How Gabriel Garcia Marquez inspired me as a boy aged 14
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
There. I've just taken one of the greatest opening lines in literary history and grafted it on to the top of my column. In other times stealing the work of a master to entice readers into a piece of writing by a jobbing hack would be a dastardly act but here it forms the start of a personal tribute.
Its author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died last week in Mexico aged 87. Colonel Buendia was one of many remarkable characters in his most famous book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967. I read it as a 14-year-old hitherto brought up on a diet of football and war story dross. From the opening sentence my tiny grey back bedroom was lit up by a kaleidoscope of colour, as if fetid verdant jungle filled with toucans and panthers had replaced snarling dodgy punk bands on the walls.
I was obsessed with One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was the first book that showed me nothing could contain the power of imagination. I couldn't speak for hours after reading chapters.
Conversations with friends about school and West Ham could not compete with Macondo the semi-fictional town in the middle of Colombian nowhere based on the place of Marquez's birth.
Fantastical characters, unbelievable happenings, lusts, random violence, wrongdoings and above all love combined to create one of the greatest Latin American myths of all, every sentence containing surprise within simple structure.
It was called Magic Realism but as Marquez said himself the truth was that writers had to rise to such heights just to capture the everyday realities of the thousands of Macondos on the continent. What about the poor Colonel? Why was he facing the firing squad? What happened to that wondrous child? Where on earth in the suffocating heat of Columbia did his father take him to touch mysterious ice?
Marquez started life as a journalist and you can tell. All the best stuff's in the intro but unlike the take-it-or-leave-it of his old trade there is no way you will ever abandon his words once they start like that. You're going all the way to the end with him. I did, eagerly devouring his books. The titles themselves: No One Writes To The Colonel, Love in The Time of Cholera: Autumn of the Patriarch promise the lyricism, poetry and mythologies that will be contained within.
Unlike a typical Marquez character the old, rather than teenage, me eschews irrational thinking and hocus pocus. Most events can be explained through recourse to rationale, say I.
So why was it last Friday that my thoughts turned randomly to Marquez? I hadn't heard of him for years. I began wondering how journalists would report his death. Was he still major a figure enough to earn two-page obituaries? Four hours later someone texted me to say he was no more. I swear I had these earlier thoughts and had no inkling he was even ill. To use the title of another of his great books, here was a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
For a moment, as if 14-year-old me, I imagined that Marquez had been trying to send me a message not to forget him. I quickly dismissed it. Those things happen in Macondo not Belfast. But here it is Gabo if this is what you wanted. My tribute. Sorry about the intro but you write them so much better than me.
Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph