Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: Johnny McClintock's War by Gerry McCullough.

Gerry McCullough has been writing poems and stories since childhood. Brought up in north Belfast, she graduated in English and Philosophy from Queen's University, Belfast, then went on to gain an MA in English.
She lives just outside Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has four grown up children and is married to author, media producer and broadcaster, Raymond McCullough, with whom she co-edited the Irish magazine, 'Bread', (published by Kingdom Come Trust), from 1990-96. In 1995 they published a non-fiction book called, 'Ireland - now the good news!'
Over the past few years Gerry has had more than sixty short stories published in UK, Irish and American magazines, anthologies and annuals - as well as broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster. Her poems and articles have been published in several Northern Ireland and UK magazines, and she has also done readings from her novels, poems and short stories at several Irish literary events. She writes a regular literary blog - Gerry's Books - and guest writes for several other literary blogs.
Gerry won the Cúirt International Literary Award for 2005 (Galway); was shortlisted for the 2008 Brian Moore Award (Belfast); shortlisted for the 2009 Cúirt Award; and commended in the 2009 Seán O'Faolain Short Story Competition, (Cork).
She is now also an Amazon best-selling novellist and her novels include:
'Belfast Girls' a thriller/romance (Nov 2010, Night Publishing - 2nd edition June, 2012, Precious Oil Publications)
'Danger, Danger' (October, 2011 - Precious Oil)
'Angel in Flight: the first Angel Murphy thriller' (June 2012 - Precious Oil)
'The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus' (January, 2012 - Precious Oil) her first collection of Irish short stories , previously published in an Irish weekly magazine.
'Lady Molly & The Snapper' (August, 2012 - Precious Oil) - a young adult time travel adventure, set in Ireland and on the high seas.
'Angel in Belfast: the 2nd Angel Murphy thriller' (June 2013 - Precious Oil)
The Cúirt Award-winning story, 'Primroses,' and the Seán O'Faolain commended story, 'Giving Up,' have been extended and re-written as part of a series of seven more serious Irish short stories - to be published later in 2014, with another of these stories, 'Not the End of the World' - a comic, futuristic, adult fantasy novel and another collection of Seanachie lighthearted, Irish stories.

Book Description
Publication Date: August 11, 2014
The story of one man’s struggle to maintain his faith in spite of everything life throws at him.

As the outbreak of the First World War looms closer, John Henry McClintock, a Northern Irish Protestant by upbringing, meets Rose Flanagan, a Catholic, at a gospel tent mission – and falls in love with her.

When Johnny enlists and sets off to fight in the War he finds himself surrounded by death and tragedy, which pushes his trust in God to the limit.

After more than five years absence he returns home to a bitter, war torn Ireland, where both he and Rose are seen as traitors to their own sides.

John Henry and Rose overcome all opposition and, finally, marry. But a few years later comes the hardest blow of all. Can John Henry still hang on to his faith in God?

My review of ‘Johnny McClintock’s War.’

John Henry McClintock, a young, idealistic, Northern Irish Protestant holds his belief in God dear to his heart, it is pivotal to who he is, pivotal in his interactions with the others that share his belief. 

When he meets Rose Flanagan a Catholic girl, he has to redefine his belief system. Surely a love as strong as the one between himself and the lovely Rose can overcome the ingrained prejudices of his volatile countrymen.

Confident that this love could withstand any test, Johnny McClintock enlists in the armed forces and is sent out to face the horrors of World War One. Horrors that will make any of us cry in our despair that this war was not and sadly will never be the war to end all wars.

Author Gerry McCullough has a deep insight into what drives her characters. Because of this each of her characterizations are very real to the reader, inviting us to step inside their lives, we laugh with them, and we cry for them, we invest ourselves emotionally and want so badly for their love for one another to hold fast against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Rose is forced to deal with the ugly side of life, before she’d ever had a real chance to experience the wonders that it can and does hold.

Johnny McClintock has his faith tested, again and again on the battlefield and in the foxholes. The sights sounds and smells of frail humans forced into inhuman circumstances, make his days red with blood and his nightmares imbed themselves into his soul.

 Death is his constant companion, and he fights to understand how a loving God could allow this inhumanity to exist. He fights to hold on to his beliefs just as strongly as he fought on this other field of battle. Both took their toll on his soul.

He returns home, no longer young. Circumstances have decreed that he will never again be the young man that left his beautiful Northern Ireland five years before.

The author understands his pain and allows us to share in it.

This insight makes his love for Rose especially poignant, and it needs to be a strong love to endure the prejudices and attacks of people who look at them from both sides and relegate them to traitor status.

Johnny and his Rose marry and are tested over and over again.

 I will not spoil the ending of this beautifully written book. Suffice it to say that their ultimate challenge looms large.

Will their love and faith in God survive? You must read the book.

The author has taken the reader on a journey of discovery, a journey that is fast paced, touching and sadly all to real.

I can’t say more, apart from the fact that I recommend this work highly to anyone who looks for depth, plausibility, and human frailties in what they choose to read. I will be reading this again and am certain I will discover still more layers of real life within its pages.

I congratulate author Gerry McCullough on this work...I have read most of her other books and enjoyed them immensely; but this ...this one stands proudly alone, a book that should be required reading for all those that sit distant and safe from the wars they help create.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Forever Changed. For Tom Winton with my thanks.


For Tom Winton with my thanks.

The book had within its pages passages of pure magic; when the author had tapped into her bloodstream with his words and made her turn the pages hurriedly, only to go back and read again to be certain the feeling was real.

Moments of reluctant acknowledgement that finally someone had the vision to write truth as it needed to be written. Clear, uncluttered and blinding in its demand for the reader’s attention.

She wondered about the man who had penned the words, had he experienced the things he wrote about, or did he have a mind filled with that charismatic empathy that few possess; the empathy that permits them entry into the hearts and souls of all things living? The empathy that makes the reader check their doors and windows and wonder aloud if they were indeed wearing a device that granted him access.

Who was he, this stranger?

What made him tick?

It became a challenge for her to find out more about the man behind the words. Why? To deem him worthy of her patronage?
She laughed quietly to herself at that thought. No … her ego would never be that inflated.

More likely she acknowledged to herself wryly, to find that chink in his armor, that piece of information that would again relegate him to the realms of simply writing something that shone briefly on her horizon, then like all brightly shining things flamed and burned out into the sea of almost was.

She found herself hoping that her cynicism was justified. Far easier in the long term to accept that he was a talented writer, nothing more. It felt somehow safer that way. Then he wouldn’t have invaded her safe place, he wouldn’t have connected with the hidden things within her and made her cry out in her vulnerability.

She tasted fear. She didn’t like it.

Her need to feel safe in her hidden world was the driving force behind the need to know more. Did he have demons of his own that drove him to write words that tore down her barriers with so little force.

She began to search.

She found nothing. Nothing. He was not proclaiming himself to be a messenger of hope, a purveyor of dreams, a bastion of safety in a crazy world. He was simply a man. A man with a wonderful talent. A writer brave enough to open his heart and his mind and allow others to enter.

How could something as soul changing as his writing be born of a man who simply appeared one day on her horizon? She would never know. Yet she did know it didn’t make a damned bit of difference what or where he had come from, she would remain forever altered by virtue of the fact that he had followed his destiny and written words that sang on the page.

She had not as yet read the final chapter. She refused to do so. Not yet.

The book lay close by her as if protecting her in its bound pages. She wanted to remain inside its words. To stay safe.

She read and re-read it. She committed whole passages to memory.

What if the ending were too predictable? What if it didn’t release her from this hostage situation?

More importantly … what if it did?

Came a day when she knew it was time. She despised herself for being so weak for so long. Her hands shook a little as she began that final chapter.

The book lay closed against her chest. One hand holding it firmly in place. Its cover was damp with long unshed tears.

She drew a breath that shook.

Her world had forever changed. Not in a flash of sudden blinding clarity, that was the stuff of movies … no … this was more like walking through a thick fog that gradually lifted to reveal all that had been there simply waiting to be truly seen.

There were colors here she had never allowed herself to see. Sounds from outside she had never allowed herself to hear. Words to be said that she had never allowed herself to say.

She smiled and shook her head. So much for being tough old girl. The smile turned to teary laughter. ‘If they could see me now.’ The music to a marvelous old song by Shirley McClaine danced in her head as she took herself off to bed.

She slept a deep sleep. Quenching her thirsty soul, and resting her tired mind.

In the days and months that followed she caught herself laughing unexpectedly and those who loved her noticed the change.

She permitted herself to cry, simply because she could.

She read with a renewed sense of adventure, finding much that had been hidden by her blinkered eyes for so long.

She wrote words that needed to be written.

And now? Now she is simply saying thank you to a friend who unknowingly gave her a precious gift.

Thank you, Tom.