- With John Kelly on RTÉ Television's The Works (go to April 11th 2013 Episode, about 19 minutes in)
150 words on "My Favourite Book of Last Year"for The Sunday Business Post
I’ve never taught a writing course, but if I did I’d
certainly introduce my would-be students to Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing. In this wonderfully written novel, Wyld uses
a split narrative.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William
Faulkner. Our heroine, the reclusive and hardy Jake Whyte, has fled from
Australia to a small island off the British coast, where she farms sheep. But
all is not well. Her flock is subject to a series of brutal and mysterious slaughters.
We don’t know what she has run from in her homeland, but we know it’s not good.
And it may have something to do with the horrors she’s experiencing now.
We learn of her old life in reverse chronological order. This
enables Wyld to create an unforgettable closing paragraph which is written in
the future tense. It’s an ending of extraordinary pathos and beauty.
"My Week" for The Sunday Times
week begins when I hop in the car on Monday mornings and drive from Kinsale to
Bandon, where I teach in Hamilton High School. It sounds like a posh private
school but it’s not; it’s a secondary school offering free education to boys in
the Bandon area. If I wanted to be all artsy fartsy about it, I’d tell you
about how beautiful my drive to work is every morning –fifteen miles of picture
postcard countryside, along the Bandon River Valley. I’d tell you that I see the
lovely ruins of Shippool and Dundaniel castles along the way. I’d tell you that
I pass my native village of Innishannon and that I always have a fleeting
glance at The Bleach, Innishannon’s GAA grounds, so-called because the
low-lying field was a bleaching green in the late 18th century. I’d
tell you that it reminds me of the many happy days and evenings I spent there,
under the coaching guidance of great volunteers, my father Seán, the local
school-master, among them. I’d tell you that as I finally pull up at Laurel
Walk in Bandon, I’m always struck by the beauty of the stone façade of the old
though, I’ll probably be drinking coffee from my travel mug along the way,
wishing I had gotten up early enough to have a decent breakfast, as I chew on a
croissant that would have been better suited to the Sunday morning it was
bought. I may occasionally find myself cursing a tractor or a slow truck in
front of me, if I need to do some photocopying before first class. I flick through
radio stations, tut-tutting away to myself like a man twice my age. I flick on
the CD and realise that I still haven’t
gotten around to changing the CDs in the car. Nirvana, Arcade Fire and Mazzy
Star really need to be shelved for a while.
I put back
on the radio and try not to get depressed about the horrendous mess we’ve made
of our country, and yes, I try to be thankful that I have a job. But it’s the
guys –the “let’s be positive” brigade –that really get on my nerves. “We’ve
turned the corner,” they say. Try telling that to those who have no choice but
to leave Ireland, probably for good. As I meet the hardworking, eager, decent
youngsters I teach on yet another Monday morning, I hope that things will
change in this country. For them. And the thousands like them. They deserve it.
Our busy hurling
training schedule begins on Monday evenings too. This year, I’m privileged to
be a member of the coaching team of the best hurling team our little school has
ever seen. We’ve qualified for the last eight of the Dr. Harty Cup. There are
those who will read this and will know what that means. And there are those who
won’t. It’s an old Cup awarded to the best school hurling team in Munster. Many
of the best hurlers of all time have honed their craft in “the Harty”. The
Harty Cup is special. Very special.
the first time ever, we won the prestigious O’Callaghan Cup, a competition for
all the best hurling schools in Cork. Between training, practice matches and
now, various local award ceremonies and presentations, I’m kept pretty busy.
evenings I’m always glad to get home. I’ll usually light the fire and either my
wife Sandra or I will throw on the dinner. I might watch Grand Designs or catch up on all the stuff I’ve recorded that I
never get around to watching, like Boardwalk
Empire. Or Sandra might watch something, if she doesn’t have badminton. Increasingly
nowadays though, we don’t switch on the box at all; we just shoot the breeze in
front of the fire with the radio on. I read a lot too. I’m going through a
short story-reading phase at the moment. Last weekend I joined a gym, but I’ve
yet to make an appearance after work any day. There’s always next week.
we went shopping. Well, Sandra braved the Christmas shoppers for a while and I
scooted off to Mother Jones’ Flea Market near McCurtain Street in Cork. I
picked up a few nice old vinyl records and a couple of books. This weekend
we’ll put up the decorations and the Christmas tree with my daughter Róisín. We
walk the dog on the beach a couple of times too, every weekend. Other times we
go to Mayo, to see Sandra’s family. I do a bit of writing too, sometimes, but I
don’t have much time for that just now. Life gets in the way. And it’s a good
life and I’m grateful for it.
Journey to Publication for The Irish Times
the end of 2007 I’d written a couple of plays, for which I’d amassed a fine collection
of rejection letters. I felt a bit disheartened, but I did still very much
believe in myself. And so I began my first novel, the idea for which I’d had
for a long time. I wrote about thirty pages. I thought it was good. My
girlfriend (now wife) did too. We went to an internet café, took a computer
each and sent email after email to any literary agent we could find online.
came thick and fast –mostly generic rejections, but a few were impressed and
requested another fifty pages. I stocked up on coffee and got to work, managing
to complete the fifty pages in a number of short days and long nights.
loved it and asked to see the rest of the novel. Only problem was it didn’t
exist yet. I told them I needed a few months to ‘rearrange the structure of it.’
I finished the manuscript over the summer. Jamie Coleman in London really loved
it and I signed with him and that, eventually, led to a deal with Bloomsbury. I
don’t really feel qualified to give advice to aspiring writers. All I can say
is what I think worked for me. Firstly,
I’ve always devoured the works of great writers but I hope I’ve never sought to
imitate them. Secondly, I tried hard not to let rejection letters cause me to
doubt my ability or affect my happiness. Thirdly, I have a job. I didn’t need to make money from writing. There’s
freedom in that. Finally, I love that amazing feeling you get occasionally when
you think you’ve just written something very good. It might just be a little
paragraph. No book deal in the world could ever compare to that.
A Piece on 'Teenage Angst' for the Sunday Business Post
I think much of what we term ‘teenage angst’ is young
people's frustration in trying to come to terms with and adjust to some of the
unfortunate realities of the adult world that awaits them in present-day
One memory I have of my teenage years is of a night when my
friends and myself had a close encounter with a bunch of older lads that we'd
have (at the time) regarded as 'scumbags.' These were early school-leavers,
from 'rough' back-grounds and were probably long-term unemployed and would now
have been well into their twenties. Some of them, we'd have heard, were
'druggies'. They were still going to the discos that we sixteen year-olds in
the area were going to with our fake IDs, probably because the bars in the town
wouldn't let them in. Bouncers would have regarded them as 'trouble.'
In truth, they were
dangerous when they were drunk. They were often fighting, or beating up some
unfortunate younger lad, and seemed to enjoy it. We hated the sight of them,
but we thought that going to the disco that served drink to the underage, was worth
The incident I remember wasn't such a 'beating' or fight. It
was in the aftermath of such a scrap, when one of these lads came up to us and
shouted the following:
'I suppose ye'll all be off to college next year!'
He eyeballed us individually, still shouting at each of us,
'Will you be going
We said nothing. He finally staggered off, and we lived to
tell the tale, not that it's much of a tale. But as we headed off, giddy with
relief, a silence gradually came over us. And the silence came, I think, from a
place of guilt. Because we knew that yes, in all likelihood, we'd be in college
before too long or would get a job, with decent enough prospects. Others of my
friends were lucky enough to have farms behind them. We all knew, that the
opportunities that lay ahead for us, were never and would never be within this
guy's grasp. We all knew then, that the society, that we were about to enter as
adults, was an extremely unfair place.
And it wasn’t the first time we’d come to this rather
depressing realisation over our teenage years. Class-based alienation was just
one aspect of the society that awaited us. It was also a society where regular
adult drunkenness was socially acceptable, if not almost admired. It was a
society where bullying and unkindness was normalised every day in the media. It
was a society where corruption, at the highest levels, went largely unpunished.
It was a materialistic society, where kids learned from adults, the importance
of projecting an image of taste or wealth with expensive labels and goods. I
could go on.
I fear that, often, behind what we describe using the
catch-all term ‘teenage angst,’ is real disillusion and disaffection among young