How Casey Riordan Was Meant to Be a Secondary Character.


Yes, it’s true, I foolishly believed that Casey was a minor character who was there as a foil and little else. I also thought Exit Unicorns was a one off book and had no clue until I was about two thirds of the way through it that it was meant to be a wee bit longer than that.

Casey, in his own charming and fairly forceful way made it clear he was no one’s secondary anything and the story completely changed around his presence. To this day, he is the one that ‘speaks’ to me with the most ease. It’s seriously like sitting down next to a lovely peat fire, with a pot of tea to drink and some whiskey to cheer it and having a long chat with a very dear friend. I only wish all the characters made my life so easy. He tends to be the character around whom events are set in motion, for good or bad. I had never intended to have a love triangle in my books, but one day Casey showed up in his brother’s kitchen and met Pamela and that was that. He knocked her for a complete loop, immediately. I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Well, this is a complication.’

Casey turned, dark eyes friendly yet guarded and she realized she’d been staring and he’d felt the stamp of her eyes on his face.

“Welcome home,” she said, the words slipping from her mouth before she even heard them in her head.

“Thank ye,” he held her gaze until she, completely flustered, jumped up from the table and announced in a voice that seemed too loud and foreign to her own ears that she really must be going.

“I’ll see ye tomorrow then,” Pat said helping her on with her coat and looping her bag over her shoulder.

“Nice to have met ye,” his brother’s voice was polite but nothing more.

She walked all the way home, too hot to be confined to a bus, pausing halfway up the tree-lined drive of Jamie’s house to watch in wonderment the moon sitting like a Christmas angel on top of a cypress, a silver crayon cutout against the pale evening sky. Without warning it looped upside down and she had to step back to avoid falling. She blinked trying to fend dizziness off and put one hot hand to her forehead. She’d best go straight to bed, she seemed to be developing a raging fever.

 Of course he just took centre stage from there on, and I could no more resist following where he went than Miss Pamela could. He’s led me on a very merry dance, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. He’s turned out to be a very fine family man now, which wasn’t evident right from the get go.

Pamela- She has been harder to get to know than Casey, as she is just more naturally reticent. She’s shocked me a few times with the things she has been willing to do for the sake of those she loves. I’m getting much better acquainted with her during the writing of the current book. She showed up in my imagination at the same time as Jamie did. The two of them have been in residence there since I was in my late teens. It just took me awhile to get around to putting their story down. She was a little naïve (something that was cured rather quickly for her in Northern Ireland) and wide-eyed and in love with a man she didn’t entirely understand. Being that I’m an outsider to Northern Ireland myself, Pamela is my window through which I view that world. She and I get our shocks together. She’s incredibly honest, she’s kind, and she’s far tougher than I thought she was to begin with, she’s been showing me just how tough in the work in progress. But looking back I realize she has always been fierce and strong. The people around her tend to underestimate her because of the way she looks.

“Men think they understand love, but they don’t.” Her eyes were fixed on some point beyond him, words uttered with a strange ferocity that only deepened the chill he felt. “Men will die for freedom, they’ll sacrifice their last breath for something that’s only a theory, but they won’t do it for love. Men look at women and see soft creatures, but do you really think anyone who’s been a mother is soft? The first time you hold your child in your arms, you suddenly understand the darkness you’re capable of. Life becomes very black and white. You know you’d kill and do it without a second thought should someone even threaten your child. And sometimes if you’re lucky, you love the father of that child enough to do the same for him.”

“Lucky? You call that lucky?”

“Cursed or blessed, when it comes to love I think you’ll find it’s the same thing.” She sighed. “Why waste your morals on a man who’d kill you for merely crossing him once, even if you never intended to?”

 Jamie- My quicksilver, difficult, temperamental, self-destructive boy. He has the mind I wish I had, (well, I’d like to take a pass on the darkness he has to go through, but I love the other parts of it). When we first meet him, he’s emotionally locked away from the world due to the loss of his three sons, uses alcohol to numb himself, falls most unsuitably in love with a girl from his past who ends up falling for another man. He leads a dangerous triple life that he must keep secret from the world. He is also bipolar and doesn’t like to take his meds for a variety of reasons- this creates some rather highwire without a net moments in his life. His greatest strength comes from caring for others, though he has yet to learn how to look after himself properly. He is, however, very well loved by a large variety of friends and family. It is his saving grace many times. He’s also a damn difficult bastard to write. It’s why I think of him as quicksilver- here and then gone, and heaven help me if I don’t put everything aside the minute he deigns to show his face and let me have two minutes of his time. In ‘Angels’ however, he really showed himself to me through the vehicle of his journals. He hasn’t bothered to do that again. He’s the character that gives me the most heartache.

There are ghosts in my head tonight, dreadful, rattling things with the wind singing laments through their bones. That poem by Sorley McLean is brought sharply to mind—

Who is this, who is this in the night of the heart?
It is the thing that is not reached,
the ghost seen by the soul…

That is so exact, the ghost seen by the soul—elusive, yet I am never able to rid myself of it. When the days are especially sharp and bright and the very air tastes like wine, I know I will soon see that ghost. I can hear the faint echo of its chains rattle most clearly when my mind is fire bright and I can write without sleep or sustenance for days.

Tonight, however, is not a firelit one, and I can see the outlines of that ghost clearly, and how very dark and nasty is his shape, his visage that of hell itself. The shade of him is on the wall, flickering in my peripheral vision but not to be seen face on. He is too clever for that, this dark slitherer that infests my brain at will.

Tomorrow morning I may well wake up in another world, another universe even. I will be able to see the old one from my vantage point, but I will not be able to touch it nor find my way back to it. For there are holes between this world and that, fractured panes of glass through which one can view events and people though the broken glass always distorts them, shapes all interactions oddly, changes the light and the sound so that voices come from a great distance yet are overly loud and grating—as though every word slaps my skin and flicks at my nerves. But there are no maps for this dark planet.

Sometimes I really do believe the dead can walk. Because there are nights I’m certain I’m one of them.

Patrick- I’ll just say it, the boy is my favourite (though since writing ‘Spindrift’ he’s tied with his father, Brian). Easy to write, lovely character who has grown into a wonderful man (I envy Miss Kate sometimes). His morals and the way he looks at the world are closest to my own. I tend to be quiet and observe before acting, just as he does. He’s stubborn though never to a fault. He’s got his head on right. I am happy with the direction he’s decided to move in life. And yes, they make the decisions, I just hear about it after, as I’m taking down dictation for them.

TOMAS EGAN, ESQ. HAD NOT BEEN TERRIBLY KEEN to take on a young untried barrister for a twelve-month pupillage. Tomas Egan, Esq. in point of fact, had told Patrick Riordan sans Esquire to ‘Feck off, yerself an’ the horse you rode in on, boy.’ Patrick Riordan, a man of no small stubbornness himself, merely waited out the old buzzard, which was how he thought of this fearsome man of law. This man who had once had three separate test cases against the British Government pending in front of the European Commission on Human Rights, this man who, it was said, told the British Prime Minister that he could go shag himself seven ways from Sunday when he proposed sending yet more troops into Tomas’ embattled hometown. He was possessed of a roaring intellect, a gift of oratory and a fierce sense of justice. He might have been, some said, anything he had chosen to be—council to kings and prime ministers, a judge for the Privy Council, or even the leader of the country entire. But he had one love beyond that of justice, and that was whiskey. Ultimately whiskey won, and the once fiery young barrister found himself in a seedy office with flies on the windowsills, taking on cases that no one else would touch. There had been other firms to choose from, but Patrick had decided himself weeks before, it was Tomas Egan or bust. And so he merely stood his ground (partly because there was no chair on which to sit) in the rundown office, where piles of papers covered every conceivable surface, and dust lay thick as velvet over most of them.  And there he stayed, all six foot two of him, stubborn to his final inch. He was a Riordan, and Riordans stood their ground, particularly with crusty old barristers, even if said old buzzard had once been lauded as a judicial genius.

   “Ye need the help, I’d say,” Pat said, in response to a needling query on what the feck he thought he was doing barging into a man’s office, unannounced. Pat knew that this was not a man that needed flattery or finessing, he would recognize it for what it was. Blunt honesty seemed his only course. “Ye don’t even have a secretary.”

   “Don’t need one,” the man said, “not enough for her to do here, not many calls to field an’ no dictation to take. An’ I’ve certainly no need for some wet-nosed pup who imagines himself a barrister.”

   “Well, that’s the point, I’m not a barrister yet. I need yer help with that.”

   “And why is it you think I should be interested in helping you?”

   “Because I asked ye to. I’ve not got anything else in my favour, only that I need to do a pupillage under someone an’ yer my first choice.”

   The man leaned across his desk, blue eyes suddenly sharp as the edge of a new-minted knife. “How desperate are you, son, that an old shambling alcoholic is yer first choice?”

  “Yer the best at what ye do, an’ I would learn from the best. It’s that simple. I could have gone elsewhere, but I came here first. And I’m bringin’ a case with me, that I think ye might find interestin’.”

   There was a spark of interest in the old man’s face, though it was swiftly veiled.

  “Ye’ve got a case? Well, why the feck would ye need me then?”

  Pat took a breath, appealed to his own particular saint and answered the man  politely.

   “Because clearly I can’t try it, but you can.”

   The old man laughed, and laughed, until Pat, clearing a space on a stool he’d spotted under a pile of files three feet deep, sat down to wait him out. Patrick, unlike most of the men in his ancestry, had the patience of a saint, or as his father used to say the stubborn will of an obdurate bulldog.

David- An officer and a gentleman. He was lovely to write about and he brought a different perspective to the books, because he was the enemy and yet an entirely decent man, as the enemy often is. He was also a hero, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for someone he loved. I have missed his presence as I write this book. I enjoyed everything I wrote from his perspective. The war in Northern Ireland was a dirty war, but it was also painted in about a thousand shades of grey. David allowed me to explore some of the corruption of the conflict and how no one is ever all good or all bad. His character served to show what a conflict without a clear result can do to a man, and how someone’s perspective can shift hugely by getting to know the enemy as a human being. He also caused some problems for all the main characters, except maybe Jamie, being that he was on sabbatical in Russia for a bit.

He had chosen this spot after the original meeting with Casey that Billy had demanded. Casey was well versed in the treachery of his own country and used the isolated spot for a reason. David saw the wisdom of this, as long as one could be certain one wasn’t followed to such remote sites. For such a small country, Ireland had plenty of these cottages, long abandoned and swallowed up by feral nature. Home only to ghosts and the occasional badger, they were ideal for the drop off and retrieval of information that had to be kept secret. David liked to come here sometimes when the small, bloody city became more than he could manage and he needed somewhere quiet to think, or not think, depending on the day and its particular horrors. Besides, he was comfortable with ghosts, having been one himself in great part for a long time now. He felt like one more often than not. There were only pockets in his life now when he was certain he was fully human and not something near to invisible, drifting through the edges of life as others knew it.

He turned the stone over to find a wedge of paper, folded as his informant always folded such things, in a sharp-edged triangle.

He opened it and the world fell in, rendering his vision black for a moment as his heart raced out of control. He was on his knees without understanding that his legs had given way, the sharp edge of a stone cutting into the bony ridge of his kneecap.

A name, moved up, as the man who had been designated for the hit could not be found. A name common enough in this country, but not so common at all. Riordan. David swore. Which one? Which—for the love of Christ—one?

 Lawrence- He was fun and tragic all at the same time. Damaged, yet he sure had Casey’s number right from the get go. He was still capable of love and trust, though it took a bit. He forced both Casey and Pamela to grow up that final bit as well. I loved his mouthiness, his contrariness and particularly his relationship with Casey. He knew a man he could trust when he found one. I have never cried so hard whilst writing as I did when he decided to make his exit. I still miss him.

CASEY AWOKE TO THE SOUND of voices downstairs. He frowned, reaching down for the pants he’d shucked off in exhaustion the previous night. He could hear Pamela moving about the kitchen and smelled the heady aroma of frying ham drifting up the stairs. He eyed the clock, then blinked and looked again. It was only five o’clock. Who on earth could be here at such an unholy hour, looking for a bite?

He pulled his pants on and then grabbed a shirt, shrugging into it on his way down the stairs. He padded barefoot and yawning into the kitchen, only to stop abruptly halfway through the yawn to exclaim, “Jaysus Murphy, what the hell are you doin’ here? An’ in my wife’s bathrobe no less!”

Flip, having just bitten off half a slice of toast was saved from answering. Pamela turned from forking ham onto a plate and said, “He showed up late last night, you were dead to the world and he was half-drowned and frozen from the rain. So I invited him to stay.”

“Have ye completely lost yer mind, woman?” Casey demanded, “Ye don’t know this child from Adam, we could have been murdered in our bed!”

“Well we weren’t and he’s not deaf, so I suggest you keep your lecture for later.” Having said her piece, she proceeded to heap ham on the boy’s plate and re-fill his glass with milk. “More toast Lawrence?” she asked, as though it were an everyday occurrence to take in total strangers and feed them.

“Lawrence?” Casey queried, feeling like Alice stumbling into the midst of the mad tea party.

“’Tis my name,” Flip said equably, nodding his thanks to Pamela for a second helping of toast. “Named after the meteor shower, ye know—the Tears of Saint Lawrence. Bit of a joke on God mind, me bein’ named after a Saint. ‘Course the story goes that Lawrence was grilled on a spit by that Roman Emperor, Dy—Dee—”

“Decius,” Pamela supplied helpfully from her position by the kettle.

The Baddies

I admit it, I tend to fall a little in love with my bad guys. They are fun to write and I like exploring their back stories, and why they ended up as they did. I remember when Robin showed up in that first scene in ‘Mermaid’ where he kills the Scots soldiers. That was a real historical happening, and I wrote it in part to place the story back in Northern Ireland and its events at the time and because I was haunted by those poor boys who were lured out of a pub one night by the promises of a night of fun, and ended up dead in a ditch. It was so representative of Northern Ireland and how little the British Army prepared those soldiers for what life there was like. It was the world’s worst killing ground for a British soldier in the world at the time. Their hands were tied there, as N. Ireland was part of the UK, which meant they operated very differently there than they would have elsewhere. Several months into the writing, there was a scene where Casey goes into a pub for a drink and ends up playing cards. At the end of the game, I realized he had known Robin for a long time and then their history literally just rushed in at me like a dam had broken.

Love Hagerty, who also made his appearance in ‘Mermaid’ was an amalgamation of two real people—the notorious Boston mobster Whitey Bulger and his brother Billy, who was a politician. I liked the idea of combining the two personas into one, a politician who only had a thin veneer between the murderous mobster and his slick dealings in the world. I didn’t fall in love with him, mind you, but he was a whole lot of fun to write.

The Reverend Lucien Broughton- He’s a strange one, and I only sprinkle him into the story here and there. He is like an absence rather than a presence. He’s so cold, I just see a blank white in my head when I write him. He’s very opaque and I don’t exactly like trying to get into his head. I have to write a few chapters from his POV in this book, and I keep putting it off. I’m not comfortable in his skin, whereas I am with the other antagonists.

The bad guy in ‘Shadows’ is probably the most complex one I’ve ever written, and I absolutely love writing him. I hope, when you meet him, you’ll enjoy reading about him too.

And last but never least, Ireland. In some ways Ireland is the main character of all my books and she is always present even when my characters are thousands of miles away from her, she shapes their actions, their thoughts, and most of all, their hearts.

We fly through the night until a thin line forms on the distant horizon and we feel the relief of homecoming after such a very long voyage over the faceless, undulating ocean. And so we arrive at the edge of a country of limestone cliffs, soft-faced with moss and nesting gulls. In we fly across a patchwork quilt of a thousand shades of green and low stone walls with sheep dotting the dawn’s landscape. But do not let this enchantment fool you, for this is a land that has known much pain, whose fields are watered well and deep with blood. This is an old land, and our people have lived here long, some saying we were the small dark ones that dwelt in the trees before the coming of the Celts—but we are older even than they. We knew this land before man, before God, before light.

Now we wheel North, which in this land is spelled with a capital ‘N’, defined by political lines rather than geographical. Here lie the cities of industry with musical names like Londonderry, Ballymena, Magherafelt, Newtownabbey and last—the city of our concern—Belfast, meaning ‘sandy fort at the river’s mouth’. A fitting name, for it is a city built on red clay, with politics girded in ropes of sand and lives that dissipate as quickly through the hourglass of time and chance.

(All pieces of work are copyrighted 2015 Cindy Brandner)