Thursday Themes

Thursday Themes – David Hough

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It’s a great pleasure today to welcome David Hough to my Thursday Themes blog. David is here to discuss his latest novel, The Girl From The Killing Streets.

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I’ve now had more than thirty novels published so I should be getting used to the process of weaving a tale around a theme. My last three books were aviation thrillers. In each case the theme was very clear cut: “Help! We’re stuck in a disaster situation and we can’t find a way out.”

The theme is survival. It’s a common one in literature, and it can refer to a struggle to escape from either a physical or an emotional trap. For those three aviation books, it was physical survival that came to the fore. I used the same theme each time because the books were conceived as a trilogy.

The storyline in “Prestwick” revolves around two aircraft colliding over the north Atlantic. Strapped to their seats inside damaged aircraft, the pilots struggle to reach land, only to be told, “You can’t land here.” You can’t get a more daunting physical survival story than that. Disaster movie makers eat your heart out.

I moved on to “Heathrow” with the same theme. The control tower is taken over by terrorists. The controllers are physically imprisoned inside and can’t get out. Cries for help get nowhere. It’s physical all the way.

My third aviation thriller is “Dead Reckoning.” It’s a wartime story about the evacuation of the Royal Family from the UK in the face of a Nazi invasion. There’s a spy aboard the flight carrying the young Princess Elizabeth and he’s about to make sure the aircraft never reaches its destination. Even the Royals can be caught up in a tale of physical survival.

That was then. I’ve now moved on to writing a crime novel. The Girl From The Killing Streets will be my first book for Darkstroke. It has nothing to do with aviation, but it’s a thriller all the same, and it has the same theme. “Help! I’m stuck in a violent situation and I can’t get out.” This time, however, I’ve made the theme both physical and emotional. Both? you ask. Yes, both. If I can’t capture the reader’s attention with one, I have the other up my sleeve.

The central character is a girl from the Belfast ghettos. She is emotionally trapped within her environment. She hates her way of life, but she dare not be seen to turn against it. So she lives a life that is everything she detests, and it leaves her in a state of psychological desperation. That’s where we find her at the start of the novel, struggling for emotional survival. But the story is set against a dark day in the history of Belfast: Bloody Friday. Twenty bombs are exploded across the city. Now we come to the physical side of her struggle for survival. The girl is drawn into the bombing campaign against her will. She’s there on the spot when the bombs explode. She can’t get away.

One facet of emotional survival which I had to explore is the depth to which the girl’s background has sunk into her brain and become lodged there. She has grown up listening to bigotry within her ghetto environment and she realises that she once openly expressed those same extreme opinions. Has she shaken off that encumbrance? She can’t be sure and that makes her emotional state even more unstable. Here’s an example:

She knew she must force herself not to believe that age old mantra: all Protestants went to hell and so did the English. Why did it bother her that her sister believed it? She paused. Was it because she had once believed it herself? Not now, of course. She’d long since thrown aside all traces of that stupid brainwashing… or so she told herself. But something lingered at the back of her mind, an understanding of how stupid she’d once been to allow such ideas into her head. And… as if to confuse the matter… there was just a lingering doubt about whether the mantra might have been right after all. That’s what brainwashing did too you, she decided. It never let you go. Never really allowed you to think for yourself.

So the girl is trapped by both emotional ideology and by physical bombs. Which will be the hardest to overcome? Can she survive both physically and mentally?

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I was born in Cornwall in 1945, the same day an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Because of my father’s work in what was then known as the Admiralty, I spent my teenage years in the City of Bath. My first job was in accountancy, but it never really appealed to me, so I trained to be an air traffic controller. It was that job which took me to Northern Ireland.


I have long had a love of literature, something I attribute to an excellent English teacher. Throughout my working life as an air traffic controller, I continued to be an avid reader. In 1985 I had a heart attack and was forced to take things easy at home. I put that enforced recovery period to use by learning how to become a writer. I had a few magazine stories published, along with a book on teaching young people to drive. It was not until I retired from air traffic control in 2003 that I set about building a new career as a novelist. My first attempt at a full-length novel (A Tangle of Roots) was taken up by a publisher and, since then, every one of my manuscripts – thirty in all – has been accepted for publication.

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