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Read an extract from Aimée Walsh’s debut title, Exile

Read an extract from Aimée Walsh’s debut title, Exile


by Sarah Gill
03rd Jul 2024

The newly released debut from Belfast author Aimée Walsh centres around a young woman as her life is turned upside down after an attack on a night out in Belfast.

In college in Liverpool, Fiadh’s life begins to spiral out of control as she misses assignment deadlines, stops turning up to class and doesn’t respond to any of her friends’ messages.

Without the tight knit group of friends she left behind at home or the support of the new friends she has made in Liverpool, Fiadh’s life quickly descends into chaos, a chaos that nearly costs her everything.

Fraught with emotion, this book fluctuates between being harrowing and heartening. It tracks the transition from familiar school days to college life and the struggle associated with that, self-discovery and resilience, the changing nature of friendship, and the glimmers of hope to be found amidst the sorrow.

One of this year’s most highly anticipated releases, Aimée Walsh is a true literary talent.

Read on for the extract below…

Exile Aimeé Walsh

The queue for the club snakes from the entrance, along the park towards the UGC Cinema. In twos and threes, groups of people huddle together against the biting wind. The rain drizzles down, sticking to the recently sun-shimmered legs of the girls in the queue, each bouncing from one platform heeled foot to the other to maintain body heat. I cup my hand into a fist, hugging it with the other, blowing air into the entanglement of frozen fingers. Danielle and I line up against the brick wall, both dreaming that we are home in our pyjamas instead of standing in the cold in minidresses.

A flurry of stamps of Danielle’s heels on the ground chorus a sharp exhale of breath, as she says

—Isn’t it meant to be summer?! I fumble around in my black patent clutch for my ID shaking it like a snow globe to move my Juicy Tube lip gloss and a tester bottle of DKNY perfume. As we approach the entrance, we recognise the bouncer as a man who lives in the same apartment block as Aisling. Big Dave. There he is. He dips his head at us in recognition. On Saturdays gone by, the lot of us shared a cigarette with him at Aisling’s gaff.

Her ma saying

—Sure, isn’t it better to know what they’re up to? Better them doing it here than out there on street corners and park benches!

The off-duty bouncer always nodded sagely in agreement, as Aisling’s ma gripped his leg. Now, we pay a fiver into the club night, Sketchy. Strobe lights disorientate us as we walk across the dance floor. We try our best to give off an air of irresistible collectedness. As is ritual on our Saturday nights out, Danielle suddenly stops in front of me, leans into my ear and shouts

— SAMBUCA!?

The wide look in her eyes shows it is more of a call to arms than a question. Powerless to say no to that sort of persuasion, I follow her as she pushes her way through the throngs of people at the bar. The barman slops two gloopy sambucas into neon thimbles on the counter. Clinked glasses, heads back, we neck the shots, feeling it stickily slide down our throats. I order a blue alcopop, requesting a straw from behind the bar.

I fancy myself the vision of a seductress, sucking on my straw while surveying the dance floor. Assessing each boy who locks eyes with me, I do an internal evaluation of the likelihood of locking lips with a ride. There’s the boy in a white diamanté slogan top; the one with ‘surfer’ hair, which in reality is achieved through hours of having his ma do his frosted tips; the man who is far too old to be in this club, adorned with a tie and suit jacket; and of course, the group of lads from school, none of which I have ever spoken to for more than five minutes, except for Andy.

The intensity of the strobe light brings me back to myself. Casting her gaze across the crowd, Danielle says

—Slim pickings thenight isn’t it?

She turns to the bar and asks for two double vodka Red Bulls. If nothing else, we’d make a quare go at the dance floor by ourselves. Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ stutters through the speakers. We both down our WKDs, grab our freshly poured vodkas and head into the sea of people. As fast as we can walk without running, the two of us tear off towards the dance floor, spilling drinks as we go. In the middle of the dancefloor, we jump on the spot, bouncing off the people behind us. An arm is thrown around Danielle’s shoulders, her pocket-sized height makes her the prime target for grab-and-dance moves. Through flickered lights, Andy comes into focus. He blankets himself around Danielle, and beams a smile towards me.

Outside, the smoking area heat lamp drapes us in sepia. When I close my eyes, the drink would have me believe I was anywhere else, a Spanish beach or a recently retubed sunbed. I approach anyone and everyone outside to ask for a lighter.

—I’m a social smoker, I joke.

—So I don’t carry one.

A woman in a leather jacket pulls one from her pocket and hands it over.

—I want that back, love, she spits out, without raising her eyes. One long draw on the feg gets it going enough to sustain it for the whole smoke, and probably a headlight for another too. Andy stumbles over, grabs the cigarette from my mouth, inhaling deeply.

—Oi! Leave us some! Don’t be a selfish wee prick!

He crosses his eyes while taking another draw, blowing the smoke onto my face.

—Sure, I’m always thinking of you, Fiadh, he says while placing the cigarette between my lips.

—No, love, I say as I take the cigarette out of my mouth and crush it under my heel.

—I’m alright, thanks.

‘Exile’ by Aimée Walsh (published by John Murray) is out now. You can follow her on Instagram @thereadparts