Where Siobhan Dowd is concerned, I will grasp at straws, and her short story The Pavee and the Buffer, is a pretty marvellous straw. Just wish there was a whole field.
I’m glad that Tony Bradman told the tale behind Siobhan’s participation in his short story collection on racism, Skin Deep, at the launch of The Siobhan Dowd Trust back in the spring, or I would most likely never have come to read it. This was a few years ago, before Siobhan started producing the most wonderful novels at breakneck speed. The Pavee and the Buffer is listed as her first published fiction.
Tony was putting together this collection of stories, and wanted one about Travellers, and in his own words: “I did encounter Siobhan because I was looking for someone to write a story about Travellers, and I was sent to her because she had edited a couple of anthologies of Roma poems and songs, I think. Siobhan initially said she would find me someone, then asked if she could have a go herself. I said of course… she sent me a sample and an outline which I thought were great, and then she wrote a story so good it didn’t need any
editing, and I sent her to Hilary (Delamere). And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Skin Deep is well worth a read, but you could easily buy the book for the 25 pages that are Siobhan’s. Her story tells what it’s like to be a Traveller in Ireland, and most likely everywhere else, as well. It’s about Jim and his cousins, who have to go to school, although they can’t read or write, and they are not exactly welcomed by some of the other pupils. It’s a really touching story, with some lovely relationships, both within Jim’s community, and the friendship he develops with a girl, who is also a bit of an outsider.
And then it all comes to an end, as it must do far too often, and too suddenly, for Travellers, and they have to move on. And Jim has to leave his new friend behind.
A very poignant detail is when Jim’s mother carefully asks if he has learnt to read yet, because if he has, she would quite like him to teach her, too. That really gets to you.