…my latest piece is about imagination.
Have a listen to it on Arena here or read on…





I used to read dinosaur books as a kid. Everything about them screamed big. The oversized hardback covers and colourful illustrations. The lengthy prehistoric periods. Even their complicated names warranted the shouty ‘all-caps’ font.


When it came to highlighting their magnitude, one thing that struck me was how these giant reptiles were always compared to the African elephant. In general, I’d never encountered that many elephants. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure the elephants I’d met were actually African. A person might believe it would make more sense to measure against commonplace objects, things that a child of the 80s could easily relate to. BMX bikes or space-hoppers, the fact that the Tyrannosaurus Rex weighed five-and-half-thousand Nintendo 64s. Or was as long as one-hundred-and-twenty Caramello bars. But the great thing about imagination is the ability to fill in the blanks. This skill of picturing objects or situations never experienced is a key element to creativity and something that’s widely considered to be a rarity in the animal kingdom.


Although limited in other species, we humans certainly know how to take it to the next level. Think entrepreneurship, advances in technology, the evolution of the gadget and the scope of stories in all their forms. For me it’s truly captured in our ability to build concrete worlds out of imagined foundations. Take the simplicity of something like the air guitar. There was a time when it was confined to the privacy of one’s own home, something the old man did after one too many glasses of stout. These days, not only is it common to see someone pretend to play a guitar on a night out, it’s even led to an annual air-guitar championship, where people converge from all over the world to showcase their skill at strumming the breeze.

The idea of pretending is something I see all the time with my own kids. The mundane transforms to a setting. Household objects become characters. I’ve been roped into countless worlds but in truth, it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was running around the park as a child myself. We were soldiers. Explorers. Cowboys. There was never a character of office worker or IT consultant. You wouldn’t catch any of the lads acting out the part of lab technician in a supervisory capacity. And perhaps it is the destiny of most to end up in the shallower end of the imagination pool.  But sometimes, when I meet an old friend from school and we talk about our jobs and the economy, house-prices and bin charges, all the boring things that grown-ups are expected to talk about, I can’t help but shake the feeling that for some of us, the pretending never really went away.


Bit of a library theme infiltrating the old blog these days…the next one also mentions the humble bookmark. Click here to listen to it on RTÉ’s Arena show or read on…


globe new




There’s something of the old and the new when it comes to libraries. The blending of modern tools for hunting information with an age-old medium, advice on how to manage citations fused with doomsday-type warnings against online encyclopaedias. The staff are skilled at the silent walk and the unassuming observation, that ability to differentiate fine-dodger from genuine mistake, studious from chancer, the few students who think that wandering the carpeted floors constitutes as actual study time.

They have also gained a healthy knowledge of the substitute bookmark. Receipts are a fairly common one, pencils or takeaway leaflets, shopping lists with the usual student staples of pizza and beer, sometimes spaghetti, spelt with too many ‘g’s and not enough ‘t’s. Recently, I came across a photograph used as a marker, a graduation, academic gowns and shiny new shoes. Judging by the hairstyles it might have been a souvenir from the mid-to-late nineties or perhaps it was just taken on a very blustery day. The find made me consider how the reading of a book can coincide with so many different occasions in life and how these moments can often influence the way a person reacts to the subject matter. It’s as if a writer produces one single book, but after it’s unleashed, it has the opportunity to become so much more.

Imagine what it would be like to have something similar to a bookmark in a life, a particular moment in time a person can return to when things start to go a bit off-kilter. Think of those ‘choose-your-own-ending books’ read as a kid, where multiple-choice options dictate the path the story is going to take. Then again, maybe this would only work to highlight how similar one day is to the next, how most of them begin in the kitchen, puffy eyes and soggy cereal, making a decision that will have little to no impact on the direction your life is going to take. Relating to lunch, perhaps. The homemade or shop-bought sandwich conundrum.

globe new2

I suppose there’s a case in stating that most of us are bookmarked already, restricted by financial constraints, held in place by limitations imposed by traditions or law, or inequality. Or perhaps, for some this could be the era in which too many prominent figures seem to have a complete disregard for the humble things in life, such as the bookmark.  Leaders who own volumes with nice covers but weakened spines. Characters who go over the same pages with little intention of ever finding the right path or moving onto the new. Or even worse, the bend-the-corner sort, that type of person who would fold the world in half, rather than spend a moment seeking out a much simpler solution.

Am I a Clown to You!

In a quest to find his perfect match, Tom Stacey, the main character in ‘A Model Partner’,  asks –
‘What is the best way to tell if someone has a good sense of humour?’
Thinking about it, I suppose there are some things that might indicate someone who assumes they have a good sense of humour.
Wearing tee-shirts with slogans on them perhaps? Adorning a cardboard Burger King crown in public places? Or just being one of those people who say things like ‘everybody thinks I’m a gas laugh’ or ‘I’m completely mad’ when they encounter someone new.
 I’ve no definitive way to prove that someone has a good sense of humour but Tom’s question does give me the opportunity to talk about comedy, veering towards the literary end of things of course.

So here it goes, a funny little piece about…emm…funny pieces…

Am I a Clown to you!

Sinéad  -Doctor, doctor, it’s been seven hours and fifteen days since they took their love away.

Doctor – Girl, you better try to have fun no matter what you do.

Sinéad  – You’re a fool.

Ah yes,  Doctor Doctor jokes.
Tucked away in comics, infiltrating Christmas crackers.
We’ve all heard them and we’ve all groaned.
Maybe a part of us dies every time one is uttered. They have the power to annoy, maybe even to depress.  It’s got to the stage now that it is their unfunny reputation which is keeping them around, in a way it is as if we are not laughing at the joke but are laughing at the notion of how terrible a joke can be.

This type of humour hasn’t been lost in the literary world. In a business where people often take themselves very seriously there’s bound to be a few people waiting to take the mick out of it. Take the English department in San Jose State University. Since 1982 it has sponsored a literary competition called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The rules are simple. Whoever comes up with the worst opening line to a novel wins. The competition was named after the author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton who penned the line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’, one which has been repeated and overused ever since, probably even imitated and altered in some ways.
‘It was a dim late evening with high winds and excessive rain’ doesn’t really have the same effect though.

The winners of the Bulwer-Lytton are varied, funny and a little bit off-the-wall, like this one from 2010:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss – a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil. — Molly Ringle, Seattle, WA

And this from 1997:

The moment he laid eyes on the lifeless body of the nude socialite sprawled across the bathroom floor, Detective Leary knew she had committed suicide by grasping the cap on the tamper-proof bottle, pushing down and twisting while she kept her thumb firmly pressed against the spot the arrow pointed to, until she hit the exact spot where the tab clicks into place, allowing her to remove the cap and swallow the entire contents of the bottle, thus ending her life. — Artie Kalemeris, Fairfax, VA

My favourite is probably this one from 1983:

The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably – the first of many such advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most memorable, space voyage of my career. — Martha Simpson, Glastonbury, CT

But the San Jose State University is not alone in poking fun at the literary world. Ever since Bookseller magazine praised the book “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice” in 1978, it offers a prize for the oddest title of the year. Some of the shortlisted from the 2013 competition are –

Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop and Other Practical Advice in Our Campaign Against the Fairy Kingdom by Reginald Bakeley

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening/ by David Rees

Was Hitler Ill? by Henrik Eberle and Hans-Joachim Neumann


Writers like Marian Keyes and Roddy Doyle offset the serious themes of their books with truckloads of humour. Comedy can often come from the everyday traits of the characters. In a similar way to some stand-up comedians who use human foibles to make us laugh, the ones that cause you to sit up on your sofa and point at the screen and say ‘It’s so true’ over and over again. Whereas the humour with the likes of Terry Pratchett comes from giving traditionally inhuman characters mundane human characteristics. In a complex world of vampires and golems, dwarfs and witches you might have two characters on one hand arguing over the price of cabbage while on the other coming out with some cracking lines…

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.  (Terry Pratchett – Jingo)

Mr Pratchett is one of those people with the envious disposition of being intelligent but not taking himself too serious as this picture of him shows, taken at a signing event.

t pratchett t shirt

In Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, humour is continuously weaved through the dialogue. To capture the world through such absurdity is a real skill. But it is the truth in the absurd that makes it clever and enlightening and in the end, funny…

‘Why are they going to disappear him?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even good grammar.’

Or the line from the book that was paraphrased by Kurt Cobain…

‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you’

In an interview with the Guardian the gifted Anne Enright was asked if she had to work at getting the balance right between serious issues and humour and she responded by saying –

I work at the sentences. Many of the things people find distinctive about my writing, I think of as natural. In fact, you’d have to point a finger and say, “Why has that writer not got a sense of humour?” Why are we not amazed by these humourless books? What are they trying to do by eliminating the natural sap that rises, the natural pleasure that we get, particularly if we’re dealing with words?”

And there is a great deal of truth in this.
People are funny – the things they say, the way they act, how they think. It’s one of our finest traits. It makes us want to be around each other.
If possible, writers should try to take advantage of this and use it in their work.
But my one piece of advice, try not to squeeze too many Knock-Knock jokes into your novel.

the writing retreat One

I Wanna Nose What Love is!

My book ‘A Model Partner’ is due to be released in spring 2014. The plot follows Tom Stacey, a lonely and eccentric individual who is trying to recapture the happiest time in his life, a time when he met his first love while living in a horse-box with his grandfather.

Part of the book is focussed on Tom’s efforts to understand the physical traits and personality which would be needed to make up an ideal partner. Of course, being an obsessive kind of character, Tom doesn’t take the task lightly and he begins some unorthodox ways of figuring them out.

Some of Tom’s research is based on the individual features of the face. So I thought it would be good to take a few of Tom’s notes, tie in a literary theme, add a nice little title and ponder a question that has haunted people since the dawn of mankind –

What does your snoz say about you?

So read on and be astounded, amazed or perhaps ever so slightly interested…

I Wanna Nose What Love Is

Picture this, ancient Greece, marble columns, stone temples, a bearded man running around shouting ‘Eureka Eureka’ and you have a job interview in the local public baths.

You potter into a sauna-type area, anxiously clutching a parchment with all you CV details on it. An interviewer sweats on a stone seat. He frowns when he spots you, grabs your parchment and throws it into his wicker bin in the corner.

‘Get out of here you useless git,’ he shouts. ‘And don’t ever let me see that nose around here again.’
‘For multiple Gods sake,’ you say. ‘What in Hades name am I going to do now?’

Unfortunately there is little you can do.
Your nose has let you down.
You see, in many cultures in ancient times it was believed that a person’s features directly portrayed their personality and as noses are at the forefront of the face they were of particular importance. The ancient Greeks even had a healing system based around facial diagnostics. They thought that any ailments within the body could be expressed through the face. This is known as physiognomy. (Not to be confused with fizzyogamy which is where bubbles in fizzy lemonade will only marry once in a lifetime)

There were many different nose types and many different traits assigned to them by the Greeks. But the question is, would a person’s nose be a useful tool in figuring out their personality?

Hawk/ Eagle Nose

MaryShelleyA long, eagle’s beak type nose indicated philosophical tendencies and was a sign of someone who followed their own path, in a figurative sense of course because in ancient Greece there weren’t as many paths as there are now.

Mary Shelley had this nose type. True, she did have philosophical ways and these certainly come through in her work but then again, perhaps this was less about the nose and more to do with having to cope with a tough life – her mother died when she was eleven, she had an affair with a married man and fell pregnant in her late teens. And, sadly, she would lose this child and the wife of the man she had an affair with would commit suicide. She would lose two more children before the birth of her son Percy. Shortly after, her husband would die when his boat sank in a storm.


Pointed Nose

pointed Nose

A pointed prominent nose falls into the choleric or fire bracket which indicates being emotionally volatile or high-strung. (Be warned)

A Greek Nose

greek nose

People who have this nose type were considered to be intelligent, skilled and well in control.

A Button Nose


A short and compressed nose falls into the Sanguine (Air) category and this is an indication of a balanced personality. Harper Lee falls under this heading. She was a very good friend of the flamboyant Truman Capote. I’d say you’d need to be a bit balanced for that.


Broad Nose

A broad solid nose falls into the Melancholic or Earth heading and no surprises to find that it indicates a grounded individual.

Aquiline Nose/ Roman Nose

oscar wilde

People with a Roman type nose shape were said to be great leaders. They do not do things impulsively and are great at influencing others.

Oscar Wilde certainly influenced a lot of people. If his own feelings are mirrored through the actions of his fictional characters he might not have believed himself to be a leader though, case in point, when Cecil Graham (Lady Windermere’s Fan) states:

Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong

I don’t know about you but for me there’s a whole load of truth in this.

The Celestial/ Upturned Nose

The upturned nose is often thought of to be one of the most attractive of all noses. Optimism is one of the traits associated with this nose type. But in general I find that attractive people tend to be more optimistic than less attractive people. Except, strangely, when it comes to the purchase of scratch cards.

Bulbous Nose

wc fields


The ancient Greeks would have seen a bulbous nose in a negative way, the unbalancing of the face offering the notion of many darker physical and mental health issues. W.C. Fields was famous for his bulbous nose. But he was known to be a sound family man. Well, apart from his tendency to hide in the bushes of his home and fire pellets at nosey people who appeared uninvited on his property. But hey, we all have our faults, W.C. shooting his pellets, Ian Fleming and his womanising, Hunter S. Thomson and his substance abuse. I myself have been known to blatantly bypass the crumbled custard creams at the top of the packet and take the undamaged ones underneath.
I know, I know, I’m a terrible man!

For most, we don’t have a single, defined nose type. We are the mixed type, a little bit of bulbous and a whole lot of point. Or a big bit of Greek but pointing in the wrong direction. In other words, most of us own a ‘mongrel nose’.

But if you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Hey, all this stuff about noses is so complicated that I’d rather people didn’t have noses so I never have to read anything about noses ever again’ then you are probably someone who puts little thought into what they say but you should also be warned. In olden times nose amputation was a common punishment for certain crimes.
Even in England, around the 16th Century, anyone who wrote or spoke ill of the king might have been condemned to amputation of the nose or ears. Daniel Defoe , author of Robinson Crusoe, only managed to avoid nose amputation at the very last moment, a punishment given to him because of pamphlets he produced against the King
Judging by his image, it would have been a waste of a terribly very fine nose.

daniel defoe

Daniel Defoe