In late 2009 I paid a visit to the Galway home of Man Booker Prize runner-up, John Arden. Less than three years before his sad passing, he was good enough to spare some time to speak with me about what turned out to be his last collection of stories Gallows - Tales of Suspicion and Obsession.
There’s a man with a Palestinian flag on Shop Street. He’s 60 if he’s a day and when the rain falls on the happy shoppers of Galway, he usually gets wet. There are men and women who spend each weekend at Shannon Airport, counting airplanes as they traffic in and out and engage in uneasy staring-matches with guards through iron fences.
They are people who are placed, or place themselves, on the edge of what most people see as ‘normal’ society. People who sooner or later will pay some price for that placement.
For the last four decades, John Arden has lived in relative obscurity on Ireland’s west coast. After exploding onto the literary scene in the late 1950s, Arden was quickly hailed as one of the visionary playwrights of that era and was even christened Britain’s Brecht.
But all truths must eventually out and Arden’s unwillingness to keep quiet about his opposition to the British military machine and their presence in Ireland soon brought about a number of high profile falling-outs with the British theatre establishment. And that, as they say, was that.
Now, as he prepares to turn 80, he is about to release his most substantial collection of work in years. Set in Galway, London and Yorkshire, Gallows is a collection of short stories that attempt to lift the carpet of polite society and peer at the goings-on in the underbelly of life.
“It’s not deliberate, you know. It’s just what happens when you write short stories over a period of years. The themes really are subconscious. It’s only after [the story] is written that I realise what the underlying theme might be,” he says.