Thursday, 31 March 2011

A confection of original sins

The April 8th launch of this anthology is the culmination of three years' work by twenty-two Irish writers. Suzanne Power and John McKenna have been our guides and mentors on the Two Roads course run by NUI Maynooth in Kilkenny. This is a paperback of 200 pages containing short stories and opening chapters of novels. The book will be available at the launch and in good bookshops throughout the South East of Ireland. (Also UK pre-order through amazon.)

Yours truly has featured with opening chapters from The Baptist and I'm a bit nervous as I have to read at the launch. Not nervous because of the showmanship (I'm karaoke king!) but because The Baptist is a bit risqué. If you plan to attend then don't be put off by that or by the 'Theology Hall' venue - there'll be wine!

Suzanne, John and the team have edited and produced a very professional anthology.

Suzanne Power is an Irish journalist and published author of several works of fiction and non-fiction. Her latest offering Angel Journey is a beautifully written book that draws you gently yet very persuasively into one woman's honest and deeply sincere journey through the realm of spirit.

John MacKenna is a playwright, broadcaster and published author of several works of short stories, fiction and non-fiction. His recent novel The Space Between Us is a disturbing and shocking story of relationships, deftly told.

A closing thought: have you taken the right road?

The Road not Taken

by Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Da Chen - you added colour to the grey world of Mao

A memoir giving fascinating insight into the changes in rural China during and after Mao's reign. The story flows well and couples with the aspects of life that appear unique to western readers but were commonplace to tens of millions of Chinese. With new and breathtaking subject matter it is difficult to be objective about the writing. The irresistible rythm seemed to drop off in the last quarter and loses the fifth star from my review.

Colours of the Mountain by Da Chen 4 stars

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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Diagnosing the disorder of multiple author identities

Should you use a pen name, a nome de plume, or stick to your real self? Who are you? Whoooo are you? To quote The Who. (The who? say the young)
Anyone who really knows me (turn your backs now) knows that I am Ruby Barnes, Ger Mayes, John (the) Baptist, Turnip, Mark Turner, to name but a few. Clever, huh? No! Not clever at all. Very dim for an author.

I just finished reading Kristen Lamb's excellent book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. Great stuff, a bit like riding a piebald bareback (no offence, Kristin, it’s an Irish expression, my wife's from Tallaght). Wild, exhilarating, keep hold and you feel like you’re flying. The bad news is that the old Turnip, erm, I mean Ruby, has been doing it all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

To quote Kristen ‘It is absolutely crucial for you to brand your name...A moniker can absolutely kill your platform.

It was definitely the best $9 I’ve spent recently (except for the Subway Meaty Italian foot long last Saturday, but that was a transitory joy). I do feel like I’ve been kicked in the author nuts. I feel like I’ve caught my tackle on the elbow of an expert. As my brother said after a scathing £100 professional review of an early novel draft, he would have kicked me in the nuts for nothing, just had to ask. And like a true friend, his offer still stands. But boy did I need Kristen’s dainty little stiletto where I kept my darlings. Multiple identities are for the asylum. Author name is brand is identity. End of story. Not quite, there’s more but that’s for another day when Ruby has got his, erm, her act together.

So, there’s gonna be some changes around here. Uhuh, yessir. And yes Ma’am. Big changes. Well, lots of little, rather complicated changes. And what about the bright idea of having an androgynous author name and then putting up an avatar of me in a cowboy hat? Kristen Lamb? Kristen?!


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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Looking back at where we've been - if every one of us had thirty lucid minutes

Perspective on life is something we should all give ourselves the luxury of considering.

"I’m convinced that if every one of us had thirty lucid minutes right before we passed away we would spend almost none of it thinking about how cool it was when we got rich. We would think about who we liked and who we loved, and how the flowers smelt in the springtime, and when we made the passage from youth to adulthood, and what it was like when our children were born and when we gave our daughters away at the altar."

from Bill Clinton at a New York ceremony of the Irish America magazine 16th March 2011. Whatever your views on Clinton, it's a beautiful thought.

Full speech here (go to 11:00 minutes through the speech)


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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bluegrass soundtrack of Carolina Star by Big Stone

To satisfy popular demand (yes, Jenny, I do mean you), I've managed to upload the soundtrack of Carolina Star played by me and the lads from Big Stone bluegrass. From the left Gottfried, Hans, Pete and yours truly. René the banjo player isn't in the pic. Good lads all. Give it a few seconds to get going and the rhythm kicks in.
I'm the only guy who speaks English but I just sang backing vocals. The finger-picking guitar solo after the Nashville line is mine. This was one of the strangest periods of my life, playing in an Old Time Bluegrass band in Switzerland. When my wife first came over to live in England I made her play her Garth Brooks and Cowboy Junkies music in the other room. Then life got all ironic when we moved to the land of chocolate, bomb shelters and fines for peeing standing up after 10pm. Apart from making it illegal to apply for planning permission for a mosque minaret and being busy keeping the Fatherland for their children (SVP Party), the Swiss are big into horses and all things Country, so we had no shortage of gigs and plenty of free beer. Which was nice.

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Confession time - I'm a little bit Country

I used to play finger picking bluegrass guitar in an Old Time country band name of Big Stone. Guess which one is me? We only played songs by dead artists so you can imagine our excitement when Johnny Cash passed on. I was never a huge Country fan, to be honest, but I did make a pilgrimage to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville last year.
These days I stick to ballads. From a musical muse perspective, I follow the fantastic Declan O'Rourke and, of course, Nick Cave's great Murder Ballads. And what is a novel, if it isn't a ballad? It has a beginning, a challenge to face and an end. All things move towards their end, of that you can be sure.


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Monday, 14 March 2011

Wellington Memorial, Phoenix Park, Dublin (world second tallest man-made obelisk!)

An extract from Peril. Ger's in a mess, still reeling from the beating...

In the morning, still a little spaced out, I make it to the 8:37 train in one piece. For a change I take a seat facing the back of another and, Jo’s borrowed MP3 player connected, close my eyes to the sound of Norah Jones. When I next open them, I’m the only one on the train except for a Chinese guy who is collecting rubbish left behind by the now departed passengers.
 It feels like I’ve been away from Dublin for a long time. The Liffey is swollen and charging seaward, like a huge artery full of brown blood. No sign of all the usual debris that clutters the river bed at low flow: shopping trolleys, traffic cones, children’s bicycles, dead Romanians.
There’s a breeze crossways over Heuston bridge, an earthy smell leaps over the Luas tracks. I don’t hear the music until I’m across the other side and then I stop short, both captivated and cautious.
Ilie’s face is serene as he coaxes the melodies from his guitar’s strings. He sees my shoes and lifts his gaze to mine. I hesitantly smile at him. This is real, he’s here playing guitar. It’s how things were before. I only have two Euros in cash so I bend and place it in his cup. He says nothing and there’s no change to his expression. This can’t be the man who attacked me behind the station, if it ever even happened. His crippled leg is intact, the crooked knee cradling the round swell of his guitar.
I straighten and step forward but then two things happen at once. The music stops and I let out a shout. Something hard has struck me painfully in the shin. Stepping back, I stoop to rub my shin and see a plastic carrier bag. Ilie is holding it to block my path. He drops the bag to the ground with a clank and parts the plastic to show something metal and heavy inside, bent and stained dark brown in several places. It looks very much like a murder weapon.
Self preservation tells me I should grab the bag from Ilie and hurl it into the Liffey, but my body is not responding to the instinct. Instead I start to back away, only to find a hand on each of my arms. Two youths flank me, clad in sports gear. They’re both taller than Ilie but the family resemblance is unmistakable.
I look around the street, hoping for some authority figure to rescue me from my predicament. Ilie barks a little laugh and rises surprisingly easily from the ground with the aid of his crutch. He holds up the evidence bag and says “Follow me.”
We move in the direction of Phoenix Park and I have to hurry to keep up with his surprising pace. Heavy traffic forces us to wait in a gaggle at the Coyningham Road pedestrian crossing. I’m hemmed in by the three of them. On a good day I would fancy my chances in a fair fight with any one of them, maybe even two, but it’s not a good day. My brain is floating in a bowl of soup and the old bones feel detached from their muscles.
The man turns green and we shuffle forward across the junction. Now we are immediately outside the new Criminal Courts of Justice and there’s no shortage of authority figures to appeal to. Garda Síochána cars are everywhere, as are TV news vans, reporter crews setting up cameras and testing microphones. There must be a high profile criminal case in the offing. That could be me. Two officers on the top step of the entrance gaze curiously over us from the saddles of their mountain bikes. Ilie looks gives me a narrow-eyed look over his shoulder. Make your choice. Us or the law. I don’t break my stride.
Once in the Park, I let Ilie walk ahead and develop a distance between us. There’s a steady flow of cars down the middle of Chesterfield Avenue, the thoroughfare that transects these 1750 acres of parkland. It’s quarter past ten in the morning and I wonder where all the traffic is going at this hour. The kerb is lined with parked cars of every size, shape, age and colour. A car thieves’ paradise if it weren’t for the ever-present law officers, two of whom are slowing up the traffic as their huge horses clop steadily along the tarmac. Once the horses pass by a shove on my shoulder brings me back to reality. The two lads are right behind.
Ilie weaves slightly along the footpath, avoiding the drooping branches of trees heavy with fresh growth. Beech trees at a guess, I’m no horticulturist. As I endeavour to follow the scampering Romanian musician, Wellington’s Monument rises hugely up on our left. Several degenerates are sunning themselves on the giant, sparkling granite steps whilst drinking cans of beer. More Gards on foot are heading towards the morning drunks. I consider again the choice between incarceration and Romanian revenge, but Ilie has second guessed my hesitation. He stops, turns and holds the bag aloft. I’m firmly in his grip.
We move on apace. A warm breeze helps the sweat to form on my forehead and I get a whiff of something earthy. Can it be me? Or is it my escorts? A burst of resonant snorts and trumpeting explains it: we’re about to pass the African residents of Dublin Zoo. Like them, I’m enclosed in a yard of my own shite.


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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sometimes you need to roll around in your sadness


Declan O'Rourke - Everything Is Different

Where there was a cool breeze,
There is just a cold wind
Where there was a blue sea,
Everything is frozen
And where there was a sunset,
There is only darkness.
Everything is different. Everything is different.

And where she kissed my fingers,
There is only longing
Where my heart was tender,
There is only bruising.
And where she filled my reason,
There is just this feeling, that
Everything is different. Everything is different.

And sure that I did all the things I should,
To keep our love alive, and I really thought I could.
So sure that I did all the things I should.
Oh I wish my heart,
I wish my weary heart was only made of wood.

For where there once was magic,
There will be illusion
And where there was no question,
Only thoughts and reasons
And where I saw my kingdom,
There will just be treason.
Everything is different, Absolutely everything is different now.

Declan O'Rourke's website - a truly amazing voice and very curly hair


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Thursday, 10 March 2011

An extract from The Baptist

Alice reunites with John, her partner from their years in the asylum. She has wrestled and defeated Mary, her alter ego.
I’m in love with him. From the first moment I saw him, way back when.
He didn’t love me the first time round. I was there before him, older and dominant. He was innocent, apart from what he’d done to get there. I was crazy, in a bad way. Now, I’ve evolved into a completely different person.
I know what I am, who I am. I know who Mary is, what part of each other we are. Her special powers versus mine. My hope is based upon the knowledge that these things don’t stand still. Before, we were one. Then we split. I think that’s part of the reason why John hasn’t made the connection with our first time.
With John’s help, with our love for each other, I will banish Mary forever and remain me. We have no need of her anymore, never did.
I’ve set John on the road to County Clare, that great windswept expanse of romance. There’s a place I know, an ideal getaway, where we can nestle and hatch our plans.
The Rock of Cashel looms up ahead.
“Shall we stop a while?” John asks.
“No, best not. There’s always someone local on a visit. We need anonymity.” I squeeze his thigh. “Head on towards Tipp, next exit from the motorway. I have somewhere in mind.”
The mobile is in my backpack. I take it out, look up a number and make a booking. They know me. My working at the tattoo parlour has brought me some good friends and the occasional lover. Alice has a life, unlike Mary.
“That’s us all set, baby. We’ll take a few days out until things have died down a bit.”
John nods in agreement. The muscles in his leg flex under my palm as he changes gear around the twisting roads. I think about all the things that I will do to him, all the things I like and anything he asks. I have to have him totally in my power for what I will ask on our return.
His sedate driving suits this route. We reach the village of Golden.
“Let’s take a break here, John. I’d like to see the river.”
“Good idea.” He pulls the car over just before the bridge. “This looks like a handy place.”
We step out to the sound of crows in the trees. I take John by the hand and lead him across to the middle of the bridge where the castle ruins stand on the river island. We clamber over the wall, past the bronze bust of Thomas MacDonagh on his stained pedestal and amongst the mossy medieval stones of the keep.
I know John’s story. When he stands on the promontory of the island, facing upstream, a warm breeze in his face, I know what he’s thinking. The green and golden weed undulates below the glassy surface.
The flow of water is cool but slow as I step into it. My sandals sink down to the river bed of the shallow Suir, wetting above my knees but not yet cleansing our union from the station. The weed strokes my calves, I imagine in the way that my hair strokes his body in bed.
There’s no need for me to call his attention. He steps down from the rock island and takes me around the waist, looks into my eyes. I manage a nod, close to swooning. He sweeps me off my feet like a child and plunges me below the surface. My limbs are inert. I open my eyes and see his rippling face above me, settling into a clearer picture as the water calms. He looks grave, messianic. Then, the pressure of his arms on my body and a strength that I couldn’t fight if I wanted to.
He lifts me back up into the air. The cotton of my blouse and skirt clings to my skin. I’m cleansed. John’s arms envelop me and I hug him around the chest.
“Hey!” a fisherman calls from the far bank.
John waves a hand to the angler and then leads me back up onto the island.
“Sit here in the sun and I’ll fetch your bag from the car. I won’t be a minute.”
I slip off a sandal and remove strands of translucent weed, entangled in the straps. The thrill of my baptism is still keeping the chill at bay. Water trickles from my hair, down between my breasts.
“Here, sorry I don’t have a towel.”
I take the backpack with one hand and place his palm on my wet throat, sliding it down.
“In there. I’ll get changed in there.” A stone doorway behind him leads to a small chamber in the ruined castle.
Dog roses climb the walls of the keep and yield their pink scent to the late spring sun. John blocks the doorway for privacy. I unpack a simple blue cotton dress and lay it upon the ancient stone table in the room. Then I roll the wet blouse over my head and unfasten the wrapped skirt. It’s very cool out of the sun and my skin turns to gooseflesh.
His hands are warm on my skin as he gives up his guardian post and I pull him to me. I raise a leg, place my foot on the stone table and let him taste me there for the first time since my rebirth.

It’s not all about sex. It’s also about death. But I leave the knowledge of the dead to Mary, and Mary has left us.


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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Get yer free sample of Ger Mayes, only a few left and when all these free samples of The Rise and Fall of Ger Mayes are gone, they're gone.

What's a Kindle? Why can't you read a sample without having to register on amazon and buy a kindle or download Kindle for PC?

Well, you can get a sample of Ger Mayes and his misdeeds here, straight onto your screen: Ruby Barnes webpage .
Enjoy (if that's the right word).

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Renée and the whole weight of everything

An extract from Peril by Ruby Barnes
They tell me nothing can be done. I had already sensed it. I’ve long expected the return of my old enemy.
In the dusty corners of my mind there’s a vague recollection of mum and dad having a particular argument. It would have been before I started school. The exact words elude me, so I’ll fill in the blanks.
‘Not now, Andy. For Christ’s sake, not now of all times!’
Dad says nothing for a while but his silence is like a great wet towel, laid upon us. I’m in my bedroom, kneeling on the bed and listening hard through the wall. I hear a wardrobe door opening, the clatter of coat-hanger hooks and then two clicks. He’s going on another trip and that brings a smile. Presents, he always brings me presents after a trip.
‘For pity’s sake!’
And then comes dad’s voice, impossibly deep and deliberate compared to mum’s shrieking. Not that her shrieking alarms me, it’s commonplace in our house.
‘Linda, we both know it would be better if I went. Better for all of us.’
‘Run away then. Go on. Leave the whole weight of everything on me.’
The last phrase is verbatim. For a long time I imagined mum was lying on the bed, underneath something heavy, and she needed dad’s help to get the heavy thing off her. Like the way people were tortured, in olden times, by placing heavy stones on their chest until they betrayed their king or confessed to witchcraft or died. I had to endure my own personal torture before realising the whole weight of everything was actually me.
‘Your father’s gone on a trip.’
‘He’ll bring me the swing-ball this time. I know he will. He always knows what I want. I love daddy. And you mummy. But daddy brings me stuff.’
‘Yes sweetheart. I don’t know about the swing-ball. It’s not the season.’
‘What does season mean?’
It was a season of sickness that fell upon me like Autumn. First a chill and a damp feeling in morning’s first breath. Then, like the leaves, my hair began to fall. A common nightmare for children and adults alike is their hair comes out in clumps when they brush it. For me it’s a memory. My flaxen strands were all over the house.
‘Mummy, what’s happening to my hair?’
‘Don’t worry sweetheart. Our bodies change. Look at James next door, his teeth are falling out. Doesn’t that look funny? But he’ll grow new teeth and you’ll grow new hair.’
My body changed. The little fat tummy dad used to pat and say ‘chocoholic, just like your mother’. My tummy vanished as if dad had taken it with him. My appetite for chocolate and just about everything else left me for good. Perhaps the trigger for hunger had been surgically removed, along with the tumour, from my four-year-old stomach.
In teenage and adult years I was often mistaken for anorexic and then later, when the trend in popular disorders changed, bulimic. Even today, eating remains a mechanical task I can easily neglect.
Dad did visit me in the hospital. I think he did. That’s the way I remember it anyway. Mum maintains he didn’t, he was too busy chasing young skirt, enjoying his new-found freedom. She remained bitter about him up to her death last year. Had I ever managed to persuade her to visit a psychiatrist, I think she would have finally articulated the thoughts that had buried her motherly love. Dad left because of me. She lost her youth and beauty because of me. It was all my fault. Then she’d have seen it wasn’t, and we might have had peace with each other.
When I came home from hospital, dad wasn’t there. But he did visit and he did bring the swing-ball and set it up in my bedroom, much to mum’s disapproval. I watched him bat the thing around like a maniac and laughed for the first time since he had left.
The next year I started in school and the whole weight of everything placed itself on my shoulders like a greatcoat.
‘My mum says you had cancer.’ It was Tim Steele in the playground. An over-energetic lad was Tim, these days probably diagnosable with some anachronisable syndrome.
Most of the other kids looked at me like I was a leper, but I carried on skipping and chasing with the two girls who lived in my street. They knew it wasn’t catching. Tim caught up with me after school the next day, just the two of us in an alleyway between brick classrooms.
‘Renée? What kind of a name is that? Your dad foreign, is he? My mum says he lives in another country.’
Tim seemed to have more information about my family circumstances than I did. I said nothing but didn’t run away.
‘Mum says they cut it out in the hospital.’ He pointed at my stomach. In hindsight, I’m not sure Mrs Steele had my best interests at heart. ‘D’you have a scar? Can I see?’
For the first, but not the last time, I unwisely bared myself. The girls’ uniform was a grey jumper with a white blouse and I also had on a vest. I pulled the whole caboodle up and over my face.
‘Those are called nipples,’ Tim said, the tip of his cold finger touching on my chest. ‘I don’t see a scar.’
‘There.’ I put a hand down and pointed to the one-inch line to the right of my belly-button.
‘There? Does it still hurt? Can I touch it?’
‘It was a bit sore for a while but not now.’
He ran the pad of his thumb over the smooth scar. I lowered my clothes and he gave me a smile. Then he punched me in the stomach and ran off.
‘That’s what boys do when they like a girl,’ mum explained after I had run home crying. ‘The more they like you the more they try to hurt you.’
‘Does daddy try to hurt you?’
‘Your father has hurt me, sweetheart, and I’m not sure it’ll ever get better.’
She was being melodramatic, I realise now. At the time I thought the noises I had heard, the quiet whimpers and the mysterious rhythmic thumping that used to come from my parents room when dad had lived there, must have been dad punching mum repeatedly in the stomach.
Tim Steele and I became school-friends. He sat next to me on my table in class. His mother may have had the loosest tongue in Cheshire, but Tim never shared what we talked about. It was through talking to Tim I came to realise dad had left because of me. I donned the whole weight of everything without question. Mum didn’t do much to alleviate the misconception.
 It suited her to blame the failed marriage on my cancer rather than on her relationship with dad.
When I reached my teens dad began to talk to me in earnest. He had moved to Ireland and I was visiting him in Waterford when he first broached the subject, in a café on the quay.
‘You do know why your mother and I split up, don’t you?’
I had been trying to elicit some disclosure from him but now he was about to tell me to my face I was the cause I baulked.
‘I don’t really want to talk about it, dad. At least, not now. Maybe when I’m older.’
‘You are older, Renée. Listen, your mother and I were having problems before you got sick. You mustn’t think we split up because of your cancer.’
‘I don’t. Don’t be silly, dad.’ But I was crying into my milkshake.
‘I know it looks like I did a terrible thing, leaving you at that time.’
‘Yep.’ I could hardly speak without totally losing it.
‘You’ll find out for yourself, not all relationships are forever. Your mother and I, well, we reached the end of our respective tethers long before then.’
I looked out of the café window at the old-fashioned high masts and furled sails at their moorings. It was Waterford’s turn to host the Tall Ships Race. We were there for dad, he had an interest in sailing.
‘You mean your relationship had run its course? What, before I was born? So why did you have me at all, then?’
It was worse than I thought. My painful existence had been unwanted from the start. Why hadn’t mum had the unborn me removed like a tumour?
‘No, no. We began to drift apart a couple of years after you were born, when I started to travel with the job. Some things went on. I’m not proud of my behaviour, but your mother was no angel.’
It sounded like I was about to get a full and sordid confession but I managed to halt it with a raised teenage hand.
‘It’s unfortunate we came to a crisis point just when you were diagnosed.’
‘Unfortunate? UNFORTUNATE?’
The few other customers in the shop looked around at us. They saw a father enduring a tantrum from his teenage daughter. I saw a bastard that had abandoned me in my hour of mortal need.
‘Please, Renée. I’m trying to explain.’
I could only nod.
‘I think I made a mistake in going when I did.’
‘You think you should have stayed with us?’
‘I should have taken you with me. No, that wouldn’t have worked. Your mother would never have….’
He was confused about how he would have rewritten history.
‘Listen, dad. I haven’t had a bad childhood. I hardly remember the cancer. I missed you when you weren’t there but that made our times together even more special. I have friends at school that have lived through terrible divorces. For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing.’
‘You’re probably right. You’ve a wise old head on young shoulders, Renée.’
It’s what comes of carrying the whole weight of everything.
‘Did you never think of getting back with mum at all?’
‘No. We still had some feelings for each other but, well, no.’
I had blurry recollections of mum and dad having stomach-punching sessions, post-separation, on one or two occasions, such as at Christmas time. It made me shudder. At thirteen, sex was lurking menacingly in the shadows.
‘Sorry, Renée. The point I want to make is this. I didn’t leave because of you. I didn’t leave because of your cancer. I left because your mother and I didn’t want to live together any more, under any circumstances.’
I put my hand over his and forced a smile. Even through the lens of puberty, I knew my mother could be difficult. And I knew there had been an Uncle Jim and, later, an Uncle Pat, neither of which were blood relatives.
But dad seemed under the illusion he had taken the burden from my shoulders and thereby healed any damage. His motivation for our little chat may have had an element of selfishness.
Years later a psychiatrist explained to me the lasting damage that had made my character ‘needy’, as she called it. An ancient peasant becomes bent and stiff from years of pulling his primitive plough through the unyielding soil, but if you retire that plough then the peasant remains bent and stiff. Then, in order to make sense of his stature, knowledge of the plough is required. Even then the peasant might never fully regain his posture. ‘Needy’ is also the word Ger uses from time to time when I say we don’t see enough of each other. I haven’t told Ger about my personal plough.


The above is an extract from Peril.

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Sunday, 6 March 2011

The handshake

Gerard and David April 1965

An extract from Peril
My father’s appetite for handshakes was infinite.
A first memory is of sitting in my shorts and braces on the Long John table for a sibling photograph, and shaking his big, cool hand. And my baby brother David, not yet able to sit up unaided, having his hand shaken as mum held him up for the ritual.
‘Goodnight, Gerard.’
‘Night, daddy.’
‘Goodnight, David.’
Mum did kiss us, on the forehead.
Our goodnight handshake was physically the closest I ever got to my father, except for a series of punches when we had our first teenager versus adult confrontation over a table-tennis ball.
Hmm, I hear the Freudians amongst you. Problems with intimacy and emotion. Not entirely accurate. As we grew into little men there was intimacy. Hours spent together down in the shed, working all kinds of wood into different shapes. Dad knew young hands would struggle to work hardwood with hand tools, so he started us on balsa softwood and then we moved on to white deal and pine. Whilst other kids were swinging in the playground, David and I were in full attack across our quarter acre garden. My Saracen’s scimitar whirled against his sturdy Crusader’s sword, blades as sharp as wood can be.
‘Re-sharpen, re-sharpen,’ David would call when our finely honed edges became dented.
No doubt the neighbourhood of retirees was annoyed to hell by our noisy antics as David and I were the only kids in the street. Mum and dad had moved the family to an affluent retirement area, a zone of natural wisdom. Next door Dennis, a retired bank manager, was building the concrete hull of his dream boat in a garage. He built it too wide to get out of the garage. How wise was that?
We played sports, but never with other kids. Just us and dad, at weekends. Dad had good eye to hand coordination, as did we, but what he didn’t have was two functioning legs. As a child he had contracted polio and his right leg was grotesquely withered. This led to a strange gallop when he had to run, and a tendency to lunge with his weak leg. According to him, this had lent itself to fencing and boxing at university. No team sports.
The surgeon’s remodelling had reshaped his foot many years earlier but the result was continuous wear and tear due to an unnaturally high instep. He was always at his foot, scratching and peeling the dry, hard skin from the ball and heel. That gave me a phobia of other people’s bare feet. Unless they belong to a beautiful woman.
But dad’s interest in one-on-one sports made sense to me. I could see how he would have had to defend himself from bullies throughout his life.
The first week in high school I found myself under attack. A tall, scruffy boy named Daly spat all over my new school blazer as it hung in the sports changing rooms. The gap between his front teeth was perfect for spraying spittle and he had all the lads laughing at my expense. Daly was bottom of the barrel and looking for someone to exchange places with.
‘After school, Daly,’ I said.
When sports period was over, the tough guys tried to get us to fight in the classroom but I resisted. Daly looked worried.
‘Let’s forget it, Mayes,’ he said.
I shook my head. The insult had to be paid for.
At the home bell I followed him down the field to the school buses and, just before he tried to board his bus, I kicked him repeatedly in the thigh until he went for me. Then I pulled on my black leather gloves and went to work.
Daly hadn’t a clue. I danced around him, in the lopsided style of dad, and let fly with clinically accurate punches, mostly at eyes and mouth. The exchange was almost soundless and he didn’t land a blow. It felt so very good.

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For life is short

This tree, photographed at St. Kieran’s College on our last Kilkenny weekend in December, reminded me of a scene in the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, when Jolyon dies under an ancient oak tree in the garden of the Robin Hill house.

When we sit back against our tree and take stock, have we done what we could?

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Inside the mind of Ger Mayes - ewww!

Some men never grow up, they remain in a state of constant puberty, their thoughts and actions driven by one thing only. Yep, Ger is such a bloke...
I thought it best not to post a pic with this one.

A Puppy Called Puberty

It was like keeping a puppy in your underpants
A secret puppy you weren't allowed to show to anyone
Not even your best friend or your worst enemy

You wanted to pat him stroke him cuddle him
All the time but you weren't supposed to touch him.

He only slept for five minutes at a time
Then he'd suddenly perk up his head
In the middle of school medical inspection
And always on bus rides
So you had to climb down from the upper deck
All bent double to smuggle the puppy off the bus
Without the buxom conductress spotting
Your wicked and ticketless stowaway.

Jumping up, wet-nosed, eagerly wagging -
He only stopped being a nuisance
When you were alone together
Pretending to be doing your homework
But really gazing at each other
Through hot and hazy daydreams.

Of those beautiful schoolgirls on the bus
With kittens bouncing in their sweaters.

By Adrian Mitchell from Blue Coffee 1996


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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Ger Mayes is born.

This is where it all started, the whole Ger Mayes / Ruby Barnes / Turnip carry-on. Heuston Bridge over the River Liffey in Dublin, 2007. First week of a new job in the capital. The ideas for a novel that had been swirling around in my head were catalysed by an Eastern European beggar with one shoe and a crutch. The other foot, in a big woolly sock, displayed as a lure for alms. On the next day he had swapped over feet. I wanted to laugh out loud, this was the worst beggar I'd ever seen. But I gave him five euro. Everyone else walked in a big arc around him and I soon learned that was what you did. Eyes straight, step aside, don't get run down by the tram.

Then there was an argument between the socked beggar and a drug addict beggar who wanted the pitch. Guards appeared to calm the fray (Garda Síochána  = police). The Irish addict prevailed.

On the next day the Irishman appeared with a badly beaten face and the day after he didn't appear at all.

People wash up, down river, or disappear never to be seen again. Beggars step into a big old Mercedes after a day pleading for coins at the traffic lights. There's an underworld in the cities.

The novel came gushing out, like the urgent flow of the Liffey after a rainstorm. Gerard Mayes (Ger, pronounced Jer, common name in Ireland). A man like any other. No, an anti-hero. Self-serving, a slacker like the Big Lebowski but with a day job. Then he kills a street dweller and life falls apart.

Why did I write this novel as Ruby Barnes instead of Mark G Turner?

  • Mark Turner is a world famous jazz saxophonist Mark Turner (jazz saxophonist) 
  • Mark Turner is an academically renowned cognitive scientist, linguist and author Mark Turner (cognitive scientist)
  • Mark Turner is a very common name that means hammer woodcraftsman
  • I'm one, only one, of the three above. Ball pein, my wife says. Her puns always hit the nail on the head
  • as a tribute to my late grandfather, Robert 'Ruby' Barnes
  • to throw folks off my scent!
You may be right, I may be crazy. But I just might be the lunatic you're looking for (thanks BJ for that immortal line).


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