I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Within minutes of the two planes smacking into the World Trade Centre on September 11th 2001, the idea for ‘Terrible Beauty’ started to take shape. What could possibly take men to the place where they were willing to give their lives in exchange for such biblical carnage? How long would the process take? How would it look?

Then there was a second question. My adopted home is Scotland and our largest city is Glasgow. If such a monumental act were ever to hit Glasgow, where would it come from? Would it come from the dusty refugee camps of the Middle East or would it come from the downtrodden terraced streets of West Belfast?

Who might do such a thing and why would they do such a thing? And why?

As an unknown author with next to no income and a handful of maxed out credit cards, there was no possibility of a flight to Jordan or Beruit or Kabul to meet such men. Even if I had been able to afford the journey to the modern hotbeds of terrorism, it would have taken me months and years to be trusted enough for any kind of access to have been granted.

Instead I took a much more obvious route. I took a drive along the A75 and caught a Stena Line ferry to Belfast. After a period of having doors slammed in my face, things slowly but surely began to open up. The research took a year and it was one of the most extraordinary journeys I have ever undertaken. Sometimes a journey can involve many thousands of miles and it takes you to a destination that looks and feels far from the familiarity of home. The journey to the six counties of Northern Ireland is a short one in terms of miles and when you arrive everything looks much like home. Small, struggling post industrial towns and harshly beautiful landscapes swept by the same grey Atlantic rain that sweeps my own home turf of Lancashire.

However journeys can be measured in more than miles. My journey took me deep into 700 years of sorry history which makes it hard indeed to feel any great pride in being born British. It took me deep into hatreds rooted in hundreds of years of endless cycles of revolt and reprisal. I was lucky have the chance to spend time with men who had been involved in extraordinary events during the long, dark years of 'The Troubles’ which exploded onto our TV screens in 1969 and went on to dominate the evening news for the next thirty years.

By the end of it, I felt that I had been given a handle on the dark, simmering hatred that lay behind centuries of repression and heartache. I met good, passionate men who had been drawn into very dark places: decent men who had committed the very worst of deeds. Two in particular gave me a privileged insight into the shadowland where good men choose to walk the dark road:

David Ervine and Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane.

In 1974 David was caught driving a stolen car loaded up with commercial explosive. He was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force; a terrorist. A judge sent him down hard. He emerged from a 11 year sentence in the Maze Prison with a desire to use the ballot box to secure a workable peace for his people – the Protestant community. In 1998 he was credited as being one of the key players in the Good Friday Agreement by Senator Mitchell.

Bik was sent down for life in 1976 for his involvement in an IRA attack on the Bayardo bar in the Loyalist Shankill district which saw 5 dead and 60 injured. By 1993 Bik had become the longest serving prisoner in the Maze, though his time on the H blocks had been anything but uneventful. He lived through the desperate years of the Dirty Protest before assuming command of the IRA prisoners when Bobby Sands went on hunger strike. In 1983 he led the Colditzesque mass break out of 38 prisoners and for his three years on the run he was the most wanted man in Britain. By the time he was released on parole in 1997 he had served over 20 years behind the wire.

I had been brought up to see such men as the very epitome of evil, wicked terrorists. Common, violent criminals according to Maggie Thatcher. The very lowest of the low. However, the men I spent time with were charming, passionate, intelligent and articulate. They were in fact two of the most impressive men I have ever met.


Terrorists or freedom fighters?

A question as old as history. It is the question that runs through the heart of ‘Terrible Beauty’ as the story follows two men from neighbouring streets in West Belfast as they travel the dark road through thirty years of ‘the Troubles’. In the end one arrives at the place where he is willing to commit the greatest outrage of them all: Glasgow’s very own 9/11.

Many men and women who travelled the same dark road as David and Bik have read the book and they have told me that it gives a true account of what can make good men do bad things. Their opinion is good enough for me. The blog below gives a much fuller account of the evolution of ‘Terrible Beauty’. It is probably far too long which is why I have written this briefer insight into the journey I took when researching and writing the book. If this process is of interest, please have a look at the blog below this one.

Right now ‘Terrible Beauty’ is free in the Kindle Store and it will be free to download until close of play on Sunday, 10th February.

I hope you download it and enjoy.        

1 comment:

  1. Mark: I tried to e-mail you, but it bounced. Can you send me another address by which you can be reached? BTW, this Terrible Beauty sounds like a great read!
    Be seeing you,