BOOKS IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
2 A Border Diary by Shane Connaughton, Faber pounds 9.99.

Film diaries are always strong on cameraderie, egocentricity and insurmountable problems miraculously surmounted, but the filming of Connaughton's script The Run of the Country is further spiced by its location - Irish border country - and the fact that the IRA ceasefire was announced during the shoot.

The making of the semi-autobiographical film takes Connaughton uneasily back to his home village. Albert Finney, playing his "father", doesn't take kindly to advice on how to tackle it. Unusually for a writer, Connaughton is required on set every day: sometimes to cut scenes and tweak the script, but more frequently to intercede with grumpy or malevolent villagers. The Irish government might welcome film crews, but the natives are decidedly disenchanted. When a garage owner chains his gates shut, preventing the crew's trucks from leaving, or a resident refuses to move a car from in front of his house, thus ruining a shot, Connaughton is drafted in to smooth and appease.

His attitude - "Hollywood is full of money. Let them fork out the extra if that's what it's all about" - is swiftly scotched by the panicky location manager: "No way, if I give into one, I'll have to give in to dozens." Many of these bolshy locals were at school with Connaugton, but undercurrents of suspicion and sectarianism pulse beneath the benign surface.

Even his memories are challenged. After visiting the field where Mickey, a schoolfriend, was pitchforked to death by a psychotic soldier, a murder that was subsequently covered up by the army, Connaughton is challenged by a stranger in a bar: "Mickey Nann never went to school with you. It was his brother. And another thing, you were in the wrong bloody field this morning." Whether this is a threat or merely a correction is not made clear; Connaughton reveals the paranoia behind the smiling Irish stereotype.

These twisty characters may live in a wild paradise ("At last. An unspoilt part of Europe," sighs a Londoner), but they suffer crime and ordinary mischance as well as the evils specific to their country. "All along the Border the land is fertilised by blood," ruminates Connaughton, but there is also beauty and humour, and a sense of place as lyrical as it is rooted:

"The village is at the heart of a way of life that is possible and good. Okay, you're not going to find many people chatting over the plays of Ibsen or the latest Tom Stoppard, but the capacity for enjoyment and the interest in people and happenings and politics is immense."

Suzi Feay

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