Glenn Patterson

Serial optimist

Born and based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

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Glenn Patterson is the author of ten novels and three works of non-fiction. 

With Colin Carberry he wrote Good Vibrations (BBC Films), which won best script awards from Dinard Film Festival and the Writers’ Guild of Ireland, as well as being nominated for a 2014 BAFTA.

Other recent works include the libretto for Long Story Short: the Belfast Opera (2016).

He has presented numerous documentaries and contributes regularly to newspapers in the UK and Ireland.

A Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast, he has also been Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University. 

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Gull, 2016, Head of Zeus

Here's Me Here, 2015, New Island

The Rest Just Follows, 2014, Faber

The Mill for Grinding Old People Young, 2012, Faber

Once Upon a Hill: Love in Troubled Times, 2008, Bloomsbury

The Third Party, 2007, Blackstaff Press

Lapsed Protestant, 2006, New Island

That Which Was, 2004, Hamish Hamilton

Number 5, 2003, Hamish Hamilton

The International, 1999, Anchor

Black Night at Big Thunder Mountain, 1995, Chatto & Windus

Fat Lad, 1992, Chatto & Windus

Burning Your Own, 1988, Chatto & Windus

Extract: 'Here's Me Here'

The Message

So, it’s 1977, bleak Belfast days, and nights. My friends and I, we don’t get out much: sneaky drinks in the dark of the playing fields, a walk around the estate hoping to bump into girls. Now and then we chance the chippy, dodgy not because of gunmen or bombers, but because of other – bigger – bored local lads like us. Bigger bored lads like Hambo. Who has hit me once already for fighting with a younger boy whose sister knew Hambo’s sister. (The Tudors had less complicated genealogies.) This particular night the scout who has been sent to peer around the corner returns to tell us the chippy is all clear. We get our chips. (Our chip, a load of deep-fried potatoes here being singular and us being singularly and collectively broke.) We stand on the low wall facing the chippy – because that is what you do, stand on the wall, not the footpath – reading the graffiti on the grey painted bricks, graffiti which appears to confirm what we have long feared, that while we are sneaking drinks or walking around the estate, everyone else is having sex. Lots of it. There are some helpful diagrams, should we ever get round to it ourselves. And there is one brick that is dense with text in neat black marker. I lean forward to read it: ‘Hambo is a dead man, signed the Provos’. Ha! It’s so funny I read it aloud. ‘I mean,’ I say, ‘as if the Provos would come round here to write on a brick. As if they would write “signed the Provos”.’ No one laughs. They can’t have heard. I read it again. If it is possible for people who have not laughed to laugh less, they laugh less. They are not even looking at me. They are looking past me, at Hambo, who is swaggering along – Hambo-ing – and sticking out his chin. ‘Hambo is a what signed who?’ he says. I point at the brick. (I am sure it is only in my memory that my finger droops.) Hambo stops between me and the wall. I don’t see the punch coming, but I hear it, between my ears – an actual biff. I blink, in surprise as much as anything, but I don’t cry, much to Hambo’s annoyance. ‘You’re not crying? Try this . . .’ And there is the biff again, louder than before. I cover my face with my hands. I make the crying sound. Through my fingers I see him take out a marker of his own. ‘The Provos are dead men,’ he writes. ‘Signed Hambo.’

Extract: 'Gull'


On the morning of the day it all ended, Randall stumbled out of the elevator on the thirty-fifth floor of 280 Park Avenue to find Carole, DeLorean’s secretary, holding the outer-office fort on her own.

            She came round from behind her desk as he passed at his best, jet-lagged version of a run.

            ‘You missed him,’ she said. ‘He left for LA forty minutes ago. ’

            Randall thought of the delay before take-off on the runway at Shannon, the longer than usual lines at passport control on landing in New York.

Forty minutes.

Another day he and DeLorean would have been standing here laughing at how close they came to missing each other. Instead their cars must have passed somewhere on the Van Wyck Expressway north of JFK.

            ‘Mr Hoffman called first thing to fix a meeting,’ Carole said, and Randall’s legs went from under him


Already in Belfast it was mid afternoon. Liz sat on her bed listening to the pips for the three o’clock news: one hour until the boys got home, two hours until Robert did, four hours, said the newscaster, until the deadline expired on the DeLorean Motor Company Limited. Either John DeLorean came up with £10 million by seven o’clock this evening or the factory at Dunmurry would cease to exist.

            Liz reached under the bed and pulled out a suitcase, dust all over the top.

She set it sideways on the bed, snapped the locks (dust all over the bedspread) and began to pack.

            The last hanger she dragged up from her – left – side of the wardrobe had her spare overalls folded over the horizontal bar. She thought a moment then packed them too, DMC crest up. You had to have at least one thing to remind you. She pushed down the lid of the suitcase: snap, snap.

            She was out of the room before she remembered she had left the radio on. She didn’t go back.


Randall leaned for support on DeLorean’s own desk, next to the bust of Lincoln. He had driven through the night to make the flight and had not closed his eyes between the first fasten-seat-belt sign and the last. He took from his inside pocket the envelope Jennings had given him before he left Belfast, dyed pink now from contact with his shirt, his sweat.


            Here and there about the room, paintings taken down in the move from the forty-third floor were stacked against the walls. Only one had so far been re-hung, next to the spade that forty-eight months before had broken ground in a Northern Irish field: a not-quite-life-size photo of DeLorean, kicking through the surf, holding his infant son’s hand. A caption ran along the bottom, Joni Mitchell, Clouds, It’s life’s illusions I recall…

            Commit all this to memory, Randall told himself: Lincoln, the photo, the ground-breaking spade, the stacks of paintings, the brass telescope in the corner, pointed at the ceiling, as though to track the distance already fallen.

            He was pretty sure he would never set eyes on any of it again.