Barbara Comyns

Barbara Comyns was born in 1909 and grew up on her family’s run-down estate. She began to write at the age of ten. After art school in London she married an artist, John Pemberton, in 1931 and had two daughters. When the marriage ended, she supported herself through modelling, selling antiques and classic cars, and breeding poodles.

Her first novel, Sisters by a River, was published in 1947 and Our Spoons Came from Woolworths in 1950. Barbara Comyns died in 1992.

“Remarkable for her ability to see into character with a vision that shifts between savagery, lyricism and tragic wit.”—Independent

“Comyns’s world is weird and wonderful… (there’s) something uniquely original about her voice… A neglected genius.”—Lucy Scholes, Observer

Evelyn and Berti are divorcees, addicted to tight trousers and drink, surviving on small annuities and they do not get on well together.

Though well past their prime, there is an air of breeding about them but something distinctly odd too. They live in a boarding-house in Kensington dreaming of the past, real and imagined, and better days. They are not exactly tarts, but they have established a bordello for elderly gentle people in their living-room and a little makeshift prostitution helps to pay the rent.

The business has its problems: their landlady is a reluctant madam, Ivy is in love with a dentist from Putney, one of their gentlemen suddenly dies. What will become of Evelyn and Berti?

“A magical novel… essential reading for anyone who appreciates good fiction.”—Independent

Caroline and her young daughter have been abandoned, World War II has begun and Mr Fox offers them his help. Mr Fox is a spiv, a dealer in black-market food, but he can provide a roof over their heads, advice on bending the law and escaping creditors and a shared, if dubious, future.

“A little treasure… captures perfectly the atmosphere of wartime London.”—Manchester Evening News

“A minor classic… hunt down Mr Fox forthwith for its peerless evocation of an era.”—Daily Mail

Brian Moore

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, Brian Moore was one of the major novelists of the Twentieth century and a master of the short story.
Dear Departed
The Dear Departed is the first selection of Brian Moore’s short stories to be published and these stories of emigration, Sicilian bandits and Canadian acrobats provide an unexpected side to Moore’s writing. They reflect the concerns of his novels, as well as their restless variety, while displaying a comic appeal and the compassion Moore brought to his fictional characters.
The Revolution Script
“Uses a documentary style… to retell events, giving a voice to the rebels in the process.”—Irish Times

In October 1970, as revolution spread around the world, the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner. As negotiations to free the hostage continued, Québec’s Vice-Premier was kidnapped and murdered. Brian Moore’s documentary novel recreates these events and asks: who were these young revolutionaries, what were their beliefs?

“Everything is here: the players, the issues, the time and place… Moore used his novelist’s gifts and his keen eye for tragedy to make sense of something that seemed… an impossible nightmare.”—The Globe and Mail

Brian Moore was in Montreal to investigate these events as they happened, interviewing those involved (from activists to politicians and police) and exploring the social and political background. In understanding the frustrations and radicalism of a group of Québec separatists, he finds parallels with his own past: “I found them to be young, ex-Catholic, nationalist… It was a mixture I had known back in Ireland.”

Brian Moore uses the techniques of fiction to provide insight into a new world, “in the theatre of confrontation, the curtain was going up.”

Linda Anderson

Linda Anderson was born and educated in Belfast. She is an award-winning novelist and writer of short stories, who has designed and led creative writing programmes at Lancaster University and The Open University. She is co-editor of the acclaimed anthology Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland.

“A remarkable writer, powerful and passionate, the voice of an avenging angel.” – Clare Boylan

It is 1982 and Fran McDowell has quit her native Belfast but is barely surviving in London. When she falls pregnant accidentally, a chance friendship rescues her, but after the birth of her daughter, she needs to come to terms with her past on her own.

Drawn to the Greenham Common protests, Fran seeks to understand and resist the roots of personal and political violence.

“Witty and stylish… in search of freedom and self-realisation… A fierce unsentimental novel.” – Catholic Herald

“Borne along by honesty and passion… set alight by the author’s command of language.” – Irish Times

Ian Cochrane

Ian Cochrane grew up in rural Antrim and moved to London in the late 1950s. Among his many jobs he was a piano tuner and taught creative writing. His novel Gone in the Head was runner-up in the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1974. Ian Cochrane died in 2004.
F for Ferg

The layabout lads of a one-street Ulster village hang around its housing estates and factory gates looking for fun. They measure each other’s vital parts and chase the village maidens into the fields. Then Fergus, son of the factory manager, returns from boarding school and they initiate him into the anarchy of village life. When Fergus falls in love life begins to change.

Ian Cochrane’s novels are among the most original, and darkest, portrayals of life in Ulster’s villages and housing estates, depicting its absurdity and destructive sexuality.

Maurice Leitch

Maurice Leitch was born in 1933 and grew up in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. He worked as a teacher before joining the BBC as a producer in 1960. In 1970 he moved to London to produce radio drama for the BBC and became editor of A Book at Bedtime on Radio Four in 1977. His first novel, The Liberty Lad, was published in 1965 and he was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1968 for Poor Lazarus. Maurice Leitch won the Whitbread Prize in 1981 for Silver’s City.

In addition, he has written over twenty television and radio plays and is a winner of the Golden Harp Award. In 1999 Maurice Leitch was awarded an MBE for services to literature.

“A writer of power and originality.” – Derek Mahon, Vogue

“He has only the steady eye, the good writing, the fine fiction, the inescapable humanism of the novelist.” – Robert McLiam Wilson, Fortnight

“Perhaps the finest Irish novelist of his generation.” – Robert McLiam Wilson

Gone to Earth
A civil war leaves behind many secrets. On the Torremolinos coast survivors of Spain’s Civil War and foreigners with reasons of their own to fear the past gather in the Hotel Miramar to drink and forget. The American singer, Johnnie Ray, tries to ignore his fading fame, having fought for Franco, Eugene Furlong cannot return to Ireland.

Both men find themselves involved in the life of Adriana, a local woman, who has her own secret from the Civil War. However, Franco’s police are hunting the ghosts who remain hidden in this “doomed, damnable country of theirs.” Maurice Leitch’s novels have always stunningly evoked a period and place, Gone to Earth is a moving portrayal of Spain in the 1950s and the life of a defeated people under Franco.

Silver's City
Silver Steele, the folk-hero who fired the first shot of the Troubles, escapes from a prison cell into a city where he is remembered only in graffiti and finds a world where he is a symbol of a cause he no longer belongs to. Silver’s City introduced a new authenticity to the literature of Northern Ireland and is one of the seminal fictional portraits of the Troubles.

Douglas Dunn

Douglas Dunn’s first collection of poetry, Terry Street, was published in 1969 (and was awarded the Somerset Maugham Award). In 1985 Dunn was awarded the Whitbread Book of the Year for Elegies. Among his collections of poetry is St Kilda’s Parliament and he has edited The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry.
The Bagpiping People
The Bagpiping People is the first selection of Douglas Dunn’s short stories to be published and offers an opportunity to discover the fiction of one of the major poets of our time, as well as to encounter Dunn’s unique portrayal of the character of contemporary Scotland. Dunn focuses on village life, capturing the bonds and tensions of family and community life, as well as the possibility of righting the wrongs of the past.

Benedict Kiely

Benedict Kiely was one of the most popular, and acclaimed, writers of his generation, as well as a prolific journalist, essayist and broadcaster. Born in 1919, Kiely grew up in County Tyrone and moved to Dublin in the 1940s where he worked for the Irish Independent and the Irish Press. Benedict Kiely died in 2007.

Praise for Proxopera:
“One of those secret classics… It’s a perfect piece of literature and encapsulates the sadness and terror of what went on in Northern Ireland during… ‘the Troubles’.” – Colum McCann, New York Times Book Review

“This great anti-war fable should have been read and should still be read as a terrible warning. A flawless piece of writing.” – Independent

Praise for The Captain with the Whiskers:
“Fresh and rare… Thrumming with life.” – Seamus Heaney

“Deft, sardonic… A writer’s ear for dialogue and a storyteller’s drink-soaked musicality.” – Sinead Gleeson, Irish Times

“A novel of enduring power and wisdom… a new generation of readers should gather up its magic.” – Irish Independent

“Haunting and remarkable.” – Times Literary Supplement

When violent men intrude on his home by the lake Granda Binchey is forced to deliver a bomb while his family are held hostage. As Binchey travels through the countryside he reflects on the past, his family and everything that he values, all that is now threatened.
The Captain with the Whiskers
Captain Conway Chesney, “the little tyrant of his fields”, rules his family with fear but Owen Rodgers discovers the secrets of the Captain’s family. In the anarchy that follows the Captain’s death Owen becomes the keeper of the family’s secrets but as the Captain’s legacy of malevolence lives on, Owen learns his own lessons of love and disappointment.
Down Then By Derry
Containing three of Kiely’s most popular short stories A Ball of Malt and Madame Butterfly, Dublin’s most endearing prostitute is wooed by poetry; The Fairy Women of Lisbellaw, two young men visit Bundoran as the rarest-looking pair of Romeos that ever walked out; in Down Then By Derry an elderly man revisits his youth and the years before conflict came to his hometown. Rooted in an Ireland of myth, fleeting human lives and a landscape that will always survive these are stories full of Benedict Kiely’s unique story-telling – where the longest way round is always the shortest way home.

J.B. Priestley

“Priestley has a lively mind and a light touch; if you haven’t read him for a while, this is the perfect place to start.” – Tribune

From the 1920’s to the 1970’s J.B. Priestley was one of Britain’s most popular, influential and prolific writers. What A Life! displays the generosity of spirit, and moral integrity, J.B. Priestley displayed throughout his life.

John Boynton Priestley was born in 1894 in the suburb of Manningham, Bradford. He left Belle Vue High School at the age of 16 to go into the wool business, working as a clerk for Helm & Co, and his first newspaper columns were published while he was a teenager, in the ‘Bradford Pioneer’ (the weekly journal of Bradford’s Labour Party).

Once World War One broke out Priestley joined the West Riding Regiment and served throughout the war. He was wounded three times, served on the Western Front and in the Battle of Loos, and in 1917 he was commissioned as an officer before injuries sustained in a gas attack led him to be classified as unfit for active service. After the War, Priestley studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and on leaving university his career as a professional writer began. His first book, ‘Brief Diversions’, appeared in 1922, by then he was publishing widely in the Spectator, Times Literary Supplement and a range of newspapers. The Town Major of Miraucourt is Priestley’s only fictional account of his experiences of WW1, years that were central to his life and writing, capturing the voice of the common soldier.

Priestley’s third novel ‘The Good Companions’ was published in 1929 and within a few months became a publishing sensation, as well as being awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In the 1930’s he began to write plays that would become staples of the West End theatre. During World War Two Priestley presented the BBC Radio programme Postscript, which drew audiences of up to 16 million and led Graham Greene to describe Priestley as “a leader second only in importance to Mr Churchill”.

Priestley’s most famous play ‘An Inspector Calls’ appeared in 1945, it is still produced all over the world. In November 1957 a Priestley article for the New Statesman attacked Aneurin Bevan’s policy of abandoning unilateral nuclear disarmament, so many people wrote to the magazine supporting Priestley’s views that Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, organised a meeting where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was formed.

In 1960 Priestley published ‘Literature and Western Man’, a major survey of Western literature from the fifteenth-century to his own time. In 1977 he accepted the Order of Merit. J.B. Priestley died on August 14th 1984.

The short stories of What A Life! share the humour, social comment and eye for comedy of Priestley’s novels while also introducing the reader to many of the virtues of Priestley’s writing, his gift for characterisation and dialogue. Priestley’s love of the traditions of theatrical comedy are expressed in several stories: the Devil appears, playing himself in a production of ’Jack and Jill’, in a provincial theatre in Bruddersford (Priestley’s fictional version of Bradford) in a comic celebration of pantomime. There are three stories based on Priestley’s humorous understanding of the Yorkshire personality and which depict the archetypal Yorkshire man, Mr Tom Hebblethwaite.
The Town Major of Miraucourt

In the autumn of 1918, invalided out of the front line, an officer is ordered to company headquarters. On his journey he stumbles into Miraucourt, a village that seems to have slipped outside history: “somewhere, beyond the darkening bosom of those hills, there was a war, but it seemed incredibly remote, the wildest rumour of violence and sudden death.” There are a strange group of English soldiers stationed in Miraucourt, could they be Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Pistol, Bardolph and Nym?

In this unsettling story a soldier comes to terms with the War “like a man sharing a house, year after year, with a lunatic.”

V.S. Pritchett

“Pritchett’s quietly extraordinary way of looking at life.” – Martin Amis, London Review of Books

V.S. Pritchett was the most significant English short story writer of the twentieth-century, “the English Chekhov”.

Victor Sawdon Pritchett was born in 1900 above a toy-shop in Ipswich. His father, Walter Sawdon, was a, unreliable, travelling salesman who converted to Christian Science when VSP was a boy. The family moved to London where VSP briefly attended Alleyn’s School in Dulwich. At the age of 15 Pritchett left school to work in the leather trade, first as an office boy and later as a messenger.

After several years he was given a year’s leave of absence to travel and moved to Paris in May 1921 where he worked in a photographic shop and began to write. Pritchett’s first publications were a series of sketches of French life in The Christian Science Monitor and it led to a job as the Monitor’s Irish correspondent. VSP arrived in Ireland in February 1923 to cover the Irish Civil War and soon met, and married, an Irish actress, Evelyn Maude Vigors. In January 1924 they moved to Spain where VSP became the Monitor’s Spanish correspondent.

V.S. published a short story, ‘Rain in the Sierra’ in the New Statesman in 1923 and would write for the magazine for the next fifty years. In 1927 VSP was fired by the Monitor, simultaneously his marriage came to an end, and he decided to walk across Spain. The experience provided the material for his first published book, Marching Spain, in 1928 and in 1930 his first collection of short stories was published, The Spanish Virgins and Other Stories. He was a professional writer for the rest of his life, publishing novels, travel literature, essays, journalism and short stories.

Pritchett had moved back to London in 1928 and reviewing books (for the New Statesman and Spectator, among others) became his regular source of income. From 1935 he began to publish regular essays in the New Statesman on classic writers, including Cervantes, Balzac and Tolstoy, which made VSP England’s most widely read literary critic. During World War Two Pritchett worked for the Ministry of Information as well as broadcasting for the BBC.

In 1946 Pritchett became the literary editor of the New Statesman and would later become a director of the magazine. In the 1950’s, alongside publishing widely, Pritchett was often invited to the United States as a guest lecturer at, among others, Princeton and the University of California.

In 1967 Pritchett was awarded the Royal Society of Literature award for his memoir of his early life, A Cab at the Door. In the 1970s VSP played a major role in literary life as president of International P.E.N. and president of the Society of Authors. He was knighted in 1975 before being made a Companion of Honour in 1993. V.S. Pritchett died in 1997.

V.S. Pritchett’s stories focus on the richness of everyday life, its comedy and pathos, written with a delightful curiosity that transforms the commonplace into the best short stories of the twentieth-century. On the Edge of the Cliff is a range of stories that highlight Pritchett’s delight in the fantasies that sustain his characters, no matter how absurd, with an empathy that all readers will identify with.

Janet McNeill

“A gem of Northern Irish 20th century literature.”The Lady

Janet McNeill was born in Dublin in 1907 where her father was minister of the Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church. In 1913 the Rev. William McNeill was appointed to Trinity Church in Birkenhead and the family moved to England.

Janet went to St Andrews University where she took a Classics degree while writing and acting for the university’s College Players. She was awarded a First class degree and stayed on to take a Masters’ degree. Her father had returned to Northern Ireland in 1924 but health problems led to his retirement from the Church in 1930, as a result Janet moved to Belfast where she was employed by the Belfast Telegraph. She first worked as a typist before becoming secretary to the proprietor, Sir Robert Baird.

In 1933 Janet married Robert Alexander and left her job to start a family. Janet had received a typewriter from her father (who knew of her ambition to write) as a wedding gift but she would not write seriously until her children were at school. After winning a BBC competition in 1951 Janet McNeill began to write. Initially she wrote radio plays, which were regularly broadcast on the Home Service, and several of her later novels began as plays.

In 1953 she suffered a brain haemorrhage and after recovering her first books (a novel for adults, A Child in the House, and My Friend Specs McCann, a children’s book) were published in 1955. Alongside her writing Janet McNeill also served as a Justice of the Peace (for the juvenile court), and was a member of the advisory council of the BBC from 1959 to 1964. Better known as a writer for children, her character Specs McCann was the basis for a newspaper cartoon strip (illustrated by Rowel Friers) while she wrote the libretto for a children’s opera Finn and the Black Hag (based on a short story by Eileen O’Faolain), Janet McNeill published ten novels for adults, including Tea at Four O’Clock (which was published as a Virago Modern Classic in 1988).

In 1964, after her husband’s retirement, the couple left Northern Ireland to live in Bristol. The Small Widow is the only of her novels to be written outside Northern Ireland. It was published in 1967, anticipating many of the concerns of the 1970’s women’s movement in its awareness of the restricted role of women in the traditional family and marriage. Janet McNeill wrote no further novels, though she continued to publish children’s books, as she struggled with health problems.

Janet McNeill died in 1994.

“Simply elegant… Janet McNeill ought to be better appreciated.” Irish Times

The Small Widow was Janet McNeill’s finest depiction of the ironies of domestic life. It is an astute description of how a crisis in a marriage (and a family) shatters the self-deception that had always been necessary to maintain their life. Its humour and compassion honestly portrays the emotional conflicts of family life.
As Strangers Here
In 1950s Belfast a clergyman, Edward Ballater, fears for his family and doubts his faith. Edward’s congregation do not understand his integrity, he deceives himself about the frustrations of his marriage and tries to comfort a young man whose life has been built on family lies. Is Edward’s love for his family stronger than his failures, in the aftermath of an IRA bomb can he find a new understanding of his life?
The Maiden Dinosaur
If it is difficult to accept middle-age, is it harder for those who are no longer beautiful and passionate or, especially harder, for those who have never known love?

Sarah Vincent is fifty and, like her group of friends, she is resigned to the absurdities of middle-age but over the course of a summer Sarah discovers that life can shatter the past, deeply-held faiths are destroyed and she discovers that new beginnings, and new love, have always existed for her.

Tea at 4 O'Clock
“Discard the twisted past, not to try to analyse or excuse it, but simply to let it go, like a worn dress, and stepping into another to walk out a new woman.”

Mildred has died but her shadow still dominates the life of Laura, her younger sister. When George, her brother, returns Laura remembers her youthful failure to assert an independent life. Was it cowardice or self-sacrifice? In reclaiming her past can Laura begin to shape her present? Can Laura, at last, live without guilt?

In portraying such private dramas Tea at Four O’Clock is Janet McNeill’s most perceptive novel of family life.

“The gates of her prison were open, but she lacked the courage to go through them to whatever new country was waiting for her on the other side.”

A.E. Coppard

“His stories are a highly evocative delight.” – Oxford Times

A.E. Coppard’s short stories establish him as the last great writer of the English countryside, as well as one of England’s finest writers of short stories.

Alfred Edgar Coppard was born in Folkestone in 1878, the son of a radical tailor and a housemaid. He grew up in poverty and his education ended at the age of nine when his father died and he started work to support his family (first as an errand boy in Whitechapel in the East End). Among his many jobs, Coppard sold paraffin and cheese, was a messenger for Reuters and as a teenager he became a professional sprinter.

He eventually rose to the position of clerk and in 1907 he moved to Oxford where he worked in the Eagle Ironworks, and was the secretary of the local branch of the Independent Labour Party. Living in Oxford allowed him to become a member of a group called the New Elizabethans alongside W.B. Yeats and he also met young students, such as Aldous Huxley. Coppard saved enough money (supplemented by prize money he won as an athlete) to leave his job and rent a cottage in rural Oxfordshire where he was determined to remain until he was recognised as a writer. He moved to Shepards Pit, in 1919, into a remote cottage that had no sanitation and survived mainly on raw vegetables, but it gave him the freedom he needed to focus on his writing.

Coppard’s first collection of short stories, Adam & Eve & Pinch Me was published in 1921. The collection became a critical success and was reprinted several times. By 1925 he was established as one of the major fiction writers of the time, his contemporaries regarded him as a seminal figure in making the short story a unique literary form. Ford Madox Ford published his most famous story, The Higgler, in The Transatlantic Review.

A.E. Coppard was a lifelong socialist, and atheist, and after WWII he was a prominent supporter of the peace movement. The Collected Tales of A.E. Coppard was published in 1948 in the United States and became a major bestseller in 1951 when it was promoted in the Book-of-the-Month Club. This provided Coppard with the largest income of his career, he donated much of it to socialist causes. A.E. Coppard died in 1957.

In Weep Not My Wanton, Coppard portrays a sensual rural England where poetic description of its landscape is combined with a deep understanding of his characters’ experience of love and loss. In introducing new short story conventions, as well as a poetic mood and style that had been absent from the short story form until then, Coppard’s short stories contributed to the creation of the short story as a unique literary form.

They are melancholic and sensual stories that embody a timeless vision of rural England.

Shan Bullock

“Establishes his claims as a naturalistic writer of the highest order… It deserves a significant place in the history of Ulster fiction.” – Culture Northern Ireland

Shan Bullock was an acclaimed writer from the 1890s onwards, though the acclaim was not matched by sales and he spent most of his life working for the Civil Service in London. In 1901 The New York Times described Bullock as “one of the leaders in the modern Celtic literary movement.”

John William Bullock was born in 1865 in Inisherk, County Fermanagh. He was the son of Thomas Bullock, steward of the Earl of Erne’s Crom estate. After failing the entrance exam for Trinity College, Dublin, John Bullock briefly, and unhappily, tried farming before moving to London in 1883 to become a civil service clerk in Somerset House. Taking the pen name Shan Fadh from the William Carleton story Shane Fadh’s Wedding Bullock supplemented his civil service income through literary journalism (he was the London literary correspondent for the Chicago Evening Post for twenty years).

Bullock’s short stories were published widely in magazines such as The Outlook and The British Monthly, as well as George Russell’s The Irish Homestead. He published prolifically, including 14 novels and 3 collections of short stories, but his writing was never successful enough for Bullock to leave the civil service.

Between 1917 – 1918 Bullock performed secretarial duties, at the request of Sir Horace Plunkett, to the Irish Home Rule Convention, which was established to discuss self-government for Ireland, and was awarded the MBE for his role with the Convention.

Bullock’s wife died in 1922, and disillusioned by the violence of the Irish War of Independence he feared that the order maintained by the older generation was being lost. This fear was expressed in his final novel, The Loughsiders (published in 1924). In 1933 Bullock was made a member of the Irish Academy of Letters, after the death of George Moore, which he regarded as the greatest honour of his life. He died in 1935.

The Awkward Squads makes Bullock’s short stories available for the first time in a century. Shan Bullock’s short stories drew on the social changes and political crisis of late nineteenth-century Ireland. ‘A State Official’ portrays the threat of the Land League, predicting the violence that would spread through Ireland decades later while ‘The Awkward Squads’ is a satirical account of the Home Rule crisis of the 1880’s where Fermanagh’s farmers form the Loyal Lowth Castle Infantry under the motto ‘Croppies, Lie Down’ in opposition to the farmers of Cavan, across the lough, who have united to defend ‘the cause of Ireland’.

In 1903 the Irish newspaper The United Irishman described Bullock’s writing as “the finest Ulster — maybe the finest Irish — stories of this generation”.

The Loughsiders is the story, set in the 1880s, of a small rural community in Fermanagh with a striking evocation of the individual personality of a Protestant community living along the shore of Lough Erne. Richard Jebb is “a true Northerner” and after his proposal to Rachel Nixon, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, is refused he manipulates the fates of the Nixon family when Rachel’s father dies without leaving a will. Few writers have captured the comedy of country life, or the frustrations and daily struggles of small farmers, as faithfully.

St John Ervine

“A fantastic read and it creates a distinctive voice for Northern Irish literature.” – Belfast Telegraph

St John Ervine was the most prominent Ulster writer of the early twentieth-century and a major Irish dramatist whose work influenced the plays of W.B. Yeats and Sean O’Casey. The Wayward Man was the first novel to explore the character, and conflicts, of Belfast.

John Greer Ervine was born on December 28th 1883 in Ballymacarret in east Belfast, at the time Belfast’s shipyard suburb, to deaf-mute parents. Every member of his family had been born in County Down for 300 years. His father, a printer, died soon after his birth and the family moved in with Ervine’s grandmother who ran a small shop. Ervine became an insurance clerk in a Belfast office at the age of 17 and shortly after he moved to London.

In London the young Ervine met George Bernard Shaw and began to write journalism as well as his first plays, adopting the name St John Ervine as more fitting for his ambitions. His first full-length play, Mixed Marriage, was produced by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1911. It was produced several times over the following years as one of the Abbey’s most profitable plays. W.B. Yeats supported Ervine’s plays for depicting the real life experienced by the people of the north of Ireland as Synge’s work had done for those of the west of Ireland.

In 1915 W.B. Yeats appointed Ervine as the Abbey’s general manager. Ervine’s tenure was a commercial success, placing the Abbey’s finances on a stable footing, after producing several successful comedies but his strict demands on the actors caused a mutiny (the conflict with the Abbey’s actors was exacerbated by Ervine’s outrage at the Easter Rising of 1916). Ervine resigned from the Abbey in 1916 and enlisted in the Dublin Fusiliers. He was made an officer but after being wounded in Flanders one of his legs had to be amputated.

Through the 1920’s and 1930’s Ervine wrote drawing-room comedies that were box-office successes, several had West End runs of up to two years. Ervine was also a theatre reviewer for the Observer from 1919 to 1939 and in 1936 Ervine’s Boyd’s Shop, the play that defined Northern Irish drama for decades, was produced. Alongside his plays Ervine wrote a number of novels. The Wayward Man was reprinted in 1936 as one of Allen Lane’s first Penguin paperbacks (as Penguin 32). He also produced several major biographies, including the official biography of James Craig Craigavon: Ulsterman and Bernard Shaw, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1956.

By the 1940’s St John Ervine was Northern Ireland’s most prominent writer but was a highly controversial figure who had developed a remarkable antipathy to southern Ireland. St John Ervine died in 1971.

The Wayward Man is as powerful and topical as Ervine’s drama, especially in its perception of the contradictions of the Northern Irish character. Robert Dunwoody has inherited his father’s love of the sea and restless spirit while his mother dreams that he will play a part in their family business. He rebels to follow the harsh and dangerous live of a sailor and after years away, sailing between Australia and the United States, Robert returns to Belfast where he is trapped into marriage and a shop of his own.

Eventually, the romanticism of his character and his desire for an independent life drives him to leave Belfast again. As a portrait of the Ulster personality The Wayward Man has rarely been rivalled.