One week after the book launch…

At Hodges Figgis, Dublin's oldest bookstore

It’s a week after the official book launch of ‘Pins and Needles’. I’ve been flat out with work since so haven’t really had time to reflect or follow up properly but I thought I’d post something before it became a distant memory… The evening couldn’t have gone better. There were 70 or 80 people in attendance and about 50 books sold – pushing the novel into the Hodges Figgis best seller category. The book is now in the window display, under New Irish Authors and a couple of other locations around that gorgeous store (including the Travel Section, due to the Camino de Santiago influence, no doubt).

Apart from the practical success of the launch and book sales, it’s been a fabulous realisation, for me, that I have people out there who are interested and who care enough to give of their valuable time (and money in many cases) to come along. My sister Gillian with her husband Stephen and family had a car break down on the way but it didn’t stop them from getting the rest of the way on foot. Melanie Murphy, the YouTuber and author, had said she’d pop along when I was at her recent book launch. True to her word she took time out from her own book circuit to be there. Natasha Rocca Devine from The Interiors NRD arrived – quite likely from LA or somewhere – and did very slick and professional promotion for me. One of the most touching occurrences was the arrival of practically my entire Trinity Italian class and no less than five Trinity professors.

I’ve done a vlog post that shows my nerves beforehand, my rather stuttering speech and some photos of the night here:

There’s something special about seeing your book with those of authors you know and respect.

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Scammed and feeling stupid…

I’m feeling rather stupid. I consider myself pretty web-smart. My junk mail filters rival those criss-crossing infrared lights that protect the Crown Jewels. Ocean’s 11, 12, 13 or, in fact, any number of accomplices would have a tough job sneaking a scam mail into my inbox. And, should one slip through, I raise my one still-functioning eyebrow in bemusement at the thought that someone honestly thought they could scam me with an improbable story about unclaimed millions waiting for my greedy co-operation to unlock.  So, as I said, I’m feeling rather stupid.

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I’m awaiting a delivery from Lithuania. I was told that it would be here today but I was told neither what time to expect the delivery nor given any tracking number nor phone line to make inquiries. So, when my phone rang an hour or so ago and an unrecognised international number displayed onscreen I nearly dropped it in my haste to answer. Despite my lightning fingers, there was nobody on the other end. I rang back. I got an international tone and then, success. I was through to the mystery caller. At least, I was through to some noises, squeaks and whistles. I presumed that it was difficulty with the overseas connection and persisted for a while before deciding to hang up and try again.

I’ve spent the past hour trying to answer calls that rang only once or twice and then dialling the numbers to track down the poor, lost, Lithuanian delivery man who must, I felt, be tired, hungry and frustrated with his undelivered consignment keeping him in this strange rainy land, far from his… well, you get the picture. It was when I finally managed to answer a call and heard an un-Lithuanian-sounding woman’s voice saying: “Please hold the line to hear news that will benefit you from our financial controller…” before the line went dead, that a memory stirred. The language might have been a reading from one of those scam emails I so scornfully dodged as a matter of course. I checked the country codes in my call log of the numbers that had phoned me and, more pertinently, that I had phoned back. “222” – Mauritania and “248” – Seychelles. My geography is not at a level that would see me competing on a general knowledge tv game show but it is sufficiently rounded enough to recall that neither Mauritania nor Seychelles are in Eastern Europe. A quick Google search revealed the truth.

This scam works on a baiting principle. The mark, in this case me, gets a phone call from a foreign number and, driven by innocent curiosity, calls it back. There are a range of possible ploys at the other end of the line to keep the mark from hanging up because, the number dialled is a premium number and the international premium call is costing a fortune. It’s not even illegal because the poor fool has voluntarily made the phone call.

My Lithuanian package has still not arrived but I probably can’t afford it, anyway, now…

The ghosts in my house…

“I’m glad he’s moving out of that house because of the ghosts.”
We were on a family holiday – the last before my Dad died – in Dingle and my sister was on the phone to my brother who, having been detained in Dublin, was to join us the following day. I had mentioned over dinner, in passing, that I was leaving the 240 year old Georgian house that I’d been renting in Drogheda for the previous three years to move back to Dublin.
“What ghosts?” was my sister’s predictable response.


My brother went on to explain that, within days of me moving in, he’d called to visit unannounced and found nobody home. He’d crossed the street to take a photograph with the disposable film cameras that he still used – his technophobia ruling out such modern contraptions as digital cameras or smartphones. The photograph was to show his girlfriend my new seven level home, which came complete with servants attics, cellars and servants’ quarters. There was even a bell pull beside each fireplace which rang a bell in the servants’ quarters to tell them where they were required. It was not until the photograph was developed that my brother noticed the two figures behind the net curtain in the lower window. Rather than upset me, he had a Mass said and told me nothing.
My sister instructed my brother to bring the picture with him to Dingle where we all poured over it. I took a photograph of the photograph and was able, therefore, to zoom in closer. A few days after moving in I painted the front door bright red so the photograph was definitely taken within the first few days. While I was sure that there must be a rational explanation, I was keenly aware that, until more than a week after the painting of the door, there wasn’t a stick of furniture in the that room. What’s more, I’d changed the locks so there was nobody in the house while I was absent that day.
“When you have removed all possibilities, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth,” had claimed Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes (or words to that effect). Therefore, I concluded, there were two possibilities. Either the ghost-like figures were, in fact, a reflection from across the street or… well, the alternative was unthinkable.
As soon as we returned to Dublin I wasted no time in driving to Drogheda. I crossed the street to the exact spot where my brother had stood and gazed across at the window. I can still recall the shiver that ran up my spine. Because a series of steps ran up from street level to the door, the window sill was at head height from the street. What’s more, the glass in the windows been countless decades old, like the glass in the the upper windows, it was warped and reflected the sky rather than anything on the street. I stretched and jumped trying to catch the reflection of anything – perhaps a street lamp or the top of a building – but there was nothing that could have caused a reflection.
What added a further air of mystery to the puzzle of the photograph was my memory of the first few days spent in that house. I had found myself unable to spend the first night there alone, such was the sense of brooding oppression that I felt from it as the evening darkened into night. The following day I had returned familiarise myself with all the nooks and crannies under the courage of daylight. When I went into the servants’ quarters I was hit with a strong smell of pipe tobacco that I remembered from a neighbour’s house in my childhood. I couldn’t find anything that would explain the smell. I managed to stay there that night but on a sofa in the first floor living room after exorcising the place with my guitar and a raucous rendition of every Bob Marley song I knew (I know. Bob Marley? Somehow it seemed appropriate at the time). On the third day, probably the day that my brother took the photograph, I was gone until evening, organising heating oil, a bed and other such necessities. On my return I entered to find that the oppression had lifted. It wasn’t that it didn’t feel as though the house had a personality. It felt more as if it had decided to accept me.
I had a number of dinners and parties over the three years in that house with friends from Dublin staying over. I became quite used to hearing that they’d been ‘spooked out’ by something. I had two friends who would only stay if they shared a room which used to raise an eyebrow (I trick I can no longer perform since my eyebrow nerve was severed in my recent accident.
The final chapter in this tale came from my sister. Some weeks after I had left the house, the riddle of the ghostly photo unresolved, my sister was mentioning it to a friend in company and showing her the photo. A woman interjected.
“That was a priest and a young boy,” she said. “He used to call at the local orphanage and bring a different child with him on his rounds each week to give the boy a break from his routine.”
“She’s a medium,” my sister’s friend explained when the woman had moved away.
I’m looking at the picture now. I found it while looking for photos that I’d taken on my Camino trips while researching my “Pins and Needles” book. It still sends a shiver down my spine. It’s also giving me ideas for my next book…

Mother launches acting career at 81…

If those suited people in glass offices are having trouble ‘thinking outside the box’ all they need to do is spend a while with my Mum. I awoke, this morning, at her house where I was taking a turn in looking after her (my siblings and I do 24 hour shifts) to find that the e-Book version of ‘Pins and Needles’ had been launched and, already, pre-orders had been electronically zapped to waiting Kindle devices. As I helped Mum get ready for her Alzheimers day club, half my mind was on the productive morning I’d put in arranging some local press attention before picking her up in the afternoon.

“Just a minute,” Mum said at the front door as we were leaving. She disappeared upstairs and returned, a few minutes later, with a handful of books.

“I’ll bring these,” she said.

We were half way through the 20 minute drive when she gave a little, somewhat contrived cough.

“You’ll go in, won’t you?” she said.

“Of course.”

I was unperturbed. Last week Mum had insisted that I brought a copy of my book to give to the staff and she had asked me to come inside with her to present it in person.

We pulled up on the tarmac outside the club. Mum produced another little cough.

“Now, you bring them in,” she said, offering me the books she’d brought.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I’ve got a cough. Tell them I can’t go.”

As we headed to the shops the cough was forgotten.

“What do you do at the club?” I asked.

“Nothing. Everybody sits around and stares at a fish tank, counting the fish.”

She paused a moment before adding: “… and  some of them are a bit…”

She tapped her head.

“… not all there.”

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The agonies of letting go… and thanks!

inside paper comparison

I’ve been agonising over paper choice for the bookstore versions of Pins and Needles. The white sample is from a printer and the other is the Amazon paperbacks copy.

I’ve spent the week with my head in a spin about paper types, paper colours, fonts, font sizes, cover thicknesses and other such technical considerations as Pins and Needles was prepared for the printers. It’s available on Amazon in print-on-demand format where it will also be released in e-book on September 1. That bit was quite painless. If something wrong is noticed I can still make changes. With thousands of copies rolling off a printing press it’s a different story. Whatever decisions I make or errors that go unnoticed are unchangeable once that machine starts spitting copies out.

To get some inspiration I popped along to the launch of lifestyle youtuber Melanie Murphy’s new book Fully Functioning Human (Almost): Living in an Online/Offline World at Eason on O’Connell Street. It proved to be a master class in how a book launch should go. Melanie’s speech was informal, honest and, it appeared, effortless. A chair and table had been set up for signings but, instead, Melanie mingled, chatted and laughed with friends, fans and family, making everyone feel special by somehow finding the time to talk to each person. The book is a real beauty – and, having been living in ‘book publishing preparation mode’ myself, I know what I’m talking about. The production quality is top class and the layout of the book very clever. It’s sectioned off by theme and has quirky illustrations which make it visually engaging. I came home, the proud owner of a signed copy, and began making mental notes of the things that I liked about it. One was the off-white paper that Melanie had used. One printer had sent me a copy of Pins and Needles on the paper that they recommended I should use. It’s the whiter one in the accompanying photograph. The other copy, with the creamish finish, is the print on demand finish from Amazon. To me, that off-white looks more like the real thing. I hope you agree – it’s what I’m going for.

Finally I want to acknowledge all of those who reacted with such support and care to my last post about the accident and my steps to recovery. It was truly heart warming and made it quite impossible to feel sorry for myself. Thank you!

A life-changing ‘trip’…

beforeandafter

Two weeks ago I tripped at the top of a flight of concrete stairs and ended up unconscious and bleeding from a head wound with my dislocated arm twisted under me. Having just seen the last of the medical specialists I’m ready to talk about it.

The head trauma has left me with no memory of the event. Thankfully some members of my amazing family were at hand and they were the ones who went through the worry and long hours of waiting in an overcrowded hospital while I remained unconscious and unaware of the head scans and insertion of 17 stitches. I was discharged but ended up back in hospital a few days when it became obvious that my release had been premature.

Further investigation found that nerves had been severed in my forehead. Now, try as I might, my eyebrow doesn’t move. The plastic surgeons operated – re-opening the head wound under general anesthetic and trying to find the ends of the severed nerves to reconnect them. This task was made more difficult due to the passage of several days. They’ve reconnected something and lifted the eyebrow so that it’s more in line with the other but it’s a waiting game now to see if it’ll ever work again.  As you’ll see from the picture, when I try to raise my eyes in surprise I end up with a sardonic look instead, as if I’m attempting a Carlo Ancelotti impression.

The good news was that the wound was re-stitched by plastic surgeons. When I got the stitches removed a few days ago the nurse oohed and aahed at the neat job they’d done. There’ll be 18 months of healing and then I’m stuck with what remains but, as you’ll notice from the photo, the scar is already a damned sight better.

Attention then turned to my arm which hadn’t been looked at initially due, I suppose, to the focus on my potentially life-threatening head wound. I’ve just returned from the consultant, sporting the nice blue cast you can see in the picture to match my jeans. The consultant struggled for a simile to explain what the xrays had revealed.

“You’ve done a real job on it,” he began. “Do you know those china teapots that you see in antique stores that are fractured into a huge number of little sections but are somehow staying in one piece?”

I raised the one eyebrow that I could inquisitively.

“Well, that’s what your wrist is like,” he said.

It turns out that I’ve pretty much shattered a number of bones – too many to operate on in an attempt to stick them back together with metal pins. What they’ve decided to do, instead, is to let it all set in the cast and then xray it again to see what is healing and what isn’t. With a bit of luck the remaining damage will be manageable.

In all my online posts I’ve not spoken about my accident until now as I was waiting to find out the full extent of the damage. Unable to do much, I’ve concentrated on my new book ‘Pins and Needles’ which I had published just days before everything changed. That has been such a welcome distraction and I’ve been so heartened by the great response from family, friends and strangers. The reason that I’m now ‘going public’ about my recent mishap is to send out a huge thanks to the family and friends who have been there for me since the accident. The head trauma has left me with a tiredness like jet lag and moments of dizziness. I’m typing this slowly and awkwardly with my one good hand but I feel great. I feel so lucky to be alive and even more lucky to be surrounded with people who have proven that they care. Thank you all.

Back to the Camino I go…

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THE SUNSHINE AFTER THE RAIN – a pilgrim I met on the Portuguese Route

So, I’ve been looking at flights. My book, Pins and Needles, is set on the final 100 (or so) kilometres of the Portuguese Route into Santiago de Compostela. The Portuguese Camino is the second most popular but still ten times less crowded than the French Way. What I’m looking at doing is to take a small but powerful video camera and get some footage of the places and people in that one-week trip. After walking it ten times I’m somewhat of an expert and I really think it’s a super alternative to the more commercial French route from Sarria to Santiago. I’d rather be giving talks to people about this than concentrating on trying to sell my book. With a bit of luck those who decide to walk the ‘way less traveled’ might take along a copy of ‘Pins and Needles’ to retrace the footsteps of Fr Delucci, Mark and the ‘vagabundo’.

If anyone is planning to be upon the Portuguese way between Valença and Santiago later in the year do drop me a line and, if the dates coincide, we can chat over a cool glass of Albariño…