Keep goin til ya hear the bang….

One time in Australia I was drinking with a fella and we were talking about cars, and lightning storms, and floods in the Northern Territory. We were in Broome, or Katherine, or Hall’s Creek, one of them. The air was soft and warm and the Jim Beam&Coke was going down well on his porch. And there was more porches, and people drinking, and everyone worked in the mines. He was saying to keep an eye on the temperature and if it goes up, no matter how much, even a bit, then get it checked and it’ll save the car in the long run. Now I’m down by the Shannon Weir in Athlone and the temperature is gone up to the last. There was nowhere else for it to go. It was like it was trying to escape, breakthrough the dashboard and into engine. If it was a game of Snake or Pacman it would go through the wall on the right and come in through the wall on the left again. I was waiting for the bang, the smoke, the plume of mechanical and financial disaster that usually followed. Same as the Insignia in Edenderry and the Qashqai in Claremorris and the Astra in Galway that time. And let’s not mention that fuckin Peugeot. My immediate plan was to park somewhere handy for a truck to tow it away. This was important. It was only seconds before all the lights came on and the engine would blow, and the power steering would die and then there’d be no hope of getting it anywhere.

            But this time nothing happened. The gauge stayed high, but the car continued to drive. Up by St. Peter’s Port and onto Connaught Street. The sun smiled on and people wandered by like nothing was the matter. Usually by now there’s a crowd gathered, and extras giving unwanted advice, and a smell like burning tyres and mechanical piss. Yet, the Focus glided through the panic like there was nothing wrong at all. No warnings, no stutter. I pulled in. Surprised and optimistic. Time to look at the engine like I knew something about them. The bonnet can only be opened with a key. One of them fancy ideas that never took off. Either way, I fucked it up about three months ago and now there’s a steel stick that does the job. You have to angle it through the front grille like you’re doing a blind endoscopy and then it clicks and slicks and you’re in. The engine was a bit hot but nothing solar. Plenty of water and coolant, no lack of oil. Time for Youtube. There was lads talking about sensors, and waterpumps, and putting eggs in the radiator. And click here, and like this, subscribe and follow, but there was no need, sure cos the needle was gone down by now and the car was grand. Sure they’re all mad in Australia anyway, and on Youtube, time to drive on, keep goin til ya hear the bang, and there was no bang yet. Might buy six eggs just in case but that’ll do.

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.