Next year is the centenary of the Easter Rising 1916 and I was thrilled when my publisher suggested writing a child’s diary about it. This was when a small group of Irish nationalists refused to fight for Britain and staged an armed rebellion while England was at war with Germany. This cataclysmic week didn’t just change Irish history but sounded the death knell for the British Empire. The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary, my children’s novel published last year was critically acclaimed and well received. It was praised as both brilliantly told and meticulously researched. But the subject of Ireland’s road to the republic got a hold on me. I couldn’t leave the story or the characters there and decided to write a follow up book.
Deadly Shot is a stand-alone book and it continues the drama into the War of Independence 1920-21. The character of Dan is based on my late grandfather. He had been a talented footballer and played soccer for Ireland as a youth. He was also a member of the Fianna the rebel militarist Boy Scouts. He used to tell hair-raising stories of running messages, being a lookout and burying guns in the local park. He was only about twelve years old at the time.
When I wrote Molly’s Diary, I invented the character of Molly but gave her some details of my family history. She had family on both sides of the conflict, which was a common experience for many Irish people. My great-great grandfather was a Surgeon Major in the British army in India where my great-grandfather was born. But he rebelled against his family background, refused to go into the navy and ran away to sea. He eloped with my great-grandmother because she was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. I gave Molly this background. Her mother is a Quaker, while her Catholic father works in the General Post Office as a Technical Officer. But her brother joins the rebels who want a free Ireland and are prepared to fight for it.
I also decided to put a character based on my grandfather into the narrative. We first meet Dan during the Rising as a seven-year-old watching rebels take over Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin. The account was based on real events. Thousands of children were caught up in the fighting. Dublin at the time was the second city of the British Empire but it also had the most appalling slums. When fighting began on the streets of Dublin they were caught up in the crossfire. Young people in their teens, even some as young as twelve ran messages and were involved in the fighting. There were also the children of the rebels and the soldiers tasked with quelling the Rising. They flit through the official narratives like ghosts. So I wanted to write children back into history. Molly’s quest to find her brother who is fighting for the rebels brings us into the heart of the action. In the course of her journeys into the scenes of battle, Molly rescues her cousin Dan.
Spool forward to 1920 and Dan is now a twelve year old schoolboy. Ireland is now in a state of anarchy. The brutal “Black and Tans” roam the streets terrorizing and murdering civilians. These were a notorious undisciplined police force set up by the British to quell opposition. The ruthless rebels respond with assassinations and attacks on British forces.
One day on his way home from school, Dan stumbles into trouble. He plays a game of “keepy-uppy” – trying to keep the ball up in the air for as long as he can and runs into an army roadblock. His game causes a diversion, which allows a gunman to escape. He comes to the attention of rebel leader Michael Collins and becomes a trusted messenger. Soon he is drawn deeper into the conflict. He is pursued by sinister British spies and double agents and has to go on the run. Molly is now a medical student and he turns to her to help him. But can he keep his promise to her to never fire a gun?
Deadly Shot is basically a spy thriller for children set against historical events. A gripping plot is interwoven through real historical events. But it’s also about what it was like to live in extraordinary times – the moral dilemmas, the dangers and tensions from the perspective of a twelve year old. It aims to give real historical figures a pulse. Hopefully it shows that history isn’t just “one damn thing after another” or about boring dead people. Molly’s Diary is now being taught in schools and Deadly Shot appeals to a very wide range of readers.
Football mad, twelve- year- old Dan is a trusted messenger for Ireland’s rebel leader, Michael Collins. He promises his cousin Molly to never fire a gun, but after the dramatic events of “Bloody Sunday” in Croke Park, he is pulled deeper into the struggle. Hunted by a vengeful Intelligence Officer, Molly and Dan are forced to flee Dublin. But unknown to Dan, he holds the key to a deadly plot. And his enemy will stop at nothing to track him down. On the run, they meet Flying Columns and narrowly escape death But as Cork burns can Dan continue to outrun his enemy?
Enjoy an excerpt:
The mean-faced Tan moved forward and cocked a gun in my direction. “You with the ball! Stop, you little Fenian brat, or I’ll shoot!”
He advanced towards me, his eyes flaming down the barrel of the gun. I thought I was going to wet myself with fear.
On impulse, I skied the ball straight up to heaven. It soared higher than the rooftops. Everyone tilted their heads. From the corner of my eye I glimpsed the young rebel making a run for it towards Saint Andrew’s church on the opposite side of the road.
“POW!” a shot rang out.
I prayed it wasn’t the rebel. But the lifeless thud of my ball was almost as bad. The Tan had shot my dearest possession. But they hadn’t even seen the gunman!
About the Author:
Patricia Murphy is an award-winning children’s author and Producer/Director of documentaries. Her most recent novel is Deadly Shot – Dan’s Diary – the War of Independence 1920-22. Previous works include the critically acclaimed Easter Week 1916 – Molly’s Diary, described as “brilliantly imagined”, “beautifully written and compelling” and “ fantastic at bringing history alive for children”. She is also the author of The Chingles Celtic Fantasy trilogy. She was the winner of the Poolbeg “Write a Bestseller for Children” Competition 2004.
She is also an award-winning Producer/Director of primetime documentaries for BBC and Channel 4. These include Children of Helen House on the Oxford children’s hospice for BBC. She created and filmed the launch programmes of Born to Be Different the Channel 4 flagship series following six children with disabilities through the 21st century. Other films include Behind the Crime about criminals and Raised by the State on growing up in care. She has also made Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4.