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Behind the story

'Apple Shot came from two sources, both things I was reading at the time. The first was a short story by Anne Devlin called 'The Journey to Somewhere Else' and the other was a particular passage in Tim Pat Coogan's book The IRA.

Devlin's story juxtaposes a woman's experience of being lost while out skiing with her memory of a childhood incident which resulted in the death of her brother, something for which she blames herself. I was interested in the idea of the consequences of innocent childish actions on adult life and this is something that I explore in 'Apple Shot'.

Coogan's book, which is probably the most authoritative source about the IRA, tracing its development from its foundations to the Good Friday Agreement, describes the dirty protest that Republican prisoners embarked upon in an attempt to win for themselves the right to be treated at POWs rather than criminals during their imprisonment. As a journalist at the time of the protests Coogan was invited to visit both the male and female prisoners on the protest to see for himself the condition of their cells. He comments in The IRA that the women's cells were far more distressing than the men's due largely to the addition of menstrual blood to the other excreta adorning the walls.

Reading both these texts alongside each other gave birth to the idea for 'Apple Shot' which not only graphically details the horrific conditions of a prisoner on a dirty protest but also attempts to explore the motivation and psychology of someone living that life. The character in 'Apple Shot' is entirely a fictional creation of mine, not based on any real person but born out of one possible reality. It is often said that for people who chose to join organisations like the IRA there is one defining event that leads them down that path. For Sian in the story, this is not only the death of her younger brother at the hands of British soldiers who take no real responsibility but, more importantly, the guilt she feels and her own impotence which she counteracts by taking action and joining the IRA.

I decided to make the central character female not just because of Coogan's comments about the appalling conditions the women prisoners in Armagh but also because I felt, still feel, the story of women who were active combatants for the IRA is a largely untold one. The modern Troubles are largely viewed as a young man's war and, while I wouldn't deny that this is true, there are many accounts of women who took all the same risks as their male comrades and endured all the same, if not worse, hardships as a result of their actions. In this sense 'Apple Shot' attempts to give a voice to these marginalised women, a point Sian makes herself in the story. This area of marginalisation (women of the IRA) is something which I have come to feel strongly about and part two of my Irish trilogy of novels, which I am writing as my thesis for my PhD in Creative Writing at Northumbria University, will explore this even further by centring the narrative on a female protagonist who joins the IRA. This novel will be the follow up to Green Dawn at St Enda's which is due for release by Cinnamon Press in early 2016. Green Dawn recounts the events leading up to and including the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916 from the point of view of a fictional schoolboy, Finn Devoy, who is a pupil of Patrick Pearse's at St Enda's. It is a very male novel and I hope part two will serve to redress the balance.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of 'Apple Shot', certainly the one that felt most poignant to me when I was writing it, is Sian's declaration at the end that she joined the IRA to die, as a form of penance for her brother's death. I hope this makes a comment about the victims of war and that, overall, the story goes some way towards demonstrating that there can be no black and white, no simple good and evil in a situation as complicated as that which Ireland has experienced (and is still, to some extent, experiencing) during the twentieth century.

'Apple Shot' was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2012 and was published in volume 5 of the competition's anthology.

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