John Walsh is a publisher and poet (three collections) born in Derry now living in Connemara and this book, Border Lines, is his first foray into short story writing. There are sixteen stories in the collection set in Ireland, Greece, Germany and Spain with several linking characters. With a dedication to his partner Lisa, who co-wrote one of the stories, in the form of a poem, we enter into the collection.
'A Day Like Today' tells of a young nephew with his rather irresponsible uncle Roy, his mother's younger brother. The uncle's venture into the world beyond is followed; "You have to cut the apron strings some day, Neph" he tells him. 'The Trumpet in the Tower' follows a meeting on a bus to Derry with a jazz trumpeter, and his plans to go to London.
As the stories go on, the book begins to reveal themes; leaving for bigger things, escaping the small town or even Dublin for the wider world. Also music is a constant presence as a back drop to the stories, something that is obviously important to the author. Many of his stories have a twist in the tail and a tragic ending.
Walsh is not afraid to visit the seamier side of life head on, and we see this in 'A Different Story' and 'You're Never Alone'. The politics of the North rear their head and the impact of the Troubles are seen in 'Border Lines' with overt political comment in 'Hawk'. A lot of Walsh's characters seem to be on the outside of society, loners or even, to be cruel, 'losers'. His characters do not have easy lives.
Walsh is primarily a poet, but there is no flowery language here. He is direct and tells the story as it is with straight uncomplicated dialogue, sometimes even making the reader slightly uncomfortable with his directness. I like this alertness about his writing, sometimes taking us unawares.
The consistent characters; Ian, Sandra, Ellen, Uncle Roy and the nephew serve to tie the whole collection into an enigmatic puzzle as the reader starts to make connections between stories and try to place their movements in time.
I left this collection with an interest in the characters and I look forward to seeing where Walsh goes in developing this side of his writing.
Border Lines is published by Doire Press www.doirepress.com