To celebrate the release of his debut novel Where She Lies - out today - we got author Michael Scanlon to open up for his readers. Here's what he had to reveal...
1. I’ve always written: books, short stories, novellas, you name it. The vast, vast majority of which have never seen the light of day. I’ve had short stories published in anthologies and newspapers and magazines, and that was great. But I always wanted to have a book published. Once, I sent a manuscript I considered worthy of publication to a leading publisher here in Ireland. It was returned to me the following week. I suspect it wasn’t even read. But I persevered, and persevered, and, following many false starts, finally I got my chance with Bookouture. That said, I know there are a lot of dead poets in the graveyard. I’ve met some brilliant writers, and indeed artists, but they’ve gone unnoticed. For a variety of reasons. There’s a lot of luck involved. I finally got lucky. I just hope readers like what I have to say.
2. I've been a Rolling Stone: I don’t know whether to be ashamed or proud of the fact I’ve had more than 40 jobs in my life. In my younger years I was incredibly restless and unable to stay put anywhere for very long. I left home at 16 and spread my wings. I hitch-hiked throughout Europe at seventeen and ended up penniless in Paris. I was homeless for a time after this and eventually stowed away on a ship back to Ireland. I was homeless in Dublin then until picking up work and sorting myself out. Then I went home but never told my mother what I’d been through. I’m a survivor. I’ve been a barman, a potato picker, a black-jack dealer (at an illegal casino in New York City), a soldier, a newspaper reporter, a nurse’s assistant in a major hospital, an airline baggage handler, a construction worker, security man, book seller, shop assistant, cleaner, station foreman with London Underground, market trader (stall holder, not high finance), waiter, night porter, and lastly, civil servant for thirteen years with the Irish police, An Garda Síochána. Phew.
3. Finally, I've settled down: Just when I thought that there was no saving me, when I thought I was a confirmed bachelor (my mother did too, God rest her), I met and married Eileen. We have one beautiful daughter, Sarah, who is now 10 years old. I’m no longer restless. Hallelujah.
4. I love country music: Yes, I do. Three chords and the truth, as they say. But good country music is so much more than that. The best songs tell a complete story, all in three verses and two choruses, plus a bridge, usually. Mind you, I’ll listen to anything. I also like rap and pop. But country music is my favourite. I took up guitar about 12 years ago. I’m not very good. I can play along to most of my favourite songs though (remember, three chords). I even write songs. One was in the final of a song contest. I didn’t sing it. The chap who was supposed to forgot the words.
5. I'm a slow reader: While I’m never without a book, it can take me a while to get through one. I envy people who can read a book in one sitting. I can’t. I read slowly, soaking up the words, and often go back to previous pages or chapters if something doesn’t make sense. I measure my books in weeks, or indeed (like The Pillars of the Earth) in months. I take the investment of time seriously.
6. In 2014, I almost died in Spain: I was on a family holiday in Spain in October 2014 when I took ill with what I thought was flu. Gradually over three days it got worse until eventually I was admitted to hospital in Tarragona. I was there for three months and my organs began to shut down and I almost died. I returned home to Ireland and was in and out of hospital for two years. I was even transferred to a specialist unit in London. But no one could find what was wrong with me. They call me the Mystery Man. But I’d rather not be. I’ve much improved and can lead a normal life now, but I will never fully return to how I was.
7. I returned to college as a mature student: Having left formal education at 16 without any qualifications, I always felt I had missed out. In 1999 I returned to education as a mature student, completing a B.A in History and Sociology at the University of Ireland at Maynooth. I subsequently completed an M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating with a First. I took this as a validation of my writing. Like most writers, I suffer from chronic self doubt.
8. I dislike division: The Dali Lama said, ‘scratch the surface and all people are the same’. And I believe this. I wish people could see others for what they are, all part of the same human family. I wish we didn’t judge each other by colour, class, creed, nationality, whatever. The world is beautiful and it turns regardless. The problems with it are usually of our own making. Okay, getting off my pedestal now.
9. Rats: As a station foreman with London Underground I would routinely be alone on night shift. Once, on my first shift at a particular station, I emerged onto the platform from the foreman’s office at about two in the morning to find it literally covered with rats. Once my initial shock wore off, I stood and watched them for a time. Out in the open like that, they weren’t so frightening. They took no notice of me, so long as I stood still. They’re blind as bats you know. Some were as big as cats. I stomped my foot and watched them disappear in seconds through cracks and crevices and onto the permanent way (railway speak for train tracks). The platform was deserted again then. Anyway, I called the exterminators, which for a short time actually made the problem worse. Because groggy rats wandering about in daylight hours caused horror and consternation among commuters. I’ll never forget two young lads who picked up a dopey rat by the tail and began waving it about during rush hour.
10. I like to write in my car: I like to take a flask of coffee and my computer, park up somewhere in my town or one nearby, or perhaps by the seaside, and spend a couple of hours writing. Or sometimes I’ll accompany my wife when she’s going somewhere and happily wait in the car for her, tapping away on the computer. I love watching the world go by as I write.
Michael Scanlon's debut novel, Where She Lies, is out now.
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