My latest essay on RTÉ Arena is about ‘Names’.  Have a listen here or gander on for the full text…




Funny things names.  It would be pretty unusual to just invent one from scratch. Instead, they are foraged from surroundings and experiences, stolen from history and nature, inspired by colours and flowers, jewels, even occupations. For a long time in Ireland religion played a major part, from apostles to the pious or the prevailing pontiff of the time. There was certainly no shortage of John Pauls knocking around my housing estate in the 1980s.

Influences come and they go and what may have seemed odd to folk in the last century can become commonplace in the new. In this era of the celebrity obsessed, the famous are often mimicked, kids named after the place they were conceived. Brooklyn, Nevada. Paris, even Ireland.

When it comes to branding a character, there are some authors who will mull over it for weeks. But does it really make any difference? Take my Dad for example, a man known by many titles.  ‘Donal’ to my mother, ‘Granda’ to his grandchildren, ‘Mister’ to the kids on the street. On any number of Christmas cards he is Ronan. And for some strange reason all correspondence with the gas company refers to him as David. Yet, nobody calls him by the name that’s on his birth cert – Daniel. I can’t help but wonder if his life would have turned out differently if he’d stuck with the original title? Would people have treated him differently? Would he have grown that moustache?

Of course some could use Charles Dickens as an argument to support a lengthy naming process, a writer famed for selecting the colourful and unusual, often ones which hint at a character’s personality. Mr Wopsle, Bill Bitherstone. Chester, Chick and Old Martin Chuzzlewit.  Some of his characters, like Scrooge and Pecksniff have even found their way into the everyday vernacular.

I generally go for the common or the understated, normal people in deep crisis or extraordinary situations. The problem with this is that I sometimes forget what I’ve called a character as I move through different sections of the book, similar to that moment at a party where you’ve forgotten the name of the person you’ve only been introduced to three seconds before. But surely your ability to empathise with a character shouldn’t depend on a name.  William Shakespeare wrote –
That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.
And it’s easy to see the truth in this. On the other hand, back in the late 16th Century and failing to be of noble family, if he had been christened Mable Shakespeare, we may never have seen this observation in print at all. Or at the very least, we may never have discovered that she wrote it in the first place.


Bucket List

My latest essay on RTÉ Arena is about a bucket list.  Have a listen here or gander on for the full text…


must fix the garden

Bucket List

I frequently have brief, inspired moments where I feel compelled to do more with my life. The remnants of these whims are scattered about my house. There’s the Irish language course book – half read. The easel buried under a mountain of toys. The tin-whistle rusting in the attic. It’s true that other commitments are partially to blame for the abandonment of these projects but I’ve also been of the belief that they can just be revived at a later date.

My daughter turned eight the other week and watching her open presents by patiently tearing off every last piece of tape on the wrapping  I couldn’t help but think how it only seems like yesterday that we would prop her up on a highchair and blow the birthday candles out for her.  You see, age is the craftiest of all feckers. By the time you realise you’re old, it’s too late to do anything about it. So I’ve began to draft up a bucket list. I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest of tasks for me, especially as I’m aware at how quickly it could manifest into one long index of chores, those must-fix-up-the-garden type ambitions or the thrilling fantasy of finally clearing out the attic.

Funny, how I will often contemplate a character’s decisions more than my own, attentively charting their ambitions and motives. Recently, I came across an image of Joseph’s Heller’s map for Catch 22, rows and columns with lists of characters and key events and notes to keep in mind for different stages of the plot. There are similar relics from other writers archived across the world, drafts and scribbled ideas from early on in their careers.

With the constant and rapid change of technologies this kind of material could be lost in the modern environment. Likewise, with so many musicians selling digitally there is the risk of many artists vanishing completely from records. Artistic images, photographs, important speeches and videos, the British Library calls it The Digital Black Hole. In an attempt to counteract the problem it has begun to archive whole websites. While in the US, the research library for congress signed an agreement with Twitter allowing it to archive all public tweets.  In years to come one of your tweets may help to form an anthropological analysis of today’s society.

Check out what I had for dinner. Hash-tag – Greasy potatoes. Hash tag – Vomit.

Perhaps writers and artists should make a concerted effort to hold onto their digital material, those embarrassing early drafts, the stories that failed to make publication, even that email sent to Aunt Greta explaining why there is so much bad language in the novel. And maybe a catalogue of my own writing should be sitting at the top of my bucket list. After that, I’ll be free to concentrate on the more exciting challenges in life, like getting around to tasting a cloud berry or a dragon fruit. Or my greatest of all ambitions, finally learning how to speak French without a Dublin accent…

Ouest le marché de fruits s’il vous plait?


Tom Ennis

My latest Essay on RTÉ Arena is about my great grand uncle Tom Ennis.  Have a listen here or read on for the full text…


Tom EnnisOpenness

A photograph once inhabited a shadowy corner of my gran’s house in Ballybough. Despite the age and encroaching dark border you could still make out a group of eight people. There was a lady reading a newspaper at the forefront. To the very rear stood two men in military uniform. As a child, my cousin would often grill my gran as to the identity of the people in the photo but there was never much information offered beyond the response of ‘family’.

The Irish have a reputation for being a friendly and open people.  Yet for my gran’s generation and many before, intimate, family business was rarely discussed.  This probably goes to explain why small talk has evolved into an art form in this country, the skill of incessantly talking but never really saying anything. Some linguists claim that the Inuit have hundreds of words for snow. The same can probably be said for the Irish when it comes to terms for the rain.

Spitting. Beating. Hammering. Or perhaps it may only have been pouring on the day my cousin got his hands on a manuscript relating to bygone family. But that detail is unimportant. What is significant is how this manuscript revealed the identity of a number of people in the photo, one of which turned out to be our great grand uncle, Tom Ennis.

Tom was a Major general who’d been associated with the Irish volunteers as early as 1913. Heavily involved in the 1916 rising, he also led the attack on the customs house in 1921, where he was seriously wounded resulting in a permanent limp.  A volunteer medical officer saw to him after his escape and told how Tom received a number of visitors as he recuperated in a nursing home on Eccles Street. On one such occasion, Oscar Traynor informed Tom that Lloyd George was to order for barbed wire to be put up all over the country to enforce the suppression of I.R.A. activities. “What the hell does he think we’ll be doing while they’re putting up the barbed wire,” was Tom’s quick response.

Further on, there’s an article which initially seems out of place in a manuscript mostly relating to the Easter rebellion and the war of independence. It refers to a murder in the Phoenix Park, sketching a scene in which a soldier shoots his young love through the heart before turning the gun on himself. The sister of the deceased woman testifies how there was no formal engagement between the couple as her parents disapproved. One of the parents she was referring to was Tom. The murdered girl was his twenty year old daughter, Miss Úna Ennis.

This account followed me around for a time after and I couldn’t help but dwell on how a military man like Tom would have outwardly reacted to a tragedy like this. I wondered if he spoke about his daughter much, if he told those around him how he missed her. Or perhaps he just fixed a photograph to a wall in his house. And if anyone referred to it he would just deflect, distract. And through his silence, allow the truth to merely fade into history.


Creative writing awards 2015

pencil A Creative Gathering

Every year DCU Library runs a Creative Writing Competition for adult literacy groups throughout North Dublin. It aims to reward those who have returned to education to improve their reading and writing skills. Over 100 entries are received each year from more than 10 literacy groups in North Dublin and Library staff volunteer to participate in the judging and organisation of the competition. This years worthy winner was “Growing up in Finglas in the 60s” by Jimmy Conway. It takes a real gift to capture a scene from your past and even more to make it entertaining and funny. And Jimmy did just that. I was delighted to be the guest speaker this year and DCU library have blogged about the evening if you would like to check it out.


Otherwise, here are a few quotes from some of the brilliant guest speakers of past events…

Stories are beautifully unpredictable when done well. Figure out what you love to read and think about, what excites you. Chances are those are also the things that you will love to write about.      
Nuala Ní Chonchúir

“Stop reading like a reader; start reading like a writer”
Christine Dwyer Hickey

“If you’re going to be an artist or a writer you’re in for a long apprentice”
Peter Sheridan

“Everyone’s life is valid and worth writing about”
Dermot Bolger

“Simple. Clear. Devoid of the unnecessary. For me, that’s what makes a good story”
Róisín Ingle

“Anyone who has survived childhood has the capacity to be a writer”
Anthony Glavin

(In stories) “things begin to unravel when we are forced to accept a truth we’ve been avoiding, or our world discovers a truth about us”
Marian O’Neill

“Learn to walk in your character’s shoes”
Patricia O’Scanlan


The Marathon Man

Gary running

My cousin was in a massive fridge the other day.
There’s a photograph up on his Facebook page, weatherproof jacket and thick balaclava, the traumatic effect of the glacial chill still frozen in his eyes.  Behind him sits a treadmill, the main reason why Gary has been visiting the fridge. You see, my cousin is preparing for a 42km marathon at the North Pole, a race of deep snow drifts, temperatures of minus 30 degree Celsius and the company of armed guards to keep polar bears at bay. My bravery at retrieving a frozen chicken fillet from the back of the freezer the other morning somewhat pales in comparison.

Gary has completed a number of marathons over the last few years, including an ultra- marathon in 2011, a 100km event in 2012 as well as five marathons in five consecutive days last year. Think back to the scene in the original Superman movie where Clark Kent sprints across the countryside, races a passenger train and arrives at his home ahead of a carload of friends. Gary is exactly like that, minus the Lego-type hair and the bad special effects.

I read about what this bloke is doing and I say to myself “wow, what that lad is doing is inspiring, unreal, amazing, fairly nuts and that everyone should support the event” then I remember he is my brother and I just think “what a sap” – Anthony Seery

Although the challenge of the North Pole marathon is to raise funds for charity, my cousin had an alternative reason for taking up running. Back in 2008 Gary suffered a serious bout of depression and afterward he was desperate to rebuild his self-confidence. In a recent interview Gary explained how running offered him ‘little rewards’ which grew with each new challenge. ‘It was a way for me to get back on my feet,’ he says.

This arctic expedition is a sign of Gary’s bravery but what is even more courageous is his frankness when discussing his mental health. The matter of depression is often blurred and misrepresented in film or television, trivialised, romanticised even. This can certainly be the case with the writing world.  I remember reading a piece which leaned toward the notion that depression is somehow a beneficial condition to have as a writer. That’s like saying that one of the advantages to getting malaria is that it offers the chance to see the new ward they built in the Mater hospital.

gary habitat

Depression can be tough to talk about. And for those who try, it can be difficult to illustrate. But I think it is someway captured by Kurt Cobain in his lyric from the In Utero album where he sings the line ‘I miss the comfort in being sad’. For some, this seems to refer to a yearning for the melancholy. But this was from Nirvana’s final studio album and came at the height of the singer’s battle with drugs and depression. In this state the sufferer can be so removed that they long for the feeling of sadness. Because sadness is a true emotion and a healthy response to something that might be happening in their lives.

Depression is far worse.

Depression is absence.

There is no sentimentality. There is no self-pity. It is the loss of motivation and inspiration. It is a separation from people, from music, from art and hope. The poetry only comes after each bout, with a need to tell the world that the depression has not won this round. But if ignored, there is always the danger that these wins can become more fleeting and further apart.

it’s not possible to get rid of (depression) overnight, you can’t just make it disappear, it takes time but running helped with that – Gary Seery

For me, Gary is not running to escape the issue of depression.
He is running to catch himself up.  And each time he does I hope he pats himself on the back for his courage and enjoys being himself again for a time. And if the hint of change begins to return I’m sure he will always have his trainers close to hand, ready to run when the time is just right.

gary sea

If you’d like to donate to support Gary reaching his target of €42,000 and to help provide a Dublin family with a decent home click here.


Interview With Two Editors

Writer, Lane Ashfeldt, describes the book Love on the Road 2015 as ‘Vivid tales of life across the globe that lets you travel while standing still.’ And this isn’t surprising when you look at the two editors behind the book. Their travels have taken them from the US to Calcutta and Kyrgyzstan while Sam has served in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan with Lois working as a defence investigator in the District of Columbia.

Explorers and scribblers, they clearly have a love for the short story and I was more than delighted to get the chance to interview them for my blog ahead of the launch of their excellent collection this month. I just hope they don’t find too many revisions on this piece after I’ve stuck it up on the blog…


even if you feel like you’ve never done much of the nuts-and-bolts of writing or editing, you can learn

How and why did you become an editor?

Sam: I suppose I got into editing after years of being a writer — or, at least, a newspaper reporter, if that counts. It just seemed like a natural progression. I was also tired of being beaten up by editors for years and thought I might like to torture a few writers myself for a while.

Lois: I’m mainly a journalist, but I do bits and pieces of editing work and I like it because you get to read stories or articles or academic papers that you might never pick up otherwise. I find myself going to the same websites, or podcasts, or the same shelves in the library, and no matter how much you try to be random you find yourself in the same place. Editing work helps me to break out of that.

Together with Lois, how did you choose the stories for the book?

Sam: We ran a contest, asking writers all over the world to submit stories about love and travel. Once we had a good-sized pile of submissions, we spent about a month of evenings and weekends reading like mad. It was a lot of fun, really, reading so many good stories.

Lois: Yes, it was a lot of fun and it felt like a real privilege that people would entrust their stories to us to read. It’s such a brave thing for people to put themselves out there. We really had to make sure that we gave ourselves plenty of time to read all the submissions, so that those further down the pile didn’t get short shrift.

Having two editors could lead to some difficulties. Did you decide on a set process for editing the book from the start?

Sam: We each independently made a list of the stories that we really wanted included in the collection and then we compared lists. The stories on both lists automatically got in. After that, it was just a matter of arguing over the remaining spots. It didn’t get too vicious, though. We’re still on speaking terms.

Lois: Yes, I guess the good thing about knowing each other so well is that we’re not afraid to speak up, or offend each other, or make each other angry. He knows I’m not going to punch him.

You’ve worked with many talented writers over the years. Are there any which stand out? 

Sam: Ha! That’s like asking which one of my friends I like best. There’s no way to answer this without pissing the rest of them off. So I’ll politely decline. Or maybe I’ll say you? Is that the right answer?

(Dan: Yes. That is always the right answer.)

What advice do you have for somebody who is thinking of getting into the editing environment?

Sam: I don’t think I have any useful advice here. Read a lot? Write a lot? Find your inner pedant?

Lois: Advice? Crikey bobs, as my mother would say. Maybe: get a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and remember that it’s a skill. Perhaps I’ve forgotten, but I never remember learning much grammar or even doing much writing at school. When I tried my first essay at university, my tutor said it read like the blurb on the back of a book. But I think I’m better at it now. So even if you feel like you’ve never done much of the nuts-and-bolts of writing or editing, you can learn.


I was also tired of being beaten up by editors for years and thought I might like to torture a few writers myself for a while

Would you say that being an editor has helped with the approach to your own writing?

Sam: Yes, I think it absolutely has helped my writing. Taking things apart and putting them back together is a great way to learn how to make them. And editing is a lot like taking a piece of writing apart and putting it back together. Not only that, I get to learn from others’ successes and failures, rather than just sitting in my room in front of a screen by myself.

What are your plans for the future? 

Sam: I’ve written a novel and my plan for the immediate future is to try to get it published. I am also standing by to be Lois’s all-purpose volunteer dogsbody in her next venture, launching a weekly newspaper covering the city of Dublin.

Lois: Yes, it’s bold, I know but I’m planning to launch an alternative weekly newspaper covering the city. Not so much breaking news and listicles, but in-depth stories and features. A platform that gives reporters the space and time to get out of the office, and seek out those hidden important stories about how the city ticks. If anybody out there wants to invest, drop me a line!

You obviously love travelling and new experiences. Is there any country or continent that has stayed close to your heart? And why? 

Sam: I don’t know, at different times I miss different places. Lately, I’ve been wanting to go back to Kyrgyzstan, to see the rolling steppe and towering mountains and gorgeous alpine lakes. It’s just such a beautiful place.

Lois: I do miss certain places: our neighborhood dive-bar in summer in Washington DC, or the newspaper offices in Kolkata when there was something big going on, and it just buzzed. But, to be honest, it’s really people that I miss. We’ve made pockets of close friends each place we’ve lived, and sometimes I wish we could gather them all up and plant them in a commune or something. Loads of people move around nowadays for jobs, or school, or what-have-you, so I guess others feel like that too.


Adobe Photoshop PDF

Love on the Road 2015 – Twelve More Tales of Love and Travel, edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila is an anthology of twelve stories of love and travel–some sweet and touching, some bleak and disturbing. They offer the reader a meet-cute on the streets of Zimbabwe, a classic American road trip replayed with an elderly Jewish patient and his black orderly and an encounter between a withdrawn war veteran and his beautiful neighbour in Iran…



My article in the Irish Times from Monday 12th January

So … a couple of months ago, a group of readers kindly invited me to attend one of their book-club meetings to discuss my work and, of course, I gladly agreed. I could say my eagerness to participate was in some way due to the offer of a free cup of tea at the event. Or I could claim I was persuaded by the assurance that in the whole history of this particular book club, no writer has ever been attacked or seriously harmed at one of the meetings. But truthfully, the opportunity to receive feedback on my book from a group of avid readers was too good to turn down.

Shortly after, I began to think about the type of question I might be asked during the evening. Open forums and interviews can often prove to be unpredictable affairs and this set me about considering the most unusual questions other writers have been asked. Trawling through some online newspapers and blogs I came across a scattering of odd interview queries, like the time Jodi Picoult was asked if she would rather be able to “sing really well” or have the ability “to fly”, and the time Rachael Hanel was quizzed as to who her favourite serial killer was. It’s worth noting here that Hanel doesn’t write crime fiction.

Check out the rest at:



Irish Literary Festivals


First, I have to apologise for being a bit neglectful of the old blog recently. Unfounded rumours have been spreading as to why this has happened. Some are saying that I have recently married a human rights lawyer in Venice.  Others are saying I have been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The most diabolical of rumours is that a spectator at an inter-county match picked me up by the legs and struck megastar Paul Galvin with my upper torso.
But the truth is a little less dramatic.
I’m working like mad on a book.

And for the next couple of months I’m sure to be immersed in a whole load of editing so articles on my blog might remain a bit scarce. Perhaps I may even resort to rehashing old pieces which have been hidden away in my kitchen cupboard, like the essay on Christopher Columbus that I did in primary school or the embarrassing rock song I wrote during my angst teenage years titled ‘The Malarkey of Fergal Sharkey’, the song I stopped writing because I couldn’t think of anything to rhyme with bum-fluff.  Maybe I might even blog my homemade thesaurus of commodore 64 terms.
Are they still relevant in todays’ world?
You bet your IEEE-488-Floppy Printer they are!

In the meantime, I just wanted to mention a couple of festivals that I’ll be involved with in one way or another this autumn/ winter.

Red Line Generic Banner

The first is the Red Line Book Festival, an event that is in its third year now and is organised by South Dublin Libraries. This October will see readings and interviews and workshops in Tallaght and other areas in south Dublin and they will feature brilliant writers like Christine Dwyer Hickey, Donal Ryan, Nuala Ní Chonchúir to name but a few.

As part of Red Line Book Festival  I’ll be speaking at an event on Tuesday 14th Oct, an evening which will also feature the talented writers Rob Doyle and Oona Frawley. It will be facilitated by founder of Tramp Press Sarah Davis-Goff and we wrote a piece about the event for writing.ie which you can check out here if you fancy:


On the 23rd of October there will be an evening of readings in the MARTCADE Rathmines. There will be a number of Liberties Press authors involved in the event including Tara West (author of Poets Are a Delicacy in Japan) and Jason Johnson (author of Sinker). Anto Seery, who gave a brilliant performance as Arthur Casey in The One We Left Behind, will be performing a piece from my novel too.

MARTCADE is a new Berlin Style Food Hall with some of Irelands leading Market Food Vendors,  a colourful art space to eat, drink, relax and work.

dublin book festival

November will see the launch of The Dublin Book Festival a public event which “showcases, supports and develops Irish Publishing by programming, publicising and selling Irish published books, their authors, editors and contributors all in an entertaining, festive, friendly and accessible environment that reflects the creativity and personality of the Irish Publishing sector and its authors”.

Some of the writers involved this year are Kevin Barry, Anna Carey, Lia Mills and Sara Baume.

The Dublin Book Festival 2014 will take place from 13 – 16 November 2014 using Smock Alley Theatre as the festival hub. I’ll be a guest on RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena Live Show on the Friday. Tickets are available for the show if you would like to attend the evening.



I’m really looking forward to these festivals and if you are a reader or a writer or if you’d just like to see a red-faced bearded individual on a stage you might want to head along to one of the many events associated with them.
Don’t forget, I’m also available for birthdays, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs too!


Greetings, Hero

greetings hero

Until recently I was a member of a writing group which met up regularly to discuss each other’s projects. During these sessions I was lucky to have read the work of a writer called Aiden O’Reilly, a confident, gifted wordsmith who has a vast amount of material published in some of the best literary journals out there today.

What I love about Aiden’s work is the complex undertones in the stories and the sense of darkness which weaves through the lives of ordinary people and situations. His characters are often so well formed that they stay with you a long time after reading the piece.

I was delighted to hear that his short story collection entitled ‘Greetings, Hero’ is to be launched in September by Honest Publishing. I look forward to reading this entire collection by a writer who is totally dedicated to the craft.

There’s also some really great writing related stuff on his website too if you fancy checking it out…



My article from the Irish Times from Wednesday 26th June

You just have one of those faces

That’s what people say to me when odd things come my way. Like the time I visited the zoo and a spider monkey began screeching as soon as I entered its line of vision, continuing to shriek at me until I was safely past the lemur enclosure. Or the time I was strolling to the library where I work and two burly undercover gardaí stopped and searched me. What started out like a scene from The Professionals soon began to resemble an absurd magician’s act as I proceeded to pull unusual objects from my pockets, hair clips decorated with butterflies, a tiny pair of sunglasses, broken twigs, a stone that looked a little bit like a startled cat from a certain angle,all things I had yet to remove since an excursion to the park with my daughters the previous day…

Check out the rest at: