Writing Fisherman’s Blues,Working Tefl in Madrid, Big dhrink on the €1 wine. #21 –

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.

Mick.

Where Fisherman’s Blues began, Kronenberg Afternoons, Paulo Cohello and the English Job Centres. #2 P

Hard to know where a book really starts. The longer it goes on, and the more experiences you have, the more likely you won’t finish it. It’s because you’ll keep putting in new stuff that happens, that you experience. The tone of your book will change, relative to your life experience and it’ll eventually feel like a mishmash of nonsense. I was thinking this with my second novel – Fisherman’s Blues. I knew if I didn’t finish soon, I never would. The story would be too old and jaded, having gone through too many drafts, like a shirt washed too many times. It would be soon time to throw it out.

The novel began when I was living in England. I needed a job, fairly handy one, cos I didn’t have any proper credentials. I suffer greatly from Formophobia, see. A unique Irish condition. It means I feel physically sick in the presence of all forms, excel sheets, application procedures, bureaucratic questions and phone calls from Private Numbers. When someone hands me an envelope over a desk and says to fill out these forms, and get back to me, I know I’ll never be back.

But now here there was a lot of talk about Job Centres and uploading your CV. The first place I went was superbly air conditioned. And there was machines that spat out tickets with numbers on them. The plan was to wait until your number was called and talk to the polite Englishman at the desk. When I got there he asked for my details – Employee Number, Address, Utility Bill, I.D., Bank Account Number, CV, Phone Number and what kind of work was I looking for? After a pause, punctuated by Vertigo, he said: ‘You don’t have any of this stuff, do you?’

‘I’m working on it.’

Ok, sir, he said softly. I’m going to give you a bunch of forms to fill out. You’ll need to pop up to Poole and get them stamped, then have a quick chat with the Immigration, go down to the Job Centre in town and get them signed, don’t lose any of them, make sure they’re filled out properly in black ink only. Once you get that sorted, we’ll get you set up and registered here and have you in for an interview in no time at all.

‘How long do you reckon before I could start working?’

Not long, he smiled, five weeks or so.

Thanks, I said, I’ll be back to ye, and I walked outside and fucked the forms in the bin. They wouldn’t fit so I had to stuff them in. After, I felt relieved and concerned at the same time.

Not good, Micky. No Dusht. No hope of getting around them crowd. It was a hot day, with reggae music playing somewhere and lots of noise coming from busy traffic and people talking in shops. There was a smell like liquorice from the melting tar on the road.

I took a left towards the snooker hall. A 24 hour place with cheap drink. Figured everything would look better after a few Kronenberg and a couple of frames. Next thing I spotted a sign on an office window. Hiring Now. So I went for the Paulo Cohello vibe and followed the omens.

The place was called Serendipity. Figure that. Your man inside was called Chris. Wanted to know if I could speak English, had any sales experience. I told him I used to be a top sales man in a Media Company in Ireland. Which wasn’t technically a lie – I used sell Irish Catholic Newspapers for the Legion of Mary when I was a child. Sold 20 one morning after last mass. Record at the time.

Chris asked when was I available to start, he’d pay in cheques, cashable at the shop next door. No need for forms at all. You came to the right place. I told him I’d start tomorrow and we shook hands and I left. Celebrated at the Snooker Hall. Big dhrink.

Years later, Chris became one of the main characters in Fisherman’s Blues, as did the sales office, and many other things that were to subsequently happen.

Mick.


Buy Fisherman’s Blues directly from Amazon here.

Pound coins and Watergate.

Shtop, this fella could fairly talk. We were doing a day’s work and you never know who you get caught with. Lucky bag style. And here he was into story number three now and I had lost track twenty minutes ago. As far as I could tell he had discovered U2 but hadn’t gotten the proper credit and was eager to let the world know. Bono was in a van one time, with two or three more, and they were starting out, and they needed a gig, and along comes himself and sets them up with a microphone and a few speakers. Some brown place in former Ireland, where they still had pound coins and everyone smoked like they’d die if they didn’t. He gave images of a carpeted pub, and small stools with thick legs and torn cushion tops and the stage lights were dirty and it was always raining through the draughty windows. The toilets smelled of cheap detergent blocks and piss and the Guinness was stale yellow in the hands of men with black fingernails and thick black jackets and wind torn island faces like the scars of Atlantic scorn. And the van was old, with doors you pull back, and amps, and denim jackets, and earrings and the Vietnam war wasn’t long over, and the IRA were patrolling the hills and the RUC were on the roads. I said I better to the jacks to get a break cos I thought my ears might start bleeding, but here he was coming with me, not missing a beat, and now it was a Play one time, and there was a big cast, and the money was good, and the audience were curious one night, full house, dead silence, because someone forgot a line, and nobody knew what to do, but he saved the day himself, with an impromptu blast of dialogue and everybody was relieved, and the show went on. And they thanked him for his inspiration, something funny, generic, country, a hint to the lead actor, a dialectic compass to tell him where to go next. And he got plenty of work after that, but then the money dried up, and he went driving a taxi, and he always arrived for a fare an hour early, in case he got a puncture, or the customer had an emergency, and they’d need extra time, and these customers had big money, BIG money now, not small stuff, no pennies, always fifties, which was BIG money back them times, and sure did I ever do extra work? There was a film before and they had to stand beside a famous fella, and not pull focus, and the director said they were the best extras he’d ever seen, but that comes with experience, and he can’t do it now because he has two bad knees, and will we go to the shop? They have nice sandwiches, and chips, but it depends on what you want, and isn’t it a lovely day, and that’s some sun, boy, see that place over there, used to be a cinema one time, and that place over there, the bands they used to have, and if we could get Bono down there, I’m telling ya, and do you know something about The Beatles? There was a fella one night, we were in Liverpool, he came up to me, and asked me could I give him a hand, and I thought he looked kind of familiar, and you’ll never guess who he was? And fuck me, if we didn’t have the best night of drinking, and I’d swear half the lyrics I hear sometimes comes from the stories from that session….Anyway, back to the Vietnam war, Nixon was after getting in and this was before Watergate, and that’s another story I’ll tell you about after this….