Ciaran McMenamin talks about how a car crash he had as a teenager inspired his debut novel, Skintown
I sat down to write a short story based on a bizarre incident I had as a teenager, and I found a voice so unique that I let it keep speaking. That voice belonged to one Patrick Vincent Duffy and the end product would become my debut novel, Skintown.
The incident in question was a car journey, and subsequent crash, that occurs at the start of Skintown. I did indeed accompany a girl in a car full of older blokes, under the badly acted guise of being her boyfriend. After dropping the girl off, they did talk up the bad things they would do to me and I was only miraculously saved when we crashed into a field. The complete meltdown that followed was so comical that it's never left me. All of the bullshit about religion was forgotten the minute the bonnet buckled and we were just three blokes together in a field with a selection box of shared problems to solve. It was a perfect microcosm of Northern Ireland and it was extremely darkly funny.
The voice I discovered while writing Skintown felt so unique because it was describing the day-to-day life in a bizarre sectarian society with the utter absurdity it deserves. The voice of an individual in a bizarre world of sheep, someone who can see it all for what it is and who feels he was born there by accident. This is how most Northern Irish people I know have viewed their surroundings, but is rarely how it is seen in print or film. The story normally focuses on someone from one side or the other who needs to get out or who lives for the glory of their side. Sides are the problem, so I wrote a book about someone who hates sides.
My other main aim was to show young people in a context that their counterparts in Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin and London can relate to. Young people whose main concerns are love and sex and drugs and music. Young people who live in the moment. Mix the energy and euphoria of the early dance scene with the peculiarities of the North and the extra tensions that brings and you have a seriously exciting playing field for storytelling. In my experence that music and the drugs did break down ancient boundaries. Not for everyone, and not enough, but for many. 1994 was very much our summer of love. There was a different feeling. It was hope - and we grabbed it by the waist and danced the fuck out of it.
So maybe in Northern Ireland, as things fall apart again, we need a shared car crash to pull us together. Maybe it's Brexit. Maybe at last we can decide we have more in common with the other side than anyone else, and work out how to escape from this soon-to-be non-EU funded field.
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‘We’re in the back of a car belonging to the men our mothers told us to never get in the back of a car of. I close my eyes and wonder how many girls will come to my funeral.’
Vincent Patrick Duffy has already checked out. Trapped between Skintown’s narrow horizons, he chops ribs and chickens in a takeaway, dreaming of escape, joint after freshly rolled joint.
A mindless act of kindness leads to the unlikeliest of business opportunities. Where the government has failed, might the second summer of love and a little pill with a dove on it be the broom to sweep away the hatred and replace it with love, so much love?
Skintown is Vinny’s drink- and drug-fuelled odyssey through fighting, fishing, rioting, romance, reconciliation and acid house. Bristling with a restless energy and drunk on black humour, this superb debut is a wild ride.