Most days in Madrid I spent checking my e-mail in the Internet cafe and playing online poker. When the publishing deals didn’t come and my four kings were getting busted by regular Royal Flushes, I’d hit the pub. €1 wine, see. Compare that with €5 a glass in Ireland and you feel like it’s a free bar and act accordingly. That’s the problem when you write a book. You get a notion in your head that you can’t move on to the next one until this one is published – like, who came up with that idea?
Eventually it was time to get a job, money going low, all that.
Walking up the stairs, into a TEFL school, thinking – how are ya going to handle this now, Micky. The interview had come fast, within an hour, the demand was high, see.
Everyone wanted to learn English, hire English speakers, a plethora of students roaring to spend money. Sound, says I, sure I’m after doing a watery TEFL course online. They sent me out a cert and everything. Couple that with the Degree and Masters and sure I’ll be sound.
The dominant colour in the office was green. The woman there wanted to know my background in teaching. I gave her the outlines. She seemed impressed. And could I start Monday?
I pretended to think about it. Then said Okay. The money wasn’t great, but it was a job. In Spain. In Madrid. How cool was that?
TEFL turned out to be great for the brain, got the neuro-plasticity going and kept me thinking about language, and linguistic identities, and meaning. The hours were mostly evenings which meant you could write all day. So, I pulled out an old story I’d been working on. It was originally called Last Chance Cafe, but I’d eventually retitle it Fisherman’s Blues and it became my second novel.
El Niño had been heavily influenced by American writers and genre. Some of the conversations and settings were said to be similar in style to Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke and Anthony Bourdain. Influenced by them. The publishing houses often said they were looking for something more Irish. But when I thought of Irish I kept thinking of emigration stories and more horseshit about what the church did. There was enough of that and more coming. Safe Irish guilt roaring off the shelves.
Teaching forced me to think about how Irish people talk. The way they say and describe things. The job meant a constant examination of form, sentence structure, and idiom. There was a unique poetry in the language of West of Ireland that other cultures found fascinating. It’s a show don’t tell vernacular that I reckoned hadn’t been properly explored in modern Irish fiction – or theatre. When I lived in Ireland I didn’t notice its value, because everyone talks and thinks this way. But when abroad, and learning the intricacies of all languages, it became something worth writing about.
Like Alchemy, what seemed like lead and useless in Ireland, became gold when looked at from an international perspective. Writers make this mistake all the time. Trying to sound so unlike themselves in a quest for absolute fiction – where it’s actually the opposite. The more true the better.
So I opened Fisherman’s Blues with the most Irish, some say controversial, modern phrase I could. It alienated a host of traditional readers, but engaged plenty more. And that was the plan. That’s always the plan. Break new ground, less about what’s already been done.