The last birthday card my father wrote to me before he died read “always, remember, you, are, an, very, special, person”. Growing up in the Ardoyne, in Belfast, he had never been to school and so never fully learned to read or write. Instead, he would guess how language worked, and it was often more beautiful, and more poetic, than any literate person could have imagined it. Despite never reading a book in his life (he did attempt Angela’s Ashes) he always encouraged me to read, telling me how life-changing it could be, and I would always think, well, how the fuck would he know?
I often thought that if he could have read, most books would have disappointed him. So when he died I made a vow. I would try to write the kinds of books that would live up to an illiterate person’s fantasy of them.
For the Good Times is set in Belfast during the Troubles. My father left Belfast as the Troubles were starting, though most of his family remained, and when they would visit us in Scotland they would tell us tales of the incredible, terrible things that took place in those years, and there was something in their telling, a resilience, a mytho-poetic sensibility, a performative approach to storytelling that encompassed songs, jokes, tall tales and tangents, that inspired me to write a book that would tell stories in the same style.
For the Good Times follows the lives of four young men, caught at the epicentre of the Troubles. It’s about violence, and the endless cycles that perpetuate it, about fathers and sons, about masculinity, about the ability of language to reshape reality and the redemptive power of the stories we tell in an attempt to create meaning from – and to say yes to – suffering, pain, betrayal and loss. Oh, and it’s also a love letter to
For the Good Times by David Keenan is out on January 24
(Faber & Faber, £12.99)