The Principal

‘Liar,’ I said.

‘It’s true,’ Jimmy replied as he stopped and stared at the Same-Sex Marriage protest on the opposite side of the road. ‘I was fifteen years old. It was Christmas time, and it snowed for two days straight. So I ran outside into the back garden, and I made a snowman. Three hours later, I am having lunch and the snowman walked straight past the window. Being both Irish and a Catholic, I am not one who appreciates such acts of unnatural behavior so I went outside and hit it with a shovel until it was no longer able to move. I remember it well because later the same day, the police were calling to all the nearby houses questioning everybody about an Albino kid who had been murdered very close to my home. To this day, I wonder if the snowman did it.’

‘They are making a lot of noise,’ I said, looking at the protesters across the street. ‘You know I think the Catholic Church would have more luck if they supported Same-Sex marriage and came out against Same-Sex divorce. Problem solved.’

‘I’m for Same Sex marriage.’

‘Are you gay now?’

‘No. It’s the principle.’

‘Makes a change from the priest,’ I laughed.

‘Very funny, JD. I might die laughing. You are right about principals though,’ Jimmy said. ‘They are horrible bastards. Mine would always tell me that looking out of the window wouldn’t get me anywhere. You should have seen the smug look on my face later on in life when I handed him his burger and chips at the drive through. What a tool!’

How Many Miles To Babylon-Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston Quotes



I read How Many Miles To Babylon by Jennifer Johnston when I was in Secondary school, I was about fourteen.

It is one of those books that sticks with you long after you have finished reading it. I loved that book.

I think Jennifer Johnston is one of the most underrated Irish writers of all time, despite having won major awards, including the Booker Prize for Shadows On Our Skin. She really was the quiet woman of Irish literature. I’m always a little surprised by people who look at me puzzled when I mention her name.

Maybe because a lot of her work deals with Protestant ascendancy in Ireland and its decline in the later part of the 20th century, and that can be a difficult subject, open to a lot of negative criticism.

I think Johnston writes with such a profound elegance that I would place her with Alice Munro and Harper Lee. A truly outstanding author and How Many Miles To Babylon and Shadows on Our Skin are well worth a read.

There is also a great article on Johnston HERE, if you want to read more about her life and work.

Roddy Doyle once said that Jennifer Johnston is Ireland’s greatest writer, and I would have to agree.

“I’d like people to find small truths in my work and go on doing so.” Jennifer Johnston.

The Box Factory-Chapter Twenty Five

‘We could get into trouble for this,’ Ronan said. ‘I’m suspended, remember?’

‘Sorry about that,’ Denise said, watching Saoirse and Robbie walking hand in hand down the main street of Dunbar, stopping occasionally to kiss.

‘Did anyone find that thing we saw in the room in the Summers house?’

‘Still looking for it,’ Denise replied. ‘But I think whoever was in the yard that night took it.’

‘She knows we’re watching her,’ Ronan said, chewing on some chocolate-coated peanuts, which he’d had to buy when he followed Saoirse and Robbie into the Shop ‘n’ Go.

‘You’re probably right.’

‘How’s the insomnia?’

‘Good actually.’

‘Was it the herbal thing Emily recommended?’

‘Nah,’ Denise said. ‘I never bought it. I just said I did. I’ve tried everything since college.’

‘You haven’t slept since college?’

‘I do sleep sometimes but not usually for very long. But all this week I’ve just been falling asleep without pills or any of that herbal shit. I even tried hypnosis when I was in college.’

‘Did it work?’


‘What do you do all night?’

‘I have all these stupid exercises and techniques I’ve picked up over the years,’ Denise said. ‘It’s been six weeks of straight sleep now. That’s a record for me.’


‘Here they come,’ Denise said, watching Saoirse get into the passenger side of Robbie’s car. ‘Nice clothes. Designer?’

‘Nice ass.’

‘Very professional, Ronan.’

‘I don’t have to be professional—I’m suspended,’ Ronan retorted. ‘Four weeks with no pay for impersonating the Superintendent. And yet here I am watching two people have more fun than me.’

‘Poor you,’ Denise said.

She started the car and discreetly followed Robbie until he dropped Saoirse off at her house. Then she pulled into the side of the road and got out.

‘Where are you going?’ Ronan asked.

‘To talk to her.’


‘Because there are seven people dead and she was involved.’

‘You were told to stay away from her.’

‘Her mother isn’t around.’

‘Oh, so that makes it okay?’

‘I mightn’t get this opportunity again.’

‘Get in the car before you join me on—vacation.’

Denise adjusted her sunglasses and watched Saoirse walk around the side of the house and disappear off into the woods. Denise jogged after her, catching glimpses of Saoirse’s white summer dress through the thick green foliage. She eventually came to a clearing where Saoirse was sitting on swing gently swaying in the breeze. Denise took off her sunglasses, walked over to her and sat down on the swing next to her.

‘Saoirse.’ Denise said. ‘I love that name.’

‘I hate it.’

‘It could be worse. You could be called Denise, with an older brother who’s called you Dennis the Menace since you were four years old and continues to do so even though you’re thirty-four.’

‘Dennis the Menace,’ Saoirse laughed as she swung.

‘I used to have a sling-shot in my back pocket when I was a kid,’ Denise explained. ‘Bit of a tomboy, I guess.’

‘Now you have a gun and a badge in your back pocket.’

‘I don’t suppose you remember anything about the night you were abducted.’


‘Beautiful dress.’

‘Thank you.’


‘Yes. I got it for my birthday.’

‘Looks expensive.’

‘Well, Mum got a proper job so—’

‘So more cash for the spoilt only child?’

‘I hope so.’

‘Rebecca Townsend is coming around.’

Saoirse stared at the pale blue summer sky through the gap in the trees.

‘Her story is quite garbled,’ Denise said. ‘The shrinks won’t let me interview her.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘That seems kind of cruel.’

‘You’ve been following me and Robbie around again, Detective Richards. You even swapped cars. Your Mitsubishi Lancer is a bit noticeable so you borrowed the Ford Mondeo, the undercover car, right?’

‘You’re very observant.’

‘Not many people have, or could afford to have, a brand new Ford Mondeo around here.’

‘Good point.’

‘Only cops have them. I see it every Friday and Saturday night parked at the side of the N69 trying to catch the boy-racers.’

‘Speed kills.’

‘A lesson you have yet to learn.’

‘Don’t tell me a sister is going to criticize my driving!’

‘Stop following me and my boyfriend or I will report you—sister.’

‘What I find strange is that Rebecca Townsend is alive.’

‘Well, you never know. Cancer is rampant these days.’

‘She must have been a proper cunt to you.’

‘She was.’

‘Yet you saw fit to save her life.’

‘I had—’

‘You did something, Saoirse. I haven’t got a scrap of evidence to prove it but you did something. That guy—the killer—he saved you from those men. Those men weren’t friends of your mother’s—clients more like.’

Saoirse turned and spat into Denise’s face.

‘Be very careful what you call my mother,’ Saoirse said, getting to her feet.

‘It’s a fact. They came looking for money—or for sex. They were all drunk. It went wrong and they grabbed you. That’s a fact too. They all ended up dead. Fact. The people who bullied you also ended up dead. Fact.’

‘Perception is reality, Detective,’ Saoirse said, walking away. ‘Facts are negotiable.’

‘And the perception is that those men were the killers and kidnapped you before one of their own turned on them,’ Denise shouted after Saoirse, who flicked her middle finger up at her. ‘A killer who then escaped. And you come out of this squeaky clean?’

Denise watched Saoirse walk away.

She stayed where she was on the swing for a moment, enjoying the sunshine and the cool summer breeze, and then walked back to Ronan.


It was late evening when she got home from work. She went into her bathroom and took out all the sleeping pills and dropped them into the bin, along with all the herbal remedies for insomnia. If this period of sound sleep ended she would be back to looking for a miracle cure.

She made a chicken curry and looked over some paperwork while she ate. Later, she put her iPod in its docking station and let music fill her bedroom. She got undressed and lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling for a few moments and must have drifted off.

She felt hot breath on her face and opened her eyes to see Marie Lowell kneeling at the side of her bed, smiling a beautiful, carefree, smile.

‘Thank you for bringing me home,’ Marie whispered.

A cool breeze blew over Denise’s face, which was wet with tears. When she wiped them away, Marie had gone and ‘Hey Jude’ filled the room. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.




The Box Factory and other works are available to purchase on AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, KOBO and SMASHWORDS.