Tony Macaulay, Belfast Gate, Book Launch, Waterstones, Belfast, September 9, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
Photography courtesy of Beth Macaulay
The average height of Belfast rose by about 6 inches tonight. The Germans are in town. The GAWA stood tall, giving a good account of themselves but unable to keep an empty net. From a country who tore down The Wall in 1989 to a country who built them in 1969. And they’re still standing. 21 miles, some 30-foot-high divide the not yet conquered Belfast.
50 years they’ve been here. At the time of construction needed; now they’re sort of half needed, half disregarded, the other half hated. Maths was never my strong point. With four books behind him, his first, Paperboy, turned into an acclaimed musical, Belfast’s Tony Macaulay stretches his writing legs from memoir to novel.
Gerry Kelly introduces Macaulay to a room of readers, writers, bloggers, journos, the great and good and the some not so: from just a few seats taken minutes before the launch, it turns out standing room only as things kick off. Not in that way you must understand, Macaulay has fought for peace as hard as the IRA, INLA, UDA, UVF and splinter group upon splinter group put murder, mayhem and fear high on their collective agendas.
A story of a divided city, not by those who wished it but from those who lived it and are living it still. 2019 wastefully and unhappily welcomes half a century of corrugated metal, most dubbed with graffiti be it sectarian or otherwise into our present. The spray of colour in bloom is of little consequence and merely decorate and try to hide what cannot be hidden. We’re introduced to The GOGO Girls, Kelly quips, ‘GOGO Girls meant something different in my youth’. Macaulay’s girls are the type who lived and thrived together, regardless of religion before the walls went up. Now separated and with a fragile peace holding, Macaulay’s first novel moves from the memoirs of the past to fiction meets fact in our present time. The premise is simple, ‘Get Our Gates Open’.
Drawn from his work as an advocate for peace at the height of the Troubles, strong women are at the core of this piece of writing. Reading from chapter eight where the GOGOs meet ‘stakeholders’ i.e former terrorists now turned ‘community workers’, the tone is not all doom and gloom. If you’ve read any of the former memoirs you’ll be on familiar terms with Macaulay’s dry and easy humour that cuts sharp through the crap and insolence we call politics. Jean Beattie simply won’t have it. Her best friend, Big Isobel, has shuttled off this mortal coil and the wall prevented her from attending the funeral. Things must change.
Little asides, sayings, and slang pepper a read that only Northern Irish people will know. Yet, there is a universal, understated message here that’ll chime to all. I’ve only read the prologue, a few pages of the first chapter and listened to the author read and act out chapter eight but with a brief flight of the eyes and ears I can feel this book is gonna be a keeper.
Belfast Gate is out on September 16th, an audio version will be released the same day. Such is the demand a second print is currently coming through the presses as I type.
An interview with Tony Macaulay about Belfast Gate and more will be published tomorrow.
For more info visit http://www.tonymacaulayauthor.com