Gerry Boyle here. A film-buff friend on the west coast e-mailed the other day to say, Hey! Since when did you start using drugs and consorting with prostitutes. Hey, I said to myself. Getting a little personal there. Then he explained that he was talking about Gerry Boyle. The Irish cop. In the hot new movie The Guard.
In an indie movie that’s getting rave reviews, Gerry Boyle, played by Brendon Gleeson, is a contentedly corrupt small-town cop.
He hooks up with a straight-arrow FBI agent (Don Cheadle) to investigate a drug-related murder. They make a great pair, reviewers say, as Gleeson provides laughs and shocks galore. I’m going to see the movie this weekend as I love Gleeson’s work and I love the west of Ireland.
But I don’t expect that on my next visit I’m going to be able to find Gerry Boyle’s Ireland.
I say this having spent part of a day looking for another writer’s fictional world and coming up empty. I’m a huge fan of Ken Bruen and his books set in Galway, Ireland. In the novels, It’s a gritty place peopled by desperate characters, callous crooks, a parish priest with a heart of stone. I like the books so much (dialogue to die for) that last spring I stopped in Galway on my way to the west and looked around for Bruen’s down-at-the-heels city. I couldn’t find it.
I did find a nice town with a lovely square and pretty harbor. I met some very pleasant locals. In a pub, I asked the cheery waitress if she knew of Ken Bruen’s books. She stopped smiling. “Yeh, I know of ’em,” she said, and she turned and walked away.
Not a fan of Bruen’s Galway.
I bring all of this up for a couple of reasons (and you thought I was just rambling). One, I like the idea of Gerry Boyle as a dissolute cop, short on scruples and long on Guinness. But two, it was another reminder that the worlds created in our books don’t just replicate real life. I wrote about this here a few days back. But it’s on my mind more than ever as I make the rounds in the real Portland, Maine, talking about a Portland, Maine that doesn’t necessarily exist. In a TV interview earlier this week, I found myself saying that my new book, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE, is “all Portland, all the time.” Well, it is. But not necessarily the Portland most people know.
Yes, the book is very gritty. And cops and criminals might be the only ones who inhabit this side of the city. But it’s also because the bottom line is, we make this stuff up. Sure, some of our books are set against real backdrops. But on the page, those places are imagined. Reality comes in one end; fiction comes out the other.
It took me a while to quite get this. In fact, an admission here—and some advice for aspiring writers. It took me two or three books before I fully trusted my imagination. I had this idea that my realistic fiction had to be based on reality. Real places. Real people, or at least real composites, for characters.
So the advice-to-writers part: believe in your vision. Allow your imagination free hand. Let stuff pop onto the screen because it popped into of your head. Take reality and give it your own distinctive twist. Create. That’s what we do. Make up stories. Mine has a rookie cop in Portland, Maine. A Sudanese immigrant lost between two worlds. A mother and daughter who think the city is going to hell. A tough and wise lesbian cop whose parents disowned her when she came out.
Like Gerry Boyle, the Irish cop, they only exist in your head. And that, my friends, is the magic of what we do.