Blackwatertown

By Paul Waters

Maverick cop Jolly Macken goes looking for a killer, but accidentally starts a war

Fiction | History
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Police sergeant Jolly Macken finds it hard to tell his friends from his enemies. When he’s banished to the quiet Irish border village of Blackwatertown, Macken vows to find out who killed the man he’s replacing – even if it turns out to be another officer. But a lot can happen in a week. Over seven days Macken falls in love with the bewitchingly beautiful Aoife, uncovers family secrets, accidentally starts a war and is hailed a hero and hounded as a traitor.

Macken has always had trouble fitting in. As a Catholic, he’s viewed with suspicion by the rest of the mainly Protestant police force. But as a policeman, he’s isolated from his fellow Catholics because he serves the British Crown. When Blackwatertown explodes into violence, who can Macken trust? Which side should he take? Are anyone’s hands clean – even his own? And is betrayal the only way to survive?

The story is set around the fictionalised village of Blackwatertown, which sits in lush countryside on the centuries-old border between Elizabethan and Irish-controlled Ireland and not far from today’s Irish border – currently featuring in its own Brexit drama. The action takes place during a little-known IRA insurgency in the 1950s. The intertwining of fact and fiction is based on murky episodes from Ireland’s past and the author’s own family history. Blackwatertown’s initial sense of calm foreshadows the current uneasy peace in Northern Ireland.

Blackwatertown has been described as LA Confidential meets The Guard. Legendary thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, author of The Day of the Jackal, says Blackwatertown is “a fascinating story with intricate twists and turns” and that Macken’s “position as a Catholic police officer in hardline Unionist RUC is extremely intriguing.” BBC Radio 4 presenter Rev Richard Coles describes Blackwatertown as “extraordinary, abundant, dazzling and full of incident.” Leading BBC journalist and Northern Ireland expert Peter Taylor said Blackwatertown is “engaging and reads really well.” Readers have described Blackwatertown as “exciting”, “moving” and “funny”, and they identify so strongly with the leading characters, that their responses range from “it made me cry” to “it made me want to punch you in the face!” (Please don’t, Barry.)

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  • Paul Waters avatar

    Paul Waters

    Paul Waters is an award-winning BBC producer. He grew up in Belfast during “the Troubles”, was involved in cross-community peace groups and went on to report and produce for BBC Northern Ireland, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service and Channel 5.


    His main claim to fame is making Pelé his dinner. But Paul has also covered elections in the USA, created an alternative G8 Summit in a South African township, gone undercover in Zimbabwe, conducted football crowds, reported from Swiss drug shooting-up rooms, smuggled a satellite dish into Cuba to produce the first BBC live programmes from the island and overseen the World Service’s first live coverage of the 9/11 attacks on America.


    Paul has also taught in Poland, driven a cab in England, busked in Wales, been a night club cook in New York, designed computer systems in Dublin, presented podcasts for Germans and organised music festivals for beer drinkers. He currently presents a book and writers podcast called We’d Like A Word. He lives in Buckinghamshire and has two teenage children.

  • SUNDAY: Sergeant Jolly Macken didn’t want to be a policeman anymore. He felt hot despite the cool air of the Mourne foothills. The butt of his hand pressed on the polished handle of his baton, not yet drawn. He hated his job. He hated the crowd pushing at his back. He hated the string of men blocking the road ahead. All of them impatient for his signal – the ones behind muttering his nickname. He hated the verbal albatross that had been hung round his neck too. Jolly. Christ!

    The stony slopes of fern and heather and gorse would usually lift his heart. The open land a refuge from complication and regulation. He’d feel the tension ebb from his shoulders. The small smile that would quietly creep over his face, unwitnessed. If Macken believed in anything, it was that there was no better place nor way for a man to be at peace than by quiet water, with a rod and line. Alone, but never lonely.

    Today was different. Today he was only a hard-faced big man trapped inside a uniform. A stone bounced past his feet. The serenity of this County Down emptiness had been shattered long before. But at this moment of decision, all the shouting and jeering, the drums and the fifes, seemed to fade to silence in Macken’s mind. The violence was about to begin – the striking out at head and body with stone and bar and baton and rifle butt. And he was going to be the one to start it.

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  • 7th August 2019 Blackwatertown two thirds of the way there

    Brilliant Beryl (that's her in the red) has taken Blackwatertown to two thirds of the way to being funded - thank you Beryl Lewis. I'm feeling optimistic!

    And thanks too to renowned musician Layil Barr. I was hoping to add a video of her performing with MilLuna, but this website has defeated me. You'll find some here http://milunamusic.com/media/  Go see them if you have a chance. (You can get…

    15th July 2019 60 plus: I don't want to die in big knickers...

    I've finally reached the spritely 60+ level - that's percentage funding for Blackwatertown I'm talking about, thank you very much. And of course it's all thanks to you, dear supporters. And I'm honoured and privileged that among you is Karen from The Twisted Sisters band - see video. They're always irreverently lively live performers, usually in Ireland. If you get the chance, go see them. I did in…

    8th June 2019 Royal thanks

    That's King George VI on the left, in naval uniform. He looks a bit starstruck. No wonder, when you realise he's walking beside the celebrated RUC District Inspector Michael Murphy - aka Great Uncle Mike - of B District. (On the right in the dark uniform.)

    I'm sharing the picture with you to mark you taking my book Blackwatertown to 50% funding. Halfway to making the Unbound publishing and…

    29th May 2019 It started with a cyst, never thought it would come to this...

    The oddest things can bring people together. That's my mate Su Verhoeven in the top right corner, with the green hair. She was talking to people around the world - her "Lovelies" via her YouTube channel. Su's a sharing type of person, and when a huge stubborn cyst grew on her back, boy did she share the gruesome details. But people didn't wince and turn away, they flocked to her videos. Tens of millions…

    27th May 2019 On the platform

    When you get a platform, it's good to give a platform. The Chiltern Chatter website and newsletter kindly gave me a platform to talk about my book Blackwatertown and asked me to talk about my favourite places. So I'm celebrating some businesses local to me - giving them a platform. It's helps that the people there are universally gorgeous - see pic of Tom behind the bar of the Jolly Cricketers (or…

    22nd May 2019 Seamus Heaney and me

    The poetry of the late Seamus Heaney is one of the inspirations for Blackwatertown. I saw and heard him chat and read his poetry a few times in Belfast and London - and then celebrate Ted Hughes at his memorial service at Westminster Abbey. There's a special centre all about him in Bellaghy now, and famous Seamus has all sorts of famous poems. I love his work, but it's Bye-Child that has particular…

    20th May 2019 Now for the hard part...

    Thank you all for taking Blackwatertown to 31 per cent in under a week. The boffins at Unbound (the publisher) say that books reaching 30 per cent funding in 30 days are set fair to succeed. So we're smashing it.

    But now for the hard part. I'm feeling the love from all of you who have pledged to support the book and have shared on social media and told other people. The next 69 per cent will be…

    16th May 2019 Murphy and Princess Elizabeth

    The main man in Blackwatertown, Jolly Macken, is a demoted RUC sergeant in the 1950s. But sure what on earth would I know about that, a young strip like myself? Fair question. I wasn't around then, nor ever in the RUC. But I know some who were. Relations like the fine fella in the picture. It was a bit of a dangerous family tradition.

    There was no difficulty finding gunmen back in the day. Swordsmen…

    14th May 2019 Doggone it! What a ten per center of a first day...

    Going live on something new can be daunting, even with Unbound rooting for you. Not everything goes right. For instance, my very first backer sent me the money for the first paperback directly, rather than through the website. So, when I lodged it, my name showed up on the list of supporters instead of his. Sorry about that Stan Burridge, official back number one.

    Even with Stan's early backing…

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  • Helen Jones
    Helen Jones asked:

    Loving the book excerpts. Intrigued by the author profile- tell us more about Pele!

    Paul Waters
    Paul Waters replied:

    Hi Helen - Once upon a time I was working as a cook in a New York nightclub and restaurant. A small foreign black guy came in. Nobody was particularly interested in him. It was all white US young men and women doing front-of-house roles. The guest looked like he had a small football up his top. Otherwise pretty trim. So far, so unremarkable as far as anyone was concerned. In fact, they were less interested in him than in the other customers. Until we spotted him. We being the two Irish and two El Salvadorean staff behind the scenes, out of sight of the authorities - doing most of the work. At first it was - what!? No! can't be! It is! Out we burst from behind the scenes to say hello to Pelé. The rest of the staff looking askance at us, surprised we'd risk being spotted - our working status being a moot point. It's said that you should never meet your heroes, because they'll inevitably be a disappointment. I haven't found that. Pelé was friendly, enthusiastic, gracious. A lovely guy. We talked, larked about, had photographs - to the bemusement of the crowd around us. Football/soccer didn't loom so large in north American imaginations back in those days. They're catching up with the rest of the world now. Eventually we let Pelé get on with his evening and I made him his tea - or dinner - or whatever you call an evening meal in New York, when it's in a nightclub restaurant. What did he have? I'm guessing seafood chowder. It was an honour and a pleasure to feed the second best footballer the world has ever seen. The best? That would be George, of course. I'm from Belfast.