Dromore book shop wows author Paul Waters at local book signing
Authors are flocking to Bridge Books in Dromore to get their faces on the shop’s renowned “rogues gallery”.
John Connolly, the America-based author of the bestselling Charlie Parker books features on the current display, along with Northern Ireland crime fiction writers Steve Cavanagh from Lisburn, Stuart Neville and Sharon Dempsey. Irish rugby international turned author Willie Anderson is also there.
The latest home-grown writer to make the pilgrimage to the bookshop on Bridge Street is Paul Waters, the Belfast-born author of the historical crime thriller, Blackwatertown.
“It’s a small shop, but it really punches above its weight,” said Paul.
“And getting into the rogues gallery in Dromore is one of those badges of achievement that Northern Ireland writers, and even authors from abroad, secretly compete against each other for.”
According to Lesley Price, owner of Bridge Books, there is quite a demand from writers wanting to get their picture on the board.
“They can be wild needy,” she quipped “I’m looking forward to adding a photo of Paul Waters to my rogues gallery now. But if I can’t find room for a writer, there’s always room in the stocks round the corner, where offenders used to be clamped in their bare feet for punishment. That should particularly appeal to crime fiction authors.”
She said local bookshops like Bridge Books have to offer something distinctive to compete with online retailers, so she has signed copies of Blackwatertown by Paul Waters available for a limited time.
The book has been described as LA Confidential meets The Guard. Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal, said it was “an extremely intriguing and fascinating story with intricate twists and turns.”
Fellow thriller writer Peter May said the story of Blackwatertown was “beguiling writing with an underlying sense of menace that keeps you reading.”
The story is set in 1950s Northern Ireland, when a maverick police sergeant called Jolly Macken is banished to the sleepy village of Blackwatertown and vows to find the killer of his brother – even if the murderer is in the police. But a lot can happen in a week. Over seven days Macken falls in love, uncovers dark family secrets, accidentally starts a war, is hailed a hero and branded a traitor. When Blackwatertown explodes into violence, who can he trust? And is betrayal the only way to survive?
Paul Waters said the inspiration for writing Blackwatertown came from listening to stories from relatives who were in the police in the 1950s. “I used to hear some tales from insiders of what really went on back then – hair-raising exploits, conspiracies and hilarious mistakes. The sort of thing that never made the newspapers or history books.
“Their stories were too good be lost, but it felt safer to share them through fiction. So the names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty. And turning it into fiction also gave me the freedom to make it a thrilling story with humour and a love interest as well as fast action.”
Paul Waters’ writing has attracted praise from BBC radio personality and Strictly Come Dancing star Rev Richard Coles, and local authors Brian McGilloway and Gerard Brennan. Before becoming an author, Paul was an award-winning BBC reporter and producer in South Africa, Cuba and the United States. He also worked as a busker, a taxi driver, a teacher in Poland, and a night club cook in New York – where he once made legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé his dinner. These days he presents the popular books and authors podcast, We’d Like A Word.
It’s not just authors who feature on the rogues gallery at Bridge Books. Lesley also mixes in regular customers. “As a local business, I value their support. So I like to show my gratitude by putting readers up there with authors, because we all need each other – bookshops, writers and readers. I call it my rogues gallery, but it’s more like a mutual appreciation society.”
Bridge Books began 26 years ago and is now in the running for Irish Bookshop of the Year. “I thought that the Dromore and Banbridge area deserved a proper bookshop,” said Lesley. “And access to the same benefits as big cities, like a wide range of books, signed copies of new releases and visits from big name authors.”
As well as its rogues gallery, the bookshop is known for its catchy slogans on the sign outside. “Book lovers never go to bed alone” and “Treat yourshelves” are recent examples.
The shop stocks a range of new books for adults and children, with even more via its website. It also sells “pre-loved” books at bargain prices and greetings cards and bookish gifts. “I’m keen to encourage young readers,” said Lesley, “so we’re always happy to link up with schools for special book days.”