First novel by former teacher

A former teacher at Larne Grammar School has published a new book.

Robert Blair and his new book "Headless". INLT 49-364-PR
Robert Blair and his new book "Headless". INLT 49-364-PR
Robert Blair and his new book "Headless". INLT 49-364-PR

Roy Blair is delighted to have been able to fulfil a life-long ambition of writing a novel.

Entitled “Headless”, it draws on his experience as a teacher, but he is at pains to point out that the “personalities and incidents that appear in the novel are not to be sought up the Grammar Brae”.

Roy taught for just over 30 years at Larne Grammar School, having started his teaching career at Bangor Grammar School. Although his degree was in both French and German, he found himself teaching mostly German.

He took early retirement in 2004 when the decision was taken – in his view, a very poor one – to discontinue teaching German at the “Grammar”.

However, this gave him the opportunity to do other things, including a spell at Michelin, teaching French to the management, and a couple of years in the German department at Queen’s University, before this too was closed.

Roy says that the main benefit of his “release from the classroom” was the “time and energy it afforded him to take up his life-long ambition to write”.

He has stressed that the German teacher featured in his novel is certainly not an incarnation of himself and the unfortunate heads never, to his knowledge, took the ferry over to Larne.

Roy explained: “The novel follows the conventional lines of a detective story. The central character, Inspector Stuart Stranaghan, is called in to investigate an attempt on the life of the headmaster of a prestigious boarding school. He has been chosen because of his literary background, which, it is felt, makes him better placed to deal with the motley collection of academics that make up the list of suspects.

“Stranaghan himself is not the standard fictional sleuth; he is intelligent certainly, but he is no mastermind in the mould of a Poirot or a Morse. The investigation plunges him into waters populated by intellectuals and ideas not encountered in routine cases.

“Stranaghan’s interest in this world, for so long repressed in his dealings with the grubby end of the human spectrum, is suddenly re-awakened. The hub of his fascination is the German teacher, Dr. Greenfield, a charismatic figure who runs the Thinkers’ Club and exerts great influence on the minds of his more gifted pupils.

“The relationship between the two men comes to form one of the central pillars of the story and sets the tone for the unconventional outcome. As its title suggests, the novel is about leadership, or more precisely, the lack of leadership that the modern world has spawned in its efforts to immunise its official doings against the threat of human contamination. More than ever before, we see judgment and decision-making being taken out of human hands and encased in the language of rules and regulations.

“This does not reflect on the personal qualities of those entrusted with responsibility, for they are under intense pressure not so much to use the rules as to answer to them; increasingly they are constrained to ignore the promptings of their hearts and minds and act strictly according to the book.

“Leadership in the traditional sense is in grave danger of extinction. Headless explores this theme as it manifests itself in the field of education and in the justice system. It often flirts with the tongue-and-cheek and it breaks with some of the standard conventions of the detective genre, not least the unproblematic triumph of good over evil.”

The novel, ISBN 978-0-9568247-7-6, is available at various local outlets, including The Booknook in Larne, Ballygally Spar and The Bank House, Whitehead. It is also available at Waterstones, Belfast, and through Amazon, or from the author himself.