Writing about the homeplace from 10 thousand miles away
Melbourne-based crime writer Adrian McKinty has set his Sean Duffy trilogy in Carrickfergus during the Troubles
Adrian McKinty is an award-winning crime fiction novelist from Carrickfergus, who now lives in the Melbourne seaside suburb of St Kilda. He is best known for the Sean Duffy trilogy about a Catholic RUC officer in the early 1980s. I Hear The Sirens In The Street, the second book in the Duffy series, has just been longlisted for the Theakston Best British Crime Novel Award.
On my Wikipedia page it used to say I was born in Belfast, Ireland, then it said Belfast, Northern Ireland and then it said Belfast, UK. So there was a little war going on about where Belfast is located. I thought it was quite funny and was going to mention it on my blog or tweet about it, but then I thought it’s probably best not to get sucked into that.
I grew up in 113 Coronation Road on the Victoria Estate in Carrickfergus, which is also where I placed the RUC officer Sean Duffy in three of my books. I thought it would be fun to put a Bohemian, middle class, Catholic policeman into an estate where he was surrounded by working class Prods.
I did a law degree, but was miserable the whole time. I was supposed to join a law firm in London but instead went to Oxford to do a master’s in philosophy. I met a Brooklyn girl in Oxford and followed her back to New York.
I had no papers but found a job immediately in an Irish bar in the Bronx. The only questions they asked were where I was from and if I knew how to pull a pint of Guinness. I told him I was from Belfast and lied about the Guinness. I had to go to Canada every three months to renew my tourist visa, but eventually I married my girlfriend and became legal.
In 2000 we moved to Denver and I became a high school English teacher. I was teaching full-time and then I quit to write but I was just staring at my computer every day from nine until five and really not doing anything. After a couple of years of that I decided to get a job as a supply teacher, which really helped with the writer’s block.
The winters in Denver are brutal; it snows from the end of October to April. At first we liked the snow, thought it was lovely. But after eight years we’d had enough. My wife was offered a job in Melbourne and we’ve been here since 2008. I’m an Australian citizen now. I got 100 per cent on my citizenship test!
Our daughters were both born in Denver. The younger one has a Melbourne accent, the oldest one still has a Denver accent, my wife has a New York accent and I have an Irish accent. So we’re a family with four different accents.
I find it easier to write in the winter in Melbourne. When the weather is good you want to go out for a walk, ride a bike, go to a café or something. When it’s raining, when it’s a miserable day, I just sit down at my desk and get some work done.
I definitely think it’s easier to write about Northern Ireland and the Troubles when I’m so far away. It allows you to get a sense of perspective. Ten thousand miles distance and setting the books 30 years ago helps.
I’ve had a little bit of blowback for writing about where I grew up. I’ve been trolled on Amazon and on my blog by Loyalists who accused me of being a “traitor” or some such nonsense. I pay no attention to those idiots though as it only encourages them.
There are a lot of Irish people in Melbourne now. I was recently in a bar and the barmaid had a distinctive Omagh accent. But when I mentioned this she looked at me aghast and said “I am not from Omagh. I’m from Dungannon”. I thought, they’re 10 miles apart, we’re 10,000 miles from home; honestly, you could have given me that one, love.
I was back visiting my mum in January 2013 and went out for a jog one night. It was a very beautiful night. Carrickfergus Castle was all lit up with spotlights, Belfast was lit up around the bay and if you looked to the east you could just see Scotland twinkling in the distance. I’d forgotten how beautiful it could be.
But then I ran literally into a riot over the flags issue. The cobblestones had been lifted up off the streets to be thrown at the police and they were using milk bottles for Molotov cocktails. My first reaction was “Wow, I didn’t know they still had milk bottles”. My next reaction was that it would be crazy to move back here with my kids.
In conversation with Pádraig Collins