For the last three years I have been chronicling the life and times of Danny Boyle, a most unfortunate individual of my own creation. Life & Times will see the light of day as three books, Born & Bred, In Exile, and All Roads . . ., all of which will be available from The Story Plant in the not too distant future.
Spanning a 50 year period, which just happens to be the bulk of my life, I wanted the backdrop of Danny’s life to reflect what was going on in the world and while doing the research, reaffirmed what my wise old Irish mother used to say when she wasn’t chiding me for the length of my hair and shabbiness of my jeans, and my taste in modern music: “None of us are islands despite all the time and effort we spend trying to insulate ourselves.”
She was right, nothing is free of the past, not Danny, and certainly not the world he and we live in. The past, even the distortions we have made of it, still lives in us and shapes the now and the future of individuals and nations. This is particularly true in Ireland where Danny’s story began. There, in 1970’s Dublin, his troubles were easily woven into the turbulences and ramifications of a thousand years of strife. And, to get the details right, I had to dig down, beyond the headlines and those moments remembered, to find the threads that bind us all for good or bad.
At times I felt like one of the old Medieval Chroniclers, the bloggers of yore, scratching away through days and nights, only taking time to eat, smoke and walk the dogs. I slept, too, but was often roused by those magic moments when the swirling mists of the past formed into shapes and meanings that were so germane to what was evolving.
It helped that part of my life was spent troubadouring, keeping alive the truths hidden in the simple songs of the long dead. And spending hours in smoky bars listening to the old people telling the true, and not so true, stories of their days. “You learn nothing from headlines,” my mother often said with her academic disdain and she has often been proven right, especially now in the age of sound bites and staying on message. But none of these things are new, politicians and their spin-machines have been distorting our view of the world around us since before Genesis.
It also help that I evolved from skeptical youth, through total despondency and disillusionment, and through the moderation that parenthood demands, to that calmer place where you begin to grasp the truths about life. They truly fascinate once you try to stop taking them personally—one of the greatest liberties that books allow the reader and writer alike.
Books reassure us that then, as in the pages of history, and as now, the hurly-burly every day, we ride the waves of war and peace, of gain and loss, of restrictions and freedoms, and as long as we don’t let ourselves get too bogged down in what we accept as true and what we reject as false, it’s a great ride.
And Danny? Well, he was never going to be one of those who get to live happily ever after. Who does? No, Danny has a much more interesting path through it all. He follows in the footsteps of the millions who set off for a better life in the New World. But even there, raising a family with his sweetheart, he cannot free himself of the past and suffers loss and pain and does what we all do in such trials: he seeks solace and comfort in things that often turn against him. He rationalizes and he twists truth to match his purpose. He hurts those he should love and, when cut off like an island, cries into the great abyss of extreme and utter loneliness. But, just like the rest of us, his life is a thread in the greater tapestry that is always there, even when we try to ignore it. And, just like the rest of us, he is never really as alone as he seems.
And, as I head into the latter chapters of the third book, I often remember something else that my mother was wont to say: “The more things change . . .”
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