Brendan Gerad O'Brien
When I won my first writing competition I was so excited I ran all the way home. I was about eight years old. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee - our little town on the West coast of Ireland - and apart from Duffy's Circus which came in September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it, and I won the only prize - a book of ten tickets for the fair.
There were eight kids in our family so everyone got a ride on something. Even The Mammy herself had a go on the dodgems.
So writing was in my blood from a very young age. I loved essays and English literature, but we were a very close family - physically as well as emotionally - so there wasn't much free space in our little house in Railway Terrace for me to sneak off to and indulge in my hobby.
My grand-uncle Moss Scanlon was a Harnessmaker and he had a small shop in Lower William Street, Listowel - a rural town in Kerry that was just a bus ride from Tralee - where we spent some wonderful summer holidays. Down the lane opposite the shop was the River Feale, and Moss did some serious fishing there, standing out in the middle of the river in waders that came up to his neck while us kids swam in the cool brown water or just chilled out on the grass watching him struggle with a pike or trout.
The shop had a wonderful welcoming magic about it - a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters who'd wander in for a chat and a bit of jovial banter. One wonderful storyteller who often popped in was John B Keane, and it was a great thrill to actually meet him. I asked him once where he got his ideas from, and he told me that everyone has a story to tell, so be patient and just listen to them.
I was there, sitting on the counter in the shop, when John B's very
first story was read out live on Radio Eireann. I can still remember the
buzz of excitement and the sheer pride of the people of Listowel. And
the seeds of storytelling were sown in my soul.
source of raw encouragement was Bryan MacMahon, one of Listowel's
finest writers and a schoolmaster to boot, who was a very easy person to
Anyway, I left school at fourteen and went to work in hotels in Killarney, and I quickly got caught up in the excitement and colourful buzz of the tourist industry - remember, this was in the 60s when the Beatles were creating a heady revolution and engulfing the youth with hopes and dreams of a wonderful future - so I felt no great urgency to write. I dreamed of being a writer, of course. I wanted to be a writer - but somehow life just got in the way.
When I joined the Royal Navy at eighteen I was sent to the Far East, and I spent the first three years between Singapore and Hong Kong, and again I was having so much fun I didn't get to write anything, although there were loads of stories bursting to get out.
It was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to put pen to paper, and the result was Dark September, an alternative history novel set in wartime Britain.
I loved writing it - I always wrote in longhand in a school notebook - but I hated
having to type it. After working a ten-hour day, I'd be clattering away
into the early hours of the morning on an old Olivetti typewriter and
getting on everyone's nerves. Then I'd scream in frustration when I'd
discover that hours of hard work were ruined by some horrendous typo
error, and I'd have to start all over again.
Amazingly, I found an agent almost immediately, but she insisted on some major changes so I spent a year re-writing it.
Unfortunately my agent died suddenly and the agency closed. It took ages to find another agent, but he too demanded even more changes. It became too much for Jennifer and the kids, so my manuscript hibernated in the attic for a few years.
Then Jennifer bought me a computer for Christmas - with Spellcheck!
This time finding an agent has proved impossibility - they only want to represent people who're famous for just being famous - but now I'm delighted to say the book has been accepted by Tirgearr Publishing - http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com - an Irish company, and I'm delighted with the result and all the hard work they've put into it to make it a great success..
In the meantime - while my book was languishing in limbo - I discovered that writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. And I realized too that great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.
instance, the Irish are famous all over the world for their colourful
and exaggerated expressions, always using a dozen words when one would
have done, so I build on that and set all my stories in Ireland. The
names are changed, of course, because I don't earn enough to sustain a
major lawsuit. I've written hundreds of stories, most of which are still
stuffed in drawers somewhere, but I did manage to get more than twenty
of them published over the years, in anthologies, e-zines and magazines
as well as web sites.
DREAMIN' DREAMS - also published as an eBook with Smashwords.com, and in paperback by Lulu.com - contains twenty of my published stories, of which I'm very proud. They're all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other, or events that actually happened to me. Enhanced, of course, and sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.
The title comes from something my father said years ago, when I got poor grades at school. 'What do you expect?' he said to my mother. 'He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin' dreams.'
The image on the cover is the statue in The Green, Tralee's town park, and it represents the characters in the song The Rose of Tralee. It's a tremendously impressive statue, and in a beautiful setting too.
Anyway, if you do get the chance to read Dreamin' Dreams, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
And if you are a budding writer, or just thinking about trying your hand at writing, remember to have fun with it.
Yes, take your craft seriously - it's a God given talent and it's your duty to share it with the world - but enjoy it too. Just don't get so immersed in it that you lose track of the people you really care about, the ones you're proud to show it to first. (And listen to them, as well, even if what they're saying isn't what you want to hear!)
And keep working at it, even if it's just 100 words every day, because
every time you write something, you're fine-tuning your skills.