Danny Morrison discusses new reworking of his Troubles novel The Wrong Man
Sinn Fein's director of publicity during the Troubles, these days it's all about the writing for west Belfast republican Danny Morrison. He told Noel McAdam about a new reworking of his novel The Wrong Man, and a rather macabre pastime
DANNY Morrison has admitted that, whatever else he does in life, his phrase 'armalite and ballot box' strategy would be on his headstone. Except that he doesn't intend to have one.
Now 65, the former Sinn Fein director of information-turned-author plans to donate his body to science, following a television programme he watched five years ago about organ donations. Yet, with a grim touch of irony, one of his main hobbies is visiting graves not just in Ireland but all over the world.
"That's my hobby," he says. "Yet I hope never to be in one."
So what does he put his rather macabre interest down to?
"Melancholia," he tells me, insisting he is not winding me up. "I love sad things – sad films, sad music – I love Mahler, for example, very dark – sad novels. I do think the spirit of people is infused in objects they have touched – a pen, for example. Still, I am quite extrovert."
Morrison has recently published a 'reworking' of his third novel, The Wrong Man, which deals primarily with two IRA members, Raymond Massey and Thomas 'Tod' Malone and their partners Roisin and Sal, and is set in the years between the Hunger Strikes and the first signs of what would become the peace process.
The novel first appeared in 1998 and then became a successful play of the same name which was performed, not just at Conway Mill in west Belfast but in London, Dublin and for a month in Edinburgh in and around 2005.
When the rights were taken over by a Serbian publisher who wanted to reissue the original text for its 20th anniversary, Morrison decided to infuse the text with dialogue from the play. But he has also written entirely new scenes and extended others and believes the book is now "much more literate, much more focussed, much more dramatic".
"I wanted to write a book that could portray the predicament of an informer when he is entrapped," he adds. "But there is no-one who would read it, I believe, who would be tempted for one moment to join the IRA."
The fast-paced 200-page novel has the mark of authenticity, not least because of Morrison's own experience – he served five and a half years of an eight-year prison sentence on charges of aiding and abetting the unlawful imprisonment of a police informer, Sandy Lynch – a conviction which was later overturned.
It was while in prison, Morrison says, that he developed his own literary education, reading classics such as Knulp, Madame Bovary and The Last Tycoon. The first half of the original The Wrong Man was written in jail.
"I originally wanted to be a writer but I had given my life to the republican struggle. But in this book now I believe I have been more loyal to the characters than the cause. It is not an apologia for the IRA or for the armed struggle or even resistance. You come away from the book with a sadness, I think."
Morrison strongly denies there is any propaganda value or a romanticisation in the novel – and rejects any argument that it attempts to sanitise the Provisionals.
But he confirms that, when first published, he was more concerned about the reactions of colleagues within the party and wider republican movement than the critics.
This was not, however, because his republican comrades could be suspicious about 'one of their own' revealing the inner workings and psychology for a secret organisation – a form, at its height, of betrayal.
"This book is of no use whatsoever to the securocrats. It might be of use to psychologists, I suppose, giving an insight into people's minds and thinking."
The main character, Raymond, who Morrison calls a 'history maker', is ruthless – "and that is not a quality which people admire or respect – but he is purposeful and makes real sacrifices", he says.
"There is a little bit of my DNA in all the characters. The qualities in the characters come from people I knew, and know, but there is no-one who anyone will be able to recognise. I wouldn't have done that."
Morrison is still working full time, having just completed a new play called Inmates about people in a residential home, and is halfway through another novel. But he is also in demand as a book reviewer and speaks at conferences and engagements to the point that he has given up television and radio appearances as a political commentator.
"To do that you have to be in touch, reading all the papers, every day and you just can't do that and be a writer," he said.
Born in Andersonstown, he was not only interned but was banned from Britain under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and once arrested on arrival in the United States. Apart from being the Sinn Fein director of publicity and editor of An Phoblacht, he was elected to the 1982-1986 assembly and was defeated by 683 votes when he stood for election to Westminster for Mid-Ulster.
These days, apart from the west Belfast feile, from which he stood down two years ago, the writing has long been to the fore. With a number of books under his belt, he contends that fiction remains the best way of getting to the truth.
"As the saying goes, fiction is a lie which tells the truth. Memoir, documentary cannot give the same insights as a novel can," he says.
:: The Wrong Man, by Danny Morrison, is published by Elsinor Verlag, priced £10.