Saturday 24 March 2018

It really can be a wonderful life

IN THE city of Sheffield, on the skyline of Park Hill flats, once deemed one of the worst housing estates in Britain, there is a bridge emblazoned with the graffiti: 'Clare Middleton, I love you, will u marry me'.

Since it was spray-painted 12 years ago, this message has become a landmark in the city. The 'I love you' bridge, as it's now known, is a beacon in a bleak environment where life is tougher than many of us can imagine. It reminds us of what's important in life, whether we suffer the worst deprivations or the greatest of fortune.

It was with this message in mind that I began writing my first novel, The Forced Redundancy Film Club. At the time, I felt surrounded by gloom. Every time I turned on the radio, or watched the news, some talking head was telling me that Ireland was spiralling into the worst crisis in our history, that people were living in abject poverty, that more were losing their jobs, that emigration numbers were going up every day, splitting families.


Of course, this was all true, but the constant bombardment of negative information made me feel that I was in a financial war zone, and the feeling I was left with, despite the fact that my job was fairly secure, was fear.

When I listened to a radio show, that will not be named, with a couple who had both lost their jobs and the interviewer pushed them to the edge until they were both crying, I turned the radio off for good. I understood that I had become addicted to 'recession porn', and it was sucking the positivity out of me.

In my book, the main character, Katherine, does a similar thing. She switches from a news channel to one playing '70s songs that speak of "sunshine and lollipops rather than the wall-to-wall recession, euro bail-outs and rising unemployment figures".

Katherine may have to face all of the negatives that recession porn thrives on but, as with all of us, the heart of her will carry on living, like the songs we love so well continue playing through thick and thin. Losing her job is not the end of her story, despite the messages we are given to the contrary.

Dramatic and romantic stories that circulate around the 'I love you' bridge, they are part of the human survival instinct that keeps people going. Stories are like a drug that helps us get through the though times. We need them.

The majority of people nowadays get their story fixes through the movies. The five members of The Forced Redundancy Film Club have a great appetite for the stories of the silver screen. They watch the films they love together, such as Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Thelma and Louise or The Wizard of Oz, and the stories in the films begin reflecting the stories of their own lives.

As my characters got swept away with the movies they were watching, I wanted the reader to be swept away in my character's stories. It's a feel-good recession book, because it feels good to escape, but it doesn't shy away from the hard stuff of life either.

The last film my unlikely band of friends watch together is It's a Wonderful Life. On the day I finished the final copy edit of the book, this film was being shown at the Screen Cinema. I went along with friends to celebrate. At the end of it, the main character, George Bailey reads this quote, written as a dedication to him in the inside leaf of a book: "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."

This quote appears on the inside leaf of my book, because it is a universal truth. Life may be tough at the moment, but in Sheffield the graffiti on the 'I Love You' bridge has now been lit with neon, reminding the inhabitants of Park Hill flats that although life is tough and there are struggles to be overcome, that as long as you have love, you will survive.

It's a message I wish I heard on the news channels more often.

The Forced Redundancy Film Club by Brian Finnegan is published by Hachette Ireland, €12.99

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