Cows lazy in the grass, tonguing their shoulders like huge cats in the front garden

Today I was looking at the manuscript of a novel that I wrote more than twenty-five years ago. I started writing it when I was still in college, and I did eventually finish it – but I never tried to publish it.

I hadn’t looked at the novel for many years until today. While I never thought that the finished draft was good enough to want to publish it, there are sections of it that I think read quite well. Here is a short excerpt from near the beginning of the novel, which is set in Ireland. I kind of hope that it makes you want to know what happens next – although, paradoxically, I don’t think that I would let anyone read the novel in its current form!


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June, 1981. It is a Saturday, and she is going to a wedding. The train chants rhythmically away from Dublin, then clouds gather and a sudden spattering of rain can be heard above the noise. Diagonal lines of water move slowly across the window pane, then the sky clears again and the sun emerges to penetrate the glass, making the young woman inside the airless train uncomfortably hot.

The countryside is generic midlands country: flat green fields, slight hills, untrimmed hedgerows dotted with white and yellow wildflowers. As the train turns south, the land becomes more interesting: hillier, the mountains look like great dark mossy stones, smoothed by thousands of years in some secret stream bed. On closer inspection, however, they are really covered with grass and rocks and scrubby brush, weedy ravines cutting across their faces like the lines of some abstract sculpture. Over the broken dry-stone walls which divide the fields, she occasionally catches a glimpse of cows lazy in the grass, couched on the ground and tonguing their shoulders like huge cats in the front garden. The sun disappears again behind low clouds.

She’s been invited to a cousin’s wedding. She will miss the ceremony, but is planning to arrive in plenty of time for the four o’ clock reception. Her black dress is being wrinkled from sitting on a train for five hours, but the alternative would have been to crush it in the maroon rucksack which is shoved onto the rack above her head. The pack is full of supplies for three or four weeks of touring the country: shampoo, t-shirts, socks, an umbrella, books. Essentials. She will arrive in town at ten past three, and her uncle will meet her and take her to the hotel, the sherry reception with tea and sandwiches which will be served to the accompaniment of traditional music played on piano accordions by middle-aged men who look like dentists and insurance agents.

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