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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800 years of the Irish in Santiago

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Hundreds of scallop shells, each hung there by a passing pilgrim and each one with a personal message. So many stories…

Since at least the year 1220 there have been Irish people leaving St James Gate – home, now, to Guinness – and heading by sea and land to Santiago de Compostela. Of course St James is the English name for San Tiago. I’d left St James’ Hospital a little dejected at having been told that post concussion dizziness and fatigue take on average 43 days to pass if you completely rest the brain or, on average, 100 days if you use your brain (that’s me, I fear, as I don’t know how to switch my brain off), when I saw the sign, pictured below, outside St James’ Church on St James’ Street.

There is an office, there, in the church, staffed by volunteers, giving information and documentation for those intending to walk the Camino de Santiago. I decided to drop in and see if any of them wanted to come to the book launch next month (date to be confirmed). A friendly chap there told me that, when excavating to build the Dublin City Council head office on the banks of the River Liffey they found thousands of scallop shells, such as those above that I photographed on the Portuguese way while researching Pins and Needles. According to the guy, it was customary for pilgrims arriving back in Dublin by boat from their Camino to Santiago to throw the shell that they’d carried for the entire trip overboard and this is what led to the huge number of them on what would have been the riverbed. I’d been surprised, when first arriving in Santiago, to find that Galicia is a Celtic culture and that the people there see themselves as being connected to us here in Ireland. It seems that our connection does, indeed, go back through the centuries.

St James Church

To the left hand side of this church front on James Street is the Camino Ireland Office, staffed by volunteers and providing a wealth of information for anyone considering walking the Camino.

Birth of a character captured…

I was archiving old video footage and came across the clip below from walking the Camino De Santiago while researching my book ‘Pins and Needles’. It’s the moment when I decide that I need a character who will be able to help the Spanish speaking vagabundo and the priest to communicate. The rest is history. You’ll now find the character Álvaro in the book…

When readers give birth to books…

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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.

Four key packing points for the Camino

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On the Camino your material world often comes down to what you’ve decided to carry on your back.

I’m immersed in writing a guide on walking the Camino De Santiago that I plan to make available for people who are considering following the footsteps of my “Pins and Needles” characters along the last 100km or so of the Portuguese route. I’m on the bit about ‘what to bring’. When it comes to packing – and I get asked about that a lot – I realise that there are two areas of advice – general and specific. The specific deals with what type of backpack works best, what footwear to go for and what to avoid et cetera. The general, though, comes down to these four points which I thought I’d share here:

  1. Make sure that clothing is light and fast-drying. You can layer up for warmth but a thick, soggy article of clothing is something you want to avoid.
  2. Be prepared for cold rain and hot sun. Either can happen – and quite possible on the same day. But don’t overdo it. Remember that your raincoat could remain unused and your sun cream might come home unopened. Ten day weather forecasts are pretty accurate so consult them.
  3. Don’t bring a large bag. You’ll end up filling it. A smaller backpack forces you to be economical with what you bring.
  4. There are shops in towns along the route. If you forget something or find you need it you can buy it. On the other hand, if you bring something you don’t need you’ll be stuck carrying it.

Well, I’d better get back to writing the guide…