A Mad And Wonderful Thing is published by Scribe Publications of Melbourne and London, and as Eine Wahnsinnige und Wundervolle Welt by Osburg Verlag GmbH of Hamburg
'An extraordinary book; it confronts political and moral choices with a harsh brutality, but is, as well, a great love story.' READINGS (Australia) on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'Thrilling, appalling, and marvelously resolved.' THE AGE (Australia) on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'A fascinating and profound book. It is a book which stays.' THE IRISH NEWS (Ireland) on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'Evocative and lyrically written.' THE DAILY MAIL (UK) on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'This markedly ambitious novel is one to reckon with.' THE SUNDAY TIMES (UK) on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'An unexpected pleasure. Well written, engaging, with constant twists and turns.' AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF IRISH STUDIES on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
'Remarkable, an emotional, shocking, gorgeous, magnetic, and lyrical read.' JON SNOW, Newscaster, CHANNEL 4 NEWS (UK), on Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
Listed in 'Top Independent Books of 2014' WORDERY, Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
Listed in 'Books of the Year 2014' - Faber and Faber, (Faber Factory plus), Mark's A MAD AND WONDERFUL THING.
Mark Mulholland was born and raised in Dundalk, Ireland and when he was young — beginning at twelve years of age or so — he used his school lunch breaks to visit a second-hand book store. He got a part-time job and with his small earnings bought books by their cover or title or by some indefinable inclination and along with Puzo, Deighton, and MacLean he was reading everything from Camus to Hemingway to Steinbeck to Kavanagh to McGahern long before he knew who these writers were. The whole world was to be found in that book store, he says, and everything a boy needed to learn could be learned there.
Mark left formal schooling at sixteen and stuck with the second-hand book stores. He has been educated by buying books in this way ever since.
'We are all a gathering. In each of us there is a multitude. To be human is to be a confusion of many.'
A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Novel - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
* Top Independent Books of 2014 - Wordery
* Books of the Year 2014 - Faber and Faber, (Faber Factory plus)
A Mad and Wonderful Thing is a story about why boys — and it is mostly boys — choose to fight, to go to war, and to kill.
'An extraordinary book; it confronts political and moral choices with a harsh brutality, but is, as well, a great love story.’
MARK RUBBO, Readings Monthly
'This is a fascinating and profound book – a story of love and brutality and tenderness and death – in which the tone and title are at odds with the subject, and the central character clashes with the heart. It is a book which stays.’
The Irish News, Northern Ireland
'Remarkable, it in some way insisted itself upon me. It's an emotional, shocking, gorgeous read, rooted in such painful reality, I just had to read it. And I'm grateful, so grateful to Mark Mulholland for writing such a magnetic and lyrical read.'
JON SNOW, Newscaster, Channel 4 News, UK
'The final act . . . is marvellous as Johnny faces the brutal calculas of his moral code. Here we also see echoes of McGahern's marvellous work Amongst Women as Mulholland fashions his own grim IRA chieftain and settles his own account of the cost. . . . thrilling, appalling, and marvellously resolved.’
‘Remember that phrase from Jerry McGuire '"You had me at hello"? Well this book did that. Intense and unashamedly romantic . Written with playful, light, and poetic language ... it tackles the great moral paradox of its central character with deftness and sensitivity. A sparkling debut that celebrates the vitality, resilience, and humanity of Ireland.’
CAROLINE BAUM, Booktopia - Australia's largest bookseller. A Mad and Wonderful Thing awarded Booktopia's 'Book of the Month'
'A Mad and Wonderful Thing inspires a sense of pure delight. ... Despite some dark themes, this riveting novel manages to be one of the great uplifting reads of the year.'
Great Escape Books
'I thought it excellent. Deeply satisfying and moving. I also think that sufficient time has passed since the Good Friday Agreement to, at last, have a novel that goes inside the head of one of the 'Troubles' protagonists and hear the pros and cons of conflict (to take up arms or not) told in an original and exciting way. All Mark's hard work has paid off. Ireland has a new and exciting voice.’
LIAM NEESON, Actor
‘An impressive and yet unsettling read. ... Like nothing you have read before. ... It is a major achievement.’
The Dundalk Argus, Ireland
'The storyline of this markedly ambitious first novel is one to reckon with ... and there is much to admire therein ... “the futility of action if it is measured against time ... what tribal claims we make, ultimately don’t make sense” is a hugely persuasive argument — and not without heart, like the novel itself.’
The Sunday Times, UK and Ireland
'A great read. I enjoyed this book very much.'
JEREMY IRONS, Actor
‘Mulholland’s debut novel, A Mad and Wonderful Thing, has plenty to say. The novel is narrated by a young man named Johnny Donnelly. Johnny is charming, funny and eloquent. He is also an IRA sniper. Part fable, part thriller, A Mad and Wonderful Thing can be read as a modern take on the story of Cú Chulainn.’
The Irish Times
‘I salute Mark Mulholland for writing this thought provoking, brave and well written book and I look forward to his next publication. In a year when the market is overwhelmed with war related books, mainly about WW1, Mulholland’s book explores another dimension in the nature of war.’
RENÉE LEEN-HUISH, Tinteán
‘A Mad and Wonderful Thing feels like ENYA with a spiked nose ring ... beautifully written.'
'What a text! It is complex and rich. It explores uncomfortable questions and leaves you to examine all of the viewpoints it puts forth; to reach your own conclusions. This novel is full of scars that are ripped wide open so that you may explore their painful and horrifying realities, no matter how uncomfortable. A clever approach to its dark subject matter in that it places judgement firmly within the reader’s hands.'
‘Beneath the passion, wit, and poetry of A Mad and Wonderful Thing is an undertow of tragedy. This is a world where our moral certainties are challenged, where gentle domesticity and sudden violence disrupt our expectations.’
‘The real central character in this book is Ireland. Mulholland apparently effortlessly conjures up the country through its history, myths and legends, its landscape . . . Mulholland has a great gift for the vernacular, and the novel is both evocative and lyrically written.’
The Daily Mail, UK
'A thoroughly engaging novel ... weaving Irish folklore and history into a landscape where the lines are blurred between home and war, the threat of violence always being around the corner doesn't diminish the shock and heartbreak.'
SARAH DEASY, Sunday Mail, Australia / Avid Reader
'Real pathos, underlying the Irish charm and wit, permeates the book as Mulholland brings to life Ireland's bitter strife-torn history. And he proves to be an extremely gifted storyteller to boot.'
ELAINE FRY, The Weekend West
'Mark Mulholland’s debut novel A Mad and Wonderful Thing is not perfect, but it comes close ... the tale is funny, fascinating, devastating and heart-warming and left me longing for whatever comes next from Mulholland’s pen.'
CLARE BOYD-MACRAE , Fabulous Reads
'A passionate and heart-wrenching debut novel. Johnny Donnelly dominates the book in a brilliant way. Mulholland uses Donnelly to carry out a conversation about the ‘Irish Problem.’ But there is a good deal of humour.'
Absolutely Magazine, UK
'A Mad and Wonderful Thing is Mark Mulholland's terrific first novel. Johnny Donnelly, our charismatic hero, is a young man of many parts: a carpenter, a self-taught philosopher, and a cultural nationalist of the first order. Mulholland has pulled off that most difficult of literary quinellas: a serious story, entertainingly told.'
The New Zealand Listener
‘A lyrical, poetic, and passionate tale ...'
Sydney Morning Herald / Canberra Times / News Turkey 24
‘Johnny Donnelly is a romantic and a rhetorician ... it's easy to be swept along ... Mulholland has Roddy Doyle's gift of vernacular ... you'll be there with him to the bitter end.’
Herald Sun / Gold Coast Bulletin / Townsville Bulletin / The Weekend Post, Cairns
‘I really enjoyed reading this ... An amazing narrator, he's charming and funny, realistic, patriotic, and wistful. Ultimately this is a redemption story and a story about life - just how mad and difficult and surprising, heartbreaking, impossible, and wonderful it can be. The language is descriptive and flows beautifully making it a really lovely read that has surprising twists and high drama.’
The Co-op Bookseller
‘A debut novel from that clever Aussie publisher - Scribe. In turns elegiac and disturbing. Pulls off that trick of making you sympathise with a character who does some truly awful things. Has a genuine OMG moment. One to watch.’
May Contain Nuts
'A fabulous, wonderful tour of Ireland. A passionate and heart-wrenching story about an IRA sniper and his beloved homeland. Faintly disturbing.’
'Awesome debut novel.’
'An unexpected pleasure. Well written, engaging, with constant twists and turns.’
Australasian Journal of Irish Studies
'The book rides a wonderful mixture of emotions, sometimes you can feel on top of the world and others be sniffling at the sadness and injustice of life. Johnny Donnelly is a character who has more layers than an onion. A mad and wonderful thing. Sounds the best of both worlds, doesn’t it? Something exciting, something to get your heart both racing and singing… This term can be used to summarise the protagonist in A Mad and Wonderful Thing, Johnny Donnelly – he’s full of wonderful ideas, love and kindness but he also hears and does some things that could be rightfully termed as completely mad. A solid debut by Mark Mulholland and a fantastically complex character created in Johnny Donnelly.’
Sam Still Reading
'Exquisite and lyrical writing ... which takes the reader on a trip around Ireland as well as exploring Irish mythology. This is a novel of contradictions – a parallel of Ireland itself with Johnny mirroring the landscape in being at once both extremely gentle and extremely violent. It’s not a comfortable read but that also is a reflection of Ireland, a country that isn’t at peace with itself. When I finished the book I felt emotionally drained – it packed such a powerful punch. Mark Mulholland really knows how to tell a story.’
NB New Book Magazine / Nudge
‘What defines a man? Is it the overall shape of his life, or the individual moments? The insignificant kindnesses or the significant cruelties? A study of character, both of the individual and country, A Mad and Wonderful Thing traces the life of Johnny Donnelly, a charismatic and philosophical young man ... but (who) is also involved with the IRA. It is a wonderful novel.’
The Book Show, 4zzz FM, Brisbane
'Johnny Donnelly is the thinking man’s paramilitary. He sees himself as a latter-day Cú Chulainn, achieving glory by taking on the fight of his ancestors. He is angry – with reason – at the British occupation of the six counties and believes it his duty as an Irishman to fight the oppressors. That he lives in Dundalk, just a stone’s throw from Teamhair, the epicentre of Irish legends, just adds to the weight on his shoulders. So, a combination of personal slight, the frustration at the senselessness of the Hunger Strikes, and the gentle encouragement of a schoolteacher sees Johnny set his personal life aside to join the struggle. But as an intellectual, Johnny struggles to reconcile his own involvement in an organisation full of bullies, thugs and racketeers. He struggles to cope with the lack of engagement of his southern compatriots. He struggles to deal with the lack of recognition that should come to a hero.
Johnny is the South Armagh sniper. He is a professional in an army of amateurs. Each hit is prepared, calculated, mapped out in minute detail. The squeeze of the trigger and the gentle bloom of red are just details in each operation that was weeks in the planning, and hours in the fleeing. Johnny’s targets are carefully chosen, each making simple procedural errors to seal his fate. Johnny is also a magnetic attraction to the ladies. Everywhere he goes, every evening, every day, Johnny gets lucky. But as a gentleman, as a thinker, Johnny uses his charm judiciously. He has complex emotions and a burning love for Cora. Johnny is a decent man.
A Mad and Wonderful thing is a poignant novel charting the disillusion of a true Irish rebel caught between wanting victory but enjoying the fight. As a love story, it has a shining beauty – the love of Cora and the love of Ireland. But both of these loves are ultimately unrequited leaving Johnny as a disillusioned, lonely man travelling the length and breadth of Ireland in a futile attempt to gain self-knowledge. Rather than Cú Chulainn we find a latter-day Leopold Bloom, wandering in constant search of endorsement and affection from those who are not fit to polish his shoes.
The language is marvellous. The title, when it appears in the text, is unexpected and subsequently becomes haunting and moving. The locations – bleak hilltops, forests, the bare stone pavement of The Burren – all come alive. The people feel real, understated, human. Sometimes there seems to be just a bit too much navel gazing and philosophizing, but it adds to a complex picture in which paramilitary involvement was as much about boredom and loneliness as it ever was about exciting operations. That we are able to relate to Johnny on a human level whilst also loathing the fear and suffering he imposed on others (and himself), is a sign of a delicate, intelligent novel that doesn’t seek to impose a political slant or lead to a trite conclusion.’
'Anyone who read Chris Kyle’s American Sniper should read Mark Mulholland’s novel, A Mad and Wonderful Thing. Taken alone, Kyle’s memoir is poison. Combined with the Irish novel, it’s medicine. In American Sniper, Kyle recounts how he and fellow SEALS and Marines busted down Iraqi doors in the middle of night, pointed guns at women and children as they “cleared” rooms, and dragged off men suspected of insurgency. No doubt many of the men were insurgents, but that’s beside the point to a child watching an American soldier point a gun at his mother. The child’s simple calculus figures out who is savage and evil. It never occurs to Kyle how such invasions might affect the psyche of Iraqis who suffered them. He never imagines what would happen in his own heart if, as a child, he watched foreign soldiers in the middle of the night humiliate his father or shoot down his brother. This inability is a colossal failure of the imagination. The consequences can be fatal. “Boys go to war,” according to Mulholland (in interview), for revenge. Iraqi boys shot at U. S. Marines for the same reasons American snipers shot at Iraqis. It’s tribal. With thirty-five million of us claiming Irish heritage, Mulholland knows that American readers’ sympathies, naturally enough, will be with the Dundalk boy who watched British troops harass his father. That’s how Mulholland turns Kyle into medicine. He tricks us into identifying with the Iraqi insurgents. In the early 1990s, the legendary South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional IRA virtually drove the British out of the Republican parts of that county. No one knew that up to twenty men collaborated on the sniper attacks. They were attributed to a figure as shadowy as Zorro. Johnny Donnelly is that legendary hero, a modern version of Cú Chulainn, the soldier of Celtic lore, revered in Ireland as the mythic embodiment of militant nationalism. Charming, handsome, likeable, lethal. A Mad and Wonderful Thing is a revenge tragedy. Motivated by a primal childhood event, Donnelly sets out to kill one British soldier for each IRA prisoner who died in the notorious H-Block of Long Kesh prison. Mulholland reminds us that we need to answer the big questions.’
The Glebe Street Hacks, Charleston, South Carolina
Industry Reviews - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Readings - A stunning first novel. An extraordinary book.
The Glebe Street Hacks - Mulholland reminds us that we need to ask the big questions. Anyone who read Chris Kyle’s American Sniper should read Mark Mulholland’s novel, A Mad and Wonderful Thing. Taken alone, Kyle’s memoir is poison. Combined with the Irish novel, it’s medicine. Here’s why ...
Contrary Reader - What a text! It is complex and rich. It explores uncomfortable questions and leaves you to examine all of the viewpoints it puts forth; to reach your own conclusions. This novel is full of scars that are ripped wide open so that you may explore their painful and horrifying realities, no matter how uncomfortable. A clever approach to its dark subject matter in that it places judgement firmly within the reader’s hands.
The Sunday Times - The storyline of this markedly ambitious first novel is one to reckon with ... and there is much to admire therein ... “the futility of action if it is measured against time ... what tribal claims we make, ultimately don’t make sense” is a hugely persuasive argument — and not without heart, like the novel itself.
The Daily Mail - The real central character in this book is Ireland. Mulholland apparently effortlessly conjures up the country through its history, myths and legends, its landscape . . . Mulholland has a great gift for the vernacular, and the novel is both evocative and lyrically written.
Australasian Journal of Irish Studies - An unexpected pleasure. Well written, engaging, with constant twists and turns.
The Irish News - Set largely in Dundalk, the story is told in the first person by Johnny himself. We hear of his meticulous training for a special role within the IRA, and his romance with Cora, both stories running hand-in-hand, and both told in a lyrical, tender tone. The book breaks on tragedy, and shifts in certainty about halfway through the narrative. Johnny, who is presented as a mythic figure in a contemporary world, loses his sure footing and stumbles to the end. This is a fascinating and profound book – a story of love and brutality and tenderness and death – in which the tone and title are at odds with the subject, and the central character clashes with the heart. It is a book which stays.
NB New Book Magazine / Nudge - Exquisite and lyrical writing ... which takes the reader on a trip around Ireland as well as exploring Irish mythology. This is a novel of contradictions – a parallel of Ireland itself with Johnny mirroring the landscape in being at once both extremely gentle and extremely violent. It’s not a comfortable read but that also is a reflection of Ireland, a country that isn’t at peace with itself. When I finished the book I felt emotionally drained – it packed such a powerful punch. Mark Mulholland really knows how to tell a story.
Merits - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Wordery - Top Independent Books of 2014 (visit link here:)
Faber and Faber (Faber Factory plus) - Books of the Year 2014 (visit link here:)
Blackwell's (London) - Book of the Month (Independent Book of the Month, June 2016) (visit link here:)
South Dublin Libraries - Book of the Month (Book Club Book of the Month, June 2016) (visit link here:)
Booktopia - Book of the Month
The Irish Times - Featured Book
The Irish Examiner - Featured Book
Readings - Featured Book
Boomerang Books - Book of the Week
Riverbend Books - Book of the Month
Pages & Pages - Featured Book
Radio 4zzz , The Book Show - Featured Book
ABC Radio National Book and Arts Show - Featured Book
Newbooks (UK Books and Reading Groups Magazine) - Featured Book
Angus & Robertson - 'We read it and loved it' Selection
Great Escape Books - Staff Picks Selection
Hoopla.com - Hottest Book of the Year List
Interviews and Press - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Melbourne, September 2014, Triple R - Interview (radio)
ABC Radio National - Interview (radio)
Newstalk (Ireland) - Interview (radio: Sean Moncrieff Show) Interview begins at 08.23
RTE Television - Interview (television: Morning Edition, Monday 12 May 2014)
The Book Club, Radio 4zzz fm Brisbane - Interview (radio)
RTE Radio - Interview (radio: John Murray Show)
Readings - Interview (print)
The Irish Times - Interview (print)
The Irish Examiner - Interview (print)
Sunday Life - Article (print)
News Turkey 24 - Interview (print)
Illwarra Mercury, Wollongong - Article (print)
Chiswick Herald - Article (print)
The Dundalk Argus - Articles (print)
Newbooks (UK Books and Reading Groups Magazine) - Article (print)
The Drogheda Independent - Article (print)
Talk of the Town - Articles x 5 (web)
Dundalk Online - Article (web)
Sam Still Reading - Article (web)
Mailbox Monday - Article (web)
Drogheda Life - Article (web)
Dundalk Democrat - Article 1 (web)
Dundalk Democrat - Article 2 (web)
Chiswick W4 - Article (web)
The Cork News - Article (web)
Booklover Book Reviews - Article (web)
Australasian Journal of Irish Studies (Volume 14) - Article (print)
Author’s Note on the Novel - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Photo above: Mark Mulholland, Public Book Reading, Queensland State Library
A Mad and Wonderful Thing is a story about cause: about why boys — and it is mostly boys — do the things they do, about motivations and conflicts, about choices and costs. It is a story of the choice to fight, to go to war, and to kill.
Cause is a complex motivation, when studied from the outside: it is filled with conflicts and contradictions. Right and wrong are different things, at different times, to different people. But, here's the thing, cause is a simple motivation when partaken from the inside: people do what they do for their side, their country, their tribe, their religion, their 'cause.'
The choice of a sniper allowed me to explore the conflict (internal/external) in a unique way, as a sniper is a soldier apart in a war. And though this is a work of fiction, it is a work of fiction embroidered through a weave of historical fact.
A Mad and Wonderful Thing is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to any real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The story — though structured around historical events — is a product of my imagination. None of the characters are based on real individuals. Unfortunately, the sad history and troubles of Ireland are real. But real, too, are a beautiful country, and a creative and poetic people.
The Johnny Donnelly character did not exist. And he bears no resemblance to anyone known to me. It is alleged (by British Military Intelligence and others) that the actual shootings were carried out by a number of individuals operating in sniper teams from two separate South Armagh IRA units. A prominent shooter, allegedly, did emerge in the period after the ceasefires.
The Ignatius Delaney character, too, did not exist. In the pre-ceasefire period – the period of this novel – the Dundalk IRA was organised, from my observations, on something like an army hierarchy confused with a socialist committee structure. There wasn’t a central authoritative player as cast in the novel. A prominent South Armagh leader, allegedly, did emerge among ‘dissidents’ post ceasefires and agreements, but the Delaney character bears no resemblance to any such person.
Bob Hanratty, as dead Bob, is a creation of Johnny Donnelly’s imagination, and he is a creation of mine.
Cora and Aisling Flannery are, of course, imagined constructions. They are a fictional embodiment of the real and beautiful girls of Dundalk.
All other characters are a pure invention or an unintentional amalgamation of people I have met or imagined and bear no resemblance to any real individual.
I am loyal to core real events as they historically happened. The sniper killings are real events and I am true to their timing and location. That the South Armagh IRA operated, more or less, independent from the rest of the organisation is true. That the Barrett gun came as detailed from America to Dundalk is true, as are the training locations, the minor details as mentioned by Delaney of IRA operations, the death of the two bombers by their own bomb, the discontent over the ceasefires, the bombs, etc... Only the final bomb in Banbridge and Johnny’s early killings with Delaney are event inventions. Eight sniper killings occurred in a burst between August 1992 and December 1993.
The settings and locations within the novel are all real. There are, however, two exceptions. Despite Dundalk having many fine drinking establishments — about one hundred at the time the novel is set — Johnny’s favourite pub ‘The Dubchoire Bar / The Cooking Pot’ is an invention; and though typical of every pub in Dundalk, it resembles none in particular.
Cora’s home in ‘River Níth Terrace’, too, is an invention. This terrace is modelled on a real street, in that location, at the end of the Castletown Road. The real street is Saint Ronan’s Terrace. Mad as it is, I was uncomfortable locating such a dramatic event, albeit a fictional event, by somebody’s actual, real house.
Language and Dialect
Dundalk was an Anglo-Norman settlement built on an old Gaelic fort. Later the English settled there and the town was a prominent town and port in the English Pale. Dundalk’s historical trading ties are with ports on the northwest coast of England. Because of this Dundalk does not have the distinctive Irish ‘lilt’ of the north, west, or south of the island. The Dundalk accent is flat, and the language (vocabulary, idioms, etc...) is not dissimilar in many aspects to the north of England. I have carried the local dialect/delivery through vocabulary and syntax rather than any phonetic imitation which may weaken, cheapen, and distract. And if I started that, where would I stop? Johnny’s use of language, however, is typical and true of the Dundalk area.
The attitude to informers is a distinct and brutal thing. No other aspect of the ‘struggle’ carries that level of contempt among both volunteers and the wider republican population. Sworn enemies may later engage and become friendly, as happens sometimes in Northern Ireland, but an informer is never forgiven or forgotten. The penalty is most often death and the loathing can last for generations.
Killing for Country
This work was a long time in the making. And it needed to be, to tell the tale in the round. For many years I have watched those involved in the IRA ‘cause.’ And here’s a thing. The most dangerous, brilliant (militarily), and effective were often the most endearing, charming, intelligent, and sociable. They rarely spoke of any ‘war’ in company and never of any personal involvement. However, in action these same alluring men were single-minded, detached, dispassionate, clinical, cold, and deadly. Along with those who run to a flag and fight, history has gathered a long series of intelligent thinkers, intellectuals, poets, etc... who have lifted the gun for nation or cause.
Vocation (And Johnny's story v's my brother's)
'A boy can give himself to cause, long before the world would suspect him of vocation.' Johnny Donnelly on his decision, at the age of twelve, to fight for Ireland.
Some great beliefs and motivations are generated from incident, but others grow with a realisation that has no absolute beginning. We can see this today in the (mainly young and mainly male) Europeans who go to fight for some particular side or cause in the Middle-East, Islamic Jihadists for example, many without any direct provocation or any personal grievance for doing so. The motivation is more abstract than particular; born more of a realisation through some absorbed conviction or persuasion than of an actual incident. It isn't a reaction to a personal experience or event.
It is suggested that I based the novel on my brother’s IRA story. This cannot be true as the work predates my brother's involvement, i.e. I wrote the story many years before, when my brother was only eleven or twelve; and his story and character are very different to that of Johnny's in the novel. My brother's arrest and what followed inspired me to get the work done, and to get it out there; but that motivation (to get a piece of work done and get it out there) isn't the same thing as using it as story or base or anchor or lever. In any case, I don’t really know my brother's IRA story as he does not speak about any involvement. And not because of a threat or fear, but because he doesn’t want to. He has never talked to me about any of it. I only know his alleged part from the British Intelligence and Police files presented at his court case and what I have picked up elsewhere. And I have spoken about that, his arrest and trial and sentence (1999) etc..., and the surprise of it, and my own view of events, and how it provoked my thinking. Only once did my brother mention that he decided at the age of twelve to do something. That got me thinking and I took that very early commitment of his, something I had already noted elsewhere with others, and I used it in a story I had written a decade before after spending years studying (socialising with and engaging with) those who fought for the IRA in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. And I reedited my old story and I reforged the character, Johnny Donnelly, amongst real events of the 1990's and I gave him a younger start. And I gave him a reason. And I gave him a gun. In reality, many had no reason; they just decided to get involved because they wanted to, or that they drifted to, or that they grew to believe in, even though some were as young as twelve.
Some have criticised the work for this young start, and say it’s ‘unbelievable’ and that twelve is too young. It isn’t. I was there, and I know others who also committed early. It isn't an age of action, but it can be an age of decision. I think, in general, we commonly believe the coming of the age to be older; however, twelve is an age where we develop a sense of who we are, a sense of the world, and a sense of our place in it. And a sense of what we can do about it. This realisation and development can, by others, often go unnoticed.
Interestingly, and after A Mad and Wonderful Thing was published, the BBC produced a wonderful documentary film in which Peter Taylor of the BBC interviewed a twelve year old boy, Sean McKinley, in Belfast in 1974 who says he will join the IRA and fight the British. The boy says that he will fight and die for Ireland. The BBC, Peter Taylor again, revisits Sean, by then a fifty-two year old man, forty years later in 2014. And yes he joined and fought and was jailed for life for killing. The documentary film is ‘Who Won The War.’
See a photo of the boy here: Sean McKinley at twelve years of age saying he will fight and die for Ireland
Or watch the whole film here: Who Won The War
So, just what kind of a novel is it?
It is, I guess, a fairytale of sorts, a mixing of the real and the unreal, just like the ancient myths and legends it references. Not all readers will go with that. But it won't add up if read in the absolute.
And, of course, the book will be viewed differently in Ireland than elsewhere. Things like this are seen, and weighted, differently by distance.
And the moral of the story is . . .
It is not for me, I think, as a writer of fiction, to judge or preach, or even to explain. My role is to present a conflict through story, to detail the choices taken, and to write of the consequences.
It is for the reader to analyse events and choices, and to make judgement.
And reviews and comment?
It is a mad and wonderful thing that people read the work, or that we got the work out at all, it’s such an odd thing. Some readers really like the novel and some really don’t, and, perhaps, that’s how it should be. I guess it is best not to be precious and sensitive, and equally best not to be dismissive, with that stuff. I don't know. Who does? In any case, all views and comment are okay by me. Not everyone likes the book, and that’s okay. Not everyone gets the book, and that’s okay. The focus, arc, and language of the work will annoy some. And that is unavoidable. But others, too, have stepped in and gone with the mad adventure of it, and have been generous with their verdict. Fair play to them.
Northern Ireland is a beautiful part of a beautiful island, but it is a troubled and divided place. And, despite all progress, it remains so. Perpetually, we are a hothead away from carnage. Children grow up (and, critically, are educated) apart and this separation feeds our greatest weakness for we are all – the human animal – afflicted with the ‘us and them’ mindset. It is, by all evidence, built into us. And it is the cause of it all. It is only through will that we can overcome it. And it is a choice. If we abandon history and bring all children together, then their children can live together in peace. If there is one thing we could do for Ireland, we should do that.
‘If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.’ Mahatma Gandhi
‘Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ Saint Francis of Assisi
My writing is really a view on the world, the exposition of patterns of human behavior: why we believe the things we believe, why we think the things we think, and why we do the things we do. I try to catalogue that view through story, simply if possible, and to shine some light on conflict, however small; and so, perhaps, demonstrate that there is no other evil, and no them, only us. I have allowed for the reader to draw his/her own conclusion from many aspects of the novel, some subtle, some not.
Mark. December 2013.
A thank you - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Thank you Veronica Maye, Laura Susijn, Henry Rosenbloom, and Margot Rosenbloom. Thank you Rina Gill and Bridie Riordan. Great women all; except for Henry, of course, who is a great man amongst great women. Thanks to everyone at Scribe Publications in Melbourne and London, and thanks to the wonderful Faber team in London. Thank you all for sharing the load, for lighting the path, for making it happen, and for your kindness along the way.
Mark. December 2013.
Acknowledgements - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Material and Quotations Used In The Novel
Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears, while we all sup sorrow with the poor. There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears; Oh hard times come again no more. Hard Times Come Around No More. An American folk song written by Stephen Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864). It was published in New York by Firth, Pond & Co. in 1854 as Foster's Melodies No. 28.
Now when we’re out a-sailing, and you are far behind; Fine letters I will write to you, with the secrets of my mind. The secrets of my mind, my girl; you’re the girl that I adore. And still I live in hope to see the holy ground once more. The Holy Ground. A traditional Irish folk song, probably based on an old Welsh sea shanty. Date and Author unknown.
The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun. William Butler Yeats. (poet: 1865 – 1939) The Song of Wandering Aengus. (1899) The Wind Among the Reeds. J. Lane. 1905.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Mary Poppins. Walt Disney. 1964.
They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves Ireland unfree shall never be at peace. Patrick Henry Pearse (poet and nationalist leader: 1879 – 1916). Excerpt from graveside oration for O'Donovan Rossa. August 1915 at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
Red is the rose that in yonder garden grows, fair is the lily of the valley, clear is the water that flows from the Boyne, but my love is fairer than any. Traditional Irish song. Red is the rose. Author and date unknown. (Made popular by Irish folk musicians and singers Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy).
Enough is as good as a feast. Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi. Mary Poppins. Walt Disney. 1964.
And missing thee, I walk unseen, On the dry smooth-shaven green, to behold the wandering Moon riding near her highest noon, like one that had been led astray through the heav’n’s wide pathless way: And oft as if her head she bowed, stooping through a fleecy cloud. John Milton. Il Penseroso. The Poems of Mr John Milton (poet: 1608 – 1674). 1645.
The Price You Pay for Empire
I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret sign that’s known to the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone and word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say. Patrick Kavanagh (poet and novelist: 1904 – 1967).
The lines from ‘On Raglan Road’ by Patrick Kavanagh are reprinted from Collected Poems, edited by Antoinette Quinn (Allen Lane, 2004), by kind permission of the Trustees of the Estate of the late Katherine B. Kavanagh, through the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency.
Poblacht na hÉireann
The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic to the people of Ireland.
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National Government, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Patrick Henry Pearse (poet and nationalist leader: 1879 – 1916). Poblacht na hÉireann proclamation outside the General Post Office (GPO), Dublin. 24 April 1916.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for? Robert Browning. (poet: 1812 – 1889) Andrea del Sarto. 1855. Works by Robert Browning: Plays by Robert Browning, Poetry by Robert Browning, Andrea Del Sarto, Porphyria's Lover. General Books LLC, 2010.
The Distance of Fall
Don’t forget nothing. Have your muskets clean as a whistle. Act the way you would if you were sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first. Never take a chance. Don’t ever march home the same way. Take a different route back. Let the enemy come close enough to touch, then let him have it. Then jump up and finish him off with your tomahawks. Rogers’ Rules of Ranging. 1757. (Source: Brandon Webb, Glen Doherty. The 21st-Century Sniper: A Complete Practical Guide. Skyhorse Publishing. 2010.)
Fight fanatically. Shoot calm. Your greatest enemy is the enemy sniper, outsmart him. Become a master in camouflage and terrain. Survival is ten parts camouflage and one part firing. Das Oberkommande der Luftwaffe Filmgruppe. (Film of the Air Force High Command) Scharfschütze in der Geländeausbildung. (Snipers Field Training) Meister der Tarnung und Täuschung. (Masters of Camouflage and Deception) WWII German Sniper Training Course on movie reel. www.milsurps.com/showthread.php?t=820.
Does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night my friend. Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum. Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come. Christina Georgina Rossetti. (poet: 1830-1894) Uphill. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900. Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919.
... martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field, in defence of their country and of virtue…, …the emancipation of my country from the super-inhuman …I will make the last use of that life in doing justice to that reputation which is to live after me... my country's liberty and independence..., …when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written... Robert Emmet (1778 – 1803, Nationalist and Republican, Rebel) Speech from the Dock. September 1803.
The Death of Cúchulainn
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Mario Puzo/Francis Ford Coppola. The Godfather 3. Paramount Pictures. 1990.
Mark, December 2013.
Music - A Mad and Wonderful Thing
Links here for some of the songs and tunes in the novel
Mark says, 'Mostly I listen to albums, or some far-flung radio-station if I'm in the mood, and the album I listened to most of all during my work on A Mad and Wonderful Thing was the beautiful 'Lumina' by the great Eoin Duignan.'
Mark Mulholland's Literary Agent
Mark is represented by:
Laura Susijn, The Susijn Agency Ltd, 820 Harrow Road, London NW10 5JU, UK. Tel: 0044 20 7580 6341
Annette Maria Rieger
Sonnenhalde 17, 72178 Waldachtal, Hamburg, Germany
+49 / (0)7445 85 90 86
Scribe Publications Australia
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Scribe Publications UK
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Mark Mulholland was born in 1966 and took his first summer job, aged only twelve, on a building site as a nipper (runner). And, after school, he worked four evenings a week in a pub from when he was thirteen to sixteen. As a boy Mark never warmed to a classroom and left formal education early - he quit school for a factory as soon as he turned sixteen - but he studied at night, and he read a lot of books, and he has since qualified in (and worked in) engineering, aerospace, manufacturing, local and community development, enterprise development, business, literacy tutoring, and language teaching. He has worked for large corporations and for the public sector, and he has created and owned small enterprises. Mark has built gardens in Ireland, and he has renovated a medieval farmstead in France. Sometimes he was the apprentice, sometimes the teacher or guide, sometimes the boss, and sometimes the guy who sweeps the floor. And there was, and is, no pattern or progression to that mix. He admits that each is of equal merit and value to him, and that he enjoys every one. But, all the way through, he kept reading books and in all those careers and posts he found story and character and human behaviour that, perhaps, cannot be mined in college or university. And so he writes about our place in the world; and about what we believe, what we do, and who we are.
Mark has lived and worked in Dundalk, Sligo, Ennis, Drogheda, Dublin, Glandore, Frickenhausen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, London, and South-West France ............. and loved them all.
Though gifted with love, devotion, care, intelligence, insight, and, it would seem, with the hunger and ability for endless innovation, exploration, discovery, and learning, there is yet something broken in us — the human animal. Perhaps, not so much broken as unfixed. This unfixed thing is the identifying of who we are through an 'us'. For once we see us, we see them; and this is where what is good in us collapses, where reason is flung to the slag heap, where our brutal nature leads, and where we retreat to the savage ......... Mark Mulholland on why he wrote A Mad and Wonderful Thing