‘Letterbox’ is strong, powerful, emotive. A harrowing novel about the 1996 Manchester IRA bombing – what a haunting tale and heartbreaking insight into the lives of those, responsible for the bombings and of those, who by their very being had no choice but to be implicated in it… their lives will never be the same…
Liam Connor has it all: a loving father and mother, a sibling, his sister, Margaret, a carefree life so it seems. But unbeknownst to him, he is part of something bigger – so all-consuming that it will change everything he believed in and replace it with a strong bond to his roots, to honour his family’s heritage. First of all, Liam is a boy with a best friend, Sean.
Growing up in Manchester in the 70s is made easier for Liam because he has Sean on his side – anyone who dares to confront Liam with his Irish background, has to answer to Sean. But then it is all changed dramatically by a force beyond them – how will it affect their friendship and what will Liam’s response be? Conscience or loyalty?
The opening chapter of Letterbox shows us the devastating effects of the 1996 Manchester bombing. It is still the very day of the explosion, June 15th, and slowly, the inhabitants of Manchester start to grasp what has happened in and to their beloved city. For one man, June 15, 1996, is the second, and no doubt the most important turning point in his life. The day Liam Connor stood for a most difficult choice. The day he “had finally become a man.” How and why?
Let us retrace our steps to the morning of that fateful day when Liam, walking through the streets of Manchester and trying to blend in with the shopping masses, hears someone call his name. On this day of all days, it is the last thing he needs. Liam tries to ignore the voice but he knows who it belongs to, his once best friend, Sean.
Somehow, this chance meeting makes all the difference but how did they get from being the closest of (childhood) friends to seemingly strangers in the present day, 1996?
For that, we go back even further, to the Irish Connor family. a family living for ‘the cause’, the strive for full independence. When you are born in the Catholic part of Belfast just after WWII, hatred against the British regime comes with growing up in a neighbourhood where everyone is “filled with unprecedented support and loyalty for their own.”
The IRA is as embedded in the lives of the Connor family as is their daily bread and Michael Connor (Liam’s father) learned fast about the ‘deceptive’ wish for peace and the only ‘right’ way to gain independence for Northern Ireland: by violence. Does he have a choice? Does his brother have one or, for that matter, are his children free to find their own destiny?
This fact-based novel presents us with fascinating insights into growing up in the 1980s in Manchester, the lives of the Irish activists, and the UK Police force who are struggling to catch those, responsible for innocent deaths. The event that would be the first life-changing moment for Liam but is also an eye-opener for the Police is shocking. Very shocking.
We perceive the turmoil of emotions within the police force and realise, although we condemn some actions, that they are strained and, under enormous pressure, somehow have to find a way to cope with it all – there are more layers behind their conduct. Then there are those, who stood on the sideline, who, without having anything to say in it, became involved.
They saw their lives reduced to being subordinate to the ‘higher cause’ and their consequent sufferings were never taken into consideration. Until it is too late.
Wow, what can I say? I am totally blown away (a terrible punch, I know) by Letterbox – P.A. Davies’s gripping novel (faction as he calls it – fact-based fiction) evokes strong feelings and engagement in the reader – the author takes the reader with him on a journey through time where nothing is what it seems.
The Police are not the protectors of society but all the more human, and the individual IRA members are not the heartless terrorists but then again, no saints. This well-written novel shows us real-life characters without judgment or prejudice – but also, gives us fascinating insights into the IRA organisation and the people behind it.
There is no carefree growing up for those children, who are born in IRA families and the hierarchy could well be suffocating. It feels like a Mafia family: once you are in you can never get out. Even paranoia is the same. After reading Letterbox, many thoughts hurdled through my mind – sharing with you only this thought: Can you ever justify sacrificing innocent lives?
Without giving away too much of the story (obviously, everyone will have heard of the 1996 Manchester bombing but I refer to the fiction part of this novel), such as the characters, expertly described by the author in a way that you feel you have come to know them, there are certain aspects that stayed with me such as the staggering conduct of the police (at one point) that made me cringe as did the mother who was willing to sacrifice her children to a cause sending them on a path of destruction.
My heart went out to the little girl, trapped in her role – but I will say no more. Letterbox is an excellently researched, engrossing, fact-based novel that captivates the reader from the start. A compelling debut novel by author P.A. Davies. A must-read I highly recommend.
Books by P.A. Davies:
About P.A. Davies
P.A. Davies grew up in Manchester, UK, a place he has lived in and around all his life – he loves Manchester and is proud to be part of the multi-cultural, modern city that houses two Premiership football teams and is the birthplace of many a famous band, such as Oasis, The Stone Roses, Take That and Simply Red.
For most of his life, he dabbled with writing various pieces, from poems to short fictional stories just for fun. However, following advice from a good friend he decided to have a go at writing a novel. Thus, his first novel Letterbox was conceived, a fictional take on the infamous IRA bombing of Manchester in 1996.
It took him over a year to complete but while doing so, he found it to be one of the most satisfying and interesting paths he had ever followed. It comes as no surprise that the writing bug now became firmly embedded within him.
To label P.A. Davies’s writings would be difficult because his works diverse from thrillers to touching novels to true-to-life tales embedded in a captivating story for the author is an imaginative and versatile storyteller.
Author Website: www.padavies.co.uk
FB Author Page: www.facebook.com/padavies.ukauthor
Amazon Author Page: author.to/PADavies
Letterbox is available at Amazon.
|Publisher||MJD Publishing (1st edition;1 April 2012)|
The Facts: 1996 Manchester Bombing
In 1996 two IRA members planted the UK mainland’s biggest bomb since World War Two outside a Manchester shopping centre. The explosion ripped the heart out of the city centre but remarkably no-one was killed. In fact, the blast is now credited by some as kick-starting the city’s regeneration.
The sun was shining and England was due to take on Scotland in Euro 96 on 15 June. It was the Saturday before Fathers Day and the Arndale Centre was heaving with shoppers. Football fans were also in town for the next day’s Russia v Germany fixture at nearby Old Trafford.
At about 09:20 BST, a white lorry was parked on double yellow lines near the Marks and Spencer store in the heart of the city. CCTV cameras record two men in hooded jackets getting out and walking away. A short time later, a traffic warden placed a parking ticket on the vehicle’s windscreen.
Just before 10:00 BST, Gary Hall, a security guard at ITV’s Granada studios – on the other side of town – received a phone call from a man with a “very calm” Irish voice. The man said he had planted a bomb that would explode an hour later.
Shortly afterwards, police began evacuating about 80,000 people from the city centre, while attempts were made to find the bomb.
People ran away in fear as shops and offices emptied. Amid the panic, a police officer spotted the white lorry and noticed wires running from the dashboard.
Bomb disposal officers, dispatched from their base in Liverpool, planned to defuse the explosive with a remote-controlled robot.
However, the attempt failed and, at 11:17 BST, the 3,300lb device exploded. Smoke mushroomed high above the city while buildings shook and glass shattered, raining debris on people outside the cordoned area.
Some 220 people were injured and several were traumatised by the massive blast.
However, to the amazement of many, no-one was killed.
No-one has ever been charged over the blast.
Plans to regenerate Manchester had already been in place – a tram network had been reintroduced earlier in the 1990s, cultural venues were shaping up and the city had already won the bid to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games. But the bomb’s devastation inevitably widened the scale of rebuilding ahead of the millennium.
A symbol of the city’s strength and effort to get back on its feet was the red letterbox that survived the blast and was standing in the midst of the rubble. One of the few things left standing.
Since then, the postbox is fitted with a memorial plaque. The brass plaque carries the inscription “This postbox remained standing almost undamaged on June 15, 1996 when this area was devastated by a bomb. The box was removed during the rebuilding of the city centre and was returned to its original site on November 22nd 1999”. The box is a Victorian-era pillar box. It is on the west side of Corporation Street.