People e-mail and message me regularly and ask: How do I write a book? I have this book written, what should I do? I’m half way through a book – what do I do now?
I wrote my first book – El Niño – over a period of 12 months. It started as a short story. I’d been doing an MA in Writing at NUI Galway and we’d had the chance to do a myriad of courses like: Publishing, Poetry, Fiction, Non Fiction, Journalism and Screenwriting. My strength was in dialogue. My interest was in crime. When I wrote the shorty story, also titled, El Niño , people liked it and I felt I’d turned a corner in finding my voice. Up until then I’d been trying Arrogant literary fiction, Dodgy Poetry and watery Journalism. But with this, I’d felt on safe ground creatively. I entered the story into an international competition (Fish Short Story Prize) and it was long listed from 2000 entries down to the last 50. The top prize was €10,000. (Ten grand like.) This was mighty and I went drinking for a week. Next thing this it was short listed down to the last 17 and I went drinking for a month. Poker was big at the time too and I had notions of Vegas and the World Series. Fuck you Phil Ivy. That Devil Fish is only an amateur. Here we go lads, get the speech ready for the Late Late Show. That was the last of it though. It didn’t win. Some other lad or lady in Texas got the dust and I got the rainy Monday morning spell of dejected dopamine. Oh well, get used to it Micky. That’s the way it’s going to be. At least I had Paddy Power online to keep me going.
As part of the journalism module we got to go down to the courts and watch the cases brought up around the city. It covered everything from fights at the weekend to small time robberies and delinquency. One day there was two lads brought up for setting fire to a chipper. They were about fifteen years old. They’d gone in the back one night to go drinking and smoking weed and they left a smouldering joint on the floor. It was a derelict place next to the chipper but there’d been a painter there that day. The painter had left some kinda flammable turpentine lying around and next thing the whole place went up in a big blaze. Later, the two lads were arrested down the Spanish Arch where they were drinking cans with burnt clothes and singed eyebrows. The odd thing about the case was all these barristers, and judges and lawyers and cops were talking across the court to each other about the case and the young lads didn’t care, or hadn’t a clue, about what was going on. They were sitting around in tracksuits waiting for the verdict: Jail, bail or community service. There was talk of criminal history. Possession of narcotics. Previous convictions. Reference to addiction, broken family homes and psychological evaluations. A whole dictionary of sociological lingo about people that couldn’t understand a word. There were other cases like that every week and soon I started thinking about expanding El Niño .
It was a world that could be pryed open. Initially about a Pickpocket and a girl called El Niño , (He steals her wallet – then falls in love with her) but maybe I could delve into their past, who they were and where they came from. And what kind of future they could have (if any). It was long process but once I had the idea, it was all about the labour of writing. And that’s where most writers get stuck – when the inspiration goes, how do you keep going, or why?