Following in the great footsteps of oustanding contemporary Irish crime writers such as Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway and Ken Bruen, comes the latest literary sensation, Anthony Quinn with his brand new historical crime novel, The Blood Dimmed Tide. Filled with espionage, romance and a corrupt police force, The Blood Dimmed Tide forms an absorbing and evocative read that masterfully blends crime, history and folklore through an original literary voice.
In advance of publication (October 23rd), we asked the author himself to describe the inspiration behind the novel and why Yeats (who forms the protagonist of the book) has become such an important figure in his writing…
Raising Yeats’ Ghosts
I first encountered Yeats in my early teens when I was off school convalescing from a broken ankle. His images of water-haunted glens, gaunt cliffs and gurgling tides captured my imagination forever, and have stayed with me while other memories such as how and where I broke the ankle in the first place have faded. At the time, his poetry offered my imagination an escape from the daily violence of the Troubles, the atmosphere of intimidation and murder that dominated life in Northern Ireland.
Reading was the best buffer I could find from the bedlam that was happening beyond the front door and which was also, to give it an air of unreality, projected onto the TV screen in the regular newsflashes, the litany of bombings and shootings, funerals and kidnappings, delivered by the newsreader in the same monotone voice with which he announced the weather. Yeats’ mystical depiction of water and wind percolated through my impressionable young mind and worked its distracting magic.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, the backdrop of violence did become as normal as the weather, like a permanent drizzle, permeating everything with grey dread, only clearing if you managed to slip across the border to the Republic of Ireland, which we did every summer during the marching season. My six siblings and I spent our holidays on the same beaches where Yeats composed his poetry, slithering at low tide through seaweed and splashing in rock-pools, safely beyond the reach of the bombs and the bullets. The silver strands at Streedagh and Lissadell seemed miraculously peaceful after a two-hour car journey along roads lined with fortified police stations and armed checkpoints. In those days, the Republic of Ireland really did seem like a foreign land. There was peace for one thing, and an absence of soldiers. The policemen didn’t need to carry guns, and even the sun seemed to shine more brightly. In my childhood imagination, Yeats’ Sligo and its wild Atlantic coast represented infinite freedom and respite from violence.
It was along the same beaches, some years later, that I wooed Clare, my wife, with Yeats’ high romantic poetry, and to which we return every year almost as a form of pilgrimage with our young family. These days our Sligo holidays are the prism through which I glimpse those strange, divided summers of my childhood, divided psychologically between darkness and light, between bomb massacres and gunmen on one side, and fairy stories and rock pools on the other. The memories are mostly happy ones, but they seem fragile, and full of risk.
Against my best intentions, Sligo’s setting came to dominate The Blood Dimmed Tide, which I wrote as a form of mental escape from the darkness and violence of my first two books, Disappeared and Border Angels, a contemporary crime fiction series that is deeply immersed in the Troubles of my childhood. Even though I had the intention of placing The Blood Dimmed Tide more fully in London, somehow my characters, principally Yeats, kept transforming the setting to that of Sligo’s enchanted forests and wild beaches.
Although I’ve been a devoted fan of Yeats for years and studied his work while at university, it would be an exaggeration to suggest that I embarked on the book after long professorial research and meticulous note-taking – The Blood Dimmed Tide is not that kind of book. But during its writing I did feel an eerie closeness to the poet – as if he were talking to me and I talking back (in my head I hasten to add). His presence dominated my thoughts, and I often felt his ghostly hand guiding my pen as I tried to maintain the balance between page-turning entertainment and a faithful portrayal of one of Ireland’s most famous literary figures at one of its bloodiest points in history.
I wanted the plot to beat with urgency rather than have it dragged down with rehashed biographical and historical detail. To this end much of the research was conducted as I wrote, conjured from several biographies and repeated readings of his poetry and plays. I was fortunate that the detail I managed to glean about Yeats’ life, his opinions and emotions, helped give basis to the wilder elements of the mystery plot and eerily echoed the manner in which I was depicting him. In particular, I remember writing the scene in which I have Yeats alighting from the train at Sligo station. I thought to myself that it would be typical of him to start criticising the lamp post and environs. After writing the scene, I picked up an unread biography of Yeats and opened it at a random page to find a letter he had written decrying the National Planning Board of Ireland, and in particular the new electric lamp posts that were springing up around the country. What was the point of all this light, he complained, if everything it shone upon was ugly? The find felt like a nod of approval from Yeats’ that I was on the right track.
I experienced other equally strange moments of inspiration which differed from the process of writing my previous books, which are set in the aftermath of the ceasefire. Those books featuring Inspector Celcius Daly represent a different side of my writing personality, one that relies on sifting through my experiences growing up during the Troubles, and on gathering the seeds and plot threads of stories encountered in my day-job as a journalist. The Blood Dimmed Tide represents more a flight of the imagination, one which, in the process of writing it, converted me, not in any religious or spiritual sense, but in the sense that I grew convinced Yeats was correct in his views on history and the otherworld, that the past and its ghosts are real and have a hold over the living.
I touched, half-humorously, on the subject of supernatural influences while giving a talk on The Blood Dimmed Tide at a local writers’ group. As I spoke, the lights in the curtained room dimmed. Everyone giggled at the coincidence, but I knew exactly how Yeats would have reacted – he’d have reached for his Ouija board and listening trumpet, and tuned in.
In my mind’s eye, Yeats is less a physical presence and more a whirlwind of intellectual energy, always seeking answers, always probing the evidence before him, always odd and unpredictable in his behaviour – which makes him the perfect central character for a mystery story, especially one that involves the spiritual world. He was very much a sleuth of the supernatural, as well as a literary and political phenomenon. He invented so many selves that it is impossible to do him justice between the covers of one book.
Of course, the Northern Ireland of my youth also finds its way into The Blood Dimmed Tide, principally in the sense of suspicion and dread eddying around the central characters, and in the noirish depiction of Sligo as a squalid, crooked little outpost of the British Empire. In depicting the beaches and the forests, I wanted to recapture the mindset of myself as a ten-year-old boy already acquainted with violence and murder, and preoccupied by thoughts of escape and flight. If anything, that’s what The Blood Dimmed Tide is really about, escape from reality, and the precarious nature of such flights.