Belfast today is a city that is far removed from the one I grew up in during the ’90s. Here’s how you can use your hometown to plan your next book.
In this Belfast Today article, you will find information on the following areas:
- How our hometown’s past can provide us with a world of inspiration people and events for fiction, poetry and screenplays,
- Why the present day is a vital resource for telling stories of the people that live in the town we call home,
- How the future of our hometown can give us a window to create a world that has grown beyond what we feel is realistically possible.
Read the rest of the Belfast Today article and consider how you can use your hometown to write your next story.
Belfast today is a city that has seen much investment and transformation from the town I grew up in during the 1990s. When I was a child, the evening news was regularly filled with stories of paramilitaries carrying out tit-for-tat shootings or bombs going off in and around Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that The Troubles marred my home town’s past and that she still bears the scars from such a conflict, but times are changing.
As a fiction author and the father of six and a three-year-old, I look at Belfast today with entirely different eyes to when I was a youngster. When I drive my children to visit my mum, who still lives in North Belfast, they are fascinated with the murals, painted curb-stones, and multiple flags that fly from lamp posts along the roadside. It is only when my inquisitive six-year-old son starts asking questions about such issues that it hits home just how my home town has changed.
When I finish The IRIS Trilogy, I plan to use my home town as a backdrop for my next trilogy of fiction books. Where Inside Iris and Anna’s Awakening are dystopian science fiction, I hope to write something different that showcases Belfast and Northern Ireland in a different light. Therefore, I will need to compose a picture of our capital that is open to magic, wonder, and the imagination of young people – a far cry from Belfast in the ’80s and ’90s.
In this creative writing blog article, I will outline how we can write about our home towns in a different manner. Rather than look to tell stories with similar backdrops, tropes, and political issues, we should look to forge a new future for the towns that we call home. By doing that, we can shine a light onto the positive and start anew.
Writing About The Past
When we look at the past of every hometown, there will be aspects of its history that interest us, repulse us, or fill us with pride. It is this mixture of responses to the places we call home that makes telling stories complex and intriguing at the same time.
When I look at the history of Belfast today, I am intrigued by areas such as:
- Survivor Stories: It is clear that The Troubles have scarred the past of my hometown. However, if we can look to the survivor stories of those who were able to rebuild lives and entire communities, we can share a story that can highlight a positive that had risen from the ashes. These characters can show how the disfigured world of Belfast at the height of The Troubles could have glimmers of light shine from within the darkness,
- Harland & Wolff: At the heart of Belfast’s history, there is an industry that helped build the city and its reputation throughout the world – Harland and Wolff docks. When visitors come to Belfast, they see the gleaming yellow cranes of Samson and Goliath as they watch over the city below. Yes, the most famous ship to go out of the docks lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, but the people who built such vessels helped forge Belfast’s primary industry through the Victorian times and into the twentieth century,
- A Musical Centre: Ever since I was a child, I was always aware of how important music was to my hometown. Therefore, when I look at acts such as Van Morrison and Stiff Little Fingers, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice of how such artists developed a career that influenced musicians all over the world. The story of musicians and how Belfast shaped them and their music is a far cry from the politicised topics others prioritise in Northern Ireland.
The Troubles and deep-rooted political conflicts in my home town are part of its fabric. However, in Belfast today, we should be able to write about the past in a more varied manner. It should be about the people and their voices away from the stories that have been told for generations. The world already knows about our bloody past, so why can’t we look at telling the ‘old stories’ in a new light.
With the recent successes of Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls and the Terri Hooley story of Good Vibrations, it has been shown that writers can showcase our past differently. By offering the stories of teenagers in 90’s Derry/Londonderry or the man who brought Belfast to life with punk rock, we can be proud about a time in our past that was enveloped in so much darkness and uncertainty.
Stories For Belfast Today
Many modern towns and cities have become multi-cultural and diverse homes for people from all over the world. Whether those who come to our hometowns are from a migrant workforce, part of a student population, or those seeking asylum from a war-torn state, they help to evolve the fabric of the city we traditionally called home.
Belfast today is much more diverse and multi-cultural than it was when I was a child. Therefore, stories from Belfast in 2020 could include:
- Lights, Camera, Action: In recent years, the creative hub of Belfast has hosted some of the best and most talked-about TV shows and movies in entertainment. This has seen millions of pounds of investment from Belfast council and other areas to help boost the dwindling Harland and Wolff docks. The setting of Belfast becoming a thriving film hub is one that allows Belfast today to become a truly international player in the field,
- A Changing Dynamic: Being an educator by profession, it is hard to ignore the stories of those who come to Belfast from other countries, such as Poland, Romania, and other areas of eastern Europe. When working with young people who have had to emigrate to another country, it is humbling to see the challenges that are faced daily by their family. Whether experiencing racism, isolation, or acclimatisation to a different way of life, families from such backgrounds indeed have a story to tell,
- Coronavirus: There is no doubt that billions of people around the world have had their lives turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a self-employed copywriter, I hear stories from clients daily who share their worries and experience of how Covid has changed their lives forever. In the chaos that has come about through lockdown and the subsequent rebuilding process, there are millions of incidents that could lend themselves to your next book.
The normality of life in a modern city is continually changing and evolving. Therefore, the stories that are told to reflect such times should develop similarly, showing the diverse and multi-faceted lifestyles that live within its confines.
As I look at Belfast today, it is a city that has embraced modern industries, like film production with shows like Game Of Thrones and Line Of Duty. With such hit shows making wakes around the world, it is the best advertisement for the city that I call home. Through the creative industries, Belfast can showcase its creative talent and how it is a significant player in the world of entertainment.
Literature For Belfast’s Future
When it comes to cities within the modern UK, few have a reputation for engineering and industry like Belfast. As a city that has always had engineering and productivity at its heart, it would only be natural for these areas to be present in the future.
For someone considering writing fiction that has a futuristic Belfast at its heart, areas of inspiration could include:
- A Productive Future: In the years to come, it is hard to see a future without engineering and productivity playing a significant role. The young people who are attending university and post-primary education have the opportunity to use creativity and ingenuity to start-up businesses of their own. By using firms like Harland and Wolff and some of the present-day Belfast-based start-ups as inspiration, writers could use these as a foundation to develop characters or settings for their next books,
- Our Nation: Throughout this article, I have done my utmost to dodge the elephant in the room – how two nations on one island can move on in the years to come. Where the political situation remains critical to some in Northern Ireland, others wish to see a country that can move beyond the past troubles. If writing stories that look to the future of Belfast, addressing how it exists on an island under one flag or coexisting under two like never before,
- A City For The Next Generation: Cities around the world always transition from one generation to the next. It is through this continual evolution that Belfast could grow beyond its past for good. Whether we like it or not, the generation behind us will change and develop the world in a way we never thought possible. This means, when we write stories that are set in our hometowns, there are potentially no limits to what may be possible. Therefore, it’s essential to allow for such ‘dreaming’ when composing your settings.
It is difficult to say how any modern city will evolve in the years to come. As writers, all we can do is look to create a world that is plausible from the home town that we know, and see how the characters we create live, breathe and experience it as a place in its own right.
I know that I will always have an element of science fiction in my writing, and I look forward to exploring this through my future works. By using my home town as a setting, I hope to realise its future in a manner that I never thought was possible as a child. As weavers of stories, that is all we can do.
Belfast Today: The Takeaway
Belfast today has much more to offer all those who live within her sphere of influence. It is because of this transformation that I want to use it as the setting of future fiction books. By casting my creative eye over its sites and sounds, I hope to create something unique in the years to come.
Our home towns will always hold a special place in our hearts. They will evoke positive and negative feelings when we think back to times spent walking the streets and alleyways of the place we used to call home. As writers, it is up to us to create something that tells the stories of the people we create to take our place in our hometown, whether it is in the past, present, or future. By doing so, we can share the lives of people who are close to who we are as people and, once that story is written, we can share a little piece of home with the world.