Co Tyrone native Anthony Quinn was a social worker before dabbling in gardening and teaching yoga. He switched careers again to become a journalist and now he has written his first novel, a book categorised as fiction but one very much inspired by real-life Troubles tales. He talks to Brian Campbell ANTHONY Quinn's debut novel Disappeared has the tagline 'In Northern Ireland's darkest corner, The Troubles have never ended'.
You could argue that people all over the world believe the Troubles have indeed never ended as they've watched news bulletins about riots and protests in Belfast over the past month.
However, Quinn's novel is inspired by stories of the Disappeared - those murdered by paramilitaries during the Troubles and their bodies dumped in secret graves.
Some have never been found.
It is a crime fiction novel and the lead character is Inspector Celcius Daly, who sets out to solve an intriguing web of deaths and disappearances - retired Special Branch officer David Hughes goes missing after looking into the disappearance of Oliver Jordan at the hands of the IRA; Joseph Devine, a former spy, is then found bludgeoned to death on the shores of Lough Neagh.
Author Quinn, who is based in Co Tyrone, says there are echoes in the book of the real-life stories of Tyrone teenager Columba McVeigh, who was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1975 and whose body has never been found, and that of Denis Donaldson - the former Sinn Fein and IRA member who was found murdered in a cottage in Co Donegal in 2006 after being exposed as a Special Branch agent.
Quinn works part-time for the Tyrone Times newspaper and says he was drawn to write a book after writing about a host of stories that harked back to the Troubles.
"I had been a social worker and then I changed career and became a journalist," he says.
"I thought I'd be doing stuff about sport and flower-arranging and agricultural stories but about six or seven years ago I found myself covering stories about the Troubles, talking to a lot of grieving relatives who were still searching for justice.
"It struck me that there were still a lot of stories that remained untold and I thought writing the book would kind of give voice to these stories."
His first big news story was an interview with a father still searching for justice over the death of his nine-year old son, who had been killed in a loyalist car bomb more than 30 years before.
He also heard first-hand accounts of how one family discovered a secret camera camouflaged in their hedgerows, placed there by British intelligence operatives to relay footage to a nearby police station.
He says his novel is "probably the most important story I've told".
Quinn was himself affected by the Troubles.
As a 10-year-old, he and his family were held at gunpoint by an IRA gang while their colleagues stole the family car.
To ensure the family wouldn't speak out about the incident, one of the IRA men handed Quinn a bullet to give to his father as a way of buying his silence.
"I did have my own experiences during the Troubles but a lot of the background and research for the book came from stories and people I've met through working at the paper over the last few years," he says.
"So the story isn't based on real-life characters but some of it is about expressing what it was like to be a Catholic growing up in a republican stronghold in Co Tyrone.
"I had the back story of the informer that gets killed at the start but I didn't expect to spend as much time on him and for him to have such a big role in the book.
"His death has echoes of Denis Donaldson and some of the American reviewers have even picked up on that."
However, Quinn says he didn't have the ending worked out before he started writing the novel.
"No, I just kept adding bits on," he says.
"It's more fun that way.
"I think it's quite common that a book isn't all mapped out.
"Ian Rankin would say the same thing.
"There are no red herrings in there; you're not deceiving the reader because you don't know who's guilty either.
"You have all the characters assembled and you make them all a little shady and with some truths hidden.
"It makes it more interesting for you as a writer.
"You want to see yourself how it pans out and all comes together."
Quinn says he's a fan of Rankin, Graham Greene.
John Le Carre, Len Deighton and PD James.
He says his second Inspector Celcius Daly novel, Border Angels, is already finished.
"It takes place about a year after [the events in Disappeared]," he says.
"It has more of an international story involving people-trafficking and paramilitaries and border country.
"It touches on the changes in Northern Ireland and the rise in racism and tension when you look at the large Eastern European populations in places like Dungannon and Craigavon.
"So it focuses on those new tales of discrimination and alienation."
■ Disappeared is out now, published by Mysterious Press/Open Road. ■ ■ AUTHOR:: Anthony Quinn