I’ve lost a quare few things in my life and my daughter recently bought me a little device for finding my keys so it’s hardly surprising that I once even lost my sister. I say once, I actually lost her a few times, but that’s picking at straws.
I used the experience in writing Little Big Boy as I found injecting some reality into the story at times helped me connect more to my character. Back then times were much different and it was common practice for mothers to leave prams (there were no such things as buggies when I was a nipper) near the exit of the supermarket while they went about their shopping. Now I’ll have to clarify that. Strictly speaking we didn’t have a supermarket in our neck of the woods. We had a very much scaled down version which today would I suppose be like a local mini mart, but it was 1970’s Ireland in a working class neighbourhood, so I’ll use poetic licence and call it a supermarket.
My mother or ‘Me Ma’ as we would have said, was quite comfortable sending me to the supermarket to make relatively small purchases. I say small by which I mean no more than two things as I would be guaranteed to forget the third. I was a seven year old boy after all and had the attention span of gnat. Mam would make me repeat the order several times.
“You are to get a pint of milk and six lean, back rashers. What are you to get?”
I’d repeat it and then she would say it again. She would make sure I buttoned my coat and put the money in my pocket, reminding me that I would have change and then ask me again what I was getting. I would raise my little hazel eyes to heaven and tell her what she wanted to hear. Of course she would remind again me not to forget one of the items for good measure .
Normally she would then sent me out the door and tell me to look both ways crossing the road.
“Now stop at the corner,” she’d say, “don’t cut across the roundabout, I’ll be watching you. Stand at the path don’t cross unless there are no cars…do you hear me…NO cars alright?”
It would take an age to just get out the feckin’ door as she repeated instruction and advice. From our front door, she could watch me cross the road and then the main road as I basically avoided the roundabout and they were the only dangers from her perspective. We were taught to fly that way and looking back I’m sure it was nerve wracking for my Mam. I certainly wouldn’t have let my children cross those roads without a hand to hold at seven. I guess we had to learn to be independent earlier.
When my sister came along she was a novelty that soon wore off. I had been the baby, something I again used in Little Big Boy and she usurped that position of privilege. Still while the novelty lasted she was interesting. I was dying to push the pram alone and constantly begged to have ‘a go’ like it was a toy I was talking about. The pram certainly held an attraction for me. The second I left the house I was driving a tank across enemy lines or the pram could well have been a stagecoach being pursued by ‘Injuns’ and as such I really did want ‘a go.’
When she finally capitulated, it was with added apprehension on her part, double the already over the top instruction and treble the warnings about getting my arse skinned if I wasn’t extra careful. All I heard was “Blah Blah Blah.” There was a stagecoach to get across the Rio Grande. I tell a variation of this story in Little Big Boy and I remember whenever I used real memories to augment the story, I grew closer to the book.
My journey to the shop was uneventful if you don’t count the hundred or so Sioux chasing me on dappled ponies. Once there, I parked the sister containing pram in a line with the other prams near the exit and went about my purchase.
It was so different and unimaginable today, but those babies were all perfectly safe. There were always lots of babies in a society like ours. It was holy Catholic Ireland. There was no contraception, and large families were quite the norm. Women gave up work when they married and they all had babies. As such the baby line at the door was a safe place. There were no predatory men in those shops for example. In truth There were no men. Men didn’t do the shopping, good Lord no. This was the world of women.
We lived in a community in the real sense of the word. Most of the women who saw me push the pram into the shop knew who I was and knew who my sister was and knew my mother well. While others shopped, there would be nothing unusual about another woman tending to your child if it cried and that was perhaps the true beauty of it although I didn’t see it that way.
I had lots of hair ruffles and cutie comments made about my cherub cheeks and they just distracted me from my real mission of the day, be that shooting villainous cowboys, wild Indians or dodging an aerial attack from the Luftwaffe. It is hardly surprising therefore, that when I got home pleased as punch that I had remembered the milk and lean back rashers, that when my mother asked me if I had forgotten something I thought ‘Hell no.’ I had remembered both things on the long list. Of course I wouldn’t have said hell or I would have had my arse clipped.
When she tilted her head quite calmly and mentioned my sister’s name it took a few seconds for my distracted brain to join the dots. Now in today’s world, this would have been a moment where a mother might completely wig out. But like I said, the baby in the pram left behind in the supermarket, was as safe as she would have been in our garden.
I was despatched to retrieve my sister and I can tell you that by the time I got there, I had to think hard to remember just why I was there again . My imagination was my saving grace and my Achilles heel. It is what led me to become a writer of course and when it comes to writing, many say you should write about what you know. I’m not entirely on board with that but it is useful advice. I use my knowledge and experiences in writing all of my books. It is probably true to say I am an emotional writer. I do spill my soul into characters, use every drop of feeling and every ounce of pain to bring them to life so from that perspective, I write from what I know.
I do this with every book, but perhaps none more so than Little Big Boy and maybe that is why it is the book that readers have a particular fondness for and the one that stays with them more than others. I am a child of that time and of that place. I used so much of my own memories and the stories of my friends and family to help create a book that I can say I am quite proud of. I even used my childhood face for the cover but that was out of being a cheapskate more than anything else.
Writers who connect with me as a reader are the ones who connect with me on an emotional level and I have learned from reading many more talented writers than I, that this is what makes a good book.
Telling a story is one thing, making it touch your reader is an entirely different matter. I’ve always told stories ever since I was a chiseller, but over time I have been conscious of the way stories make connections. I have learned and used that in my craft and I hope I never stop learning.
Right now I am writing two books again, as has long been my way. I could say three or even four, but there are only two in any real state of progress. I have a thriller called Apollo Bay to be re-drafted, and an as yet untitled book that I hope will be a little bit special, but there is a long way to go with this one. Beyond that I have the bones of Darkly Wood III sketched out and I have two more ideas that I am working on in my head at least and somehow I can find a little space in there to get through the normal working day.
You see I haven’t changed that much. I am still that mop-topped blonde little boy, completely distracted by my imagination, running up the street in my short trousers, picking off sharp-shooters on the rooftops all around me. Maybe if I get a chance to sit down, I’ll tell you all about it someday …
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Larry Flynn Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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