Anthony tells of his road to Damascus

ENNISKILLEN author, Anthony Viney, has released his debut novel based on his own adventure to Syria.

Viney launched his book at Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen last night.  Titled “On The Road To Damascus”, it is a story of a conflict-tourist looking for adventure in war-torn Syria.

He drew inspiration on his own trip to the Middle East state in 2011 when the Arab Spring – a series of uprisings broke out in a number of Arabian nations.


“I’d always wanted to go to Syria to look at the historic Greek and Roman sites in places like Aleppo and Palmyra,” said Viney.

“I initially went to Beirut (Lebanon) to try and find a driver who would be willing to take me over the border. All of them were saying ‘no – it’s too dangerous’ with the exception of one driver who agreed to do it for a price.

“He would accompany me into Syria for the week serving as both a driver and a minder. I had to pay all his expenses and accommodation. I agreed to that as I was keen to go and look at the sites and also see history in the making as the Arab Spring had been going on for a while.

“We crossed the border from Lebanon into Syria and it was pretty scary. I had expected things not to be normal. Once we got in, we hit a militia checkpoint within the first hour.

“There were guys with machine guns searching the vehicle and asking my driver lots of questions. One of their officers came over to lean through the window and rather scarily said to me, ‘welcome to Syria’.

“The whole country was in disarray. There were tanks on the streets going into the cities. If we went to have anything to eat, my driver would be asked by waiters, ‘who is man?’ My driver said afterwards that those waiters were also in the secret police.

A chance meeting with critically-acclaimed journalist, the late Robert Fisk, led to Anthony penning his novel.


“I had the idea for the book for a while and then I bumped into Robert Fisk at a literary festival in Ireland,” he added.

“Upon hearing that I was thinking of writing a book, he said to email him a first draft and if I was ever in Beirut, where he lived, to give him a ring a come up and chat about it.

“I did go to Beirut in 2013. I rang up from a hotel and he was down there within 10 minutes. We had a chat over coffee about the book.

“As much as we talked about that, we also talked a great deal about security in Lebanon and what to do when encountering a checkpoint – I think he was keen for me not to become the next (former Beirut hostage) Brian Keenan.

“I also enquired about the possibility of going back to Syria but was given a firmer ‘no don’t go’ this time round. One person told me ‘what will happen to you us that you will be 10 minutes across the border, your car will be stopped and you will become a hostage.

“There are two ways of looking at conflict tourism. One is to see it as somebody who gets a bit of a kick out of visiting war-torn regions.

“The other way would be to recognise the keenness of somebody who wishes to go to where history is being made.

“So the protagonist in my book incorporates a bit of both – which causes quite a lot of antagonism with his driver. The two of them don’t get on with each other – the driver is also a police informer who is being paid to keep an eye on this strange Englishman.”

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