An adult fairytale, The Birdskin Shoes is a lyrical story of love, loss and earthquakes that transports the reader from the grey skies of rural
to the dazzle of the Mexican circus in the company of Joey, a young man with a remarkable gift but a guilty conscience. Ireland
This novel was inspired by a conversation in a taxi on the way to Sevenoaks with an Iranian acrobat who had beautiful feet. He was the driver and I found out all about his life, how he'd left Iran to make his fortune and ended up in the circuses of Las Vegas before coming to the UK and marrying an English girl. I was on my way to a writing weekend so I began to write a story about him, "The Seismic Acrobat of Tehran." In the story - which I never quite finished, the rulers of Iran insist that all its acrobats have to spend a day a month on one of its faultlines "listening" for earthquakes.
Over the following months the idea grew and moved location - I'd spent a year in Mexico and knew how volatile a landscape it was - and decided to set the story there. In 1995, when I lived in San Miguel de Allende, I'd seen a solitary caged lion being towed through the streets by a van with a loud hailer announcing the arrival of a new circus in town. This image of a forlorn lion in a battered cage stayed with me.
I'd also been obsessed for years by the Irish poem Donal Og. I first heard it spoken in the film "The Dead"-a film based on the James Joyce short story of the same name. The imagery of the poem is startling and the emotion raw (see below).
I wove all these elements together into this novel. My acrobat became an Irish boy with highly sensitive feet who flees Ireland after a violent incident and eventually ends up in a Mexican circus where he finds fame and fortune until...
An early draft was one of the finalists in the Spread the Word novel pitch competition in 2006. Its taken a while to finish! It's due out as an e-book mid-December.
It is late last night the dog was speaking of you
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.
You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.
You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.
You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in
When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness.
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.
It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you forever.
My mother said not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she had for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.
My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you put that darkness over my life.
You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!
ANON from the Irish (trans’. Lady Augusta Gregory)