Monthly Archives: June 2020


Sorry for shouting, but it’s been quite a while – November 2014, to be precise – since the last one. So even a jaded, cynical old curmudgeon like me is allowed to get a small bit excited about a new book (the first of six on the way).

It’s called Red Raven, it’s a Young Adult urban fantasy which mashes up Buffy, superhero comics, Crouching Tiger and ancient Celtic mythology – and it’s as good as that sounds.

The Irish Independent graciously ran a piece about my adventures in self-publishing last weekend, which you can read by clicking here. Or why not just buy it here – ’tis cheap at the price.

Meanwhile keep an eye on this website and my Amazon author page: I’ll be uploading five more books, roughly once a month, from early July. They’ve been sitting on my hard-drive for long enough now, Amazon is free = why the hell not. The other books are: Devil Hang Over Me, a psychological thriller; !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!!, a comedy/satire which crosses The X-Factor with Cyrano de Bergerac; Pretend We’re Dead, a novel about slackers in 1990s Cork; The Driving Force, a short-story collection on a theme of movement; and There is a light and it never goes out, a sort of Cloud Atlas-type thing where five stories are wrapped inside one over-arching narrative.

That’s it. I hope you buy a copy or ten of Red Raven, and hope you enjoy it…


The brighter side of lockdown



Rutger Bregman is one of those people whose vaulting achievements, at such a young age, are enough to make you seethe with envy.

Still only 32, the Dutch historian and activist has three bestselling books under his belt. His TED talk on poverty has been watched millions of times. Last year he went viral after a cri de coeur about corporate responsibility at Davos.

But even an embittered old crank like me finds it hard to dredge up hostility towards Bregman, because he’s just so damn reasonable. What he says makes a lot of sense. He lays out his case calmly, backed with plenty of facts and figures. Much of it is inarguable.

Bregman’s shtick is a sort of heightened optimism, as can be gleaned from book titles: 2013’s Utopia for Realists and the just-published Humankind: A Hopeful History. People, he argues, are essentially good, or at least tend more towards good than bad. We always have been; this is why a group of intelligent apes managed to colonise the whole planet.

Bregman stresses that his position is not naïve, simply realistic. Co-operation, sympathy, common decency: these are not only moral imperatives, they work far better than the chaotic, violent alternative.

Crucially, though, most of us don’t see it like that. There’s a huge mental disjunction between how things are – on the whole, pretty good – and how we perceive them. Life, in short, is a lot better than we think, and we’d do well to stop focusing on the bad stuff and instead be more optimistic.

This seems so obvious, it’s nearly glib; yet it remains true, for all that. As the old song urged, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

While reading Humankind, for review in this paper, I inevitably got thinking about the notion of optimism in a time of lockdown. These are strange, unsettling days, particularly as it’s all so uncertain: we don’t know when, how or even if this will end.

The whole thing has been fairly stressful but, per Bregman, there are upsides too. Indeed, there are benefits to almost everything. Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing to recognise them, and give them the proper weight in your mind. So, a personal list of some positives to lockdown:

  • The environment got cleaner. We’ve seen wild boar roaming the streets of Paris, jellyfish in the limpid waters of Venice canals, satellite photos showing clear skies over China.
  • People have reassessed their lives and priorities. Whether that be personal or professional, and whether the change prove transitory or permanent, periodic self-reflection is necessary and beneficial. The unexamined life is not worth living, as the man says.
  • The population, here and abroad, was never as fit. For want of anything better to do, people are walking, jogging, cycling. Bike sales are at an all-time high. Organised sport may be off the menu and our TV screens, and that’s a pain – but ultimately, it’s probably better to get out and be active yourself.
  • The chance to get reacquainted with some relatively obscure but exceptional radio programmes. For example, Vox Nostra on Lyric FM, a marvellous compendium of medieval, renaissance and baroque music, both secular and sacred. It’s like stepping into another time, another world. Would it be hyperbole to describe the experience as verging on transcendental on occasion? Probably, but what the hell – these are hyperbolic times.
  • More time with our children. Yes, it’s often hard going (for me the main difficulty is managing schoolwork; I’ll be happy once summer holidays “officially” begin and parenting more-or-less consists of “run outside and play, mind the cars, don’t run off with the circus”). But it’s worth it, as are most difficult things. As Milton wrote, “Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to the light…” Feel free to quote that in your English essay, kids.
  • Watching my little girl’s camogie skills improve, markedly, week by week has been very satisfying. Five or ten minutes a day, every day: that’s all it takes to mastering the technique. The older lad, meanwhile, is now hitting cleanly in the air, on the run, both sides. Pick that one out, goalie.
  • You smoke less when you’re around your kids all day, and still valiantly maintaining the fiction that “Dada used to smoke, the odd time, but hasn’t had a cigarette in years…”
  • I finally managed to read The Scarlet Letter, which had been glaring balefully at me from the bookshelf for years. It was close to torture, I have to confess – God, why did they write in that needlessly convoluted and flowery way back then? – but I did it. Finnegans Wake can wait until the next lockdown, though. I’m only human, after all.




It’s funny, when I think back to years ago, how people would often greet each other with the words, “Well, how are you – keeping busy?” That’s funny because life in Ireland really did used to be considerably slower than it is nowadays, and often, we weren’t very busy at all.

The term “keeping busy?”, then, was more a figure of speech than an actual question demanding a response. If we were to answer, it’d probably be something like, “Uh…no. Not really, no. In fact, I’m decidedly un-busy, if such a word exists.”

In 2019 Ireland, the whole thing has been turned on its head. These days nobody who considers themselves cool uses folksy turns of phrase such as “keeping busy?”

They all greet each other with “Hey, guys!” in a stupid put-on accent, because they watch way too many videos of American vloggers and are secretly ashamed of the fact that they grew up in a bungalow outside Kinnegad. (They also hate that their parents, those irredeemably gauche bog-trotters, still cheerily use “keeping busy?” Like, the embarrassment!)

But I digress. The second part of my ironical diptych is the fact that, in direct contradistinction to our 1980s and ‘90s forebears, life in Ireland now is incredibly busy. I mean, ridiculously so – especially if you have children aged anywhere between about three and 18.

This is the time of year when, along with returning to school – which brings its own time-pressures – extra-curricular “activities” are also cranking back into gear. From last week to the end of this month, most of our little darlings’ classes and pastimes will have returned in full flow.

And my God, it’s like trying to arrange a land invasion of Afghanistan. In fact part of me suspects that certain geopolitical string-pullers deliberately engineer wholesale warfare just so they can avoid helping Mrs String-Puller sort out little Johnny and Mary String-Puller’s calendars.

It’s mad, how busy the whirl of our children’s lives has become. I only have two of my own, and there are two grown-ups sharing the load here.

But still, I had to sit down and literally draw out a chart, noting down each activity’s day, starting and end times, and what date it begins. You also have to mark down what needs to be brought to school the following morning: sports gear, musical instrument, whatever. Even with this clear, geometrical, easy-to-understand diagram, I’m barely able to keep up.

And my nippers wouldn’t be the busiest in their year, by any manner of means. Some kids seem to have pre-school, after-school and evening classes, of some sort, each night of the week, with a few thrown in on Saturdays and Sundays for good measure.

Then there are playdates, organised birthday parties and sundry road-trips of an educational and/or inspirational nature at weekends, which make you feel even more like the kids’ social secretary and personal assistant than their mam or dad. (You’re also the unpaid maid, chauffeur, chef, laundrette, psychotherapist and general all-round emotional punch-bag. Ah, the magic of parenthood…)

Now obviously you don’t want the children to do nothing but sit in front of the telly all day; a life not spent being at least some bit busy is only a life half-lived. It is objectively a good thing for kids to learn music, sport, self-defence, chess, art and so on and so forth. I have no disagreement with any of that.

Still, though – I wonder has the balance tipped too far in the other direction? I refer you back to my activities wall-chart for an answer.

I bet my own parents didn’t have a chart on their wall for me and my siblings, and there were six of us. Of course, this is because the only extracurricular activities available during my childhood were standing outside in the cold, standing outside in the rain, being given jobs to do, being given a clip around the ear for reasons of varying degrees of plausibility, asking your parents for things and being refused, sharing a smoke with whichever of the local yahoos was closest to you in age, and staring into space at mass on a Sunday. No need for a chart!

I’m half-thinking about taking up taekwondo this winter – basically, I want to quit being such a wuss and get to the point where I can take a belt to the head without crying like a big baby. Mentioning this the other day, one of my children asked why I hadn’t done martial arts as a kid.

Reader, I laughed. (Bitter tears.) Dada never did taekwondo, I told them, because back in the 1980s the nearest class was probably in Los Angeles. Though those local yahoos with the cigarettes were handy enough with the old kicks to the head, now that I think of it.

All that’s about to change, though, as I finally get the chance to transform myself from soft office-wimp to steely, fists-of-fury type killing machine. All I need to do is find an empty slot on that wall-chart.