Lyra McKee: She was such a good writer she made me not want to write
The thing about Northern Ireland is, you love it and hate it in equal measure.
It’s a contradiction that makes words stick in your throat, makes you scroll back and delete everything you’ve just written, makes you pause and sigh and mutter ‘fucksake’ to yourself and then forget about it. Not worth it.
Not worth the hassle. Too much history. Why rake over things again and get yourself in trouble anyway? For what? And what do you know anyway? Keep out of it.
You leave home, enough of this nonsense. You get away from it, and when you’re back for a visit, you catch something on the radio. Same old story.
Then one day you stumble across an article by someone your age, from your area, who just hits it spot on; the ignorance and nihilism, the myopic political merry-go-round dragging us back through the dirt again, but also the wit and craic and the joy of people, the weirdness of being of a time and a place where things are surface-level fine, but you know they’re not really.
It’s a release, a rush of blood to the head. That’s what it felt the first time I read Lyra McKee’s article, Suicide of the Ceasefire Babies.
I was 25, still interning, still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing with life, still am. And here’s an article, perfectly formed, and Lyra, same age as me and a fully fledged journalist, writing with incredible clarity and precision, capturing the zeitgeist of our generation.
It was brilliant and maddening at the same time. When I’d find a new article I’d swallow it whole, marvelling at how easy she made it look and agonising over my own useless prose. She was such a good writer she made me not want to write.
She had decades of brilliant work ahead of her. She had her best work ahead of her. We’ve lost a Zadie Smith before she could write her White Teeth. Come up with your own metaphor if you want. A singular, brilliant young female writer on the rise, at the start of a great career, a young gay Northern Irish woman with a unique voice, that we badly needed and have lost.
I never met Lyra, but a few friends of mine knew her well. Watching Twitter today, I’ve seen at least 5 different testimonies from people that she contacted unsolicited to offer support and solidarity when they were taking heat for an article, and from others she mentored and advised on getting started as a journalist.
I don’t know if I ever even liked one of her Tweets.
Reach out to the writers you love. Let them know you read their latest piece and you thought it was great. Get a paid subscription or membership to your favourite news sources to ensure they keep doing what they do.
A tweet from a high school friend of mine today read simply, “This fucking country.” I can’t put my thoughts about today any clearer than that.