Zactly de same…

Zactly de same…

I was listening to some auld guff from a fella yesterday, some shite about death, his plans for his funeral, picking out the plot, selecting his coffin and planning everything down to the last detail.  I thought ‘For the love o’ Jaysus, you’re a long way off dead yet, would you ever kop yourself on!’ In fairness I didn’t actually say it out of respect, he’s a bit closer to the tipping point than I am, (any surprises from my dodgy ticker notwithstanding) but it got me thinking about the whole thing.  You know my own eventual demise and what sort of a gig it might be.

My problem of course, is that you can’t really let me off on any old notion.  I’ll catch a tail wind and keep going and you know what? That’s exactly what I did…  I started planning my own funeral. For some reason, I went straight to the eulogy, I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m dying (pardon the pun) to hear what people say about me.   Nah!  I think because when I thought of it, I immediately considered writing my own (bit of a control freak).  You see the problem with eulogies is that the people who can best express what mark you have left on the world are those who are closest to you, for the only mark that really matters, is love.  Now the problem with them is that on the day, they’d be understandably in bits with the grief so there is usually a competent stand-in who is good with words and able to hold their sh*t together without bursting into tears. The trouble with the competent stand-in is that they tend to be just that, competent.  Me being me –I want something more.(for those developing a psychological profile – that’s control freak  AND egotistical perfectionist)

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not interested in leaving a legacy or making any grand funeral gestures. I have often quipped that as far as I’m concerned, you can toss my shell in a ditch when I’m gone but of course that probably won’t do now will it?  That being said, if someone is going to say something that’s relevant about me after I’m gone, then given that I think it would be too emotional for my nearest and dearest to do so, then perhaps those words should come from someone who knows me best – Me.  I am a writer after all.

At this stage in the thought process, I have run with it.   That’s me, I’ve even begun to organise flowers and pick out coffins in my head, so I had to stop myself before I started to write a graveside oration as well and compose a requiem mass for myself, complete with a musical interlude with Ukulele.  Did I mention in any of my previous blogs that my mind runs along even at its steadiest pace, at around a thousand revs per second ?

I had to stop myself, not because I might get carried away as I clearly already had, but I re-focused on the eulogy – as if that wasn’t bad enough.  It seems I had been drawn in to the type of contemplation that I had immediately dismissed as ’auld guff’ just a short time earlier?  So I ignored the temptation to plan the coffin and thought again about what should be said about me once I had departed as it were. Now that I had put myself in the place to write my own eulogy I struggled with what to say.


Straight away there was the problem, of pride and vanity.  Leaving aside the fact that the act of doing this in itself was both proud and vain in my head (I forgave myself on the basis that this was purely an intellectual exercise to keep me sharp) I couldn’t say nice stuff about myself at all!  That’s quite an Irish thing in some ways.  It’s like the Penneys jumper. (Sweater to the non-Irish among you- and for the unfamiliar, Penneys is cheap and cheerful from a clothing point of view).  Someone will say “nice jumper.”  You answer  “€2.99 – Penneys” as if to say, God no I’m not one of those people who spend loads of money on myself, sure wouldn’t I be mortified if anyone was to think that I thought I was better than them.

Now in truth, I swing a little differently, neither understating nor overstating but in a very non-Irish way, I can take a compliment.  If someone says “I like your coat” I tend to say “thanks” as opposed to “What this old thing? It was a gift from a tramp – he bought it in Penneys.”

Still I couldn’t start because I couldn’t say anything nice about myself in my imagined homage to my future dead self – see it’s all perfectly logical.   There was this direction as an opener, although it is a bit of an oldie;

“A kind man, an honest man, a handsome man and a gentleman… all wanted to be here today but unfortunately they couldn’t make it.”

Nah, it had to be original.  I considered apologising;

“I’m sorry I can’t be here today…” again way too naff.  After a while – in my head a couple of nano seconds, I got into the rhythm of it.  I started off talking about loss and those that I had left behind. (This is my imagined future remember – bleak as it now sounds writing it) I was in that space between my ears, I was eloquent and very much spoke about what matters most in our time of grieving.  I was almost priestly, but with a touch of George Clooney about me and a sort of Irish sounding version of a cross between Anthony Hopkins and Alan Rickman. It was then I stopped myself.  I had gone way off track again.


Now don’t get me wrong, It was good. But it was more like an opening chapter to one of my books than a draft of my eulogy.  In fairness it wasn’t bad and I might just expand on it and add to my works in progress. Apart from the meander that took over, there was a problem with inflection.  Now I know what you’re thinking. Inflection? Yes – inflection.  No matter what I came up with, it wouldn’t be me.  It wouldn’t be me because of the delivery.  My words would not ever be enough, to express what I might want to say to the beautiful people I might leave behind.  My words needed a voice. They would deserve more than some stand-in, reading my thought’s from a page.  I write like I speak.

As I type this I am adding each and every twist, the rise and fall of my voice in my head and…well… how hard is that to translate to someone else’s lips.  Then I thought, I could make a video to solve the rhythm and cadence problem, but really, would anyone want to be looking at my big old head on a screen after I’m gone at a service that let’s face it, after that – would be a tough act to follow.

But my head doesn’t stand still and by this stage of the thought process, I was working on the production quality, make –up, ensemble and content of the video in the back of my mind while at the front I was working on the music.  I had wandered off again but music is a strong force and for a few minutes, I indulged myself.

Now holy music is quite sombre, I do like Ave Maria but that sends everyone off into tears at funerals.  Fire Starter by the Prodigy would be good, but as I still hadn’t worked out the actual important stuff like burial or cremation – that could possibly be inappropriate.

Ideally of course from a vanity point of view, it should be something to send the room to their knees in grief, but I’m more of a keep ‘em laughing type of guy.  Stayin’ alive by the Bee Gees is too obvious and some might even take offence. There is always U2 The Sweetest Thing, but Bono always got on my wick so I couldn’t have that as an abiding memory for people who knew me.  Then it struck me. There is only one song – and you can’t steal this now – the idea is mine so if I end up at someone I know’s funeral and hear this – I’ll go mental – but it’s a lesser known Talking Heads song called Heaven.  I think it is quite appropriate and very lovely. Near the end there is a verse that always makes me think of the heartbreak of leaving my darling Joanna behind.  I get all lumpy throaty just saying the words so best not to linger for my melancholy heart doesn’t need any encouragement.

While I do harbour such thoughts , I rarely let them off the dock for they are dark thoughts indeed, but I remembered when I was close to death this song touched a chord and it seemed strange that I hadn’t thought of it straight away. The verse that hooks my heart every time is;

When this kiss is over It will start again

It will not be any different

It will be exactly the same

You have to hear it really. I guess the writer in me looks for the hook. In death, in parting, when I think of never ever seeing someone you love again, a kiss seems to be the thing that first comes to mind.  It is what I would focus on if I were to write the moment.  The parting kiss, the slow motion memory of lips parting never to touch again.  Yeah, I had to stop there. I got the whole planning of the funeral thing now – but it’s not for me, not just yet. Way too much livin’ to do – I certainly hope so.

It’s amazing how easily I get distracted.  I’m like the dog in the movie Up being distracted by a squirrel. What can I say? I confess I’ve a head that works the way it works.  I guess if it didn’t work that way, there’d be a whole different bunch of people at my (eventual) funeral and I like the ones I’ve got.   And just in case you’re one of them, if anyone suggest playing Eric Clapton on the big day – shut that down – tell them I said so.  It’s just not conducive to a good shindig or hooley…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet?  I think it’s time to pick one up.

Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy

You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –


twitter @maxpowerbooks1

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C’mere ’till I tell ya…

C’mere ’till I tell ya…

I generally try not to over analyse what I do as a writer for fear I will write myself into a corner. But as an exercise I had a look at the very latest piece that I started and I actually scared myself in the process. There is generally a dark thread in most of what I write, whether that is in relation to the darker side of the human psyche or actual real, in your face darkness.

The obvious stuff is fair enough.  If you pick up Darkly Wood, you have a pretty good sense that something lurks inside just from looking at the cover. Bad Blood similarly even by the title, gives the game away.  But when you look at the smiling face on the cover of Little Big Boy, I’m not sure anyone can really be ready for the dark heart, melted into the soft centre of this, perhaps my readers’ favourite book.  In Larry Flynn I introduce one of my darker characters right from the get go, but in his case it is all about that thing we often hear called ‘the human condition.’

In reading over my latest work in progress, I saw a very personal darkness emerge. The trouble with me is that I wear my big old heart on my sleeve and in conjunction with that, I carry a gimp mask, a hunting knife and plastic ties in a bag on my belt.  I am I know, obsessed with developing how we love and are loved in our lives when I write, and I exploit my characters through fear and uncertainty throughout, to develop my stories to a place I want readers to discover and uncover, in an organic way.  I never want it to feel contrived or forced and for that reason I never write to a formula.
I won’t tell you the name of the new piece I am writing because the moment I do, everyone who has ever read my blog will know what it is about, but let’s just say that much like all of my books, I have dipped deep into my personal pit of emotion, to create something that as I mentioned at the beginning, even frightened me.

My books cross genre, something I am pleased to say helps me stay fresh, but this new one very definitely fits into the horror category. That being said, if you have read any of my books, you will know to expect a twist on horror when it eventually arrives.  I tend to go off script in this regard. So what have I discovered in trying to analyse the freshest example of my work?

First I guess I have discovered the value of practicing your craft. With each book I write, I learn something new and it is not just a technical learning.  Over time I have begun to grow my own sense of who I am as a writer.  I have learned through the process that I have certain strengths and weaknesses and importantly, I immediately saw this when I read over this new one.

At the time of writing this, I am developing the third book in the Darkly Wood series, trying to re-write a manuscript from my younger years, writing two other very different novels, one historical fiction and the other a rather emotional piece.  I have also the bones of a small love story, a zombie book that I doubt I will get to for a while if ever, and this new twisted little piece.

They each require their own discipline. Some writers write to formula, some to a clock or a word count. Every writer I have ever spoken to, have their own insecurities and their own way of doing things. I just work on telling a story. It sounds obvious but it’s not that simple. Storytelling is the primary driver and with me, I always develop the story through my characters and how they interact with their emotional life. In particular I concentrate on how they handle love and fear.

Love, be it romantic, familial, self-love, based on avarice, immaturity, delusion or instinct, can be arrived at in a story from so many different angles.  Poor old Larry Flynn is deprived of love and is consequently a dark twisted soul.  Bad Blood has at its centre an impossible love. Darkly Wood is despite all the horror, really about romantic love and of course Little Big Boy, is a book with love rooted firmly in its tiny little boy’s heart. Having armed my characters with the heart and soul of my book, I allow them the freedom to find the path that will lead them to the place where their deepest and darkest fears may lie.  That is not fear in the horror sense, rather their inner fears, insecurities, weaknesses or the fear that comes from arriving at a place or event in their lives, for which they are wholly unsuited or ill-prepared.

Every story needs a hero of sorts and they can only be found through adversity. Sometimes it all sounds so simple, but this is where perhaps I understand myself as a writer best and what gives me my voice. It is essential for every writer to have their own voice, a sense of themselves that no matter what genre they write in, the reader can recognise.

I know my start point.  I know the story I want to tell and where it should lead right from the start.  What I do then however, is allow my characters complete freedom to become who they need to be, in order to tell my stories in a way that feels like my reader is sitting next to me.  It feels like a performance when I write.

That is my goal in a way. I love telling a joke or spinning a yarn.  I spent many years training people for a living and I always enjoyed holding a room full of people in the palm of my hand.  Every time I finished a training session I would go back to the office and immediately re-write my presentation to keep it fresh.  I always had to have the flexibility to ad-lib and take it in a different direction, for it is in that ability that I found I could hold the room.  I never wanted anyone to feel bored or disinterested.

Telling stories through my books is exactly the same.  I start by telling myself the story as I write. I surprise myself quite a lot, odd as that may sound. In my most recent book Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, I initially introduced a minor character called Wormhold.  But Wormhold didn’t like his role. He was far more interesting than I expected when I first imagined him to the page.  He was a creature of such great dark potential, that I changed the direction of my book entirely based on one sentence that I wrote about him.

I re-read the opening chapter of my newest work as I mentioned and I saw it again. It was staring me in the face, a word.  One word has turned me left instead of right and now I am excited.  I have to reign myself in, for I want to skip my newest, least developed book, to the top of the pile. But I won’t of course.  That is what keeps me fresh in many ways.  I never have writer’s block because I deny myself the treat until I finish the main course and I always have a choice of treats to tempt me back to the page.

We all do it differently; I doubt I could write any other way.  I loathe the countless invisible hours of editing and proof reading, that become the focus of my work once I complete the third draft.  No one sees the effort it takes to turn the idea into a story, into a book that someone wants to read. It is a colossal task. There can be anywhere from half a million typed characters plus in each of my books. Think about that.  Try counting that number.  Then try checking each number over and over again to make sure you haven’t skipped a number, or misplaced a number or put in a number that makes no sense at all. Can you even consider the time it takes to hit each key stroke.

How many characters have I typed here do you think? Would you be surprised if I said near nine thousand keystrokes were involved? Now bear in mind I’m a four fingered typist at best.  This blog has almost seventeen hundred words and I’ve written books with in excess of one hundred and twenty thousand words inside their covers. My books vary in length,but I have published five and I am writing another five at the moment. Do the maths.

Yet here I am. I have been asked why do I write and I say because I love telling stories.  I am ultimately a vain, selfish man who enjoys the smile on the face of the person I have just made laugh because I told them a funny story or the leap in the air, when I give them a fright with a scary story.  As long as I remember that feeling when I sit at my laptop to write, once I remember that I am telling my story to just one person in my head, then I can tell my stories with pleasure. The reason is simple. When I make every keystroke, I am in my head talking to my reader as though he or she is sitting opposite me.

It is as clear as day every time. The lights are low; there is a fire with a crackle. There may be a cup of tea or who knows, maybe even a glass of vino or whatever tickles your fancy. I have your complete attention.  I know what I say next will decide whether you tell me you have to head off home now, or whether it will keep you hanging on, listening to my voice, waiting with anticipation for the very…next…word…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet?  I think it’s time to pick one up.

Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy

You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –


twitter @maxpowerbooks1

IASD - globe 2

Universal book links

all 5



MA! He’s lickin’ his fingers at me!…

MA! He’s lickin’ his fingers at me!…

Of all the relationships I have had in my life, familial, romantic, relationships with friends, colleagues or acquaintances, one of the more intriguing ones has been my relationship with food.  Now before you get excited, you may row any notions you may have that this is going in an inappropriate direction, right back in. While I am non-judgemental and to each his or her own as it were, we’ll steer clear of food fetish for the purpose of this discussion.

As a child growing up in a time and place that meant food was not as plentiful or varied as it is today, it was generally accepted in our house that you got what you were given and you should be lucky to have it.  Of course there were ways and means around this which I’ll get to, but for the most part, there was less choice and treats were scarce on the ground.

I remember stealing (as I considered it then) sugar and making sugar sandwiches. That would be funny if it wasn’t so sad in hindsight. It was a furtive affair and while I can’t recall the earliest age at which  I did this, I do know I needed to use a chair to climb onto our yellow, Formica-topped kitchen table, which I had to stand on to reach the cupboard or ‘press‘ as we called it, to get to the sugar bowl. I guess it was in the late sixties and I’d scurry away to eat my sweet treat in secret, sometimes to the ‘cloakroom’ which was essentially the dark space beneath the stairs where we hung our coats, hence the posh name.  You’d swear we lived in a mansion – the cloakroom indeed!

Sweets were gold. What you couldn’t buy for a penny back then was luxury. Black-jacks helped me to remove more than one loose tooth I can tell you, albeit unintentionally. I rarely had any money so when I did have the odd tuppence, every ha’penny spent; had to be considered carefully. Chocolate was for when your aunties gave you money or for Easter when you got your eggs. In normal times it was all about quantity. As many items as you could afford and in that mix, choosing those that would last the longest, they were the things you had to balance. Toffees and gobstoppers lasted ages, so I either went for hard-boiled or chewy and cheap.

Of course once you had them there was a very important competition that you had to deal with and it is the thing we call, sibling rivalry. If you and your brother or sister had sweets, there is no understating the value of getting on up on them.  If you could somehow have even a small quantity of your sweets left after they had eaten all of theirs’s, then by God did you thwart the bejaysus out of them.


“Have you eaten all of yours?” This was a question only to be asked when you were confident that they had finished off their stash and when you had some left.  Only then did you produce the secret store that you had squirrelled away, so you could rub it in their face. Ah the joy of it.  We all did it back then.  You could slurp loud and long, fingering the remaining few precious sweets, tasting victory over your close family rival and it made your goodies taste even sweeter.

“MA! He’s lickin’ his fingers at me!” I kid you not, I’ve heard it said. “He’s makin’ faces MA!”

Being grassed up only meant that you’d gotten to them and the victory was complete.  Of course sometimes you were on the wrong end of a thwart and that was the worst thing that could happen.

If sharing is caring then, not sharing too much was pragmatic.  When you offered your bag of crisps to your friend or sibling, it was vital not to let them get a whole hand in to take a dirty big handful – and the feckers would!  No, you would strategically shuffle a small quantity of crisps near the top of the bag and squeeze below that point, so they couldn’t take more than you wanted.  Now there would usually be some challenge like, “I can’t get any” to trick you into widening the opening to the bag, but only the truly inexperienced sharers fell for that old chestnut.

School offered a whole new realm of Smart-Alec’s.  I remember being asked for a crisp when I was about seven years old in the school yard.  He was an older, bigger boy and I did the ‘holding the bag by the neck trick’ trick only to be outsmarted by the more streetwise older boy.  Instead of trying to reach in, he spread his hands and smashed them together in a clap, with my bag in the centre.  It burst and my crisps went all over the place.  Again, it was a different time so there was no three second rule.  We’d pick anything off the ground and eat it, so my crisps were malavogued in a flash by the descending hoard of his friends.

Ice pops, well “Gis a lick?” was easily defended by sliding the whole thing into your mouth to cover it with your saliva. They wouldn’t want to after that. Knocking it out of your hand was often the response to that one. Spite was a common tool of the loser as I recall.

In terms of actual grub, well like I mentioned it was eat what you’re given, but I was the baby of the house for seven years, so I suckered my mother into accepting a couple of exceptions just for me. Dinners were regimented to the day, so you always knew what was on the menu.  We all had our favourites and treats when they came, were truly treats. Sometimes on a Sunday, my Mam would make fairy cakes with butterfly tops and a squidge of cream on top, with coloured sprinkles to finish it off.  I can still smell them baking just thinking about it.


I loved Angel Delight and when I came across it again a couple of years ago in the local supermarket, nostalgia lured me to buy it and eat the whole pack, just to enjoy the memory.  I’ve done that a few times over the years but it’s never quite the same.  In fairness it is mostly cheap and nasty stuff I remember and it feels weird to think how special they were to us back then.  Denny burgers, Dream Topping, Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies in a tin, it is mad how food memory affects us.

My mam used to make jam lattices just for me from the off-cuts of apple tarts and Joanna has made them specially for me, (along with other old treats I have told her about) just to see me smile at the memory.

As I hit my teens, money was a little more plentiful, and our treat options expanded along with the daily menu.  Spaghetti Bolognese made its way onto the menu and while it seems hard to imagine anything less exotic, back then it was a whole new experience.  I remember my first Chinese meal when I was fifteen. Sweet and sour chicken balls from a Chinese take-away in Thomas Street.

My first Pizza from Pizza land in O’Connell Street was like I had been transplanted to America. These things only existed on the telly up to that point! God be with the auld days eh?  It seems almost impossible to imagine a world without pizza.  Restaurant dining was not something I was used to as a kid.  We never had the money. I’d go to the pub with my Da and uncles and drink coke while they drank Smithwicks or Bass and I’d have mustard on my ham sandwich because they did.  Mustard made me feel grown up.

Mc Donald’s eventually arrived in Ireland, now they are all over the camp of course.  Nothing was twenty four seven, on Sunday everywhere was closed and no one seemed to mind.  From teenager to young adult, I discovered drink and as I looked about twelve until I was in my mid-twenties, getting served was always a challenge.  Pubs closed for the ‘Holy Hour’ during the day and never opened late.  Sunday closing was even earlier and if there was a bar extension for a party, it had to be applied for. 

Then until now, I have always had a reasonably healthy relationship with food. Not too much of anything bad for me except the occasional splurge and I pretty much eat everything ,except I draw the line at Lychees.  I mean come on! I like my veggies but I’m not a vegetarian, I’m less inclined towards desserts as I get older strangely enough  and when it comes to alcohol, I lean towards a drop of red wine and then if I take more than a drop, I tend to lean back again.

That being said, my childhood experience with food has shaped me.  In particular with regard to table manners and while I don’t care what fork someone uses, I tend to like a little decorum at the table.  All of which brings me to something that was said to me recently in contradiction to this.  Apparently I eat crisps like a serial killer! Well hey… no one’s perfect…

Haven’t read a Max Power book yet?  I think it’s time to pick one up.


You can find details about Max Power’s books here : –
twitter @maxpowerbooks1
Universal book links


all 5

Fear and choking on gummy bears…

My relationship with death is one coloured by memory and tainted by experience. I kissed my first dead relative as a small boy in a funeral parlour surrounded by adults who all seemed unaware of my horror. To me it was terrifying. My paternal grandmother’s passing was all too much for me to understand properly as I was just a boy, but the imagery of the day is ingrained in my memory. I suspect my recollection has become misshapen by the trauma of the day.

Because I was only a small boy when my grandmother passed away, losing my first dog Rex had a far greater impact on me. I was too young to understand death when my father’s mother died. When my canine companion died I was a teenager and more susceptible to the effects of grief. That was very painful and my first encounter with genuine grief. I cried big boy tears for our beloved pet who had been part of my life ever since I was a baby. My poor Granny suffered from dementia and as a small boy, my ability to sympathise was limited.  In many ways, my Nana was a hard woman.  My memories of her included her strict adherence to the ‘no dessert if you don’t finish your dinner’ rules.  When she stayed with us, she got to watch her programmes on TV over ours, so that fact combined with the inconvenience that she inevitably took my bed on sleepovers, meant I was sad but less affected by her loss emotionally as that tiny undercooked tadpole, than I was as a teenager losing his best friend.

I witnessed others in my family pass and as I grew up, their loss had much more significance.  We even got through another full dog lifecycle and Scamp’s demise was equally traumatic. But then my father developed cancer and I discovered a whole new world of sadness.  His was a slow and difficult decline.  I watched the man my brother and cousin used to jokingly slag off as a ‘Fat Da,’ shrink away as his health declined through months of debilitating treatment.  I watched my mother suffer beside him and it was cruel.

I was with him when he passed away.  I saw the suffering up close and it was not a pleasant thing. Perhaps the struggle of his death stayed with me, for it has plagued my mind ever since.  There is the kindness of words such as, he died in his sleep or, it was a quick death, but neither applied to my Dad.  I watched him suffer as he fought the grim reaper to his very last breath.  Once more I was horrified but worse was to come.

My dear mother died suddenly.  She had an aneurism in her brain which she survived following an emergency operation and recovered well despite having a heart attack in recovery.  That was in March of that year and by October at Halloween in fact, she had come back to herself enough to go out for a night with her sisters. She dropped dead singing, holding her sister’s hand and I never saw her again.  That broke my heart. She vanished that night and despite the fact that I was the one who eventually waited with her to give a formal identification to the young policeman and woman who came to me with such discomfort, the woman I waited with was not my mother.  That she was gone, that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye became and enormous weight that almost crushed me in the years that followed.

In the intervening years my brother died at the young age of fifty three, my sister lost her son during labour and my maternal Grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins have departed this world.  Aging it seems increases the volume of funerals you attend. It never gets easier.


I used to wonder if I would become obsessed with my own mortality once I got to a certain age. I managed to cheat it already and have been haunted by visits from my dark shadow man ever since. Those of you that read my blog regularly will be familiar with Mr. Squiggles. But oddly enough despite my worrisome stalker, I don’t give my own mortality too much thought.  I remember how it felt the first time and what stuck with me more than anything else was that I wasn’t afraid in the heat of it all. I guess I figure if I wasn’t afraid when death actually came knocking then I don’t see the point in wasting time worrying about it for the next God knows how many minutes, days, months, or years I have left.  Joanna’s Mam lives with us and she is ninety two years young.  What happens if I get to live that long?

Will my position change? Will I be counting days or counting blessings?  I expect the later.  Certainly it is what I hope I do should I live that long. Living life is what is important. So far I have done my best and always looked as much as I can to the brighter side. Some people stay the same throughout their life or at least think they have. Me? I’ve changed. Even if someone were to know me for twenty years and think “God you haven’t changed a bit” they’d be wrong. I change a little every day.  I suspect we all do.  What was it Mae West said in her ever so subtle way? “I used to be Snow White…but then I drifted.”

Age has changed me. Hurt has altered how I see the world, loss has scarred me and love has raised me up. I’m not the kind of person who could have ever have been satisfied with being born into a place and staying there as one generation passed into the next. I couldn’t watch everything change around me while I sat and watched it move about me.

Some people live all of their lives in one place, familiarity being a comfort and there is nothing at all wrong with that. In generations past, not so long ago, moving beyond the parish was an extraordinary thing. I was never made that way so I take neither credit nor blame for the part of me that has wings.

Risk has always been there in my life.  I have always made choices with a leaning towards the new.  It can be a precarious way to live at times but perhaps that is one of the things I cannot change about myself.  We all have some bits at our core that fundamentally make us who we are, but if you can’t change or adapt at least to some degree, you will miss out on so much.

Perhaps the key thing is fear. Fear keeps you a prisoner and clips your wings.  To overcome fear you have to take a step.  All of my books have love at their heart I have always said that, but the other ingredient, perhaps the more important one is fear.  It is the response to fear that I enjoy developing and it is a wonderful device whatever the genre that one writes in. My Darkly Wood books exude it of course and bad Blood and Larry Flynn are thrillers which always use fear, but even Little Big Boy is filled with fear.  I doubt I will ever write a book so filled with both love and fear as the book I still hold dear to my heart.

It is something that we all face, to fight, despair of or overcome.  I prescribe the latter. We are dying from the moment we are born so it’s hardly a surprise.  Why waste time worrying about your inevitable demise it is far better to get busy living.  What was it Woody Allen said?… “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” 

The only thing I know is how I’d like to go.. choking on gummy bears. That way when people asked what happened to me, you can say “He was killed by bears.” 

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Land-locked kites and flying free…

Land-locked kites and flying free…

There was a young-one who lived near me when I was a chiddler, who was very fond of flashing her knickers. Now for the non-Irish reader the term young- one (pronounced youngwan) simply refers to a girl.  Boys were youngflets (young fellows).  Now as happens all over the world at some point the youngflets get interested in the youngwans and everything changes but I’m talking about a younger stage in life, where girls were primarily a nuisance to us boys and we were dirty and stupid to the girls.

Imelda (not her real name to protect her virtue) regularly flashed her kecks at us and to be honest it was annoying at the time.  I’m no psychologist but had you asked me when I was eight to explain her behaviour, I would probably have told you she did it because she knew it annoyed us. In truth, despite her knicker flashing antics or perhaps because of it, I had little interest in Imelda. In common with my friends, I had little interest in girls back then, full stop.


I played boy games with boys until puberty came along and messed with my attentions. It was so much easier when girls were no more than an irritant. In my childhood the world had a very different gender focus than it has today of course.  Mixed schools? You must be joking.  The Priests, nuns and Christian brothers spent most of their time keeping us apart.

Even in Infants and junior infants, the first two years of schooling for us from the ages four to five, we didn’t mix.  The only difference was that in our parish, the youngest boys were managed in a section of the girls’ schools by the nuns, until they handed us over to the Christian brothers for first class around the age of six – and good God that was a culture shock. 

In the convent school, there was even a fence between the girls section of the school yard and the boys. In a time where large families were the norm, most of us had sisters so girls weren’t a surprise, but the nuns in their wisdom under the direction of the priests, made sure that even at four or five we didn’t mix under their watch. Who knows how corrupted we might have been by such an experience?

We walked everywhere from a very young age and didn’t need our parents to accompany us after junior infants year or what we called ‘high babies.’  No self-respecting seven year old needed his Mammy’s hand to escort him to school and this inevitably presented a problem for me.

You see that world of isolation among the pack animals that we were; left us open to all sorts or rumour and conjecture.   It only took one little confident fecker to say that something was true, for everyone to believe it.  One slightly older boy told us that girls got pregnant if you rubbed your little finger in your ear and then poked it in their belly button.  I didn’t believe him, but I had to listen to the arguments for and against before I made up my mind.

Boy’s talk, meant that there were some dangers created in your mind that became larger than life.  Reputations were created around myths of terrible brutality inflicted by certain individuals and they were easy to believe.  Every day, we were ritually brutalised by teachers, sometimes by parents and school yard fights were common place.  In a world where there was a lot to be afraid of, we became very suggestable. 

I had a relatively safe route home from school, but on occasion I had to visit a friend’s house on a road where a family with such a fearsome reputation resided. There were five boys in the one family ranging from late teens. to about nine or ten and they were all as rough as could be.   I was a kindly little boy but that being said, I could walk the walk and talk the talk so while I lived in fear of encountering such dangerous boys – I never let on. But by reputation alone, I knew they ruled the road and if you passed their door as a stranger-boy on the road, chances were they would beat you up. I didn’t want to meet them.

As it happened, I had two ways to get to my friend’s house.  From where I lived, the distance to that particular road was the same whether I chose to enter the road from either end so I could in theory at least, avoid the danger zone.  Of course there was always the risk that I might pass them on the way, but there was less of a chance if I entered from one end rather than the other.


That being said, life was never that simple especially in a world of rumour and conjecture, where false legends flourished with abandon.  If I chose to avoid their end of the road, I had to pass a particularly vicious dog.  In those days, leashes were unnecessary. Dogs walked themselves basically by roaming the streets.  This particular dog, liked to hang around at the front of a house that I had to pass.  If distracted, you could be ok, but if all was quiet and he was bored, chances were, he’d come after you like a crazed beast from hell.

Again, I had many of the tools required to handle such a threat. I grew up with dogs and wasn’t afraid of most of them.  Unfortunately this one was an Alsatian or ‘Aller’ as we called them and he didn’t care about rules. The choice was simple, walk via a very real and likely threat with big teeth, albeit one I had handled before but still feared, or travel the uncertain path where only rumour existed about a family of violent boys who would pulverise a trespasser like me just for the fun of it.

It’s funny how a little boy’s brain works especially one conditioned to danger.  Such was life.  The very act of travelling to school was one that put your safety at risk.  There was always someone bigger than you willing to pick on you if you looked crooked at them, but that bit I could handle.  I once had a knife held to me and I responded by brushing it aside with a ‘pishaw.’ Well, it wasn’t exactly that term, as saying pishaw in itself, would have resulted in a beating.  There may have been an expletive used. Either way, that was walking the walk.  It didn’t mean you weren’t on edge.  You had to be.

Inside the school yard the danger stepped up a notch.  There were always gangs, fights, hot squares to avoid and lurking Christian brothers who could randomly cuff you for misbehaving.  The classroom was worse still and fraught with danger. Make a noise, laugh at another boy farting, get caught with a note flicked onto your desk, spell a work wrong, a change in the wind it seemed could get you skelped.


In hindsight, I lived in a world where childhood stress was ever present.  Even at home there were rules that if broken left you with the horrible words ‘wait for your father to get home.’ Lack of money was a stress, keeping warm, wearing hand-me-downs, and worrying constantly about what lay in the next day. It should not have been for us but it was.  My parents did their best but times were indeed different and sometimes even in small things like the threat from a dog or the potential of running into the local Kray twins, made it feel like my very life was in danger on a regular basis.

But somehow I skated through it with a sense of humour and I gave the world the impression that I wasn’t scared.   Most of the year belonged to school, winters and rain.  So when summer came, once we were free from the shackles of authority to some degree, we made the most of it. Summer holidays were months of being street urchins, never wanting to come in, playing on the road, chasing each other through fields like land-locked kites.  I would stay out until I was dragged in. Everything was an adventure, for in adventure lay escape from the stresses all around us.  Little boys should never have to feel that way and yet it was our normal.

My hair grew past my ears and I wore short trousers, short socks and I was always someone else or somewhere else.  In those days the seeds to my writing days were sewn.   I learned to imagine and imagination was beautiful.  I smile when I look back at my tinier self.  I remember the worst of it but mostly I remember the best of it.

Even though I had yet to discover the joy of girls, and while they angered me with their insistence on playing far less interesting games than I wanted to play, I was always still somewhat fascinated by their bare-kneed skipping, the swish of their ponytails and the screams they screamed when one of the boys produced a spider.  I put up with the occasional knicker-flash or sometimes succumbed to playing street-chalk games like beds (a secret favourite of mine), Queenie-eye-oh or listening to them play with a ball and sing ‘plainey-a package-o’rinso,’ because in those moments I was free….

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