Fiona Scarlett (2021) Boys Don’t Cry.

I’m weird, I find reading Acknowledgements instructive. Writing is a singular process, but a team game.  When you write, or try to write, you look at books differently. You look at the cover and artwork [tick]. You look at the publisher: Faber [tick]. Fiona Scarlett has got the backing of the one of the major league publishers for her debut novel. You look at the blurbs on the back. What famous writers have been hooked in to add for added publicity, verification of their writing talent, or quality control? [tick] Donal Ryan [don’t know who that is]. Kit de Waal [liked her debut novel]. Louise O’Neil or Ruth Horgan’s work [not read their work]. These are big hitters and my guess is they publish with Faber and they write about dysfunctional families. The biggest hitter of them all, Marian Keyes, sums up this book with one word ‘Beautiful’. Marian Keyes sells books in the tens-of-thousands-per day. If you can get a blurb from Marion Keyes, you put it on the front cover [tick].

Fiona Scarlett acknowledges:

‘To Cat, who after reading my first round of edits convinced me it wasn’t all a total pile of shite…’ [tick].

Less than a handful of debut authors get published by the big five publishing houses. A smaller number are worth reading. Writers that know what they’re doing are worth watching and reading. Few of us can see what they’ve written, what we’ve written. Saccades are rapid eye movements on a fixed point in a visual field. What we see is not what we’ve written, but what we think we’ve written. Measurement of saccades by other readers tends to flicker for a longer time (measured in milliseconds) on, for example, grammatical mistakes. That’s a large measure of ‘shite’ that kills the self-publishing industry. If you’re like me, you can’t see them, and jump ahead then you’re dead to publishers.

Where the eyes stray and tend to stay is a good place to start picking apart your edits. But you need other readers for that, machine reading can help with pattern-recognition. Acknowledging it’s a whole pile of shite is a good starting point. Humility gets you further into the words than, for example, two writers whose work I’d read congratulating each other on their great work, and wondering if they needed to edit it.

Don’t bother, the publisher will do that for you, was their way of seeing the world.

Fiona Scarlett did bother. She did the work. Write what you know included end-of-life caring. Her style of free- indirect discourse transforms the world of Jane Austen’s middle-class Sense and Sensibility, but it can also be tweaked to spill over into the common language of different tribes. It’s often a class thing.

On the page, Bojaxhiu, known as the Jax, one of four high-rises near Dollymount Strand, good for day excursions and ice cream. Being pushed around the back of the flats in a Tesco trolley, a no-go area for the Garda in Dublin paints a different word picture.

Joe O’Reilly, and his wee brother Finn, take turns telling you their story (from their point of view) [tick].

Their Da is a hardman, who beats their Ma [tick]. Working class. But their Ma doesn’t let him hit the kids. All rules aren’t equal. Life is never fair.

‘…His foot was on hers now. ‘Are you making a fucking charity case out of us now?’

‘Finn, to your room. Now,’ Ma ordered.

‘That’s right, send your little Mammy’s boy to his room, God forbid he sees what a real man must do to get some fucking respect,’ he said, pushing up against Ma.

‘Finn, you’re in goal.’

‘My arse, I was in last time.’

Myself, Jasmine, Dunner and Shane were the first ones there. We flung our school bags under the bench and stripped off our jumpers, running to mark the goalposts’

Jumpers for goalposts is a throwback to the kind of life we never lived, nostalgia sells [tick]. But there’s something the matter with Finn and he doesn’t even know it—yet.

Foregrounding and flashback [tick] lets the reader into the family’s secrets.

The bogeyman is Murphy, who Da works for as an enforcer. Everybody works for Murphy, or they mind their own business. Ma works in the local pub, which is Murphy’s gang hut.

Carthy, who Joe grew up with and lives in the same high-rise, is putting the squeeze on Sabine. Her mum’s borrowed money. Joe’s kinda in love with her, but Carthy’s just following Murphy’s orders. Only Murphy says when a debt it paid in full. Joe wants to right every wrong.

His Da is telling him, everything he thinks he knows—he doesn’t. But Murphy wants to bring Joe into the fold, make him work for him, like his da.

Boys Don’t Cry, aye, right. Read on.

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