Just when I thought I’d never sail again…

This week saw a return to sailing that, a few weeks ago, I feared might never happen. I’d had 14 fractures in my arm and wrist from my accident at the start of August and they’d given me the impression that putting Humpty Dumpty back together would have presented less problems. I can’t describe the sense of elation I had, then, when I was able to set off in my little boat and do all the rope tugging, tiller gripping and hanging on that was required to take her around the island of Ireland’s Eye and safely home. I’d set up a small camera to record the momentous occasion and my thoughts and all began well. I was just saying how, when I’m on the water, I make it a rule to switch off the technology, however, when, the radio mic cut itself off – offended, no doubt by my gadget-laden hypocrisy. My point was, though, that sailing is more than a recreational pastime for me. In fact, I get the same boost from it that I get when I walk on the Camino de Santiago. When I’m on the boat I get to switch off the world and loose myself in my thoughts and nature. It’s a chance to recharge the batteries. As Dublin’s much loved singer songwriter Damien Dempsey puts it; “Howth was the place I buried my troubles at sea”.

Lately I’ve had so many friends confide in me that they’re feeling a sense of anxiety all the time. In most cases they’re not even sure what it is that they’re anxious about. I suspect that it could be something to do with being so hyper-connected all the time. Social media and carrying the internet in your pocket has massive advantages. When I was a good bit younger and traveling to see the world there were so many people that I met who I would love to have stayed in touch with but, although I carried their phone numbers around in an address book for years, it would have seemed a bit strange to randomly pick up the phone and say “Hey, it’s that Irish guy you met in Mumbai.” Now, though, half my Facebook friends are people I met in those kinds of circumstances and, even if we don’t talk frequently, I have a good idea what they’re up to in life and if I find myself in their part of the world or they find themselves in mine we touch base. The downside, though, is that lack of separation between social life and work. I’ve never worked nine-to-five hours but there was a time, quite recently, when you knew that after 5pm you weren’t going to be contacted by anyone who did have that kind of office job. The first time I sent a document to a civil servant on a Sunday night and got an immediate response totally shocked me. It’s now quite normal. People don’t seem to switch off.

I don’t know if you have something that you do to step off the rollercoaster for a while but I hope so. If it’s particularly good please do share it with us in the comments. Out on the boat is my little “zen zone” for an hour or so while I potter around Ireland’s Eye and watch the seabirds. When I need a real break I spend a week walking to Santiago along the Camino, just switching on the phone once each day to make sure everyone’s okay before switching it off again and getting back to chatting to the people that I bump into who are usually also there to escape the digital ratrace for a while.

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading 🙂


When readers give birth to books…


The seaward side of Ireland’s Eye – a haven for all types of sea birds – pictured from my little Hunter 19 Europa sailboat.

I was out sailing my little boat from Howth around Ireland’s Eye and, as often happens when the towering rock face blocks the wind, the sails fell slack and the boat was left bobbing in a sort of micro-doldrums. I sat  contemplating the myriad seabirds ensconced in every nook and cranny of the cliff as I waited for the breeze to find the canvas again and set me back on my way. Many times during the writing of Pins and Needles, when I’d been stuck at a plot twist or character development problem, I’d come out here for a sail to clear the mind. Before joining the yacht club at Howth I used to sail from Malahide and I’d just had word that the first bookstore I’d approached – Manor Books in Malahide – had agreed to stock the novel. It set me thinking of the new publishing reality that marries traditional printing, e-books and ‘print on demand’ – in my case through Amazon. The traditional print run of Pins and Needles that is underway at the moment is necessary so that people who decide to get hold of a copy of the book can do so on the same day in a bookstore. However, watching the tiny young seabirds finding their feet on cliff ledges or in the sea around me, it struck me that there’s something rather beautiful about the relatively new world of ‘print on demand’.  When I finally signed off on the book it became available to buy through Amazon but didn’t, at that point, exist in physical form anywhere. Each person who then clicked on the ‘purchase button’ to buy a copy was, I realised, actually, breathing life into a physical manifestation of my book. Each purchase meant that the buyer had caused a book to be born, packed and shipped into the world. At various places around Europe now copies of my book have been created in answer to readers’ requests. As they make their way by courier to their new owners they are starting a life that could take them anywhere but they are starting their lives wanted. It’s a pleasant thought for a writer.

Keep an eye on this website if you want to know which bookstores are stocking Pins and Needles. We expect the first copies to hit stores around mid September.