On Monday afternoon I headed to Belfast for a little last-draft research. This is the point in finishing off the book where I have to make sure all the small details are correct. For instance, while wandering around the city center, I realized my memory had failed me in thinking one could see the Woolworth’s shop from the main British Home Stores entrance in Corn Market. Not going to give any spoilers, but when you read the book you’ll see why this would be important to get right. And this is only one example!
I checked into the Days Inn hotel in the center of Belfast and met up with ye olde friende Terry, one of the gang I hung out with in Belfast eons ago. I’ve mentioned him before in my blogs…he immigrated to Australia and most of us only got back in touch once we’d been assimilated into Facebook a few years ago. One of these days we’ll collaborate on a screenplay, about the fate and follies of Norn Irish immigrants over the world.
Research began in the lobby bar of the Europa Hotel, famed as the most bombed hotel in the world. My memory turned out not only to be faulty about how it looked back in 1979 (when the book is set) but downright wrong! I thought I remembered marble floors, but according to the mini museum on the spiral staircase wall off the lobby, it was all wood paneling and dark carpet.
After a berry-flavored cider we crossed the road to The Crown Liquor Saloon. This tavern was in the original draft of the screenplay but I’m not sure if it’s going to be in the book or not. A Victorian gin palace, built in 1885, it’s a really attractive building with ornately elaborate Italian tiling, stained glass and woodwork. A pear-flavored cider, this time…sitting up at the bar and people-watching.
Two glasses of cider prompts a visit to the bathroom, where unfortunately several sterling pound coins fell from my jeans pocket and rolled under the partition to the stall beside me.
“Don’t worry, I won’t keep them,” came an American-accented voice.
I laughed. “Finders keepers.”
Using a pointed index finger, my neighbor slid the coins one by one back toward me and headed out to the sinks. When I emerged I found her bemused by the disposable toothbrush vending machine. Whatever they looked like, they came in round blue plastic bubbles, a pound each.
Next stop was Lavery’s Bar, apparently another gin palace. This doesn’t feature in the book, but I based a couple of places on it. When I spent a year studying my A-levels at the Shaftesbury House College nearby, almost every afternoon a bunch of us came in here after school. We were all about 17, (under age), and where we got the money from to drink every day I do not know! I have a very clear memory of drinking Southern Comfort and white lemonade in there. The very thought of it now makes me want to hurl!
Then it was time to head down to the ‘Movie House’ on Dublin Road to see the film, ’71, which has just been released here. I had mixed feelings about seeing it. It’s hard to watch stuff like this that stirs up stuff probably best forgotten. But I thought it would be helpful to see a period piece set in Belfast, particularly considering the subject of my own book and screenplay. And it was, to a point.
I thought the movie started out well, but lost a lot once we got to the second act. Too many plot holes. Spoiler alert: in my humble opinion, I think it would have worked better if the main character had been more proactive about his survival throughout the story rather than blundering around and trusting others too easily… and when he’d passed out in the street due to his injuries, with astounding good luck he was found by the only two people out walking in the area…one who just happened to be an ex-army medic and his daughter, who dragged him up several stories into the heart of Provo land in the infamous Divis Flats.
But really, who am I to criticize? It was pretty well done, all in all, and I am well aware what a remarkable feat it is to get a movie made in the first place, so kudos to writer Gregory Burke. Perhaps people who didn’t grow up in this shit might find it simply an entertaining war movie thriller.
We ended up in Kelly’s Cellars, the oldest licensed premises in Belfast. There’s always a great atmosphere there, and it was a perfect place to wrap up a day’s work over a shot of smooth Bushmills whiskey.
All in the name of research, you understand…!
View from the hotel window
In front of Belfast city hall
Reliving history, posing in a new-style phonebox where an old cherry-red one stood
Some charming person left this cigarette butt in half a Mars Bar