Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/9s1gQ082fSI) 17.9.2021.
Running with the Wolves: An Introduction to ‘A Land Without Wolves’
One of the better aspects of the writing life is seeing an idea steadily grow and ripen beyond its inception. Having spent much of 2020 and 2021 researching and working on my novel A Land Without Wolves - lockdown and strenuous quarantine measures allowed me to write more productively - it would be remiss to claim that it emerged fully formed onto the page.
It began on the Hook Peninsula, in Wexford. As a child, during the height of the Celtic Tiger, I spent my summers on that remote, windswept headland, my imagination running wild as the waves. The most compelling place to venture into was Tintern Forest, near the village of Saltmills, and which also features in A Land Without Wolves. At night, it became a haunted, primeval boscage straight from Poe or Hawthorne, aswarm with the phantasmagoria. The weathered turrets and tower of the nearby Tintern Abbey only added to the eeriness.
My young mind was ignited. A storm of images rioted in my head, all vying to be put into words. One burned most insistently: a highwayman, under cover of darkness, lying in wait for his prey, his flintlock primed and hatred flaring his eyes. I had no idea who he was and why he felt the need to do what he did - only that he refused to be evicted from my mind. Rather than forget about it, I kept working on a story based around this figure, adding more detail that better reflected the era in which this man lived. I eventually named him MacTíre, which derives from the Irish for wolf (literally ‘son of the country’), due to his zealously friendless nature. Beginning his story in the late 1780s, a full decade before the rebellion of ’98, also licensed me to write of a time when extreme and often unprecedented political and social change was starting to take root. Despite a casual interest in history, historical fiction never featured very prominently on my cultural radar. Producing a full-length novel set in pre-Famine Ireland, therefore, presented a unique challenge. Before I could begin the story proper, I engorged myself on as much historical detail as possible.
I began working on it in late August of 2020, and was immediately stricken by another issue: how to get the narrative voice just right. As a 21st-century man writing about people from several centuries ago, it felt inappropriate to write in a style that was too contemporaneous. The novel as a literary format in the 1800s was still in its infancy. Nonetheless, I read 18th-century classics such as Fielding’s Tom Jones, Richardson’s Pamela, Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France, Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, the poetry of Pope and Gray, as well as the memoirs of Dublin sex worker Margaret Leeson and the boxing champion Daniel Mendoza, to gain as true an atmosphere as possible. Of course, everything else I could get my hands on regarding late 18th-century Irish history - from survivor’s accounts to the analysis of expert historians - were also devoured. Eighteenth-century Ireland was riven by disease, gang warfare, exploitation of the lower orders and an administrative chokehold as represented by British rule and military presence. Still to come was the 1798 Rebellion: a brutal conflict that has been sanitized and glorified to the extent of its darker ramifications being ignored. Which returned me to Joseph MacTíre, A Land Without Wolves’ protagonist.
The deeper I delved into his story, the more he changed by the paragraph. More than just a mere black-hearted outlaw, he was cunning, embittered, sarcastic, haunted by execrable traumas that not even I, as his creator, was fully privy to. Nor was he above sharing a joke and he harboured a love of books that, in the predominantly illiterate society of 18th-century Ireland, would have marked him out as eccentric at best, and suspicious at worst.
The adolescent appeal of being a lone wolf has its limits. I've come to view Joseph as a deconstruction of the archetypal highwayman figure as represented by Dick Turpin and Joseph Wild, and Alfred Noyes' classic poem 'The Highwayman', as well as of the classic Irish figure of the raparee, who had a distinctly political hue to their crimes. In British-ruled Ireland, this manifested as many native Irish harbouring tacit supports for their doings.
Therefore, it is my hope as MacTíre’s creator that his story will shed some light on the daily life of one who chooses to live a life of despair, and in doing so, identifies more an angel cast forever out of paradise and comes to believe himself to be damnation personified. A life of free-floating violence, generalised existential vengeance on a society he believes has deeply wronged him and a friendless existence governed by the fact that he is a hunted man awaiting the noose holds little appeal to me.
Writing this book was an exercise in grappling with the boundaries of one’s knowledge and understanding; it is my hope that most of those boundaries were successfully crossed. Now that the relief of seeing it finished has passed, the grappling I must now do is with where it will go. I hope whoever picks it up receives some measure of enjoyment or insight from it. With a sense of inevitability and no shortage of heavy-heartedness, I must say goodbye to my old friend, the wolfish, ash-smeared highwayman who kept a solitary vigil in the forest of my head throughout the years, see him swagger off into the wider world and hopefully make his impact on whomever he encounters. Such is the way of these pursuits; I hope there’ssomething in these pages that will stay with you.
But that’s what novels are for: to offer itself to the reader. I hope you find something in it that speaks to you.
Preorder "A Land Without Wolves" (Temple Dark Books): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Land-Without-Wolves-Daniel-Wade-ebook/dp/B097TW9KHK
About the Author: Daniel Wade is a poet, playwright and fiction writer from Dublin, Ireland. Daniel was the Hennessy New Irish Writing winner for April 2015 in The Irish Times, and his poetry and short fiction have featured in over two dozen publications since 2012. In January 2017, his play 'The Collector' opened the 20th anniversary season of the New Theatre, Dublin. In January 2020 his radio drama 'Crossing the Red Line' was broadcast on RTE Radio 1 Extra, and later won a silver award at the New York Festivals Radio Awards for Best Digital Drama, whilst November 2020 saw his screenplay ‘Strike’, co-written with filmmaker Shane Collins, nominated as a finalist in the 2020 Waterford Film Festival. His debut collection ‘Rapids’ was published by Finishing Line Press in August of 2021, whilst his novel 'A Land Without Wolves' will be published by Temple Dark Books in October of the same year.
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