What's the quickest way from A to B? Jump
What's the quickest way to get over your problems? Jump
What's the quickest way to heal your past? Jump
When Jane starts going out with a traceur she realises muddling through life isn't good enough. And her mother, emotionally stuck in the Troubles, realises too that sometimes it's easiest to live by learning to jump
Jump Derry is my first published novel which was launched in April 2010. In July 2011it was awarded first place in the International Rubery Book Award. It is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jump-Derry-Christine-Donovan/dp/0956470122/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272051020&sr=1-1 (if you buy one of the collectible copies it will come from me) or directly through me via the site, just leave me a pm. There are pictures from the launch in my gallery.
I joined the pkire website as a member in the summer of 2007 just as I finished the first draft of the novel, and I would not have produced the novel I have without the help and support of some of the people on here.
Please feel free to ignore any of the sections, which include what the novel is about, why I wrote it, and some responses from members of this site; there is also a short story about a boy learning to get over his problems on the Waterfront in Belfast. I have a myspace profile at www.myspace.com/jumpderry where there are updated blogs recounting what my characters are doing at the moment.
A major London publisher recently wrote to me and said ďI admired and enjoyed it, and was very moved by Janieís story. You obviously write from the heart ...I am impressed with your writing.Ē
The two characters who narrate the novel give their own version of what happens in my blog entries on this site. Jane starts going out with Martin, who does parkour like he does everything else, really well - he goes to the best school in Northern Ireland, he wants to be a human rights lawyer, he plays the guitar, she thinks he's real-life Spiderman. As she's a bit of a mess she's over-awed by this, until she decides to learn a lesson from parkour, that sometimes it's quicker to jump over your problems than to try and find a more complicated answer. Her mother, Marianne, tells her side of the story, dealing with years of grief and heartbreak after being caught in a supermarket bombing in the 1970s which killed her brother, and her long-term, on-off relationship with her old boyfriend, Gerard.
Jane and Martin turn emo, Martin's band start playing gigs, they do all the usual things teenagers do, go to parties, get drunk, have sex and fight with each other. Marianne goes to work, sorts out her childrens' problems, fucks her old boyfriend and cooks the tea. She too watches and learns from parkour, and eventually both her and Jane come to some sort of peace, with themselves, their partners, their past and their future. The novel is full of contemporary life, playstations, texting, emo music, incredibly tight trousers, all the things I constantly had to ask my two teenage daughters for advice about. So it's a lot of fun.
As for the parkour element of the novel. I have tried to describe quite a bit of parkour, free running and tricking, so there's something for everyone. My teenage traceur reader of Jump Derry travelled there and did the parkour I'd described, which I was very impressed with. So it does all have some sort of basis in reality.
Originally I never set out to write a novel for teenagers, when I wrote the original short story which the novel grew out of it was much more a sort of 'adult', sorted out version of thinking about teenage troubles. Two years ago I went on a family holiday to Derry - at that time I'd visited Derry several times but had not stayed there, I have family connexions with Northern Ireland, and in the 1980s had a friend who came from Derry. So while I was very glad I didn't walk along with my four year old daughter getting stopped at checkpoints regularly, or have to get searched, or that my children weren't viewed down rifle sights, I also saw a society that seemed so fragile, like it was being held together with sticking plasters.
By this point I'd written the short story, but it wasn't until the summer when I read part of it at a literary festival (I was a runner up in a short story competition) that I listened to what people were saying to me. All the following day after I'd read the evening before, people were coming up to me saying how much they'd enjoyed it, the Belfast novelist Ronan Bennet was one of them. So I started writing, and I wanted to write a novel about healing, about seeing what can heal you and taking the chance to accept some form of healing.
On the last day of our holiday in Derry, my husband had told me how he'd seen some boys jumping on the walls; however I had many things on my mind just then, but when I'd started writing my novel he kept on about this, and started bringing home copies of Gyro's films from Youtube. These, quite frankly, amazed and thrilled me, and so I turned Martin into a traceur. Three quarters of the way through writing it (I'd been given a deadline by the publisher) I went to Derry and tried to find someone to show me parkour, as I'd never seen it in real life, and I walked past Insidious on the street and thought oh he looks familiar, but it didn't occur to me to think maybe I'd seen him in Bane's Derry Jam doing parkour - I was pretty stressed at the time.
Eventually a boy was pointed out to me, he's called Ryan, and he spent ages showing me parkour at the back of Iceland and along the walls. I can't thank him enough, as it changed everything, and slotted the parkour element of the novel into place, before then it had been almost a sort of party piece, but seeing it in front of me made me realise how the healing element I wanted so badly could have a physical reality in the novel. If you read Marianne's section of my blog this might make it clearer.
I'm referring specifically now to a Six Counties situation, and probably like many parents when I first saw a film of parkour I spent ten seconds thinking oh my God they're going to kill themselves. However, I do think that parkour makes much more sense in Northern Ireland in a political and social context, for two reasons. In a 'post peace' environment you're trying to make sense of your world, being hugely discouraged away from traditional allegiances, and having a political process which to say the least is unusual. Parkour is a way to take back your world for yourself, to make your own world with your life safely within it, to make your own allegiances away from anyone's politics or beliefs. Secondly, you are mostly boys who are the children of my generation, and, as you don't need telling, my generation went through daily nightmares for thirty years in Ulster. For your generation it must be at least weird to hear about your parents' experiences, things you take for granted were unavailable to them, and I know from personal experience that when you are in a family situation where your parents have lived a far more exciting (for good or bad) life than yours, you sometimes need something to make your life as exciting as theirs. And parkour, positively and liberatingly, might do this.
What Ziggy said
The first person to read the full novel was Ziggy, largely because I had no idea what a traceur, and a teenage, Northern Ireland traceur, would think of it. I had also been writing to him for a while, and trusted him to not only give me an honest response, but I trusted him enough to show him my writing. I sent him the novel in sections, as I was doing the last revision. After sending him the first section this was his response:
"What can I say, really I loved it, I truly did. I stayed up half the night reading it and not just because there was some parkour in there, because it was actually an enjoyable read! I'm excited just because its very rare for me to actually find something I would like to read. About the actual parkour bits, most of it was excellent, loved it lots."
At this point Ziggy paid me a huge compliment by going to Derry, and doing the parkour that I'd described in the book, in the same places.
"I'm away to Derry today actually get some parkour done, can't wait I'll be jumping about thinking "oh I'm jumping where he was jumping in that book" I can pretend I'm him!"
When he came back, Ziggy wrote:
"I loved going to Derry as I could see all the places you were talking about, or at least a rough guide line to where it all was!"
At this point in the novel the two main characters, Janie and Martin split up for a while, which prompted Ziggy to write
"Oh when Martin was like 'it's over' I was like all angry and all, it was hilarious, I've got really into the book, like I was going to go and find Martin and hurt him for hurting Jane haha."
It makes me feel really hugely pleased, as a writer, for someone to say to me:
"Read it, was awesome, its just a novel but I love getting comfy and reading I was laughing at a few parts out loud, mostly when she punched Jimmy in the face!
Really it was very good, I can't express it, I just really enjoy it, I'm satisfied just relaxing having a read, if that makes any sense to you.
It's like waiting for a programme that you really want to see, except this I can read, so my imagination goes wild and see it all so perfectly, I can't wait until the next part, I really appreciate this, I know I keep saying it but I really do, its fantastic!"
At the end of the novel all the loose ends obviously get tied up, story lines are sorted out, explanations made, problems resolved and compromises reached. Ziggy's final comments are these:
"Fecking awesome, what talent you have, I'm so satisfied with it, like just reading it, & being all cool, it was just excellent, I really liked the mother's side of it, like just her part in it, & sorting it all out."
In one of my blogs on the site, in the character of Jane's mother, I wrote:
"When you jump over something in your city, it's making it yours, not Catholic or Protestant, or Six Counties or province or anything. Just yours, taking it back from politicians, and soldiers, and everyone else."
To which Tiarnan replied:
"You may not do Parkour but that is one of the most amazing things I have ever heard anyone say about it. I truly agree with you, thanks"
And that it one of the most amazing things anyone has said about my writing.
When it is finally published I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as Ziggy has, and if you do it will make me as happy as I felt when he read it.
This story is dedicated to Ziggy
I live two streets away from you, and you left me four months and sixteen days ago, and some days I canít think about anything else except what your breasts felt like the day you let me take your bra off. It was getting a bit better, sometimes I could eat my dinner and not think about you, watch The Simpsons or something, and then Iíd think oh shit, youíre not there any more, but just recently, itís impossible. Because I canít anymore.
I know now how easy it was thinking about you kissing him, kissingís ok I know that now, but I didnít think youíd be doing all those other things with him, what we did, twice. And Natalie Casey told me thirteen days ago that youíre pregnant. You know how in films and books theyíre always on about your blood running cold, time stopped, all the fuck else, but it happened. Or maybe I was just going to pass out. Pregnant? 10.23, that was when she told me, I was looking at the clock behind her head, and it seemed another of those dumb facts that Iíve started to hang on to to make it feel just a tiny bit better, you know, more manageable, like if I can get through walking those two streets back to my house from when I have to pass your house, then maybe I can make it through tea time and get to the evening, or shit, maybe tomorrow morning without banging my head against the wall. And sometimes it doesnít help.
I havenít been back to college since she told me. I canít see the point, retaking GCSEs, Iíve failed them once, probably only fail them twice, Iíve failed with you. I avoid you like youíre a one girl plague, but all I ever wanted was you, kiss me and Iíll die of love, or something else stupid. So I lie on my bed most of the day, my maís at work so she hasnít realised yet, and I read, listen to music, think about that gentle, wet, soft, nervous, terrifying, bloody, quiet thing we did, on the Thursday evening and then on the Saturday afternoon, holding onto you like itíd save my life. And the excuses you made, day after day after that, until you rang me and said it was over.
Sometimes I try and eat something but usually I donít want to. So I drink tea and hope itíll keep me alive or that it wonít and Iíll die. Except it doesnít and I donít. Your skin was so white, like paper, but soft, those places I could only imagine, not the obvious ones, but the surprising ones, under your arm, it was so beautiful I want to die thinking I wonít see it again. And he has. And thatís enough to kill me right now.
I canít believe it, I actually want to go out today, but the road smells of rain and petrol. So I stand there at the front door for a minute and I donít know what to do. So I put my hoodie on and close the door behind me. But instead of it doing anything useful it fucks me up even more. I wander round the streets, past Supervalu, past the church, past the litter bin where I asked her out. Past the pub where her cousin goes, past the Free Presbyterian hall, past everything. Where I kissed her the first time, all of it. They still havenít taken down the listening post here and I wonder if somewhere thereís a soldier who heard it all, heard our kisses and the handholding and the time she laughed at my joke, heard me taking off her knickers and my hands trembled, heard that tiny squeak she made when Ė shit thereís her ma, what do I do, going in there, yeah good idea, itís raining now. But it doesnít matter does it.
So I go in the newsagents, and stare at the holy pictures, which one will do the job? Any of them, none of them. St Gerard Majella, St Therese of Liseux, the Holy Family, roses, the donkey, which one? So I buy some mints instead and go outside and lean against the window and tear them open, take one out and put it in my mouth, that first sharpness of the mint on your tongue, it makes my eyes water, how ever often I do it I always buy the wrong sort.
Walk home. If her maís around I donít want to walk into her. Go the long way.
Lie on my bed. Listen to I Just Donít Know What to do with Myself again. Jack White sounds as if heís crying. Well Iím in really good company arenít I?
* * *
I go into the kitchen and sheís cooking the tea, itíll be ready in a minute she starts saying, but before she can finish Iím crying. I donít want to, the last time I cried in front of anyone before all this was when the dog died, but itís gone all mad. My maís hugging me like Iím six, and I say Ďsheís pregnant,í and she looks at me and says something like it could change the world. The potatoes are going to boil over, and sheís standing there saying this thing, and it does my head in. ĎWhatíre you going to do? Are you going to marry her?í why not in a million years did I ever think it might be mine, mine, a baby in her arms, my baby, baby? Shit, it canít be, can it?
Four months, twenty nine days. Iíve got no idea what that looks like in a tummy, if itís huge or flat or what. I actually stop crying long enough to eat my tea, sheís glad for once, I canít believe Iíd never thought about it. and then my sister leaves her magazine lying on the floor in the front room and on the front is a photo of a wildly pregnant girl, her top doesnít cover her tummy and thereís huge thick red marks all over her skin, I nearly jump in the air in fright, Jesus, is she going to get ruined as well, then I see this girlsí having triplets. I canít bear it, itís nothing to do with me, well is it? I donít know, oh God what do I do? I just want to be in bed with her. Like, not pregnant.
When my ma goes to work the next day I look in her bedroom, sheís got this book Everywoman, and it shows you all these pictures of people having sex and womensí insides and all. I look at the pregnancy bit and it goes through month by month, and it nearly kills me. Five months is a bit big. I mean if I could get a good look at her, not a tiny glimpse of her face in the main street on Saturday afternoon, I might be able to tell. So Iím no better off. I fry an egg and put it on some toast and eat it, hey maybe Iíll get through this. Maybe.
Glentoran get beaten this evening, 3-0.
* * *
Saturday. Itís sunny for some reason. I might see you this afternoon, I might not. Iím still in bed but then my phone rings and itís Ciaran, do I want to go to Belfast and meet his cousin. I say Iíll ring him back, Belfast. Twenty five minutes away. Donít know my way round enough to go home on my own if itís shit, but I go to the toilet, go downstairs, tell me ma. ĎMight do you good,í she says, Ďyou never know.í Yeah, like what does she know? But maybe she does, maybe someone got her pregnant and someone else was dying of love for her, once, ages ago. Would that have been me? like, the baby? Thatís fucking freaky. Donít want to think about it. The weatherís on, fine all day, Ďgo on,í she says, like she knows itíll be ok. So I ring him back and say Iíll come. And I eat some breakfast. And then I want some more. And sheís smiling like Iím doing something right for once, like Iím tiny again and behaving myself in front of the aunts.
Ciaranís great, heís dead on, always knows what to say, when to shut up. Heís waiting at the buses and weíve got loads of time. ĎHowya,í he says to me. I donít know what to say, except Iím ok. Sometimes I think I donít know how to do anything any more. And then he says Ďhey when you meet Jamesy heíll show you something grand,í and I think oh fuck, what, cocaine? crystal meth, what ever that it? and we pull out the bus station, and it looks as if it might be different at any rate. I might not think about her for three minutes. You never know.
Whyís he got to meet him here? Itís freezing, even though itís bright. You can see the planes landing in the airport over the river, just sort of hanging there, before they start to come down, like some sort of huge balancing act I could learn if I was clever enough. And then my mind gets blown apart.
He comes up to us, hoodie, combats, he looks ok. Weíre at the Waterfront, and weíre leaning against this wall, and he tells us to get out the way. And then he runs up to the wall, runs up to it like itís the most normal thing to do, then he jumps at the wall, spins off it, jumps down, like itís the easiest thing you could do. Iím staring at him, staring at the wall, and all he does is say Ďhowya,í I donít know if I can even say anything. My heart is beating so fast with something I canít talk. But I think Iím nearly dying of being excited. I look at my watch. I havenít thought about her for two minutes. Another plane comes in to land, gears go into reverse, thereís some sort of ferry thing in the river, and my heartís still going mad.
ĎIím Deco,í I say to him, Ďwhat did you do?í and he knows what Iím talking about, he smiles at me, and says Ďitís called parkour, you get through your physical environment differently, you work with it, jump over obstacles, swing round things, Iíll show you,í and heís off, jumping over bins, running up the wall again, jumping in a way Iíve never seen over some concrete thing, throwing himself around like heís Spiderman like he canít hurt himself or that anything can touch him. Unbreakable, that film. A way through things? I want to do it.
ĎCan you show me,í I say to him, and he nods, maybe he can see whatís in me that needs mending, can jumping mend things, I donít know, but maybe if I spend twenty minutes with him it might add a couple of months to my life, maybe. He makes me jump around, heís amazed I can let myself go really easy, most people have such hang ups about hurting themselves he says, they have trouble trying to do anything. Iíve hurt myself as much as I can, havenít I, this is just fun. I jump from one ledge to another, I can balance real easy, he starts to show me something else. Ciaran hasnít had a look in with him, but it doesnít matter to him, hang on, I say, whatís your name again? and do you know what he says to me, he says heís called Precision. Yeah and all, I say, and he says no, when youíre a traceur Ė doing this Ė you have to have a name. Iím not cold any more, the gulls are going mental overhead, and I look up and think yeah, I like that idea. New name, new start.
So after a bit he shows me. Run at the wall and look at where you want your feet to land on it, he says. I get about two inches up the wall, and he says just keep doing it. So I do it about twenty times, Iím getting there so slowly, you can feel it. And then I know just then I have to have something to eat, I feel like somethingís changed, I wanted my breakfast, now I want to eat again, so we go into town and go to MacDonaldís and the girl hands me my change, have a nice day she says, sheís Polish or something and I know she doesnít mean it and I wish, I just wish she didnít have blonde hair, I wish her hair was as black as anything so that I could look at her and think I wish she didnít look so much like Marie, but she doesnít at all, not a bit, no tiny self indulgence, no pinprick of hurt, no tears in my eyes, no nothing at all. And then they do come, the tiny tiny stings of tears, because they start playing The Killers as soon as I sit down, When You Were Young, I donít even know why but I always nearly start crying, fuck, Iím in crowded MacDonaldís on a Saturday afternoon, I canít cry, Ciaran looks at me and says oh fuck not again, he always cries over girlís music, heís just got dumped he tells Precision. Iím not actually crying, not really, if Iím really lucky itíd just look like Iíve got hayfever, so they do this sort of double act on me, telling me about stupid stuff theyíve seen on YouTube, nothing about their girlfriends, theyíre not that stupid, things from school, theyíre really the same, I tried smiling during it, mainly to shut them up, but it didnít really work that well. ĎMary Kenny asked me out last Friday,í says Ciaran, I look up, Ďwhat even though she knows youíre with Lucy,í I say, and he nods, and then we go quiet, donít know what to say, so I pull open the sachet of ketchup, but thereís never anywhere to put it unless you squirt it all over your chips, and I never want to, so I put it on the cardboard and I know itíll taste disgusting in a minute, but I donít know if I care. Thereís only two things in my head. Iíd tried to look at the Polish girlsí tits when I was handing her the money, and now I canít believe it. I couldnít even see them proper, under her MacDonaldís top and all. And all I want to do is look at Marieís tits, whether sheís pregnant or not, whether sheís having my kid or someone elseís. And I feel like crap.
So they look at each other and so Precision starts telling me about this programme on the telly about parkour, how this French bloke Sebastien Foucan came over here and filmed some stuff in Derry, freerunning, itís like parkour, thereís so much stuff my head canít take it in, itíll change youíre life he says. Maybe, maybe.
Do you want to go back down he says, and I look at him and say yeah, yeah I want to, I say, I want to be able to do that thing properly. So we start walking again, itís too busy for him to do anything here he says, and I try to start imagining him walking down here jumping over the bins or something, can you balance on railings I say and he nods, not a good idea to fall under a bus though he says, and I think oh fuck I hadnít thought about that, and so I shut up, like I could kill him by saying something.
So when we get down there again the sunís come out, you can smell the sea so strong it makes me feel a bit sick, sick oh my God, does she feel awful, I want to put my arms around her, no I fucking donít if sheís fucked him, oh Jesus God why, whatís wrong with me, was I so crap in bed she couldnít stand it, it wasnít as though I knew what to do or anything, oh God thereís more of them doing it, I canít do it if someoneís looking at me, oneís who know what to do and all, I sort of hang back a bit, but this boy comes up to Precision and says howís it going, heís like as cool as fuck, all in black, sort of floppy emo hair but not girly, maybe I could look like him if I lived here, maybe sheíd love me then, and so this one starts talking to me, heís really encouraging, not like the boys at school were, yeah, understanding, talking about when he started off doing it, shows me some stuff to help, maybe I can do this, so I run at the wall again and I think this time Iím, really going to do it, but I land on my arse instead, but all the boys Iíve ever knowníd laugh at me, but they donít, just see if Iím ok and say to do it again. I canít believe it, so I do it again and again, and then one time I get it, I can feel it as soon as my feet hit the wall, itís right, thereís like this power this wall gives you when you land on it, you can feel it, and Iím spinning down and Iím on the ground again, it only lasts for a second, but Iíve done it, so I do it again to make sure I can, and I can, itís ok now, I could do it forever, I never want to do anything else in my life again, I feel like I did when I was in bed with her when it happened, when it all went so wild Ė and theyíre telling me how good it was, do I want to try something else, but all Iíve got in my head is how far away I am from everything, she was completely out of my head when I was doing it, I donít know if I like it or not, because for once it didnít matter if she was there or not.
Doesnít matter. Itís new isnít it? I know weíll go home, get the bus go back there, maybe Iíll see her soon, but she doesnít want me. I walk over and look in the Lagan, the dirty water ebbing back and forward, the skyís grey over the airport, Iím sixteen arenít I? Way too young for everything, being a da and everything, just like sheís probably way too young to be a ma. And then this great big pack of birds swoop over my head, so close I can hear their wings beating, and you know itís going to rain in a minute, and I try and imagine how many seconds she just wasnít there for, maybe thirty, a bit less, a bit more, and I donít know, because doing that thing was better than thinking about her. I feel like Iíve betrayed her but then I look out and think well sheís betrayed me, hasnít she, and I pause just there for a minute, half looking at the water, half looking at the boys, and it only takes a few moments and then I decide all of a sudden and I go running back to them, smile at them, pause, look round me like they told me to, concentrate on what Iím doing, and run at the wall again.
So on the bus going home again Ciaran says about how Kev Ė well, Precision - used to be a wreck, taking drugs and all, till he discovered parkour, and I know heís trying to say Iím turning into a wreck as well, how it can save my life, but he doesnít have to tell me, I fucking know it already. And I donít want to be like this, not after this afternoon, and so I say to him ĎI know,í and I donít really believe Iím saying it but I tell him Iím going to go back to College, do my exams and everything, lifeís life isnít it, thereís only one chance of doing it, and Iíve nearly fucked it up already, and Iíve not started nearly yet. And Marie Ė well sheís made it pretty clear hasnít she? So I look out the window, the roadworks are stupid, and I donít know, maybe I can do it. I know next Saturday Iím going to get the bus here again, and right at the moment I canít think of anything more exciting. All those things I might be able to do.
* * *
I turn the corner into Bridge Street, and youíre standing there. I know I could run away, as fast as I like, but youíd still be there. So I look at your tummy, itís still as flat as ever, and I donít know whatís going on. So itís not mine. His. ĎHi,í I say, and it sounds stupid. You nod your head, youíre not walking away anyway. ĎHowya?í I say, Ďyou know, being pregnant and all,í and she looks at me and says Ďwha-í then shakes her head, nah, she says, ĎNo, Iím not.í Not? Ďwhat?í I say to her, and I can see her eyes change just a bit, Ďoh, it was a mistake, what, did Natalie tell you something?í sheís actually smiling at me, whatís wrong, is my hair sticking up or something, Ďlike I wasnít ever pregnant, after we split up I got upset Ėí tell me about it I think, what, not by him? not by me? all that for nothing? sheís shut up again, I donít know what to say at all, Iím fiddling with the tie at the bottom of my hoodie. Iíll have to say something in a minute.
Thereís a wall right next to her, maybe I donít need to say much. I look round me, thereís no-one about, so I run out into the road, and run at the wall. I hit the wall just right, hey, I donít land on my arse, it goes perfect. Ďwhat?í she says, Ďwhat is it?í and I look at her. itís not going to rain today after all, the sunís coming out, but thereís still clouds. Right now I donít need to know what the time is, or how many cars have gone by, or how many days it is since she last saw me. She looks like Bridget Bardot or someone, all eyeliner and wispy hair, I want to kiss her, but at the same time I donít know if I really want to. But if I do thereís plenty of time. Ďtic tací I say. Ďitís called tic tac,í And she smiles, and I turn round and start walking home. I canít believe it, Iím smiling, but then I feel the stinging in my eyes, and I turn round and look at her, but sheís round the corner, I donít know, I just donít know.
I was born in 1962, I live in Southampton in England, and I have a husband and four daughters. I studied English at university but then hit mass unemployment in the 1980s, so I never worked very much, I did some temping, worked in a museum and at a community arts centre as the receptionist, where the most exciting thing that happened to me apart from ordering boxes of Kit Kats was talking to John Cooper Clarke on the phone. (For anyone my age he's a iconic punk poet - ask your mother).
I come from an Irish traveller family, we are related to Duffy's circus family, the legendary Dunnes, Ireland's leading traveller family, and the Fureys.