One of the things I love about festivals in New York, is the chance to hear new voices alongside more established ones. That’s what happened earlier this month, at a reading by two Irish authors, at the National Arts Club, sponsored by 1st Irish and the WB Yeats Society of NY. First up was Tony Macaulay who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he grew up at the top of Shankill Road during “The Troubles.” Tony spoke with understanding and humor about growing up in such a dangerous, divided place, and how those years provided the fodder for two of his three memoirs: Paperboy, about his experiences as a 12-year old delivering The Belfast Telegraph in his neighborhood; and Breadboy which recounts his experiences from age 14 to 16, delivering bread for the Ormo Minishop in Belfast. His third book, All Growed Up, follows him as a university student in Coleraine. In addition to writing, Tony lived on the “peace line” in Belfast for many years, working with youth on a community development project, and he’s also worked conflict resolution in post-conflict countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia. Yet, he is hopeful for humanity, and hasn’t lost his keen wit and sense of humor.
Then Daniel Mallen, a firefighter in Cork, a published songwriter, and a first-time novelist, read from his book, The Judging of Abigail Perdue. The story revolves around Abigail Perdue, who has just died, and now finds herself in a place called Stasis, where she will be judged by five other new arrivals, who will examine her life and vote on her fate – and she will have a vote on theirs. However, there are only three outcomes: eternal peace in Heofon; rebirth on Earth; or destruction in Gehenna…
Being a firefighter made Daniel realize how quickly life can be taken, and how little we know about each other. It also started him thinking about what happens in the afterlife, and led to this book. He recounted some of the coincidences which arose while writing this novel. I’ll tell you one. A character in the book is a firefighter named Michael Roberts, who has a sister named Karen. Daniel took this name from a t-shirt one of his colleagues gave him that is inscribed with the names of the firefighters from Engine 214, Ladder 111 who died on 9/11. It wasn’t until after the book was published, that Daniel was contacted by the real Michael Roberts’ mother, only to discover she was the woman who brought the t-shirt to his firehouse some ten years earlier, and that her late son’s sister is named Karen.
It was delightful to listen to both authors, who, having dealt with people under very trying circumstances, evince a strong empathy for their fellow human beings, and maintain a positive outlook. I’m looking forward to reading their books!