Tony Macaulay is a respected professional community relations and youth worker based in Belfast. For example, he has written independently, “A discussion paper proposing a five phase process for the removal of ‘peace walls’ in Northern Ireland”.
This book is his story of being a 12-year-old paperboy, living in the Shankill area of West Belfast. I, too, was a 12-year-old paperboy, but that’s where my shared experience starts and ends.
Tony so well tells his story. It is actually difficult for adults to write in the prose of childhood. The retrospective voice is usually readily apparent. But here in Paperboy, you really do see the world from this boy’s experiences.
It’s a world of not quite comprehending the sectarianism and violence around you, and doing your best to get on with what really matters to most 12-year-old boys — your mates, your music, and earning some pocket money to spend on your girlfriend.
And just like a youngster, there are key words that regularly reappear in the dialogue — Sharon Burgess, “the only pacifist paperboy in Belfast”, Bay City Rollers, “so I was”.
Indeed, Tony writes in the local vernacular so well that the only criticism could be that he didn’t include a glossary! This Yank has lived here long enough to not need one for Paperboy (!), and some phrases like, “God love the wee dote” probably pass without translation, but me thinks Tony should provide one for the American edition (“Och, ballicks!”). And/or subtitles when the film comes out!
Amidst all the humour, though, there is the reality of the environment that Paperboy grows up in. He notices more and more “peace walls” — “… we were brilliant at walls in Belfast — they were going up everywhere, higher and higher, all around me”.
It’s actually his dad who says to a neighbour who is demanding even more walls, “Did you never think that it might be our side that’s bein’ walled in?”
And 35 years on, we have made little progress on dismantling our walls in Northern Ireland, whether physically or metaphorically. May Paperboy encourage more of us to put more effort into this.