Monday, August 12, 2019

Even Golfers Get The Blues

So here’s the thing: I’m not a big golf fan. I’ve never played golf. I do enjoy watching it on television though. I will admit that I did once enjoy a glorious day in LA with two artist-managers on a golf course. But my enjoyment was entirely down to the fact that they let me drive them around the course in a golf-buggy. I should also admit here that I’ve never driven a car in my life, so that’s why it was such a buzz. Maybe I should have forewarned them that I am a big Formula One fan. Either I scared the Bejesus out of them or they were actually crap golfers. I have to say they did talk a great game and knew exactly where they were going wrong. So fair play to them.

But, let’s get back to my reason for being in Portrush. I’m a big fan of Rory McIlroy. It’s partly to do with the fact that a) he’s world class in his chosen arena and b) he is an Ulsterman. For the exact same reasons I’d also include in that list: George Best; Alex Higgins; Seamus Heaney and Van Morrison.

One of my fictional detectives, McCusker, was originally from Portrush. He was a social golfer, so social he lost his first wife and all his property over the game. McCusker is also a big fan of Rory, Alec and George. Musically speaking he’d be more of a fan of Rory Gallagher, Planxty and Christy Moore. I’m currently working on the third McCusker Mystery, Hi Love, You Just Dropped Your Glove. In the course of this mystery, McCusker is based in Portrush and I’ve been visiting “The Port” - as I used to do most of the summers of my youth with my family - to do some catch-up research. When I was there last summer for a few days, working out locations and trying to discover the locals’ favourite haunts rather that the tourist trail, I heard all about the town being rebuilt (pretty much) for this year’s Open Golf Tournament when the game would return to Portrush for the first time in 68 years.

I decided I would return this summer myself and visit the Open as McCusker might have done. Which was all well and good, but instead of booking accommodation last year, I left it to spring of this year by which time not only were all the hotels quadruple their normal price, and you have to book for a min of four nights, but they were already all booked out and when I asked a few of them if I could go on their waiting list, I’d hear them laugh as they set the phone down.

What was available though was Glamping; glamorous camping, luxury under the canvas. It was also affordable. But those two facts should have been clues; Big clues.

On Thursday morning (18th July 2019) at crack of dawn I caught the Red Eye to George Best Airport, Belfast, stopped off for a visit with my dad in Magherafelt and then, late in the afternoon I travelled on up to Portrush. I arrived at the Glamping site in the wind and rain at five o’clock. The entrance to the site was ankle deep in muck and the grass on the way to the tent was calf-long and soaking wet. The tent was very primitive. Very unglamorous dare I say, even very un-luxurious. The father and son owners however were extremely nice and helpful. I left my case in the tent and caught the shuttle down to the outskirts of Portrush. I had planned to stay in my tent for an hour or two to settle in before heading down to the Port, but to put it purely and simply, there was absolutely nowhere to sit in the tent and the bed was an air bed and quite impossible to sit on. I was later to discover it was even more uncomfortable to sleep on, but more about that at lights out.

I was going into Portrush so all was good.

Every time I go to Portrush I get very excited. There is just something magical about the Port. There always has been from when I was a kid and it still hasn’t worn off. This time was no exception. In a break between the showers I passed the hive of activity that was the Royal Golf Club. I continued on into the town along the East Strand beach, past what used to be the entrance to the Arcadia Ballroom where I’d spent manys a happy night listening to the likes of Billy Brown and The Freshmen. The Freshmen were one of the few great showbands - so great in fact that the dancers used to stop dancing and just listen to the band. No mean feat nailing all those feet to the floor. Now all remains of the once glorious ballroom is the entrance-hall section, which before it was the entrance hall to a ballroom used to be the ladies changing rooms for their outside pool.

I was, as they say locally, famished, so I stopped off at the 55 Degrees North restaurant to get a quick bite. The food hit the spot and the waitresses were, as usual, extremely friendly. Now I was properly equipped to head off for a dander around the town. Portrush, thanks to Rory McIlroy’s efforts in helping secure The Open’s visit, had enjoyed a complete facelift - a long overdue facelift. I stopped off at a wee antique store. The owner told me that the council had paid for every shop owner (who wanted) to have the front of the store done up.

To be honest I had quite expected the town to be heaving. This was not the case. The streets were relatively empty. All the people who were visiting for the golf were still up at the Royal Golf Club. The Club had a strict no-pass out rule that the local business people were up in arms about. “How can we make money if none of these people are allowed to come out and do a wee bit of shopping?”       

The owner of the antique store, like a lot of the traders I spoke to, felt that even with their own numbers down this weekend, the actual benefit of The Open was going to be more of long term project.

Anyway, in an effort to lift their spirits I did a wee bit of shopping myself, then made my way across town to Barry’s Amusements, which over-looked the West Strand and the picturesque harbour. Barry’s Amusements Arcade is the most exciting place in Northern Ireland… or so I once thought.

It was empty!

I mean it wasn’t actually empty as in absolutely without punters. There were (literally) a few people. I’m talking thirty patrons at the very most. I’ve been visiting Barry’s since the early 60s and I have never seen so few people in there in my life. I couldn’t believe it.

“Where is everyone?” I asked the man in the information booth. Well that’s what an information booth is for, isn’t it?

“I’ve worked here for over eleven years and I’ve never seen it this empty,” he replied.

“But what about the golf influx?”

‘They’re all stuck up at the Royal and once they leave the Royal there are no pass-outs, so they can’t return to the course for the remainder of the day. The ones who are coming out are more used to the likes of Disneyworld, so Barry’s isn’t really high on their bucket list.”

I offered my condolences and said hopefully it’ll be better over the weekend. He said he hoped so but doubted it.

“Is there a chance it’ll have to close,” I asked, fearing if they can’t pull a crowd from the influx they might be in danger.

‘Heaven’s no, not at all. This is just one weekend, every other weekend Easter to September, we’re absolutely heaving in here.”

I walked further along the beach in the direction of the harbour, all the time shocked by the lack of people, while at the same time scouting out locations and characters for my McCusker Mystery. I came across the town’s new super duper big wheel. It was merrily spinning away. On closer examination I realised it was devoid of people, aka customers. It was as empty as it would have been on the streets of Bodie, Califonia.

There were absolutely no people in the big wheel’s buckets - or whatever it is they call those pods that humans sit in.

A man licking a 99 infused ice-cream cone saw me staring up at the wheel in amazement.

“Why do you think they have it spinning with no people in it?” he asked.

“As an advertisement to potential customers,” I offered hopefully.

Nope,” he replied, “if you go further down to the green there you’ll see that the BBC TV One Show is broadcasting on location tonight, and if they have the wheel spinning in the background then people out there in TV land will think Portrush is thriving and want to visit here. It’s all part of a cover-up”

Oh I do love a good conspiracy theory.

I wandered on chatting to people as I made my way over to the crowd gathered for BBC TV One Show recording. People are so friendly and easy to talk to in Portrush. Not just that, but there are so many brilliant characters on your doorstep, which is one of the reasons I’m bringing McCusker back to Portrush for this mystery. I eaves-dropped on one of the judges from Strictly Come Dancing going on about Ballroom Dancing in Ulster in the 1960s “It was huge”, he declared. I think he might just have got the wrong end of the stick there. What happened was that yes people did use to dance in ballrooms, such as the Arcadia Ballroom, in Ulster, in the 1960s but, believe you me, it was not Ballroom Dancing, as we know it today, they were attempting. Their main step was not the quickstep, but more likely the shimmy-step, where you would try to subtly sidle closer to a girl and risk all by asking, “Do you come here often?”

Eventually I reluctantly left the town centre and caught a taxi back out to the Glamping site. The driver was moaning about how the entire town’s road system has been laid out by the people who designed the track layout for Barry’s Ghost Train. The end result, he claimed, five minute journeys were now easily taking up to an hour. He kept going on about how badly everything had been messed up; having said that, we did reach the tent site pretty quickly.  

Once again I tried to sit on my air bed and once more I nearly fell off again. It was ten-thirty, too early for bed so I wandered out of my tent and over to a communal area covered with a large canvas canopy. The sides of the Henley Regatta type of sun-shelter, if they’d ever existed, had been removed so you could see the amazing soulful views over and beyond Portrush. In this area, which was empty of fellow glampers, the site organisers had kindly supplied bales of hay to sit on. By lamp light I wrote up my notes for Hi Love You, Just Dropped Your Glove. Eventually, task completed, the cold air drove me back to my tent. When I was back in my tent I realised it was colder in the tent than it was outside. It was also dark and dank. I found that attempting to sleep on an airbed was comparable to trying to sleep on a tightrope. You move an inch either-way and you risked falling off altogether. Not that I’ve ever slept on a tightrope but I think next time I’m offered an airbed I just might opt for the sleeping-on-a-tightrope option. It couldn’t be any more difficult.

On Friday morning, even the news that the electricity was off and there were no warm/hot showers available didn’t dampen my mood. For starters I was so cold I figured that even a cold shower would warm me up a little bit and I’d still breakfast to look forward to. But then I hear you say: surely if there was no electricity there would be no power for kettles and coffee-makers and toasters etc., etc. And of course you’d be right. Oh well I was heading down to the Royal Golf Club and there would be everything I could dream off down there.

Ah… but the guy who was trying to fix the power was also the guy who drove the shuttle van, so that was going to be delayed for a wee bit. He was really a very nice guy and you just couldn’t get mad with him, it wasn’t his fault.

Eventually, just before eight o’clock, the shuttle van dropped a few of us off and, quite literally, a couple of minutes after that I was inside the Royal Golf Course in Portrush, surely the speediest and easiest entrance to a mass-audience, event I have ever experienced.

There was a strange air of calm about the site. Maybe an aftershock might be a better way to describe it. Everyone seemed to be in a zombie like state and whispering about Rory’s massive meltdown on the course on the previous day (Thursday). It appears he just couldn’t get into the rhythm of his round. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and the short, least depressing, version of the story is that he was a massive seven over par going into Friday’s round. Could his massive dip in his game be put down to the pressure of being the local hero? All I can offer by way of explanation is: if it took genius to be as brilliant as he had been in the past – and he still holds the course record for the Royal Portrush; he went around in 61 when he was just 16 years old – then when you’re not in the best of form, or suffering from Rory’s Blues, or even nerves, the complete opposite can happen. When he’s on his game he does tend to make a round of golf look deceptively easy. Well that’s McCusker’s theory on the matter - and he discusses it in great detail with his partner D.I. Lily O’Carroll in A Day In The Life of Louis Bloom (the 2nd McCusker Mystery published by Dufour Editions).  Whenever Rory is allowed to keep to himself and focus entirely on his game, McCusker muses, he always delivers. However, also according to McCusker, when he’s distracted with lots of media requests and is cornered into predicting how on form he is and how brilliant he’s going to be, he mostly has a bad day at the office, or in his case, on the golf course. 

Tiger Woods - who would have enjoyed top billing in Rory’s absence - at 6 over par had also experienced a disastrous first round. Now we were faced with neither Tiger nor Rory making the cut by the end of Friday’s play. The cut is where all players who manage at least 1 over par are safe and go into the 3rd and 4th rounds (played on Saturday and Sunday). Everyone from 2 over par and above got to go home, leaving 70 golfers for the final two days.

Who would the local crowd then get to support? We’ll have more about that later as well. In the meantime I had a date with my breakfast in one of the Hospitality Pavilions, the majority of which were on the right hand side of the first green. That’s as you face up the green and away from the tee.

According to one of the greeters in the hospitality suite, it took 4 months to build the Pavilions and the rest of the plant in order for The Royal to host The Open. He guessed it would take around the same time to remove. The Suite I was in didn’t really have any atmosphere. Maybe it was a case of the room being so spread out, it made the ceiling appear lower. The numerous TVs relaying the current action out on the links were very small. The volume of the TVs was painfully low. To truly enjoy golf on TV there are two basic requirements. You need to have a nice comfortable chair and to be able to hear the commentators. The seats looked like they’d been hired from a school canteen, or, put another way, they were hard and uncomfortable. Failing ideal viewing of the TV, I always find it best to just turn the darn set off. But the TVs needed to be on because there were already players out on the golf course. The first trio, Tom Lenman (US) Joaquin Nieman (Chile) & Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) had teed off at 06.35 that morning.

The overall feeling from our group of people was of everyone was waiting for something.

Perhaps they were waiting for the bars to open (at 11.30 due to Ulster Licensing laws) or awaiting a legendary Ulster Fry served up to kick start our day.

In the hospitality suite, the friendly staff’s two most popular questions of the day were: 1) Where did you travel from this morning? And 2) Who do you fancy to win this?  

With their first question, the words fitted together so well and the delivery was so word-perfect you had the feeling the question must have been listed in a tournament directive. On the other hand the second question was a very clever way of avoiding the elephant in the room: Rory’s Blues.

In these circumstances I’ve learned it’s always good to have a name at the ready. I have to admit I still fancied Rory playing a blistering round and getting back in the race. Nonetheless, I felt it was prudent to examine the options and have a few names up my sleeve. Tiger, in my eyes, still couldn’t be ruled out. Tommy Fleetwood (England) seemed to be an easy name to remember, he seemed like a very nice chap, had played a brilliant round on Thursday and didn’t he nearly win something major recently? Oh yes, I remember now, he nearly won the US Open last year but Tiger Woods pipped him to the post. Tony Finau (USA) was a distinctive name and he had made a decent start earlier that morning.  Justin Rose (England) perhaps? Shane Lowry had played a brilliant round on the Thursday. On camera he was always smiling and looking like he was really enjoying playing a round of golf and he was just one off the lead. At times - when he took his hat off – he looked like he could have been Wayne Rooney’s brother.  JB Holmes (USA), the leader from round 1, looked like he knew what he was doing and was very enjoyable to watch but Tommy from Carolina (at my table) assured me he wouldn’t last the course. I decided I needed to hedge my bets and came to the conclusion it was just too early to decide. I had a quick day-dream of Rory starting off his round with a series of holes-in-one (a physical impossibility) and getting back in contention. I shared this with Tommy from Carolina who didn’t take it as the joke I had intended but seemed to spend a few seconds going through the scenario in his mind. Then I noticed what he was actually doing was checking where the closest exit was.

A few minutes later at 10.09 Tiger Woods arrived at the 1st tee on this the second day of the tournament to loud applause. His compatriots for the day’s play were Mathew Wallace (England) and Patrick Reed (USA). I decided that as the weather was holding and the rain was meant to come at 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon, I’d nip out and walk the round with Tiger. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t being rude, or even familiar. He doesn’t even know me, let alone that I exist. What I meant was I would walk with the crowd who followed Tiger & Co from tee to tee.

The first thing I discovered was how solidly some of these guys are built. That doesn’t come across on TV.

A completely opposite view was offered from a wife to her husband walking directly behind me.

“They’re not big are they, they’re all wee men.


“Great strike,” a fan cried out and the rest burst into applause.

On one of the big screens around the course, we could see Rose teeing off; he was 6 under par from yesterday. That means he was then 12 shots ahead of Tiger on the leader board. This also meant he was 13 shots ahead of Rory.

That’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen shots ahead of Rory. Or, as they’d say in Donegal, “That’s a massive mountain to climb.” 

And the trio of golfers, Woods, Wallace & Reed headed off down the fairway.

“Welcome Tiger,” someone in front of me called out.

“Thank you,” Tiger replied without breaking his stride or his concentration.

Their golf balls had all reached about midway up the fairway. By the time we caught up with the location for their next round of shots, I realised we were directly across the road from Kellys where the other Rory (Gallagher) played his version of the blues with his sublime band, Taste. Fruupp (my first professionally management client) also played a few great gigs in there.

I was having great difficulty getting near the first green to see Tiger & Co concluding their work on the first hole. My mantra while scouting vantage positions for better views from then on was: always walk on that wee bit further. It didn’t let me down all day. I noticed on the big screen - viewed in the hope they would show the lads putting on the green - that on another green Jon Rahm (Spain) had a weird looking 4 inch square putter. I figured it must be like hitting the ball with a bar of chocolate - just saying this in case anyone out there sees it as a marketing opportunity; remember where you heard it first.

On the next hole, the 574 yard, par 5, 2nd, they all enjoyed great applause as they teed off although… two of them didn’t fair very well with their shots. For this action I’d a much better view and all three golfers hunkered down in a near perfect (seemingly) synchronised move, just off the green. The trio - who very nearly formed a straight line across the fairway - eyed up the ideal path for their second shot. As Tiger Woods walked up to take his turn, I could see clearly he was genuinely in pain. You could see from the regret in his eyes that he wished he could be enjoying this moment more. He dropped his first shot of the day at this hole.

“Must have been cling-film over that hole,” an Ulster fan muttered to himself as he headed after the players to the 3rd tee.

Overall, as was visible on the big screens, the going was getting tough and when the going is tough the balls tend to get going… into the rough. It wasn’t a great omen for Rory. On top of which, he was due to start his round at 15.10, by which time the predicted rain would have worked up a head of steam; also known as teaming.

By the time we reached the 4th green, Woods and Co were looking like they could have done with an elevenses pit-stop for coffee and snacks. Luckily enough there was a wagon which was parked up ever so close to the green, selling such items. Professionals that the golfers were, they soldiered on, although it has to be said, a lot of their followers were happy to partake in the refreshments available.

After five holes and finding myself distracted by the action on other holes I decided my intel might be of better use elsewhere, so I peeled off the pack and headed on around the course dipping in and out of play from game to game. I also found that as the ground is rather bumpy it is much better for your ankles, in particular, to keep on the move. On top of which I found it just too sad to watch Tiger painfully trying to hide his limp. More selfishly I thought I could feel the first spits of the predicted rain. 

Tommy Fleetwood was playing well and moving up the leader board. He was great to watch if you didn’t look at his face. What I mean is, from the look on his face you got the impression he was having a disastrous round, whereas his actual play, not to mention the leader board, proved otherwise.

Some of the comments from the fans I found very amusing

“It’s like he’s got a magic wand rather than a golf club,” one guy (wearing a Motorhead T-shirt) suggested to his mates, after a particularly magnificent second shot on the 194 yard, par 3, 6th hole. This hole was also known as Harry Colt’s (named after the course designer) and was right beside the Atlantic Ocean with spectacularly inspirational, jaw-dropping, views.

I imagined McCusker maybe being mates of the guy with the Motorhead T Shirt,  and, after witnessing a couple of subsequent bad shots suggesting, “If I was him I’d return the Magic Wand to the Harry Potter gift shop and consider using a golf club again”

“That 2nd hole just needs to open up,” another armchair expert had offered.

“Aye to the size of a dust bin.” I imagined McCusker adding.

“He’s on great form, he’s dropping everything in, I bet you he got a ride last night.”

“He,” now meaning Tiger, “just needs to get on the range and bang a few in.”

I swear to you but I must have seen about a dozen Graeme McDowells in my travels around the course.

By the time I’d made it back towards the 18th hole (474 yards, par 4) I happened upon another bigger, much bigger, refreshment area, which according to my site map was called the Secondary Village. I slowed to a stroll feeling like Randolph Scott happening upon the town limits of Laramie. I felt I could take my time a wee bit now as the spits of rain hadn’t actually developed into anything. There was a massive big screen out on what looked like a village green with a lot people sitting around and drinking and following the action. Overall this group of people were giving off good vibes. I noticed a top of the line pavilion with its own balcony. It was very classy. It looked very expensive to my eyes. I thought I’d dander over to it and see what the story was. It turned out that it was a Mastercard Pavilion and on close inspection the sign outside it claimed: “Open to all Mastercard Holders” Good old Mastercard, I thought. I’m a Mastercard Holder. They mean me. Not only did they get me a discount in the merchandising shop this morning, but here they were also providing some hospitality FOC (free of charge). The two ladies at reception were very friendly and they said welcome and put a band around my wrist as they asked me where I’d come from this morning. I went upstairs which was incredibly welcoming, homely even, with ultra-comfortable chairs and a floor to ceiling big screen. The crowd were very good natured and really enjoying their golf.

I found a seat and a drink and a bite and watched the screen to notice that my earlier tip of Tommy Fleetwood was doing very well. I’d been correct, Tommy Fleetwood was the perfect name for a golfer. The net result was that he was now only one stroke off the leader, JB.         

I wondered if anything could be made of the ping of the contact the club/putter makes with the ball, as in do the golfers know from this sound if they’ve played a good shot or bad one. If so, could that be taken even further and could someone work out some sort of logarithm or develop an app that predicts the final score from sound of the club hitting the ball over say the first three holes? If so please remember where you read about it first.

At 12.53 Shane Lowry enjoyed a mighty cheer as he teed off on the first hole. 

On seeing Shane Lowry sink yet another long putt on the giant screen on the (secondary) Village Green someone in the crowd said to his mate:  “With putts like that, if I was him I’d be carefully crossing the road tomorrow; his luck is sure to change any time soon.”

At the 18th Hole (second round) a big cheer went up on the screen and in the room as Tommy Fleetwood holed his final shot of the day to go top of the leader board.

“Is the rain just getting that wee bit heavier?” someone offered as one by one the umbrellas started to go up. One of the Sky Sports cameras picked up on this activity and it was flashed up on the big screen. The people on the green seeing themselves (well at least their umbrellas) up on the big screen, started to open and shut their umbrella to acknowledge the attention and pretty soon we were all enjoying a special moment with hundreds of umbrellas, of various styles and a multitude of colours, fluttering like butterflies. Hopefully it looked as stunning out in TV land as it did on the Secondary Village Green.            

Shortly thereafter at 15.10 Rory McIlroy came out to the (adjacent) 1st tee. There was an almighty roar from the crowd that was way beyond the reaction any of the other players received. Most players enjoy varying levels of cheering/applause when they ventured onto the first green; after the final shot on the 18th green or whenever they hit a great shot. But Rory was unique in that he was applauded and cheered the entire way from the tee up the fairway and onto the green for each and every hole on his round. You could work out exactly where he was on the course from the Rory Roar following him around the Royal Golf Course.

There was such an almighty Rory Roar following his final putt on the 18th that I’m convinced that every single person, man, woman and child on the acres of the Royal Golf Course at Portrush in Northern Ireland paused in their tracks to acknowledge his genius.

He had played a blinding round. In adverse weather conditions he shot a 65, which would prove to be the 2nd best round of this year’s competition. If the weather had been on his side, or like it had been earlier in the day when Tiger was playing his round, then Rory most likely would have broken his own course record. But then tournament score cards do not have a column for the “if only” scores. The sad but undeniable bottom line was that Rory failed to make the cut by a single shot. He was gracious and emotional in his defeat as he thanked the crowd and wished Shane Lowry all the very best for the following two days play. 

Shane Lowry went on to win the Open at the Royal in Portrush during a wet July weekend in 2019. He was the first bearded golfer to win the open since Bob Ferguson won the third of his successive victories in 1882. Shane and his bearded caddie, Brian Martin, looked like they’d just happened on a round of golf at the Royal by accident and that they were trying not to giggle too much just in case they were found out. Shane Lowry deserved to win this year’s Open. He consistently played beautiful golf and he took maximum enjoyment from his own playing. That is such an infectious quality: the ability of great athletes, or musicians for that matter, to visibly enjoy their own work.      

JB Holmes who was in the lead the first day was still in with a shout on the Friday and Saturday. However he took a disastrous 87 shots on the final day. To put this in perspective every player had a bad day on the Sunday. But few had as poor a day as JB. Shane Lowry for instance shot a round of 72 the same day. JB finished in 70th place. I make this point not to try and shame poor JB, who was clearly having a bad day, but to confirm that Tommy from Carolina was spot on with his prediction.

Tommy from Carolina had another prediction he shared with me.

“This,” he started expansively, and opening out his arms around the room and pointing out beyond and on to the golf course, “this is all going to put Portrush on the map as an international touring attraction. Everything has been wonderful and so professional, so top class and the local people so warm, funny and friendly that tourists are going to be coming here in the droves from now on.”

After Tommy from Carolina’s first successful prediction, and with my local knowledge, I certainly wouldn’t be taking a bet against him.

So see youse all next year then?
p.s. I should also mention that Departing Shadows, the eleventh Christy Kennedy Mystery, is published by the good people at Dufour Editions on Oct 22nd this year.

Paul Charles © 2019       

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Seven Hindrances To Happiness

Humans seem incapable of being happy, as in being totally happy.
There will always be something on our mind making complete contentment impossible. It might be something to do with: children; older parents; money; sex; love; career or health. Those seven topics, either directly, or indirectly, cover all the possibilities capable of causing concern. If we needed to reduce the number then we could perhaps consider listing “children” and “older parents” under the one heading of “dependants” but somehow the number seven seems more mystical than six and might even have a direct biblical connection. So, let’s stick to our seven main topics for the moment, if only to avoid an additional period of non-happiness where we worry about whether there are six or seven main topics.
It has to be admitted that there will be certain periods, of indeterminable duration, when people/they/you/me will discover the bliss of pure unadulterated happiness. These infrequent times will rarely exceed twenty-four hours, at which point one of the seven will return, usually with a bang, to remind us that happiness is not our normal state. The above brief period of happiness might have even just been thrown in to the mix, through a trick of our devious sub-conscious, just so we can be aware of what we’re missing.
When we’re younger we naively think that as we grow older and are in charge of our own lives we’re going to experience true everlasting happiness. Sadly this never turns out to be the case. All we really discover is how much we should have enjoyed the relative happiness of our childhood because those years will never ever prepare us for what will be thrown at us in our later years. Nor should they prepare us; we all need the calm before the storm
The big news, the big secret no one ever lets you in on, is that you are never ever going to arrive at the point where you will wake up one morning and discover the grass isn’t, in fact, greener elsewhere. You know, where you arrive at a point literally, physically, mentally or spiritually where nothing will concern you. A place where there will be no dog-do lurking in the shadows of the trail ahead of you. In other words when you reach a point where your own personal nirvana will have arrived.  You’d hoped it would be a place where you could relax with your true love; read books; listen to music; go the cinema (this one is the reason why a desert island would never work for me); go for long walks through stunning soulful country; reflect on just how miraculous and marvellous a creation the human body really is; and, finally: appear on Desert Island Discs describing your own personal heaven to the world.
Spoiler alert: It’s never going to happen.
Humans are incapable of being happy (all the time).
We’re not wired to be that way, and if we were I fear we’d realise it was, plain and simply, just boring? Personally I’m not sure I one hundred percent subscribe to this theory. I think this particular notion is a fail-safe which has been wired into our systems just so we don’t get too preoccupied about not being happy all the time. Maybe it even frees up more time for us to worry about the big seven issues.
Some people sadly get bogged down with the lack of everlasting happiness to the extent that they will try and rid themselves of this niggle. They will consider absolutely anything to permanently expel the sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, voices responsible for their anxiety.  
Occasionally I have to consider the extremes some humans are prepared to go to in order for them to try to reach their own particular prefab nirvana.
This is the stage I reach every time I embark on writing a new murder mystery.
The point where I start to examine what some characters would be prepared to do, in order to put everything out of their consciousness. Everything that is apart from their own misguided selfishness and preoccupation with a state of permanent happiness. Put another way, study their endeavours to reach a state where some of their worries will not “do their head in.”    
A state we all know just doesn’t exist.  

Talking of the above, I continue working on the eleventh Christy Kennedy mystery, Departing Shadows; reading the 2nd Volume of Kenneth Womack's incredible Sound Pictures: The Life of  Beatles Producer George Martin, the later years, 1966 to 2016; going to the cinema - my favourite of last year was, by a million miles was Clint Eastwood's The Mule and yet it didn't get nominated for a single Oscar (I bet the real story behind the omission would make an Oscar winning movie, well then on second thoughts, perhaps not) and, attending concerts, the recent highlights being Joan Baez at the Palladium and the multi talented Paul Carrack on brilliant form at Guildford Live.
Until the next time...

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Mystery of The Wrecking Crew

I was very sad when I heard that Glen Campbell had passed. He was such an outstanding singer, songwriter and guitarist who had influenced me in so many ways over the years.. Sometimes the best thing to do in those circumstances is to sit down and try to put your thoughts down on paper, if only because you know that time will surely erode the intensity of your feelings. So I ended up writing an article for Hot Press magazine in Dublin that focuses on the Mystery (there always seems to be a mystery behind everything I explore) of The Wrecking Crew in general and Glen Campbell and his membership of the same outfit in particular. That Hot Press (30.08.17) piece started:

At one point in the late 1960s the best-selling group (most likely with the rare exception of the BEATLES) in the entire world was a group no fan ever screamed to. There were no known photographs of this group. No one knew their favourite food, drink, actor, actress, movie nor even what clothes they wore. Not only that, but no fan ever knew who they were and the reason for this was quite simply because the record companies didn’t want you to know. The identity of this group was their biggest, and their carefully guarded secret. It was so vital to their continued financial stability that the identity remain a secret. Should anyone outside the hallowed corridors of the Capital Records building in LA, CBS’s BlackRock in NYC, and the likes, discover the secret, it would most likely have killed the careers of some of the biggest groups in the industry and totally reshaped the landscape of the music business as we know it today. 
 The remainder of it can be found at:

I hope you enjoy...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sgt., Flynn's Lonely Hertz Club Van


I remember the day just like it was just yesterday. It was one morning early in 1963 and I strolled into my mum’s cosy kitchen without a care in the world. She was busy preparing lunch and, as ever, she had the radio on. She’d have been hoping they might play Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra or, better still, her favourite disc, What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes A Me For? by Emile Ford & The Checkmates.

Up to that point music had been a bit like wallpaper to me; it was there all around me all of the time but it was pretty easy to ignore. It didn’t engage me. But that morning I heard a joyous, infectious, melodic, pleasing sound that stopped me in my tracks and, quite literally, changed my world.

The sound I heard was Please Please Me and I soon discovered this magic came from four Liverpool lads called The Beatles. I became obsessed by both the single and the group. Soon I’d a cheap record player and, a few months later, was also the proud owner of Please Please Me (the long playing record). Another six albums and four years later, I thought I’d it all figured out when they hit me (and the rest of the world) with what has arguably become the most important album ever released: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band.  

During the summer of 1967 I was still living in Northern Ireland, getting ready to leave for London in fact. I'd bought Sgt. Peppers the day it was released but hadn't had a chance to listen to it too much, preoccupied as I was then by trying to secure gigs for my first group, The Blues By Five. But I had liked the album; most certainly I’d liked it a lot. Then, one Saturday evening, I was at this party in a church hall in Cookstown, up in the heartland of Northern Ireland in Co. Tyrone. Up until this point Cookstown was famous for having one very broad street which ran the whole way through the townland. The street was so broad that legend had it pedestrians brought a flask of tea and some sandwiches with them so they could take a break mid-way across. Now, to me, Cookstown was going to become famous for something entirely different.

All the walls and ceiling of the church hall were covered with a mass of colourful posters, streamers and balloons. The music was great and, as they say up in those parts, the craic was ninety. We just sat back and let the evening go. People were talking, laughing, joking and dancing. Some were sitting around, drinking and having a good time and then someone put the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album on a record-player they’d wired up direct to the PA system.

One by one the party-people stopped talking and chatting and the noise and bustle of the party died down completely until the entire crowd present was being seduced by this beautiful and inspiring music. People were smiling and loving it. Happiness was spreading from one person to another with the same power and speed panic can move through a gathering. It was wonderful to be there. It was certainly a thrill. Every new track drew everyone deeper and deeper into this new world. Our new world, a world created for us by The Beatles. It was like everything they had ever done had been leading up to that point. Every note of music they had ever played, every song they had ever composed had been in preparation for this moment: the moment they captured with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It didn't matter that perhaps the Revolver album might have been a better album. It didn't matter that touring had nearly destroyed our band. It didn't matter that I didn't have someone there with me to love and share this with; there was already more than enough love in the air. Nothing really mattered apart from the wonderful sounds filling the speakers and the fact that the Beatles had fulfilled their unspoken promise to us. This album wasn't a great album because it sold lots of copies. The album sold lots of copies, purely and simply, because it was a great album. Yes, maybe even the perfect album.

And the thing about the party that night in Cookstown was that we were all sharing it, sharing the pleasure. And as it was being shared, the pleasure grew. When John Lennon started to sing A Day In the Life, I swear to you I felt shivers run down my spine, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and my throat went dry. I could feel my nostrils tightening as though tears were going to flow. I bet you not one person in that hall felt any different. No one moved a muscle for fear of spoiling the mood. As the last note, the E Major, drifted into silence, everyone was left stunned and speechless. It was like a mass turn-on but instead of the buzz being incited by a drug, it had been induced by the show The Beatles had wanted, needed to present to us. This was the show they knew they could never do on stage as the moptops to their screaming fans. But they felt they could do it by sending it out to us in the form of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. I know that probably sounds as if I may have been indulging in some of the stimulants that had even managed to make it as far as Cookstown in those days. I wasn't. I never felt the need to. But you really had to be there, in Cookstown on that spectacular summer evening, to know what I'm on about. It was a perfect moment. It was one of those moments that rarely happen in your life but when they do, well then you have to try and find some way to savour the magic moments and cherish and protect them in your memory. All I can tell you is that as we strained to hear the disappearing E Major, there was the most incredible feeling of elation, yes… even euphoria. When all that was left was the crackle of the needle on its final revolution everyone started to clap their hands. We didn't know what else to do. We just clapped and clapped and then clapped some more.

You'll never ever meet anyone who can tell you what it was like the first time the 1812 Overture was performed, or what it was like sitting in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin when The Hallelujah Chorus was receiving its world premiere. In fact, I can guarantee you won't. Time has drawn a line under both of those. But, with hand on heart, I'm happy to tell you that for me what those audiences felt could not have compared with the experience I felt while listening to The Beatles' masterwork that night in Cookstown.

It was never the same again. I never ever experienced that same buzz again. I don't tell you that with the slightest regret. I am proud to have been alive in that time and enjoyed that once in a lifetime experience. I still love and enjoy listening to the record. But it just may have been the communal spirit between all present at the party that special summer evening in Cookstown that made the Beatles playback so extraordinary. I suppose for an experience to have been so special meant that it certainly wasn't going to be an experience which could be repeated frequently, if ever.

And it all came from the music; the music of The Beatles.

And here we are fifty years later (nearly to the day) and we’re enjoying that music and those moments once again and to mark this special 50th Anniversary celebration I wanted to share a D.I. Christy Kennedy (short) mystery, entitled: Sgt. Flynn’s Lonely Hertz Club Band, which was inspired by the Beatles eighth album or, as it was known to the EMI accountants, PCS 7027.   

         Thanks to the Fab people at Fahrenheit Press a Kindle version is available now. And talking about available now, there is also a Christy Kennedy (short) mystery included in the current (July/ August) edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. The Kennedy story is called Harry Potter & The Shadow of the Forger's Throne, I hope you enjoy both.



Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Legend of St Ernan's Blues



When I completed work on the first Inspector Starrett mystery  – The Dust of Death – I immediately (quite literally the following morning) started writing the 2nd in the series - Family Life. Although I had the idea for the three books right from the get go, I didn’t start work on the 3rd title for several years. Starrett is a very enjoyable character to write but I had to wait for the right time in order to make it work. Time had to pass on and off the page; things had to happen, things which I had no say in, but yet, things I had to pay attention to. On top of which, in the meantime I had other writing pleasures to attend to.  Like the Castlemartin stories, the 10th Kennedy and the 1st McCusker.  

I had the opening scene of the 3rd Starrett in my mind's eye for ages.  A young novice priest would be found slumped over in a chair while a pot of potatoes still boiled on the nearby stove. There wouldn't be any noticeable marks about his body that pointed to the reason for his demise. Starrett and his team would be called in to investigate. There was a wee bit of an Agatha Christie vibe to it, although maybe the original title - with a nod to Paul Simon's beautiful lyric - Hello Darkness My Old Friend, was a bigger clue to my themes.  I did like the Agatha Christie approach where she would have the majority of the suspects in the one space; you know, like a train, or a boat or a library. I thought my mystery would be better suited to a retirement home for priests. I took time out from writing and spent quite a bit of time "getting to know" the 11 members of clergy, working out their backstory, their foibles, if you will, and making them individuals.

Now I needed a house, a believable house.  
I’m always discovering that fact is stranger than fiction - much stranger - that real locations are always infinitely more interesting than fictional ones. Take for instance the case in point: St Ernan’s House on St Ernan’s Island, located a stone’s throw from Donegal Town.  I was intrigued by the island and the house from the first time I encountered them.  I believe Catherine and I may have stayed in the house when it was a guest house, and I admit that might even have been my imagination.  But either way, bit by bit, I discovered the history of the Island. The story about how the causeway was built is true; the fireplace coming from the burnt out Eske Castle and the original antique pen nibs addressed to then owner, John Hamilton, being found in the house, are both true and have been included in attempts to try and make fiction read as fact. The four master writers that Starrett discovers amongst the St Ernan’s residents in the house are nods back to the original 4 master writers who were based in the nearby Donegal Town Castle and endeavouring to write the history of Ireland.

Now I had my house, a lone house on a small island, an island, and I also had my title: St Ernan's Blues. 

When I was doing research for St Ernan’s Blues I was intrigued by both the house and the island. I tried several times to fix up a visit to go and examine the Island and, if I was very lucky, the house.  The owner was very polite; the times weren’t convenient, “maybe check in again in a few months,” he said. I did and (equally politely) a few more times after that. Eventually he agreed I could come over and Catherine dropped me off by the front door and she and her father Gerry and our two nephews, Oisin and Darragh, went off for a drive around the grid lock that is Donegal Town, promising to return to pick me up. The owner was very generous with his time and showed me around the wonderful historic house.  I was always conscious I was encroaching on his time and tried really hard to do the swiftest version of the tour, while keeping my wish for an investigative walk around the island to myself. Don’t get me wrong, the owner was at all times very hospitable, but I believe by the time Catherine returned to pick me up, his sigh of relief was definitely visible.  He walked me out to the car and as we were saying our goodbyes, he though he recognised someone in the car. 

“Is that Gerry McGinley?” he asked.

“It is indeed,” I replied.

“How do you know Gerry,” he asked, as he quickly walked over to the car.

“He’s my father-in-law,” I replied.

“Sure you should have told me that,” he said, as he opened the car door and started shaking Gerry’s hand furiously. 

You see my father-in-law was a well loved legend in Donegal; very sadly he has since passed. The owner knew him and everything changed immediately. As he chatted away to Gerry he invited me to have an explorative dander around the island, “and go and look around the house again if you want to” and when I returned they were still chatting away ten to the dozen. 

From their chat I got a sense of the old Donegal, of how people dealt with each other; of how when people know you are connected to people they know and respect, they are prepared to offer you the same genuine hospitality friends of theirs would recieve in return, were the situation ever reversed.  

I came away from my visit to St Ernan’s Island with the words (and melody) from a famous traditional song of the county. “Your hearts are like your mountains in the homes of Donegal,” ringing around my head and my soul and knowing that the time would never be better to start work on my book.       




Monday, May 30, 2016

American Views *


* From the front of Taxi Cabs.

I’ve always loved all things American: the Lone Ranger & Tonto, Rawhide, Bronco Lane, Wagon Train, Geronimo, Mr Dillon, JFK, Hollywood, movies, Dylan, American dollars, Elvis Presley, the stars and stripes, The Doors, all-day breakfasts (particularly hash browns) and, of course, the American classic cars.

All those wonderful Cadillacs and the other classics, now they were a joy to the eye, weren’t they? Ford Mustangs; Chevys; Chryslers; Plymouth Roadrunners; Dodge Royal American Sedans; Lincoln Continentals; Corvette Stingrays; Pontiac Firebirds and Buicks - all items of beauty and all individual flagships of a never-to-be-forgotten era.  Sadly, very sadly, the majority of American cars have now been blanded into the one-design-suits-all models - much the same bland as we seen all over Europe. Trucks are the exception; the American trucks are still as majestic, eye-catching and individual as ever, while and the classic iconic yellow school buses just keeping on rolling along the length and breadth of my favourite country.

I recently visited America for a whistle-stop book tour, stopping off in New York, Washington (Bethesda & Arlington), Boston, Minneapolis, Seattle, Orange, Scottsdale, New Orleans, Houston and Austin. Yes lots of trains and buses and planes.  I was out there on the road just like Donald and Hilary, trying to win support from the American people. 

It’s definitely Trump Time in the USA at the moment.

On my travels I discovered taxi drivers really are the font of all knowledge. One driver told me that Bill and Hilary openly encouraged Donald to join the competition because they felt they could easily beat him. I tried to figure out how a taxi driver from Boston would know that Bill and Hilary Jones of Merthyr Tydfil, and members of the Cilsanws Golf Club, were always taking advantage of Bill’s younger cousin, Donald Jones, out on the golf course.

New York City born and bred, Donald Trump, billionaire, property developer, bearer of gravity-defying hair, on the other hand, is, it would appear, to blame for everything, everything that is, according to my taxi driver – this time the taxi driver on the way into Seattle from the airport. So taking his lead I also laid the blame at DT’s feet for Rory McIlroy and Man United’s current poor form and on how few the numbers of people who turned up at my bookstore event in New Orleans were. I can’t tell you how good it feels to have someone to blame for whatever is upsetting you, so thank you very much Mr Trump.

The prospect of Trump becoming the next USA president seems to be the current preoccupation in the whole of America. Hilary doesn’t seem to be making a connection with the American people on the street, nor with taxi drivers for that matter. One taxi driver confidently predicted that not only would Trump become president but that, when he did, he would pin a sheriff’s badge on his own shirt and ride off into the horizon to right the American wrongs. In lieu of the real Lone Ranger, Marshall Dillion, Ty Hardin, Roddy Yates (now there would have been a great US President) or, my own person favourite, Alf Tupper, the Tough of The Track, maybe DT will have to do. If Donald sets off on such an adventure I feel it would be very important that someone remind him that there are only a limited number of silvers bullets available.

“Not a lot of people know this,” my Seattle taxi driver started off confidently, sounding like a denim-clad Michael Caine, “but candidates who are way behind in the primaries, just before they drop out of the running, apparently go to the leading candidate and “invite” them to contribute to their campaign losses in order to confirm - or maybe even “persuade” would be a better word - the candidate behind in the polls, that they will drop out and maybe even, in some cases, endorse the leading candidate.” He also reckoned that Cruz was too desperate to win, to be a good president. “Can you imagine the lengths a desperate president might go to, to win some issue while in the White House? On top of which he turned up at one of his final rallies dressed in denim jeans!”

Supposedly large numbers of government staff will resign if Trump wins the presidency and (allegedly) an even greater number of American citizens are going to emigrate into the open, welcoming, arms of Canada. That particular cab driver cautioned me with, “let’s wait and see how many actually do.”

Hilary Clinton’s campaign reminds me a lot of the Bjorn Borg approach to his legendary tennis matches with John McEnroe, where Bjorn would never ever “win” any of the marathon competitions, it was more that he would just refuse to “lose” to his superior, but temperamental, opponent. A very effective ruse in that it gained the Swede a 50% success rate in their twenty-two meetings. But, you’d have to say, hardly a presidential quality.  

While on my stateside travels, I also picked up from another American taxi driver that three USA nuclear reactors are currently leaking; that the Euro is shortly about the crash, not due to, but certainly helped by the fact that, three Italian banks and one Austrian bank, are about to fold. Warming to his “doom” subject, he also predicted that the US dollar will be devalued this autumn (a.k.a. “fall”). On the positive side, he predicted Gold and Silver and Wheat will go through the roof and become the main commodities of trade measurement again.

Yet another taxi driver put forward the theory that Trump is “happening” just because ordinary decent people have come to the conclusion that politics doesn’t work for them anymore. He cited the fact that the leader of the Republican Party (allegedly Trump’s party this time around) said he wasn’t ready yet to endorse Trump. Everyone immediately realised that the subtext was, “We haven’t done a deal yet.” Trump floored the party leaders by implying he wasn’t going to do a deal, suggesting, at this stage at least, that the guard is changing. My taxi driver reckoned that Trump has come this far because he is suggesting he’s going to change everything about politics than needs changing and, maybe more importantly, he’s not in anyone’s pocket, meaning that he won’t have any favours to return should he get into office.  The minute he starts to do deals and/or accept endorsement is the day he will lose his support. My cab driver predicted that people are going to show up at the polling booths who have never bothered to vote before. More alarmingly he claimed that people are really going to take it onto the streets if they don’t feel that their man is getting a fair crack at it. As I was exiting the cab, pondering street riots, his parting shot was, “if you don’t believe that Trump will get in, then please just watch the audiences on the Jerry Springer Show, or the Maury Show, or any of the games shows on our television. They’re the same audiences that will take Trump to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” 

“USA Literacy rates rise in the bad weather.” This snippet of wisdom was from a Russian taxi driver on the Orange airport run, “Really? How so?” I asked after I’d worked out what he was saying. “Don’t you see,” he continued after he decoded my own strong dialect, “that in the bad weather, the homeless pile into libraries and hide behind the great (as in physically big) tonnes so they’re not thrown out into the cold and damp.”

Talking about accents that reminds me, when ordering food in American restaurants it is important for me to remember that a) I have an Ulster accent and b) the subtle differences between the USA and UK version of English. I have an aversion to tomatoes and it’s so easy to get your order wrong in restaurants where they say “to-mate-toes” where as we (I) say “to-matt-oes.” So, invariably, my order arrives with the latter but no former, whatever it is… you know, “and hold the to-matt-oes, please” (where they translate what they think I’m saying with my to-matt-oes.” I’ve never been able to figure out what’s missing from my plate but as long as it’s not hash browns that are missing I’m okay. Having said that the cafeteria across the road from the Seattle book store does an amazing bean and ham broth.

My Taxi driver in Phoenix recommended that I beware of pick-pockets in New Orleans, my next city. The other cities to watch are: New York, Miami, parts of San Francisco, Oakland. But it’s interesting to note that not one American city figures in the Top Ten Cities in the world to beware of pick-pockets. While in New Orleans I tried to figure out if my lost crowd there had anything to do with the numerous graveyards I passed on the way in from the airport.

When I arrived in Austin, the taxi driver joyously advised me that just that very morning Uber and it’s 40,000 (yes 40,000 drivers, he claimed!) had been thrown out of the city by the mayor because they would not agree to their drivers been checked and fingerprinted or doing a test.  The following day it transpired that the mayor (unlike Trump) was negotiating.   

My personal prediction is that Donald Trump will become president, but the Trump University case will derail his presidency shortly thereafter.

Until the next time,



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Three Gillians & a Couple of Jeans

In one of his many classics, Paul McCartney famously asked, “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

Well let’s see now. DAVID BUCHANAN is from Castlemartin in Mid-Ulster; MARY SKEFFINGTON is from Bath; JEAN SIMPSON and JEAN KERR – yes that’s the two Jeans - are childhood best friends from Matlock in Derbyshire; JOHN HARRISON is from Scotland. All are in their late teens - so late, in fact, that they will soon leave them and (hopefully) their innocence behind. 

I started work on this book a long time ago, as was the case with the other two books in what has turned out to be The Castlemartin Trilogy. The first two were located in Castlemartin, a fictitious village, located about four miles away from (the very real) Magherafelt, on the shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. All three books are set in the mid-1960s. In One of Our Jeans Is Missing, however, David Buchanan, the main character, moves from Castlemartin to London and… well perhaps there’s a wee bit of: you can take the man out of Ulster but you can never take Ulster out of the man.    

David meets up with Mary, John, Jean and Jean and they start to enjoy each other, and music, and each other a bit more, and then one of them disappears. At least two of remaining quartet start to consider what might be the perfect murder.

I had the title from the get-go for this book. This isn’t always the case for me. Tanita Tikaram an artist I was managing at the time visited China for a holiday. She took her two best friends with her. Both of her friends were (in fact still are) called Gillian.  One day Tanita telephoned me from China in a panic. 

“One of our Gillians is missing,” she gushed.

I laughed. In my defence I laughed, not so much at the fact that one of her best friends was missing in a foreign land, but more at the way she had put it. 

“No PC,” Tanita pleaded, “she’s seriously missing!” 

When I set the phone down and had got D.I. Christy Kennedy, Inspector Starrett and McCusker, on the missing Gillians case, I started to think that ‘seriously missing’ - as opposed to ‘casually missing,’ or even just, ‘missing’ - would be a great title for a book, but for some reason or other when it came time to write it up in my wee ideas book I only wrote, ‘One of our Gillians is missing.’ 

Sometime later when I had the idea for this story of David Buchanan and his four fellow teenage exiles in 1960s’ London, the title presented itself to me at pretty much the same time. In fact the original working title for the book was, One of Our Gillians is Missing. Then I started to date a lady called Gillian (yet another one) for a while, and so in order to protect the three Gillians I changed the title to One of Our Jeans is Missing a.k.a. OOOJim (pronounced ‘Oh Jim!’  

Apart from being exiled from the home you grew up in, another of the main themes of the story is how music, big pieces of music, become very important as soundtracks to parts of our lives. I suppose the other important point to mention here is that we are all equally passionate about the music we dislike as we are about the music we love. A lot of the music references in the book – Dylan,  John Lee Hooker, The Spencer Davies Group, Taste and Stevie Winwood – have all had major influences in my life and, along with quite a few other artists, helped me during my move from Ulster to London in 1967. Yes, music certainly helped me deal with the potentially debilitating illness known as homesickness. Even today every time I listen to Neil Diamond’s classic, I Am… I Said, I can still recall vividly the intensity of the helplessness of the bed-sitter days. With hindsight if I had been a doctor I would have prescribed a twice weekly listening session of I Am… I Said, one or Mr Diamond’s most soulful statements.  Just to know that others had suffered and where suffering from your ailment could be a comfort.  With the benefit of that same hindsight I would probably add a thrice weekly visit from Jean Simpson into the potent healing mix. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean should you visit the pages of One Of Our Jeans Is Missing.  

This is my first title to be published by Fahrenheit Press.  I found main man Chris McVeigh refreshingly straightforward to deal with.  His view seemed to be that if he read the book and liked it (and assuming that I could spell Fahrenheit) he would publish it without any publisher interference, fuss or delay.  His only other observation was, “If you want to be treated like a delicate little snowflake we're definitely NOT the publisher for you - try Faber & Faber, they're lovely.”  That was certainly good enough for me. 
That's it until the next time. Next one soon.