‘How Hamlet gave me permission to explore deeper narratives of the Troubles’

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“Like every fiction writer I have my personal card catalogue of literary influences that I can rhyme off at the drop of a hat to anyone who is interested – Rankin, Le Carre, Deighton, Rendell, PD James and Graham Greene,” says Co Tyrone author and Tyrone Times journalist Anthony Quinn.

“However, sometimes the biggest influence an author can have on an emerging writer is one that can never be perceived or measured by even the most discerning of readers.

“I’m talking about metaphysical or psychological influences. Ever since studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet while an A level student from Tyrone, the thrilling story of this prince brooding over the bloody legacy of the past has haunted my imagination. It wasn’t just the language and the fact that Shakespeare’s characters spoke in an archaic form of English that had many similarities with the Mid Ulster dialect. Words forgotten by the rest of the English speaking world were still being used in the corridors of my school, St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon. Verbs like ‘mitch’, which to us meant to play truant, crop up regularly in Shakespeare’s plays. Even typically Ulster grammatical constructions such as following an imperative form of the verb with ‘you’ as in ‘get you your homework done’ are commonplace throughout the plays of the bard.

“What really caught my imagination, however, was how Hamlet tackled a topic that the Northern Irish psyche had been suppressing for years, namely how does the future generation deal with the destructive and malevolent spirals of revenge that overshadowed my childhood. In subtle ways, Hamlet shaped my first novel, Disappeared, which went on to be selected by the Times and the Daily Mail as one of the best books of the year in 2014. In the opening chapter, I exchanged the ramparts of Elsinore Castle for the blackthorn hedges of Tyrone. Instead of the ghost of a murdered King, it’s the ghost of a dead informer demanding vengeance from one of the book’s main characters, an elderly detective suffering from Alzheimers, thus setting the stage for procrastination and a meditation on the dilemmas faced by victims of the Troubles.

“How does a society emerge from a long and violent conflict? Should victims retreat into patience and silence, or is such a course of action to acquiesce in the evil? What about the intolerable alternatives - to respond to the ghosts of the past and seek vengeance? Hamlet gave me the permission to explore these deeper narratives of the Troubles.”