Counting Down to A Pilot’s Honour

Things move to a new phase this weekend with the premiere of my new radio drama, ‘A Pilot’s Honour’ on Ireland’s Newstalk Station at 8am this Sunday, August 20th. The drama will be rebroadcast on Newstalk on Saturday, August 26th at 10pm and will of course be available via podcast, the Newstalk website and the TuneIn radio app.

To say that we’re excited would be too obvious. But more, I and I think the whole team are deeply proud of what is a memorable and unique piece of work. It’s part ‘Top Gun’ meets ‘Line of Duty,’ part love story, where cutting edge use of sound and music intersects perfectly with beautiful and natural, utterly haunting performances.

Producer Alan Meaney and I have been making radio dramas together for a few years now. I think we’re proud of everything we’ve made, but I suppose this script called for pushing the boat out a bit. You’ve got to go all over the world in less than an hour, you don’t have visuals or huge budgets, plus you’re limited to engagement with one human sense.

‘A Pilot’s Honour’ whisks you from war torn Iraq to windswept Galway on Ireland’s western coast. You move from student locker rooms and bars to a claustrophobic interrogation room, you sit inside a control room in an antiseptic complex located somewhere in the Nevada desert, where pings on keyboards command drones thousands of miles away to start killing people. All of this is accomplished through the medium of sound; there really is nothing else like it.

I have been deeply fortunate to have hooked up with a true artist of sound. And I want to say thanks again to Alan: an absolute master of his craft and a fantastic collaborator. Four years on from our first, madcap adventure, the ideas are still teeming and I hope we get to make many more.

We were blessed to have a brilliant, perceptive and generous cast, who make my words come alive in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Our star crossed lovers – Joe Steiner as our downed American Pilot and Martina Dolan as the young student he meets – are simply heartrending. If you’re not moved, then that’s it, you’re actually dead.

Martin Kelleher as the embittered older brother is simply outstanding, and Ronan Flynn’s slyly insinuating, slightly sympathetic agent is cynically delicious. I can’t thank these guys enough, but I will continue to try.

Works of art can have curiously gnarled and torturous passages towards finally being seen or heard. I remember reading an introduction to Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ which described the great man’s process on the way to completing the work. Basically, over the course of almost a decade, Dostoyevsky would feverishly write a hundred pages, tear them all up, have a breakdown, gamble a bit, have another breakdown, rewrite about fifty pages, burn them, contemplate suicide or just switching to writing porn, write another 70 pages, have a breakdown etc.

To a me aged twenty or so, it sounded like an absolutely brain melting waste of time. But I didn’t know then that it is the work that dictates the schedule, not you. It offers frustrating glimpses and circles the airport until it is ready, and all you can do is try to be open.

‘A Pilot’s Honour’ is loosely based on a subplot in a novel I published online a few years ago. ‘Ghost In The Sky’ is the story of a super secret spy plane, a sort of ultra hi-tech airship, so fast and silent it could hover above your house at night without you ever knowing. I still think it’s a pretty cool idea. Those who want to find out more can visit Amazon and type the phrase ‘Ghost in The Sky’ into the search engine.

But in the way that reality has of ‘trumping’ (geddit?) fiction, our world has seen the growth of a far weirder and more sinister entity than the ghost. It’s a little known fact that drone strikes mushroomed under the Obama Administration. Maybe I’m behind the times, but the notion that you can sit in a computer room much like any large office or call centre we know today, sip your cup of Java, gossip with your neighbour and command some machine thousands of miles away to bring death to people you’ve never met is both unsettling and deeply chilling.

Drones feature in the new story, indeed they are in a sense at its moral heart, but you’ll have to listen to know what I mean.

Many of us already know how powerful radio drama can be. Indeed, the global success of some podcasts offers a clue to just how powerful a medium it can be. Writing for radio is fascinating and liberating. It’s a playground for someone like me: I can let my imagination run wild in the knowledge that my consummate producer and brilliant actors will make it all somehow come true. It’s great fun.

Have a listen Sunday, Saturday, or via the timeless Internet, you might just end up loving it.