Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Writing about Family

Just as the next (last) book is about to go out and meet the world, I got a nice message from my publisher informing me that the number of requests to review were encouraging. It was tempting, but I am too hoary to be getting excited about chickens and eggs. Not cynical, just experienced enough to take it all—success and success deferred—for what it really is.

Like most writers, I had hoped that my first book would change the world and set all to rights. It did for a few, but most people remain blissfully unaware of it and I learned to be okay with that. I just went on and wrote some more.

That is why I use the term “next (last).” Because right after I send a manuscript off to the publisher, I start on the next one. And so it is now. The Last Weekend of the Summer comes out in August and I am half way through the next, next one.

I do it because it is only from this safe distance that I can look back at what I have done. The Last Weekend of the Summer was a bit of a departure for me in that Ireland, and things Irish, gets no mention throughout. I am still Irish, I suppose, but I am . . . in recovery.

The Last Weekend came about after a conversation with my editor and publisher, the great human being that is Lou Aronica at The Story Plant. Having finished the Life & Times trilogy, I asked for his advice as to what I should do about growing my audience—a question, he told me, he is often asked.

“Write to your strengths,” he told me. “You write convincingly about interpersonal conflicts.” (Or words to that effect.)

So I did, and while I have had varied experiences with interpersonal conflicts, both my own and others, in all the areas of life that I have wandered through, the most obvious one, to my mind, was the ultimate testing ground of human interaction; family.

Family is the whole world in a microcosm. It is where we begin to understand that we are not alone in the universe and that we are not the center of it all, either. Although, through personal experience and observations of all that was going on around me, it seems to me that some of those understandings can elude certain people—or be contorted into something else, entirely. You know the ones I mean . . . we all have a few of them hanging from the family tree.

Now I had delved into family in the Life & Times story, but it was just one of the motifs in a long, arcing chronicle of the world that I had lived in—and no, I am not the protagonist even though he and I shared many experiences. With The Last Weekend of the Summer, I wanted to show a family in a much smaller environment. I wanted them to be the front and center of the story. And because I have lived so much of my life in Canada, I set it in the most Canadian setting I could think of; the cottage.

Going to the cottage with family, and extended family, should, in my opinion, be a rite of passage for any who would dare put pen to paper and write about humanity. From the multi-hour drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic in a car overloaded with all the comforts of home from home, in the swelter, with the kids getting antsy, to that moment when you arrive and unpack everything that you could not possibly need even if you were holing up for the winter, you are nothing more than a prisoner of ritual.

Of course, when it is all unpacked and put away you do get to start relaxing by the lake, but then the others arrive and before long bedlam reigns again with more unpacking, loaded commentaries about who brought what and why, fighting over fridge space, and all the other things that are like matches around touch paper.

However, usually the peace and tranquility of the great outdoors can calm the nerves and allow a fragile truce that can last through the first night of fires and marshmallows and everyone slowly drifting off to sleep, but the next morning . . . that’s when it starts to get interesting. There are never enough tire swings, or paddle boats, and some of the kids can only go out in the canoe if an older kid goes with them. The older kids—the teenagers—are far too busy being bored and hostile and, when separated from their electronic gadgetry, are only too happy to set off any and all rivalries that still exist between their parents and their aunts and uncles—and better yet; their parents’ parents.

Then it is like the approach of a thunder storm that could bang and clatter for hours; with the ominous risk of a lightening strike that could start a roaring inferno in dry undergrowth.

By the second night, alliances have been established and the tribe is divided. Everyone hopes that the uneasy peace can dampen the smoldering coals of old umbrage so easily fanned to flame by any slight new or old, real or imagined. All around the fire, strategies are contrived to include, or exclude, by the well-meaning peace-keepers and the score-settlers alike. Ah, a weekend at the cottage; a rich and fertile setting for any story to be set.

But for the sake of the story that is The Last Weekend of the Summer, there had to be more. Family skeletons had to rise from their shallow graves and haunt them all; ghosts of past misdeeds pleading for forgiveness and understanding from those who had been shaped or warped by all that had gone on before.

Now in fairytales they would have all been moved to serene resolutions and lived happily ever after, but this isn’t one of those stories. Confronted by family secrets that some had been oblivious to, and some in denial of, each had to find their own way through it all—with the help, or hindrance, of the bindings that are family ties. How did they all fare? Well, as the author, I am more than happy to have the reader decide that for themselves.

The Last Weekend of the Summer comes out in August:
And in the meantime, I will be writing a few blog posts on family—for better or worse.

Or my website:

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Me, my younger self, and I

There are moments when I have reason to stop daydreaming and pause to consider the greater questions in life.

It is not a very fashionable practice anymore, but I suppose I have become a bit—what you might call—old school.

There was a time when such an admission would have been too distasteful—you know, when I was young and was going to tear down all that was old and staid. We—my generation—were going to make this world a better place. The road to hell . . .

On the grand scale, I doubt I have had much impact in any of that, but on a more local level . . . sure only time will tell.

I am, now, what my younger self would have called ‘old’ and one piece of evidence that my journey has not been without progress is that I can now forgive my younger self his arrogance and vanity. After all, what is the point of youth without these things—inverted or otherwise?

Having been indoctrinated from infancy by well-meaning zealots, I struggled with the meaning and purpose of life for far too long. Who wouldn’t after being told that there is a great power above that oversees all—and that it was a power for good?

It made such little sense when all around me was Bedlamic.

That, I was told, was self-will run riot. It was our true test, they told me: overcoming the self to be part of the one spirit of the universe. To be one with our God-like nature!

That made a lot of sense when I was high but shriveled up when I had to go out among the other inmates of the planet we all call home. They told me, in words and deeds, that it was really about taking as much as you can, giving only what you had to, and to always look out for number one. After all, they told me, God helps those that help themselves.


Yes, but I learned how to deal with things like that. My younger self worked on the buildings sites of London, along with the swearing Paddies, drinking our evenings away in the pubs and parks of Kilburn, with a crumpled, dog-eared copy of The Prophet in the back pocket of my jeans.

The others would make fun of me, but with a certain kindness that wasn’t their normal social currency. They, in a sad kind of way, encouraged me—if only not to become what they had become; trapped in caricature. Not that being a philosophical labourer didn’t come with its own baggage.

Add to that I was, back then, what was once called a wandering minstrel. I played guitar and sang the songs that would change everything, if only people listened to the words. They didn’t and the world went on about its way to whatever end we are designing for it.

With all that we now know about ourselves and the planet we all call home, it could become a source of dread, if you let it.

Be positive, they told me, and always look on the bright side.

Jaysus wept, said I to my younger self, are they all mad?

Now, my older self, knows that we are. We are all mad and we live in a Bedlam of our own creation.

Only we don’t admit it—that would be madness. Instead, we all stick to our agendas, personal or public. We find rationality in our tenets and our causes and we get to look down our noses at any and all who think differently. We demand that we, and those who think like us, be treated fairly while we hurl intolerance and abuse at those who don’t. We are right and everyone else is wrong. 

My older self has come to the sad realization that it has always been like this. All of our great movements; Royalism, Nationalism, Sectarianism. Secularism, Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Genderism, all things that were to have united us in cause or purpose but, in the end, became little more than reasons to divide ourselves and render us to those who would conquer us.

But here’s the part that my older self believes is the point: none of that matters.

Life is all that we say it is. It is the bitter, sweet journey from the cradle to the grave. Full of wonder and woe and all the things in between. A test? An experience? A chance to atone for past crimes against out better natures? Why not? It makes as much sense as anything else.

Despite the challenges of the future, and the numbing nearness of our long-prophesied and catastrophic doom, my older self is accepting of our fate and strives to be no more than happy in just finding the right word, or gesture, that might help another along their way. Because, looking back, I have come to realize that my better moments came about because of the kindness of others.

And that is enough to be getting on with for today. Good luck to you all.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

I am rubber; you are glue . . . and other thoughts about the Presidential election.

While reading a recent online discussion about the American election, there it was: two old-enough-to-know-better adults were going at it about the demerits of each other’s candidate and having abandoned all pretext at civility or decorum, were down to name calling and the online version of sticking their tongues out, culminating in the childhood taunt of: I'm rubber you are glue, your words bounce off me and stick to you.

And while this could be seen as very entertaining, it did cause a shiver of dread when I remembered that these people will get to vote in an election that has enormous impact on the entire population of the planet – existing and future.

I have no dog in this fight and have long ago lost any hope for the electoral process. For me, it is no more than divisive and mean-spirited reality TV at its worst. And my issue with that is that, for most part, it divides rather than unifies people. 

Add in the fact that it is also a massive advertising campaign where money dominates and you might begin to see things the way I do.

As we all know from our daily lives, money doesn’t come cheap. Those who “invest” in candidates have agendas that rarely surface during what passes for debates and are never scrutinized by analysts and experts who form many of the opinions of those who go off to vote.

It has been a long downward spiral to this particular election. In recent years we have seen processions of ‘Gee-Shucks’ cardboard cut-outs trying to out-Jesus each other; new and improved versions of smooth, slick, salesy types saying nothing and denying all that they previously might, or might not, have said, and visionaries who will lead us to Promised Lands where we can live free of all those who are not like us.

The Election industry has created a toxic environment where efforts at the reasonable debate of complex matters have long been abandoned in favour of cleverly tailored sound bites that are repeated like jingles.

Not surprisingly, elections for the most part have become less and less about intellectual civic exercises and more and more about emotional venting and the rejection of the ideals of people we hate, fear, or envy.

A compelling and recent example of all of this was the British referendum and I follow the resulting gyrations with a mixture of amazement and trepidation. There, a majority of voters followed leaders who, on winning, resigned and in doing so forced the country to actually begin to discuss what it was they had done.

Similarly, in the first American Presidential debate, the matter of Syria did not merit a mention.

Regardless of your views on the horrible war in that country – and finding a clear picture in the haze of misinformation is a particular challenge – surely a future president’s views should be examined and understood? Or are we to wander into a new world war without even the pretext of political rationale?

Perhaps it is the only logical way after the farce of the great WMD issue when the Coalition of the Willing, made up of the democratically elected governments of the free peoples of the world, attacked and destroyed countries that now seem to have had little or nothing to do with 9/11 – and all in the name of defending our freedom and democracy.

Not that any of that matters if we are all transfixed by the circus this election presents. Never mind that the world is being brought to rack and ruin by the privately plotted actions of State and Corporate interests, let’s get enraged about what the other candidate may have done or said, or looks like. Then, in place of real debate, let’s all turn on each other and call each other names, and worse.

As stated, I have no dog in this fight and, while one candidate is probably unfit to be allowed out in public and the other has the lingering odour of shady deals, I would be far more concerned with who is paying for all of this and what their real agenda might be.

It is one of the great flaws of democracies that so much of what is done in the name of the people is done behind closed doors. You can cite security, confidentiality, or whatever, but how can it be called the will of the people when they have no idea what is really going on?

Sure, many of us are happy to be sloughed off with media information from the sources that we trust implicitly, but that, at the end of the day, is little more than going through the motions so that we can pay lip service to the principle that democracy is supposed to enshrine: that “the informed voter is the sword of democracy.”

I began to question that long ago and now find myself more aligned with the great wit, Oscar Wilde, who has been quoted as saying: “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

Yes, it had been a long and torturous slide to where we are now and, far from being the shining light of freedom and democracy, this election may well be the beginning of the final act in the tragically comedic story of the decline and fall of human civilization.

And yes, I do have ideas on a better way. I might even get around to sharing them one of these days so if you are interested, check back in a while. I’ll be here, thinking about things.



Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Watching the Euros

I admit it; I am a football fan and this year I have the added incentive of watching games on Portuguese television – to improve my knowledge of the language.

I am not sure how well that is working but, as we all sit on the eve of the Brexit (English for Trumpism?) it does a tired heart good to see the fans in green.

The Irish teams, and there are two, N.I. (Northern Ireland) and R.O.I. (Republic of Ireland) are both here and while the former has acquitted itself rather well, the latter is a poor team of less than stellar talent.

But it is the Irish fans that are the talk of Europe. There is nothing these boys and girls in green can’t do; serenade pretty blond French women, serenade nuns, sing lullabies to babies and the French police, hold impromptu dance-offs with Vikings, change flat tires, and clean up after themselves.
Their mammies must be fierce proud of them all.

Ireland was one of the countries singled out for austerity and took it on the chin. And while there are those (mostly Irish politicians) who crow about being the “Poster Boys of Recovery” – when once they crowed about being the “Poster Boys of European Success” – they reality of the cuts has been severe, and at times brutal.

Hard to believe when you see the travelling Irish fans.

Neighbours here in Lisbon, who know I am Irish, stop me on the street to talk about them.  The Irish, they say, are always so jolly!

Now having spent time in some dark and dreary times and places in Ireland, I have to stop and look it from the outside. And, having lived two thirds of my life as an emigrant, I am getting better at that. Europe, and the rest of the world, needs to get jolly more often.

In no way am I discounting the plight of refuges, or the mass shootings in Orlando, nor am I going to pretend that the story of humanity isn’t littered with the most brutal and horrifying acts, but come here ‘til I tell you: there is more to humanity than the sum of our cruelties and petty divisions.

We are, in the eyes of whatever created us, all the same and any one telling you otherwise is up to no good.

We have the ability to get together and do what has to be done in a civilized and cooperative manner. We do it every day, everywhere, even if our media chooses not to focus on it.

Besides, if we are on the road to Armageddon, then why not go with a bit of class and enjoy the ride.

Enough of the psychopaths that would have us tear at each other. Here in Europe we have done far too much of that. Let’s be more like the boys and girls in green and be jolly in the face of all our problems. Others will come and behave like their leaders – and never forget that example comes from those at the top – but we will enjoy the good that’s in the day, and when it’s all over, let’s keep it going.

Our civilization is very flawed but it is far better than the anarchy of war. Let’s keep together in this, and extend it. Yes, the rich will always be a gouging lot, but there are more of us than them and, as our mammies often told us: we can set a good example.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

"The whole world is lying and cheating,and everybody else goes along with it--except when I do it."

Peter Murphy, author of "Lagan Love", his first novel, has now given us "All Roads”, the third novel, after "Born and Bred” and "Wandering in Exile”, in the Life and Times trilogy. These four books have placed Murphy in the league with other popular and loved Irish writers such as Roddy Doyle, Frank McCourt, Brendan Behan, Brendan O’Carroll, Sean O’Casey, Patrick Taylor and others. If you love to read about Irish life, culture, history ,family and other influences such as politics and religion; you will find this new voice and storyteller a must read writer.

This latest novel finds the central character, Danny Boyle, now in Canada with his family in 1997.The first line in the novel, "Hi, I'm Danny B. and I'm AN ALCOHOLIC”, kicks off the next 16 years in the life of Danny, his wife, family, friends, as well as his troubled life, to both himself and those who surround him and are affected by him. The novel takes place mainly in Toronto, but there are many times over the years, that the reader is transported to Dublin and Rome I won't go into details about the storyline of this novel, or the two proceeding novels of the trilogy, other than that each of the novels can stand alone in reading, but I strongly suggest you read "Born and Bred", "Wandering in Exile" and "All Roads" in that order. As I have mentioned in my other Reviews, this novel covers 16 years and a lot of characters; so I suggest you keep a list of the characters and their relationships as they keep re-appearing over the years. Murphy helps the reader in keeping track of time by dating the time period of each chapter.

You might also wish to read my Reviews, as well as others, that have been posted here on Amazon.
While the stories, characters, family, friends, associates, and experiences make for an engrossing read; there are a plethora of lessons, good and otherwise, that you'll obtain from this trilogy; that will remain with you for a long time.

If you forget all about the lives and experiences of the people in this trilogy, just remember; Danny's words;

"When I was drinking I used to try and tell myself that I wasn't harming anybody else, but that wasn't true. Everything we do spills over into other people's lives--the good and the bad."

Jerry Guild

Monday, 17 August 2015

Whirly gigs and a small princess

Getting back into the whirly gig

For most of the last four years I spent my days in one chair or another, writing Life & Times, the story of one man and the abutting parts of the world that tormented and shaped him, deformities and all. It spans almost 60 years and required a lot of remembering and looking back at the way things were, and as old memories came back and mingled with my disconsolation with the present, and my distrust of the future, I needed to shut myself off. I had to carry the entire story around inside of me and shun all outside distractions and interruptions.

Moving to Lisbon was the reward, a necessity and a formal farewell to a great many things that had been churning around inside of me for years. Here I would get out more, get some sun, meet new people, and see new things. I knew it would be a transition as I had grown very used to my solitude shared mostly with imaginary characters. I knew it would be busy and, at times, hectic, but what I hadn’t considered was that it could be far more absurd than any fiction I might cobble together.

Back into the beast’s lair

Before books are released into the wild, publishers send copies to be distributed to friends & lovers, reviewers and other shady people an author might owe gambling debts, etc. It is a simple enough practice. The books are declared to have no value – fitting, eh? And they get delivered without too much fuss and bother.

Not here, though. It began with a very formal letter from the post office which I replied to in my best Googled Portuguese to the effect that I was not intending to resell the books and avoid paying tax on my lucre.

Perhaps Google wasn’t the best go-between because they sent me a template to declare what I had already declared. Fair enough, says I to the dog, and re-Googled.


It still wasn’t enough and after a few weeks, there was nothing for it but to make my way over to the alfandega. Now it wasn’t quite Gates of Mordor stuff but it wasn’t the most pleasant part of Lisbon.

Anyway, I took my number and waited to see the person who could verify that I had legitimate business with them and was sent back to take a number for the person who could actually deal with my problem.


While I waited, a young girl walked in with a flower in her hand and asked almost everyone there for a glass of water to put her flower in. Finally someone looked after her but I wasn’t so lucky. The woman behind the counter could not help me and could not explain what the problem was.

There was nothing for it but to resort to English and she agreed to send for the man who spoke English—only he was having coffee and I had to wait for a while.


When he did emerge, he was polite, dignified, and helpful. The declared dollar value on my box of books was, he was sad to inform me, “impossible in Portugal.”

Fair enough, says I and we both scratched out heads, eyed each other like we were playing poker, and eventually came up with a value that was possible. 150 Euros seemed fair—after all it is literary fiction and here in Portugal that still has some value. They still respect writers here and have ruas and largos named after poets and the like.

The value of literary fiction

150 Euros, says I to myself, I’m going to get dinged for tax here.
Portugal, like a few other countries has been singled out to pay the penalty of the recklessness of International banking and all their Credit Default nonsense that broke the way money works.


Fair enough, says I to the man who spoke English and he wished me a good morning and assured me that, now that the form had an acceptable value written on it, his colleague would now be able to look after me.

Except she was busy arguing with a couple who were trying to smuggle something past customs so I waited. And I waited. And while I waited some more, the young girl with the flower stepped in front of me, held up a ticket, bowed and smiled. Being well-breed, myself, I took the ticket and bowed back.

The little girl seemed content with her efforts and began to drink from the glass with the flower.

In time, the lady behind the counter was able to look at my form—with the true value of literary fiction in the appropriate box—and stamp the damn thing. She then explained that I should take the now acceptable form to another wicket.

I looked up at the screen that informs which ticket is next and I looked down at the ticket the little girl had given me. I was next and with little more ado, I got my box of books, didn’t have to pay tax, and was on my way.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I used to have a real job once.

For marketing purposes, I’m supposed to be working on my blog – Following the Muse ( – but the damn thing has gotten so far ahead of me that I am wandering around in a bit of a daze.

Having recently moved to Lisbon, I have become a bit absorbed in the new life all around me. I’m in “input mood,” I keep reminding myself as each gloriously sunny day fades into another cool, pearly evening.

But I did manage to get back to working on the next novel and it is a struggle. Novels are like lovers in that you are rarely in the mood at the same time and when you are ready, your novel crosses its legs and sulks. At least mine do!

I’m less concerned about that these days and while it might be the effect of the aforementioned glorious sun, or the cool, pearly evenings, or the fact that life in Lisbon has not yet been totally trampled underfoot by what often gets confused with progress, I prefer to think of my work as fruit. It will ripen when the time is right.

Some of my readers will agree and think of lemons—and to them I say: life is grand.
Thinking like this is an adjustment because I once held jobs in the regular sense of the word and I was even good at some of them. I was very focused on things like timelines and deliverables. I understood that in the great clock-likeness of the modern enterprise, each little cog had to play its part; on time and on budget. It became a bit of an obsession with me and I suffered interruption with the grace of a disturbed hippo—particularly when the time wasting came from above.

I masked my disdain with a kind of strained stoicism as some director waffled on about synergies and scalabilities and all the other words they had recently stumbled upon while reading an in-flight magazine. You know the type. They wear their company IDs to the washroom and I can only assume that it is a precaution. If the better parts of their brains fall out, they can still remember their primary purpose which is to assert their importance by interrupting the progress of those they bore for hours with pep-talks about improving productivity and importance of individual accountability in the grand scheme.

Over time my strained stoicism wore thin and I began to garner a reputation for “being a bit abrasive.”

Given what was really going through my mind, I think I should have been awarded medals for tact and diplomacy.

I once worked with a guy who regularly fell asleep at his desk and could be relied upon for nothing—except his uncanny skill at ass kissing. He could do it in his sleep. Naturally he was promoted beyond all usefulness while the rest of us struggled on in relative anonymity. For the most part I kept my comments to a bare minimum—acerbic as they were—and instead just hung signs on his desk!

I was thinking about this the last few afternoons which have been a bit on the hot side -- 35+ which is beyond my operating range. As I sat staring at the end of chapter 3, wondering which of the next story lines to go with, my head would start to nod. No amount of coffee could forestall the inevitable and I gave in and took naps.

There was a time when I would have scolded myself for that and imposed new and stricter deadlines to compensate. Now, not so much. You see all those jobs; carrying bricks up rickety scaffolds, digging holes like redemption was underground, dusting ballot boxes in a government basement, writing yards of computer code, taught me a great many things that have become so much clearer in the rear-view mirror. I now know myself and I know that I know how to get things done.

I should also admit that as I get older, I have become a little more indulgent with myself. I have come to the realisation that “I’m not the worst of them” and that some of the stuff I write—albeit overlooked by the shallow masses—has merit.

Writing books I have become to realise is less about one critical path and more about meandering through myriad possibilities. It is a bit like how we used to learn things before we got packed off to school; we played until we knew.

Fortunately, I work for myself these days as such thinking would be heresy to the bottom-line crowd and their synergies and scalabilities and all the other words they use to mask the sad fact that so very few of us really have any idea what we are doing. I certainly don’t, but that might yet turn out to be my greatest asset.

Anyway, enough chit-chat, time to get back to staring at the computer screen.