Monthly Archives: October 2012

Can a corpse be sexy?

You know what’s the best thing about Hallowe’en? Well, almost everything, actually.

Bonfires. Spookiness. Trick or treating. Fancy dress. The way it usually seems to be foggy. Monkey nuts. Bobbing for apples. Telling ghost stories to kids. Getting so drunk at house parties that you start to believe you really are Lestat the Vampire from the Anne Rice novel, and not just a dypsomaniac in a straw-coloured wig, velvet pantaloons and a shirt so frilly, you could lie on the coffee table and call yourself a doily.

The fact that this Irish Celtic festival of the dead has gone forth to basically colonise the whole world like an army of especially hungry zombies. The fact that you can spell it with that cutesy little apostrophe between the two ‘e’s. The fact that you’ve a choice of two appropriately terrorific alternative names for the day what’s in it: Horrorwe’en or Hellowe’en.

The fact that it inspired a truly great icon of popular culture in the first Hallowe’en movie, and to a lesser extent the subsequent sequels. The fact that they show good horror movies on telly at all, or even better, show rubbish horror movies, which are always more fun.

Like Shark-Wasp KillBlood Electrical Rampage Part 3: Fins Ain’t Watt They Used to Bee. Top show, that one.

So as you’ve deduced by now, I love Hallowe’en. I love it in a way I’ve never loved any other vaguely defined festival type thing based on some ancient Celtic yoke what used to mark the passing of the seasons or honour the dead or whatever.

But there is a problem. All is not as perfect as it could and should be. I have, as Mafiosi were prone to saying in the 1920s, a stone in my shoe.

And it is this: the proliferation of “sexy” costumes worn by women, out on the town or going to parties. The idea is fancy dress, yes, but at Hallowe’en, that’s supposed to mean fancy dress with a horror twist. So, for example, you could dress up as a vampire, a ghost, a Fianna Fail TD, or whatever.

If you’re a bit squeamish and easily frightened, well, go for some other fancy dress costume. I remember being at a college Hallowe’en bash where one fella came as Jesus – complete with giant wooden cross – and another came as Brandon Lee’s character in The Crow, and looked totally cool and amazingly like him. That’s what I call a muhfuggin’ costume.

But as for this “sexy” fancy dress nonsense… Let me state, I have no problem with sexy clothes, in the right circumstances. Suspenders, teddies, high heels, negligees…I enjoy dressing up in all of these from time to time, as any normal man does, and indeed they can be quite attractive on a woman too.

However, when it comes to sexy schoolgirls, or sexy mummies, or sexy pirates, or sexy blah blah blah…I object. Je objecter. Ich objekten. For the following reasons:

  1. Why the Sam Hill must women be under constant pressure to sexualise everything? It’s Hallowe’en, for Christ’s sake, not a Roman orgy. Women are more than body parts and sexual objects.
  2. It’s often sleazy and even dodgy. Dressing up as a sexy version of Alex in A Clockwork Orange – you do know he was a rapist, right? So people are out there sexing up a rapist’s outfit. This is so weird, it makes the head spin – and the stomach turn.
  3. What sort of men, exactly, are people hoping to attract in these Hallowe’en costumes? Dressing up as a sexy schoolgirl: great, if it’s a leering pederast you’re after. Because who else would find that a turn-on? Dressing up as a sexy corpse (yes, this outfit is available): great, if necrophiliacs are your thing. Dressing up as a sexy vampire: great, if you’re into masochistic blood-fetishists with a death wish. And who wouldn’t be?

On it goes. Head still spinning. Stomach turning, ooh yes.

  1. Hallowe’en is meant to be about, like, scary stuff? Not sexy stuff. I understand that the pervert in Fifty Shades of Grey sort of combined the two, but for most folks, scary and sexy don’t ordinarily mix. I don’t think anyone’s ever been there getting intimate with their sweetie, lights low, smoochy music playing, four or five gallons of wine consumed and the feeling is oh so right…when a thought pops into their head: “Hey, you know what’d really spice up this moment? If a masked lunatic burst through the door with a chainsaw, chased us round the flat then severed my limbs, head and genitals (possibly not in that order) and made my other half eat them with a nice salad nicoise?”

Actually, for all I know, that may be exactly what you’re thinking every time. In which case, fire away.


Boys Tell Stories

‘THEN this woman gets on the bus – a skinny, sad little girl. She pays the driver, starts to walk towards the back of the bus. She walks past our guy. He looks away, out the window. He’s absentminded, just staring out the window, thinking about stuff, folding and refolding his ticket. He looks back towards the door…and there’s the same girl getting on again. Still small and mopey, handing over money to the driver in the exact same way. Your man does a double-take. Didn’t she just get on…? So he looks to the back of the bus and she’s not there. And he’s sure he saw her walk past him to take a seat in the back. He turns back to the front again – she’s disappeared. What the fuck is going on here, you know? He rubs his eyes, shakes his head, tries to work it out. She was up there, then behind him, then back up, then she was gone again… The driver turns round, really slowly, and stares at a point just over the guy’s shoulder. And he feels this chill. The driver has a really weird expression – blank, and cold. Not really threatening or anything, but something unnerving about it. Then the driver stares…at him. And he feels a breath – a gentle breath – on his neck. He turns – the girl is right behind him – the same cold, lifeless eyes as the driver. She whispers to him, “Now your journey begins”, and she sticks him in the throat with a thin steel knife! It goes right through and comes out the back of his neck, blood pouring out, gleeurk, and he can feel his life leaking away. The girl pulls out the knife – still blank and emotionless – and he notices there’s no blood on it. She puts the knife away and sits back, looking out the window and settling herself, like she’s getting ready for her journey. The guy turns back to the driver, who starts the engine. The bus begins to move. And as his last few breaths leave his body in little gasps, he finally realises: this is the bus of the dead, taking them all on their final journey. To where? Destination…unknown. The end.’

‘Aw, that was terrible!’

‘Yeah, that sucked. I thought it’d be pretty good for a while, with the cripple hiding inside the luggage hold and all. I thought he’d have a bigger role to play.’

‘Hey, fuck all of you, okay? I think it’s a right good story.’

‘The ending was too ambiguous. It just…ended. There was no resolution, and a ghost story needs resolution. To calm our fears.’

‘What was the point of that cripple, anyway?’

‘He’s supposed to represent those lost souls who aren’t going to heaven or hell. He’s in limbo.’

‘So, what? He was trying to bum a lift or something? Ha ha! An after-life hitcher!’

‘Ha ha yourself. You got a better one?’

‘He doesn’t, but I do…’

‘Shut up a second. You can tell it in a minute. I heard this really creepy story from my older brother, and it’s true. Any of you can ask him about this if you want. Okay, Leo went to college in Cork, right? This is a good few years ago. Anyway, he remembers his first Friday in first year – fresher’s year – when he was going to the station to get the train home. Because he was only in digs, he didn’t have his own flat, so…off home for the mother’s cooking. So he’s walking along, gets lost, but meets a girl from home who sets him right. I mean, what are the chances of that, even? Randomly bumping into someone from here in a city of a quarter of a million people? That was weird enough for starters. Anyway, he continues on his way to Kent Station – gets there twenty minutes before the train is due to leave. He walks down the slope, that pathway there, and into the main area. The place was busy enough; this is peak time for rail travel, remember, half five on a Friday evening. Leo bought his ticket, got the paper, walked around, whatever…killing time. The tannoy goes, “Train at platform such-and-such, calling at all stations for Dublin, leaving in five minutes.” He picked up his bag and…’

‘There’s a platform such-and-such in Cork train station? Can’t say I’ve ever seen that.’

‘Yeah, whereabouts is that platform?’

‘Ha ha. Next to platform thingamabob.’

‘Shut yer faces, you tools. Let me finish the story. Leo picked up his bag and walked over to the platform, to the ticket stamper fella, and went down into the tunnel to get to platform whatever-the-fuck on the other side of the tracks. Now, there were a fair few people making the same trip; not a huge crowd, like, but a healthy amount. Students, mainly, like himself, some businessmen and a few families and so on. Anyway, he boards the train, walks along a few carriages – you know how he has asthma, so he wanted to avoid the smoking carriages, as they had then – and eventually settles into a seat in an almost empty carriage. Must have been up near the front. The train pulled away in ten minutes or whatever, and Leo had a read of the sports pages, then put on his Walkman, put his feet up – he’d the whole four seats to himself – and had a bit of a nap. Only for ten minutes at most. Then he came around again and felt a bit hungry. The snack car was way back towards the back of the train, so he walked back to buy something. Now, on the way he didn’t really notice much; I suppose he was half-asleep, a bit groggy. He reaches the snack car, buys a coke and a pack of crisps, guzzles them down standing right there. The coke was flat and the crisps were stale, I might add.’

‘Stale coke and flat crisps. Truly terrifying. What a great story. Now, if I could tell mine…’

‘I’m only mentioning that because of what follows. So shut your big gob, could you, for two minutes? He finished his snack and started walking back to his seat. And the train was almost completely…empty. Seriously. There was about nine people on the whole fuckin’ thing. Now, it’s not like the people he passed were creepy-looking, or acting oddly, or anything like that. They were regular people, you know? A few students sleeping off a hangover, some fat-head in a suit doing some work, two kids reading comics and their mother snoozing next to them. Normal people doing normal things. But there was so few of them. Leo knew that more people had got on the train. He’d seen them go through the tunnel under the tracks. He’d seen them get on the train at the other side. He knew they boarded that train. So…where had they all disappeared to?’

‘Maybe they got a different train, douche-bag.’

‘Yeah. At platform thingamabob. Ha ha ha!’

‘Look, I’m only telling you what happened. My brother saw that train fill up – not completely, but a good bit. Two-thirds full anyway, he reckoned. Now he’s walking through it and there’s nobody aboard. It’s empty, get it? So where did all the people go? Who were they, and where did they go? He kept walking through the train, empty, empty, empty all the way, and when he reached his own carriage there was a girl sitting in the seat just inside the door. You know the two seats there, with no table? She was sitting there, reading a book. So he stopped and said, “Sorry, did a lot of people get off at the last stop, do you know?” She just looked at him and said, “What do you mean? The train hasn’t stopped yet.” Well? Whaddya fuckin’ think of that, Doubting Thomases? The train hadn’t even stopped yet.’

‘Yeah, brilliant, Stephen King. Quaking in me boots here.’

‘Ah, up yours, dickwad.’

‘That’s…not really a ghost story, though, is it? It’s a mildly strange incident that happened your brother. If it happened.’

‘What do you mean, “if”?’

‘I mean he was a student, for God’s sake. He was probably still toasted from all the joints the night before. Imagining things. Having hallucinations.’

‘No, Leo doesn’t smoke. I told you he has asthma.’

‘Yeah, all the students smoke pot, don’t they? I can’t wait ’till I get to college. Woo-hoo! I’m never comin’ off that cloud!’

 ‘Look, can everyone shut the fuck up and listen to my story now? Please? Thank you. Alright, this is about a guy, a complete asshole. We’ll call him…Dennis.’

‘Hey, thanks a lot, dipshit! Why don’t you give him your name?’

‘Because I’m telling the story, and I say he’s called Dennis. Anyway, Dennis was a real scumbag. Total knacker. But not in a cool, clever way; like, he never really did anything worth talking about. Never robbed a bank or kidnapped someone. Dennis was all tuppenny ha’penny crap. Vandalising the phonebox. Fecking sweets from the local corner-shop. That kind of thing. Hanging around, smoking and spitting on the pavement, with all his loser mates. You know the sort, now. Thinks he’s a gangster but he’s just a mediocre little thug who doesn’t have the brains to be a proper criminal. So one night Dennis and his biker pals, and all their girls, go out to a nearby forest, bushy drinking. Flagons of cider for the chaps, Smirnoff Ice for the ladies. A real sophisticated occasion: they’d sit around a fire in a clearing in the forest, talking shite for six hours and looking forward to the chance of a ride down in the dirt. These guys are pure class acts. So they’d go out to this forest – and it’s a really old, dark, thick forest, okay? Not all spindly little fir trees, but old growth, deciduous, oak and sycamore and… Conor, you’d probably know more of them. You were always better at all this nature stuff… Anyway, anyway, there they are, drinking away, and Dennis is getting more and more drunk. And as Dennis gets more drunk, he becomes a bigger and bigger asshole. A real mean drunk, right? Bad-tempered and aggressive. At about midnight, he leaps up from the fire and pulls out a knife. One of his mates – the only sensible one in the group – we’ll call him Tadhg…’

‘Aw yeah, so you get the sound one.’

‘Would you shut up, or I’ll make Dennis a homo as well. Tadhg says to him, “Here, Dennis, take it easy now, what’re you going doing with that knife?” Dennis raises his hand, like this, and says, “No worries, Tadhg, I’m only making me mark.” He goes up to a nearby tree – this fucking massive oak tree, hundreds of years old. Beautiful and sort of spooky at the same time, the way trees sometimes are. Dennis puts the point of the blade against the bark, and one of the girls lets out a yelp and goes, “Dennis, no, no, you can’t do that. The trees are enchanted here.” Dennis just snorts and asks her what she means, and she replies, “I heard this from my granny. An old monk put a hex on this forest centuries ago to protect it. ’Cause he was afraid of it getting cut down by farmers or whoever, and he lived all his life here and wanted to protect the forest. You can’t cut it, or there’ll be a curse put on you.” Now, Dennis was a dumb bastard. Thick as the proverbial pig’s mess. So needless to say, he didn’t pay a bit of heed to what she said, just ploughed on ahead and cut into the tree bark. “Dennis has a big dick” or “Man United rules”, something thick. They all sort of forgot about it then and went back to their drinking and messing around, although the girl who’d made the warning would glance over every so often, a nervous look on her face. But Dennis felt like the real big man for doing that, because he’d shown them all that he wasn’t afraid of anything. He was indestructible. He settled down on the ground with a half-full bottle of cider, watching the fire die down and smiling away smugly to himself, thinking he was so clever and tough. And slowly, slowly…Dennis drifted off to sleep…’

‘Do you think you could make it a bit more quickly, quickly? I’ve to go for a pee. I’m bursting.’

‘Do it in your knickers, you baba. You’d be used to that.’

‘Yeah, just piss in your pants, Briano, and shut up interrupting me. Now, maybe it was all the drink in his system, but Dennis slept long and hard. A dirty, deep sleep that an explosion wouldn’t have shook. And he dreamed a bit, too, which he didn’t normally do. Crazy, vivid dreams about motorbikes driving along the forest’s pathways, about snow and sunshine and torrential rain all happening at once, about fire and big columns of ashes. He dreamed he saw his own face in the column of ash as it rose into the sky. Dennis woke up, and everyone was gone. But there was something else, too – something was wrong, and he wasn’t quite sure what it was. He looked around and slowly realised that he wasn’t lying down anymore: he was standing up. But how could he be standing up when he’s just been asleep?’

‘I was just about to ask that. How?’

‘I’ll tell you how. It was with a sense of increasing terror that Dennis realised…he was inside the tree. He couldn’t feel his body – like, he’d no sense of physically being stood up there, inside the trunk – but he was inside it anyway, looking out. He tried to scream but remembered that he had no mouth, so he just looked around instead. The fire was dying down, smouldering away, and all his mates were gone, their bikes were gone, the girls were gone. He was on his own, and he couldn’t leave. Dennis couldn’t leave that tree. At first he thought, “This is still a dream – I haven’t woke up yet.” But after hours passed, and he could feel the rain against his face – or was it even his face anymore? – and the breeze on the tree branches, he finally knew it was no dream. He was cursed, because he’d cut that tree, and now he was stuck inside it. Days passed, nights came and went, and Dennis got more and more distressed and mental. He was so bored, you wouldn’t fucking believe it, going out of his tiny mind; I mean, what do you do in a tree to pass the time? All he could do was gaze around at the clearing, at the odd bird or squirrel that’d hop into view, praying to Jesus to release him from the curse. But there was no release. The next weekend all his mates came back again, and he could hear their conversations and everything. They talked about work and their bikes and this and that, and then talk turned to Dennis. One of the girls goes, “I don’t like coming back here now. After what happened to him.” Her fella says, to calm her down, “Nothing happened, okay? Dennis is fine. The eejit’s probably gone off somewhere on the piss. He’ll be back in a few days.” Then Tadhg – the cool one – says, “I don’t know, Brickhead,” or whatever the guy’s name was, “Dennis damaged that tree and had disappeared the next morning. He was just…gone”, and he makes a little “pooft!” shape with his hands, like a magician. “Disappeared into thin air.” They all got over it soon enough, though, and had the craic into the small hours. One of them even came and pissed up against the tree; he was so drunk he’d forgotten what they’d been talking about. He made a real stinky, cidery piss up along the trunk and Dennis could feel it, all along where his legs should have been, hot and sticky. Disgusting.’

‘That is disgusting. Yuk. Cider piss up your trousers.’

‘Moron, didn’t he just say that Dennis didn’t have any trousers by this stage?’

‘No, he had no legs. That’s what he said.’

‘Well, how could he have trousers if he didn’t have legs?’

‘Quiet, the pair of you. He had legs, he didn’t have legs, he didn’t know one way or the other. D’you understand? This was magic, an evil curse. He was trapped halfway between this world and the next, a ghost and still a man, with a body but without a body at the same time. The tree was his real body now, I suppose. Weeks more passed, and months, and whole seasons, and Dennis stayed stuck in that tree. His friends forgot about him soon enough; the guards had asked them a few questions, but they hadn’t a notion where he’d got to, and they just got with their lives. Like, you can’t wait around for someone to come back when you don’t even know where they’ve gone. And once the winter hit they weren’t going to be coming out to the forest, anyway; too cold and wet. But Dennis felt that coldness; he shivered all day and all night, rain pouring down on top of him and icy winds freezing the balls off him. If he still had balls. You know what I mean. One night, then, a young couple came out in their car for a bit of jiggy-jiggy, a bit of fun. This pair obviously hadn’t heard about the curse or anything. They drank some beer and then had a screw, right up against the tree trunk. It was awful, sickening: Dennis could feel the girl’s arse squashed up against him, and her tailbone banging back into him, yer man’s two paws squeezing the bark. Him grunting away like a horny pig or something.’

‘I never wanted to be a tree so much in my life. Ha ha!’

Quiet, assface. We’re coming to the good part. When they were done, the guy lets out a roar and thumps the tree, right where Dennis’s temple would have been. Then he gets this stupid look in his eyes, a bit crazed, a bit cocky, and runs back to the car. He pulls out a big knife and says to his girl, “Here, Donna” – she was probably called Donna – “I’ll draw a little heart on the tree and put our names inside it. It’ll be in memory of my first outdoor fuck.” And she goes, “Don’t lie to me. I know you and that tramp Lisa used to come out here all the time.” “No, no,” he says, “I meant with you.” Ah well, that’s okay. So our boy – we’ll call him, eh, Ricky – Ricky draws the knife, and cuts right into the bark. Right into Dennis’s face! He could feel the blade like it was going through his own skin. He screamed silently with the pain, aaaaarrghh Jesus make it stop!! After what seemed hours of this agony, Ricky finishes his masterpiece, steps back and takes a look. This big, stupid grin on his face. Then Donna squints and leans in, going, “Hey, someone else has carved their name into this. Givus the flashlight.” They get the light and shine it on these words: “Dennis woz ’ere”, and the date of exactly one year before. “Well, sure, somebody has to be the first,” says Nicky. I mean Ricky. Then the two of them toddle off to the back of the car, where they go to sleep under a blanket. And Dennis, still in unbearable pain, locked inside his prison of the tree, manages a small smile. He smiled, because he knew, come sunrise…he’d have some company.’

‘Is that it?’

‘That’s it. Now come out of my way, I’m going outside for a smoke.’

‘Aaaw! That was worse than his!’

‘Yeah, that sucked. I hate to have to say it again, but it did.’

‘The ending was too ambiguous. It just ended. No resolution. You need resolution in a ghost story.’

‘What was the point of that, anyway?’

Hallowe’en versus Hollywood

Say the word “Hallowe’en” in most parts of the world, and the reaction will be: pumpkins, candy apples, trick or treating, lanterns, fancy-dress parties, and of course, teenagers getting sliced and diced in leafy Californian suburbs by masked maniacs with mommy issues.

Hallowe’en, after all, is as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July, right?

Wrong, of course, as we know here in Ireland, but the rest of the planet isn’t so sure about that. I found it impossible, when living in Japan, to convince the natives that Halloween wasn’t an invention of 1970s America, but was in fact the modern expression of an ancient Irish festival called Samhain.

That old ritual marked life and death, the body and soul, the passing of the seasons, our world and the next. It has been hijacked by Hollywood, then reworked, repackaged, rebranded and re-sold back to us.

And like most Hollywood creations, it bears about as much relevance to reality as, well, a film about teenagers getting sliced and diced in leafy Californian suburbs by masked maniacs with mommy issues…


The Hollywood cliché

Halloween is an American festival which dates from round about the time murderous Michael Myers first broke out of the mental asylum, i.e. 1978.

The historical reality

While some historians have gone back as far as an ancient Roman festival of the dead called Parentalia, Halloween is generally considered to have derived from an Irish traditional event which developed between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Samhain, which translates as “summer’s end”, was celebrated over several days. It marked the end of the “lighter half” of the year and the beginning of the darkness, and was sometimes thought of as the Celtic New Year.

Our ancestors would take stock of food supplies, slaughter animals and so on. And convinced by the sight of dying plants and animals, they believed that the border between this world and the afterlife became porous at Samhain, thus allowing spirits to pass through.

People and their livestock would walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown into the flames. Samhain is still celebrated by people who have pagan, Wiccan or neo-Celtic beliefs.


The Hollywood cliché

Trick or treating is the classic, traditional Halloween activity.

The historical reality

The practice of begging for sweeties from the neighbours has by now become a tradition on October 31, yes, but it’s not part of the original Celtic festival. In fact, it dates from the Middle Ages and is a mixture of several different practices of the time, in Ireland and Britain: dressing up and going door-to-door at various holidays was common, while poor people would go “souling” on November 1, receiving food in return for their prayers for the dead.

The modern version of trick or treating enjoyed renewed popularity in the New World from the 1930s onwards and eventually returned to here.


The Hollywood cliché

People get dolled up in fancy dress for the fun of it, as a break from the boredom of their lives, and to increase their chances of sexual success at a Halloween booze-up.

The historical reality

People wore costumes and masks, or blackened their faces, to try and frighten or placate malevolent spirits. These they believed could pass into our world on this night, with predictably terrifying results.


The Hollywood cliché

Everybody hollows out a pumpkin, carves a face on to it and sticks a candle inside to make a spooky-looking lantern.

The historical reality

Actually, here they’re not too far wrong, except during Samhain the ancient Irish used a turnip – an indigenous vegetable of this island – called a Samhnag. These were thought to ward off harmful spirits.


The Hollywood cliché

Halloween is all about death, horror, evil, vampires, zombies, mummies, witches, werewolves and demons.

The historical reality

Where to begin? First, Samhain was not just about literal death; it also honoured the metaphorical death of summer – a time of growth, life, food production – the final harvest, the fact that free grazing is no longer possible for livestock, and the arrival of winter, when most living things either die off or go into the death-like state that is hibernation.

As regards evil, yes, there was a very real fear of malicious ghosties entering our realm, but the rest of it is pure Hollywood invention and has nothing to do with the Irish tradition of Samhain.

Vampires are an Eastern European legend, zombies hail from the West Indies, mummies are Egyptian, werewolves are middle European and demons are normally found in the Bible, a Middle Eastern book.

We’ve always had witches, of course – and still do – but practitioners of the ancient knowledge of Wicca would be horrified to think that they were considered, well, horrors. It’s just a pagan belief system, and they don’t really fly around on broomsticks.


The Hollywood cliché

All kids are interested in doing at Halloween is watching gory movies and stuffing their fat, overfed faces with sweets.

The historical reality

Traditionally, Irish children enjoyed a range of activities at Halloween, none of which involved gory movies and stuffing our faces with sweets (mainly because both had been banned by our parents).

These old-fashioned pastimes included bobbing for apples, bobbing for coins, apple on a string, searching for the gold ring in a loaf of barmbrack, hide-and-go-seek, telling of ghost stories, and various games of divination: staring into a darkened mirror to see your future spouse, dangling a silver ring on a chain over someone’s hand to foretell how many children they’d have, even asking questions of rudimentary Ouija boards.

All nonsense, of course, but good, spooky fun all the same.

Huff bit of stuff

I’m interviewed in the Huffington Post today by the very charming Scott de Buitleir, an Irish writer and broadcaster.  Talking about Even Flow, of course, and where the idea came from. 

“Although himself a straight, married man, McManus is truly sympathetic for both gay and women’s rights, two campaigns that often cross paths. The inspiration for Even Flow comes from his days in university in Cork, Ireland’s southernmost city, when a series of attacks against gay students by locals took place. He remembers feeling enraged that no one was able to come to their aid at the time and once discussed the idea of a group of people avenging them…”

It’s great for me to be featured in such a widely read publication; fingers, toes and all other digits now crossed that it’ll help give the book another little push. For the full interview, click here.

Does God exist…and if not, how do you explain His face appearing in a taco?

The existence of God is one of those questions that have occupied the mind of man for centuries. Religiosity is on the rise throughout the world, with everyone from Mad Mullahs to US Presidential candidates insisting that, yes, the Big Fella is realer than reality itself. And that’s really real. On the other side, the maniacal likes of Richard Dawkins are on the verge of using live ammo in their efforts to convince us that, no, there is no Supreme Being.

Except for Larry Hagman, obviously.

Is there any way to definitely prove whether we’re all alone in this cold, endless universe, or there actually is a deep-voiced chap with a big beard smiling down benevolently from a fluffy cloud? I’ve turned to the ultimate source of wisdom – popular culture – to find out, for good an’ all:


Argument for the existence of God: The assumption that someone had to deliberately create such musical geniuses as Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and 2Pac or 8Pac or BacPac or whatever that moron was called.

Argument against: They’re all dead, which suggests that a celestial benefactor didn’t, to use some hip-hop parlance, ‘got their back’.


For: Roadkill-haired octave-molester Michael Bolton no longer seems to colonise the music charts.

Against: The existent records of roadkill-haired octave-molester Michael Bolton will, in all likelihood, endure into perpetuity. Unless a way can be found to locate and destroy all vinyl, CD and digital versions thereof. Come on, Bill Gates – there’s a worthy cause for you to throw some money at.


For: The presence among us of Salma Hayek’s wondrous breasts, blessed be their name/names.

Against: Nobody bar her paramour has seen them for about two decades. Boo.


For: Events such as Live 8 show how the celebrity collective can come together for a good cause, demonstrating that God’s love has touched their souls.

Against: The nagging suspicion that the only ‘awareness’ these people are interested in raising is that of their upcoming new release in the public’s mushy, easily persuaded consciousness.


For: Daniel Day Lewis’ towering and – oh, what the hey – godlike performances in Gangs of New YorkIn the Name of the Father and The Crucible.

Against: Humanity’s continuing, unfathomable affection for the works of Adam Sandler.


For: That absolutely freakin’ amaaaazing guitar solo Slash does during Sweet Child o’ Mine. The really twiddly one about three-quarters of the way through? God was working that axe, man.

Against: Axl Rose’s face. How could any deity allow this calamity to befall one of His children?


For: The fact that Woody Allen is still making pretty much the exact same movie some forty years after he first made it.

Against: The fact that Woody Allen is still making pretty much the exact same movie some forty years after he first made it.


The verdict: On balance, the ‘for’ side just about shades it…mainly thanks to the late intervention of that Slash guitar solo. Therefore, I have conclusively proven that God exists. Testify!

Making the ‘Scene

The very generous Gerard Brennan at Crime Scene NI has just run a Q&A with me. I’m talkin’ Even Flow, I’m talkin’ dumb publishers, I’m talkin’ Devil in a Blue Dress, I’m talkin’ Young Adult horror novels, I’m talkin’ a whole heap of gibberish. As usual, sez you. Such as this here:

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?
Ooh, gosh…I don’t know. Whatever about getting published, I will give one bit of advice re. writing itself: read plenty crime fiction, get a feel for it, get to know its conventions and reader expectations, its limits and possibilities…but ALSO read lots of other books, too. Literature especially. It mightn’t seem like it, but I really do feel that a broad and (especially) deep reading history makes you a better writer, in genre fiction or whatever the case may be.
For the full Q&A, click here.

Take me to your Leader

Interviewed in this week’s Limerick Leader newspaper by another old mucker, Kevin Corbett. We talked about the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the New Man, Elmore Leonard, David Baldacci, and why bookshops are great for readers, but maybe not so good for the likes of little old me. 

Here’s a quote: “As for selling it online, it’s nice that the book will always be on sale and you’re not at the whim of a physical book shop. I know that sounds awful, because book shops are great, but they aren’t great for writers, or publishers. They’re great for readers and I love going into them, but Amazon is better for me.”

For the full interview, click here.

Four legs good, eight legs bloody terrifying

Autumn is my favourite season. Such a pity, then, that it’s so bloody short. Kind of seems like summer (our wet, cold version of it) ends, and then autumn begins, and then it’s winter. Uh, what? Autumn, why you no stick around?

Anyway, to mark what seems to be the passing of this briefest of all seasons, here’s a piece I wrote a while back for the Irish Independent’s Weekend magazine. On autumn, sort of. And the oversized creepie-crawlies that infest our houses for a few weeks each year. I’m talkin’ GIGANTIC spiders, y’all…


I never used to mind spiders. In fact, I quite liked them. I thought they were pretty cool, with their arched legs and 275 eyes and amazing ability to shoot webs from their wrists, like a non-man version of Spiderman. If you follow me.

I certainly never feared them. For me the term “arachnophobia” signified nothing more sinister than that fitfully entertaining Jeff Daniels comedy-thriller. I could never understand how someone would have a conniption fit upon spying a spider.

They can’t kill you – at least not in this part of the world. They don’t spread disease, and if anything curtail it by eating flies and other insects. And furthermore, I always believed the old wives’ tale that spiders bring you luck, and harming one will draw misfortune on your head.

Now: I still like spiders, and am still arachnophobia-free. But I am starting to get a teensy bit nervous about the little buggers.

Or rather, big buggers – and that’s the problem. My house has lately been colonised by spiders, and they are absolutely freaking enormous.

By Amazonian standards, perhaps, these aren’t so large. Down there, deep in the jungle primeval, arachnids possess the size, strength and long-term indestructibility of the average Volkswagen Beetle (no pun intended).

But in comparison to the normal Irish spider, they’re gigantic. We’re used to tiny little things that scuttle along your hand and are so light you don’t even feel them doing it. The odd time we might spot one the size of an unusually small Malteser and be so astounded we’d take a photo and email all our friends.

“Look at this monster!” we’d chuckle. “He’s MASSIVE! It’s like that film Arachnophobia! Only without Jeff Daniels hanging around!”

Oh, the laugh’s on the other side of my face now. Actually it’s been chased off my face in sheer desperate terror, whereabouts now unknown, and replaced by a hideous rictus of horrified disbelief.

The other evening I went to pull the curtains and couldn’t, because there was a spider up there about the size of a gerbil, only with twice the number of legs. Sitting up there he was, happy out, acting like he owned the place. Which, to be honest, he sort of does now.

I mean, I’m not going to get rid of these monsters, am I? For starters I’m an irredeemable coward. The traditional Irish midget spider I can handle; an extra from Eight Legged Freaks, not so simple.

Even the thought of these yokes crawling along my skin is enough to, well, make my skin crawl. So I can’t just grab one and toss it out the window. Besides, what if it bites me, or starts punching me with its horrible hairy legs, or enmeshes me in a huge web before injecting me with some chemical that makes my intestines slowly melt? Unlikely, I accept, but you can’t be too careful.

Telling them to clear off because they’re on private property won’t do any good. They’ll just laugh at me. Or maybe they’ll leap down my throat and choke me while I’m saying it, so it comes out all muffled: “Kkkhhrr rrrff, yyyrrronn pphrrvvvdd prrrpppuuhhrree.” Then they’ll laugh even more.

And I can’t just suck them up with the hoover and be done with it, because then my karma is screwed and I’ll be reincarnated as a spider myself. One that gets sucked up by someone’s hoover.

So my standard eradication attempt goes something like this: I lean forward gingerly with a cardboard box in one hand, the other ready to slam the lid shut. I edge it towards the spider. I kind of nudge the spider. I wail, “Oh come oooon, get in the box you bastard.” I nudge it again. I recoil in fright when it recoils in fright. I give up and vacate the room until January.

See, that’s the only silver lining on this cloud of invading beasties: apparently it’s an autumnal thing. By darkest winter they’ll all be gone somewhere else. Heaven? The Amazon? My sock drawer? Who knows – at least I’ll be able to draw the curtains without suffering an anxiety attack.

Until then I’ll be reworking that line from Animal Farm, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” For me it’s a case of, “Eight legs = terrifying!”

Crime (fiction) hopefully pays…

Declan Burke is an old pal of mine, and more importantly a really good writer, who turns out crime novels with more style and flair than the average. And great dialogue – genuinely, you read his books thinking, “This would sound great booming out at me from a cinema screen.” 

Anyway, he also runs the iconic crime fiction blog Crime Always Pays, and was good enough to give a mention to Even Flow there t’other day. Dec writes, “An intriguing prospect, no? It certainly can’t be faulted for ambition, originality and lunacy, all of which, I think, are to be celebrated in a genre that has been known to err on the staid and conservative. Will it find a readership that is sufficiently energised by originality, ambition and lunacy? Only time, that notoriously rat-fink canary, will tell.”

I’ll also be writing a piece for CAP, on the origins of Even Flow, just as soon as I get around to it. Hey, this Diagnosis Murder box-set won’t watch itself, you know…

Meanwhile, a nice five-star review of Even Flow on Amazon: “…a startling reinvention of the genre of thriller writing. Evocatively cinematic…the characters are remarkably vivid…the book is intelligent, quirky & thought-provoking…one can only hope this novel becomes the movie it is destined to be, and that the author develops some of these characters into their own franchise. MORE PLEASE :)”

To read it in full, click here

Karma police

Interview with me for The Clare Champion on Even Flow – I LOVE the header…


DARRAGH McManus is talking about the origins of his new crime novel, Even Flow. The journalist and writer, who lives in Crusheen, traces part of the book’s beginnings to his university days in Cork in the early ’90s and, in particular, to a spate of violent attacks on college students suspected of being gay. Labelled ‘queer-bashing’ by the media at the time, Mr McManus – like his peers – was outraged by these incidents. In the middle of student debates on how best to react to these crimes, the author started to imagine how a fictional vigilante gang might respond.

“I thought it’d be really funny if there was a group of ‘queer-basher bashers’ – a gang who picked on ‘queer-bashers’,” he laughs. “It was a joke, but then the idea took hold: ‘What if I did write a story like that?’

“I wanted a gang of feminists and gay rights activists that were the antithesis of the stereotype: they’re sensitive, thoughtful and well-educated, but they’re also physically courageous, able to fight – and ruthless. They’re cool and daring and have a lot of flair.”

With this, Even Flow was born. Set in contemporary New York and adopting the tone of Elmore Leonard, the fast-paced action revolves around the 3W Gang. They’re a group of vigilantes with a difference: bright, dynamic young men determined to punish – using spectacular set-pieces – anyone who doesn’t share their vision of a tolerant society.

Mr McManus is engaging company. As he sips a coffee, he listens attentively to each question before delivering considered, articulate responses – usually sprinkled with his trademark, self-depreciating humour.

“It’s a moral fable wrapped up in a thriller,” he says of the novel, before worrying that such a description might sound pretentious.

“First and foremost,” Mr McManus insists, “the book is an entertainment. It’s not a beating-you-over-the-head polemic. But there is an argument being made – not by the author, at all. The book is making a contention, but both sides are being heard. The moral heart of the book is the gay cop chasing the gang. He understands why they’re doing this, but he still wants to stop them.”

The 3W Gang’s influences are central to their identity. The members take their names from three gay icons: playwright Oscar Wilde, poet Walt Whitman and film director John Waters. Drawing on the tradition of militant urban guerrillas like the Baad-Meinhof Group in 1970s West Germany, the 3W Gang consider their activities a form of performance art rather than illegal violence. They’re inspired by the way grunge music reconciled masculine and feminine impulses into a healthy whole.

“They’re the ‘new man’ in excelsis,” Mr McManus explains. “They’re very feminist, pro-gay rights and very anti-machismo, homophobia and misogyny. They’re the children of movements since the ’60s, like feminism, gay rights, irony and post-modernism. They’re like Germaine Greer crossed with Dirty Harry crossed with Kurt Cobain.”

For the 3W Gang, committing an act of terrorism is not the end result but, instead, just the beginning: they want their stunts to prompt discussion and shape public opinion.

“They’re starting a programme of ‘re-education’ of society by selectively punishing people and filming the crime as part of this spoof TV show that they call ‘Karma TV’. It’s like an accelerated karma. And they broadcast this to provoke debate.”

Mr McManus wrote a rough draft of the story about 10 years ago and explored various formats for it – including as a film script. He remembers writing the novel as an “easy” experience and submitted the manuscript to Roundfire Books in the UK last summer. The response was almost immediate.

“They got back to me within a week with an offer of a contract,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘I must be reading this email wrong’ because it’s usually 12 months or so before they reply.”

Even Flow is Mr McManus’ third book. GAA Confidential, his 2007 debut, was an eclectic exploration of the role and significance of the GAA in Irish life. He followed it in 2011 with a comic novel Cold! Steel!! Justice!!!, which gleefully played with the conventions of 1980s police films, and was released as an e-book under the pen-name Alexander O’Hara.

As a freelance journalist, Mr McManus writes features, reviews and opinion pieces for publications as diverse as The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The RTE Guide and U Magazine. He contributes a weekly radio review to The Irish Independent.

“I can’t write and listen to the radio at the same time. I have to have silence – only, as I say, the soundtrack of my own screams,” he laughs. “But in your life, you’d have the radio on during breakfast, lunch or in the car. Generally, I’d pick two radio programmes a week. Hopefully, you’d find a common theme or you might be able to make a comment on some wider aspect of society reflected in the programmes.”

Mr McManus’ next book, The Polka Dot Girl, is already written and will appear in the spring of 2013. Channeling the spirit of Raymond Chandler, this detective novel incorporates the conventions of noir fiction – the hard-bitten cop, the femme fatale, the mastermind villain, the self-destructive victim – but also undermines these ingredients by making all the characters female.

“Noir novels usually start with a dead body being pulled out of the harbour in the middle of the night and that’s how this starts: “She was dead by the time I got there.” I had an idea in my head of Winona Ryder for how this character would physically look: early 30s, very small, short, cropped black hair.

“It was great fun to write, just finding the tone. I wanted the book to have its own voice and for the story to stand on its own; that if you changed half the characters to men, it would still be an entertaining, convoluted noir mystery with all the conventions of the genre. The all-women thing is not superfluous. I think it’s better that they’re all women – you get sucked into this murky, sexy, spooky, dreamy city.”