The Reality in the Fiction by Bryan Murphy

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 I’m working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s: the time of the country’s “Carnation Revolution” that put an end to a very nasty dictatorship.

I’d love to say I was there, but I wasn’t. I spent six months living and working in Oporto, in the north of Portugal, before the Revolution, was back in England when it took place, and returned to Portugal to try my luck some months after the event. As that luck would have it, I arrived in Lisbon on the day of an abortive counter-coup. I was overjoyed to join the revolutionaries who took to the streets that evening; the demo was a great introduction to the city, because all Lisbon’s major landmarks lay on its route.

That experience went into a poem, below, which appeared in The Pygmy Giant in April 2011.

The main character in the novel is very different from myself. He is a businessman, a man of action, affable, outgoing and down-to-earth. This forces me to look at the events of those years from a viewpoint that is not my own, a salutary experience, I think. He shares some of my experiences, but, in most cases, he does not see them or react to them as I did. One such experience, though, troubles him as it did me. It comes at the end of this poem: finding yourself part of a crowd braying for blood. It was exhilarating at the time, but is devastating when you look back on it.

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Lisbon! Grungy, unfresh from the train,

I arrive the evening a coup fails, eager

to grab the smudgy, press-hot leaflets

thrust out by enthusiastic scruffs –

revolutionaries for real.


I find my two friends – keys to a new life –

dump my shabby case of battered belongings,

sample wine, cheese, coffee: ready for action

in the warm September night.


Politics and sight-seeing: sensory nectar

for an eager-eyed anarchist. Better

than Aldermaston, as we flow

from the Bullring to the Edward VII Park

(statue of Marquis with lion)


then down the Avenida de Liberdade, yelling

undying devotion to freedom saved today,

into Trafalgar, no, Rossio Square,

our slogans failing to bring down Emperor Maximilian

(bought cheap from the Mexicans who’d shot the real thing,

re-baptised as a Portuguese king, erected too high

for hoi polloi to scrutinise his features),


through the commercial district, laid out in a grid

for the king’s men to navigate fast, not this red tide

of want-it-now millenarians plunging with victor’s joy

into the elegant waterside square, Terreiro do Paço,

where, by day, a river that seems a sea

reflects Lisbon’s unique light.


Above us, on our left, Alfama, the walled Arab town

(where storming 13th century crusaders,

blind to tolerance, murdered everyone,

Christian archbishop and all).


We turn right, follow the river mouthwards,

heaving with indignant, righteous, solid noise,

past a fascist monument to the Discoveries

of long-inhabited lands, past a tiny fortress

squatting on the water, past the delicate fluted columns

of Jerónimos’s closed cloisters


to our destination: the president’s palace at Belém,

cradle of the new-born, military-guided democracy,

where after-midnight campaign euphoria

gives vent to chanted blood-lust:

“Spínola, Osório, Galvão:



Doubt, distaste flash among three friends,

then we rally our voices to the cause:

a mighty shared demand

that the revolution finally begin

to devour its children.


Happy endings.

I went back to Lisbon last year and met old friends I had not seen since those days. I mentioned my shame at the poem’s final incident, and one of those dear friends, who has become more Portuguese than the Portuguese themselves, put my mind to rest by assuring me that it had all been “só bocas” – just mouthing off.

The Revolution had a happy ending for Portugal. It got rid of fascism for good and brought the country into the free international community. Forty years on, people were taller, less poor, better-fed, better-housed, better-dressed and better-spoken; they no longer sacrificed their cities to the automobile; creativity had free reign. The Revolution was long past, but, perhaps because its worst face had been “só bocas”, no-one ever devoured its children.



Bryan is currently working on a novel set in Portugal in the 1970s. He welcomes visitors at . You can find his e-books here: and several of his poems and flash fiction pieces here: .

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11 thoughts on “The Reality in the Fiction by Bryan Murphy

  1. Delinda

    It is a good ending when social justice wins and no blood is shed. Congratulations to the Portuguese people. Thanks for sharing. The message is hopeful.

  2. Yves

    This is an interesting way of writing. You have the experience but wrote it from another perspective. I think that really brought the story together. Better still is the resilience of the Portuguese people.

  3. Micki Peluso

    Bryan, I enjoyed this piece and have to admit I don’t know much Portugese history. Your veiwpoint on it and its people gave me new perspective. Well done!

  4. Martha Love

    So glad you were able to find your old friends doing well and freedom had reign after all. Looking forward to your great new book with such passion behind writing it.

  5. James Secor

    Salmon Rushdie said in a lecture I attended that it was a stupid question to ask if his (or any) writing was (semi-)autobiographical because he (all writers) live. We work, we play, we meet people, we have (and watch) experiences. Fiction does not come from some isolated, non-life place in imagination. What you do with what you know and experience is the fiction and it is generally fuller and more enticing than the bare event itself, the dry retelling. Without reality, we’d have no base from which to work. In my Lupee stories, Gervaise Vol is fashioned after someone I know, just a little less personable; and this is what makes him work. So is the choice of The Flower Streets of Liverpool. If you’re going to report what happened, then you might as well be writing for some newspaper or other. But, you know this, right? I know a therapist who says to some of her patients–not all are readers–that they can learn more from fiction than from reading a textbook on a particular psychiatric syndrome (and then she guides them to a particular book). I guess the truth-in-journalism people might call fiction yellow journalism. hahahahaha Your poem told me what happened; now I’m looking forward to the humanism of your book, for I know nothing of Portugal. I wonder why you chose a businessman. . .

  6. Trish Jackson

    I look forward to reading the book, having been living in Rhodesia, a country that suffered great loss from this change in government. The new president, Spinola was a hated man there.

  7. Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

    Bryan, we have been following along as you write and are eager to read the entire book at one sitting. The Portuguese people here in this story are inspiring in their own way.

    Thank you for sharing such a flashback in time look at what once was in your life.

  8. Linda Hales

    Portugal is the proverbial light in the forest, yet I would not have known any of this had it not been for this fascinating peek at political events. It is refreshing to learn that oppression is a thing of the past there, especially when so many countries today are digging in their heels to preserve it.

    Thanks for this Bryan and I too will watch for your book when it is released.

  9. Bryan Murphy

    Thank you all for your comments and encouragement. The book should come out next Spring: I need that much time to turn something readable into something memorable (I hope).
    I chose to make the main character a businessman for 3 main reasons:
    – the choice has a dash of originality;
    – to force myself to take the viewpoint of someone markedly different from myself;
    – it was a tough thing to be in those years in Portugal, so my protagonist would naturally run into lots of problems and setbacks as he struggled to survive and thrive there.
    Thanks again.


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