In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project

In Search of My Father 2017 Writing Project
In Search of My Father, 2017 writing project supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Wednesday, 18 October 2017



Here are some ideas for November 2017 features. Some of them may be in your diary already. Some of them may be added to your diary after reading this. Some features may be written by in-house journalists. But maybe, just maybe, I can write something for you.

Have a good old nosey round the blog to see some of the features in the archives.

Let me know what you want, word count, deadline and fee and I will get to work. (A summary of my published work appears below.)

Here's the November 2017 list and, if I can help, I look forward to hearing from you. 

I will add more to the list if and when I come across any interesting ideas.

7 Marie Curie born 170 years ago (died 1934)
8 Bram Stoker born 170 years ago (died 1912)
8 12 people killed and 63 injured in an IRA bomb in Enniskillen 30 years ago
11 Mairead Corrigan & Betty Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize 40 years ago
15 Petula Clark will be 85
17 Martin Scorsese will be 75
18 31 people died and 100 injured in a fire at King’s Cross Station 30 years ago
20 Princess Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten 70 years ago
19 Indira Ghandi born 100 years ago (died 1984)
19 Calvin Klein will be 75
20 Windsor Castle caught fire 25 years ago
20 The last typewriter (Brother) built in the UK was produced 5 years ago. Secretary/PA memories?
22 Boris Becker will be 50
23 Boris Karloff born 130 years ago (died 1969)
25 General Synod of the Church of England voted to allow women priests 25 years ago
27 Jimi Hendrix born 75 years ago (died 1970)
29 Findings of the Leveson inquiry into the British media announced 5 years ago. What’s changed?
30 Jonathan Swift born 350 years ago (died 1745)

Number One UK Single 50 years ago - November 1967:
To Sir With Love – Lulu

You're welcome


Books: Belfast Backlash; Shops, Shoppers, Shopping & Shafted; Before Amnesia: Seeds Of A Memoir; Shaking Hands; Retail Confidential; Much Calamity & The Redundance Kid; Stephen Boyd: From Belfast To Hollywood; Hamish Sheaney: The Nearly-Man Of Irish Literature; Juggling Jelly; Geek!; A Belfast Kid; Jack Elam, I Gave You The Best Years Of My Life; The Chuckle Files; The Poems Of Hamish Sheaney: Remastered & Expanded; Only Yules & Verses; Only Drools & Corsets; Fun With Words, Fun With Rhyme; Fun With Words, Fun With Noise

Published features, reviews, poetry and the odd broadcasting gig include – Family Tree magazine, BBC Radio Ulster "The Arts Show", BBC Radio Ulster "The John Toal Show", Wells Festival/Poetry 2016 (Shortlist), The Galway Review, Scarlet Leaf Review, Derwent Poetry Festival 2015, 2015 Templar Poetry Anthology “Mill”, Octavius Magazine, Ireland’s Big Issue, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Belfast Telegraph, 2013 Belfast Book Festival, Irish News, BBC TV NI “Stephen Boyd: The Man Who Never Was”, BBC Radio Sheffield “Rony Robinson”, BBC Radio Ulster “Saturday Magazine”, BBC Radio 4 “You & Yours”, The Guardian, Tribune, NZ Management, The Grocer, Retail Week, Edge, Open Eye, Yorkshire Post, The Catholic Herald, Cambridge Evening News, The London Paper, Southern Cross, NZ Freelance, Writer’s News, Belfast News Letter, Irelands Own, Fortnight, The Dalhousie Review; Blithe Spirit; The Cannon’s Mouth, Poetry Monthly, Poetic Comment, Bard, Current Accounts, Candelabrum, Decanto, Inclement, Haiku Scotland, Time Haiku, etc. 


Election Fever
Groundbreaking Electoral Contests In Northern Ireland
Alan F. Parkinson

The Blackstaff Press 2017

One: A Volatile Cocktail – The North-Belfast By-election, 1905
Two: The “Partition” Election – Election to First Northern Ireland Parliament, 1921
Three: The “Chapel Gate” Election – The Stormont General Election, 1949
Four: The “Crossroads” Election – The Stormont General Election, 1969
Five: Hopes of a Breakthrough – The First Assembly Election, 1973
Six: Election of a Hunger Striker – The Fermanagh & South Tyrone By-election, 1981
Seven: Election for the Never-Never Land – The Westminster By-elections, 1986
Eight: A Drift to the Margins – The 2003 Assembly Election
Plus several appendices

“….. most people’s electoral decisions are still framed in terms of their religious membership and sense of ethnic identity. Northern Ireland remains, politically at least, a place apart, where elections represent periodic opportunities to manifest tribal loyalties shaped by history and tradition, rather than the expression of pragmatic voter choices relating to the modern world.”

One of life’s annoying things is when you are doing a jigsaw puzzle and everything is progressing reasonably well, the frames straight edges coming along, pieces fitting together nicely, a picture slowly developing and then you turn your back for a minute and someone upends the whole lot and you have to start all over again. The unfinished jigsaw has been reduced to a pile of fragments and you wonder why you bothered with the wretched thing in the first place. Northern Ireland politics is a bit like that, nay, a lot like that. In history there have been periods of progress, then somebody decides to change something or says something controversial or makes unhelpful demands and that upendedness catches hold in a dug-in-heels, wait-a-wee-minute, catch-yourself-on circus of finger-pointing, insults and irritating stubbornness. It is important to try to understand why this all too frequent shambles of a political atmosphere has affected and continues to affect Northern Ireland.

Alan F. Parkinson rides to the rescue here with a brilliant analysis of some of Ulster’s elections over the years, from 1905 to the present day more or less. It is indicative of the complexities of Northern Ireland’s take on politics and politicians that the introduction to this book is over forty pages long. But that’s the way of things. There is a handy reminder that the history of the country is festooned with the three and four letter abbreviations of parties and organisations all sticking their oar in during the past 100 years, for good or ill. The recipe is always changing and the pot is forever stirred!

Parkinson reminds us that the Westminster elite really hadn’t much of a clue as to what to do about Northern Ireland, and that is still pretty much the case today. Violence, the super-egos of mouthy local politicians and out-of-their-depth dabblers across the water have all played their part in keeping communities divided but thank goodness there have been some courageous politicians who have stepped up and risen above the noise and mischief of opportunists. The most recent example of hope on a journey of ceasefires and negotiations was the peace process that led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It was a remarkable achievement by Northern Ireland political standards and brought relief to its citizens while it lasted.

The aforementioned dug-in-heels, wait-a-wee-minute, catch-yourself-on circus of finger-pointing, insults and irritating stubbornness have never gone away. And neither has violence ceased completely. The quotation in italics at the beginning of this review is a perfect summary of not only where Northern Ireland’s politics and electorate have been but also where they are now and where they may well be forever.

Over the years, to jog memories, the cast of characters who have helped or hindered include (alphabetically, lest anyone get upset over position) Gerry Adams, Jack Beattie, Basil Brooke, James Craig, William Craig, Bernadette Devlin, Joseph Devlin, Brian Faulkner, Gerry Fitt, John Hume, Martin McGuinness, Harry Midgeley, James Molyneaux, Terence O’Neill, Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and David Trimble.

The book is not only a political study. It illustrates the differences of opinion and interpretation of local media, particularly comparing the language used and stances taken by the Unionist-leaning Belfast Telegraph and the nationalist-leaning Irish News. It is fascinating to read two very different views of the same event. But this versus that is part of the tapestry and there is nothing wrong with healthy and intelligent debate.

Alan F. Parkinson has produced a painstakingly detailed account of key points in Northern Ireland’s political history. He has guided us through many layers of party decisions and their consequences, given us useful appraisals and portraits of key players in this ongoing saga, highlighted the nature and content of election campaigns and performed an essential service by explaining the nature of one of the most politically complicated and frustrating countries in the world.

This is a superb study and should be read widely, not least by the voters of Northern Ireland who have a glorious opportunity to lay a foundation for future generations, a future that does not rely on hauling huge amounts of negative baggage from the past. 

Hope should never be dismissed and maybe one day the jigsaw puzzle will cease to be a puzzle.

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Monday, 16 October 2017


Another day and another storm
with a cute name hurtles across the sea
en route to be lead story on the nine o’clock news
presented by *Huw Edwards as Eeyore,
looking miserable and hopeless and delivering the words
like a hangdog lay minister at a graveside.
Storms, nature’s perverse blow jobs,
named after old school friends and kindly aunties,
that will test nerves and bricks and allow action reporters
to model Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies as they wade
in flood water, pointing to the desperate and the damage,
one eye on the camera lens and the other twinkling
to impress BAFTA judges.
Huw tells us the news, the live reporter tells us the same news,
Huw and the reporter discuss the same news
and our eyes glaze and nostrils flare just as they did
when we were six listening to a church sermon
about dungeon, fire and sword, words spoken by a fat priest
with a hangover from a pulpit that creaked above us,
as if squirming God had an itchy arse on a leather chair
and was signalling to Father Fat to shut the hell up
and get on with the praise and glory bits.
If macho storms are to be christened, they need macho names,
not Gertrude, Daisy, Barney, Frank, Nigel, Wendy or, now, Ophelia. 
Call them Satan, Armageddon, Bastard, call them anything that describes
their intentions, their baggage of destruction, misery and despair,
and the most appropriate thing we should do is name one Huw.

Note for some readers: *BBC television newsreader