Tan by David Lawlor: “I wanted to tell a good yarn with lots of pace”
After stumbling across the local police inspector in-flagrante during a party, Liam has to flee Ireland to avoid a trumped up rape charge. In England he joins the army and serves his time in the hell of the First World War. After demobbing, he finds the respect promised the surviving soldiers to be swamped by the anti-Irish racism of the time and loses his job. Starving and at rock bottom he is induced to join an auxiliary police force being formed to respond the military campaign by the IRA. Paradoxically his unit is assigned back to his home county. Initially he tries to maintain discipline and standards in his unit but, as the senior figures in the establishment encourage the amoral elements of the force to commit the excesses that the Black and Tans became infamous for, Liam’s divided loyalties are stretched too far and Liam defects to his local brigade. As the insurgency and reprisals intensify, Liam finds himself in mortal combat with the very inspector who framed him. In the balance is not just Liam’s life but those of his family and friends.
This is a great story with a slow and deliberate build up to an exciting finale. The book examines a difficult time in Anglo-Irish relations and the racism of the time is exposed in frank terms. I found the characters very believable: I’m sure that few people set out to be the bad guy but usually arrive there in small steps. The plot was engaging and developed well, and the fractures in society caused by WW1 and the Emergency were well portrayed by the author. I enjoyed this book immensely and have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending it to anyone and everyone. This is historical fiction at its best. Five stars.
And now let’s hear from David about this book and writing in general.
Tell us briefly about Tan.
Tan is set in Ireland in 1914 and tells the story of Liam Mannion, a young man who is wrongly accused of a crime and forced to flee to England. He enlists and is sent to France. After five years of trench warfare he returns to England a changed man. Liam falls on hard times and eventually is encouraged to join a new military force headed to Ireland – the Black and Tans.
While he has been away, many of his friends have joined the republican cause in the fight for Irish independence. Liam now finds himself on the opposite side. Not only that, but he is posted to his old home town, Balbriggan. The Tans turn out to be thugs and Liam must wrestle with his torn loyalties to his friends and family as he comes face to face with the man who spread lies about him all those years before
What’s the story behind your book? How did you become involved with the book’s subject, the Black and Tans in Northern Ireland.
The story deals with the Black and Tans in southern Ireland during our War of Independence, which began in 1919. I have always been interested in this era, mainly because my grandfather was heavily involved in the war and subsequent civil war. Like many people, I wondered how I would have reacted in those testing times. I was also fascinated by the role played by the Tans. They still cast a dark shadow on our history, not least because of the still unacknowledged fact that over 20pc of them were actually Irishmen. I wanted to try to see things from a Tan’s perepctive and explore the conflicts its Irish members must have felt wearing that uniform.
Who are the characters based on?
One character, Frank, who is Liam’s best friend, is very loosley based on the Flying Column leader, Tom Barry. The rest all come from my twisted imagination!
Who’s your favorite character?
That’s a toughy. There were are a few I grew to really like. Frank is the real action figure, along with Liam. He was fun to write as was Liam’s father, Dan, and Liam’s love interest, Kate.
How much impact do your personal experiences have on your writing?
They say ‘write what you know’. Well, I like to write about what interests me and if I can slip in a few experiences of my own into a character’s makeup, then I will.
What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I wanted to tell a good yarn with lots of pace…a story that would be gripping and hard to put down. I hope I came close.
What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
I got a few books on the War of Independence. I found a great book called IRA Jailbreaks, which was a great help in one section of the story. I already had a couple of books on World War One. These, combined with internet searches, gave me all I needed. Plus, George Orwell’s Down And Out In Paris And London was helpful in scenes I wrote related to vagrancy
What was the hardest part of writing Tan?
The editing, the re-writes and accepting your gut instinct that something wasn’t quite working.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Getting totally wrapped up in the characters, and when the dialogue starts to really flow. Also, those rare times when a scene really develops quite quickly and you capture it well.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and self vs. traditional publishing?
I hate the snobbery involved. I have tried to be published the traditional way, but have had no joy so far. I feel that there are some pretty poor print books out there and and even larger amount of ebooks. That said, there are some real gems when it comes to ebooks, too. I feel that just because something is available electronically doesn’t make it any worse than some work whose pages you can turn in your hand. However, one thing I absolutely can’t stand (no reflection on you here, Stephanie) is the self-promotion I must do for my book. I have a blog and use Twitter but, really, my heart isn”t into much of the social media, which is a bit of a bummer when it comes to plugging your own book.
What authors do you like to read?
John Connolly, Jo Nesbo, Robert Harris, lots and lots
Do you write every single day?
When I have a project I’m working on I try to write a thousand words a day. I write on the 50-minute train journey in and out of work and on my lunchbreak
How do you remain sane as a writer?
I have four children and a very busy wife to help knock me back to the real world. They are a tonic
Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer?
Yes…angst, angst and more angst that you are not good enough or that a storyline/character just doesn”t cut the mustard.
What are you writing now?
I have just finished the sequel to Tan, which is being read by a few people before I decide to sign-off on it. I will send it out to agents to begin with, but will self-publish if that doesn’t work out. I am researching a third book in the series at the moment, which is set around Michael Collins and the Treaty talks in London.