Monday, December 24, 2007

An odor of desperation

Just back from a weekend in Delaware where a group of us celebrated a pre-Christmas dinner on Saturday night--Crown roast with Brian's yummy stuffing and seven layer salad taht's a family recipe...of, and delicious home made apple pie. Watched Scrooge, the original which was good as I hadn't seen it for a while. Could not abide watching It's a Wonderful Life, so talked and drank all the way through it.

I hate malls, but if you want to find out what desperation personified looks like, I highly recommend the jewelry counters at Bloomingdales, Macy's or any other anchor store on Christmas Eve. Watch as a horde of married men (not an exaggeration)--some clad still in their work attire--circle the glass cases, furious they have too spend time doing this, furious they've left it to the last minute and anxious they don't get ripped off because they are now in a bind. And the ladies behind those cases, bejewelled, equally bright smile, pounce like lionesses because they know the look and know their market.

Overheard at Bloomies

"How much would you like to spend, sir?"
About $100.00."
"Well, maybe $150.00."

He was guided to the stud earrings.
"Have you got anything with diamonds?"
"Well, we do have these..." The assistant leaves and returns with a box. "These are gorgeous. I've sold quite a few this week."
"How much?"
"Do you have anything on sale?"
"Yes. These, sir."
Tiny silence.
"I'll take them. Do you wrap?"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Running on empty

Okay, admit it. We all fear running out of gas when we see the red hand inch over and touch the tip of the 'E' for Empty on the fuel gauge.

We know there's a few miles left, but how much exactly?

Can we risk traveling another five miles, another ten miles, another fifteen in hopes of happening upon a gas station.

Apparently, Empty does not mean empty--at least not in the States. Automobile manufacturers know that Americans like a buffer. They like to feel secure that, when the dial shows Empty, there's a few more miles left before they totally run out. So, in the US, when a car reads empty, there's anything from fifteen to even fifty miles worth of road eating left.

Germans, on the other hand, demand their car fuel gauges reflect reality. So, if your car registers Empty and you're on the fast lane of the Autobahn, pull over to the shoulder and hope they put an empty gas can in the trunk.

Not sure what the British or Irish preference is, but probably more like the Germans.

Here's a website to check out what your cars threshold is

Tank on Empty

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Stocking Stuffer

TNThe Liar's Diary

The narrator, Jeanne Cross, lives in New England, is married to a renowned doctor Gavin who's cold and a control freak, and has a chronically overweight son Jamie who scoffs whatever candies and cookies he can find and develops a fascination with Ali, a new music teacher who comes to work at the school where Jeanne is an administrator. Jeanne is also in extreme denial about her marriage and life, a denial which Ali forces her to confront, especially in relation to Gavin whose study within the heart of the family home is always kept locked. Ali is also a talented musician, has an older husband who loves her but realizes he can't satisfy all her needs, and acquiesces to her having a number of boyfriends with whom she forms no close attachments, including a teacher and wealthy local business man who wants to marry her. When Ali is brutally murdered and Jamie's scouting knife is discovered at her cottage, the family veneer is ripped apart when he becomes the main suspect and is held at a juvenile detention center.

Patry Francis's first novel is an illuminating peek into a facet of suburbia revolving around the need to keep up appearances at all costs, even if it means lying to oneself and dangerous denial. It's dark and full of interesting twists and mounting tension, more so when one comes to realize the narrator is unreliable. A great stocking stuffer for those who like a good murder mystery.

The book is available in hardcover and will be published in paperback in January 2008. The author maintains a blog at Simply Wait

Monday, December 10, 2007

Justice wields good

Michael Vick, the NFL star, has been found guilty in the federal courts for his role in bankrolling a dog-fighting ring, inhumanely treating and killing pitbulls (those that didn't perform and for the hell of it) and lying about it. He was sentenced to 23 months, though with time off for good behavior he will serve until Summer 2009.

He has lost lucrative marketing contracts and is suspended by the NFL--dare we hope permanently.

Exactly what he deserves. He should also be made to clean out kennels at the ASPCA for a further five years after his release if I were his judge and in a position to use judicial discretion.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to...

Latest growing fad in the US is funerals for pets.

By funerals, I mean embalming, coffins, flowers, casket viewings at a funeral home, and burial with hearse and funeral directors in attendance, if desired. One entrepreneur in the Mid-West is now in the process of setting up parlors as franchise opportunities.

And it's not just some pet lovers who've decided to make a business out of it. Regular funeral homes always looking for opportunities to wring a few more green backs from tears are getting into the business. Apparently, they've seen there's mega bucks to be made--the average pet funeral costs $500. So they've begun offering portions of their establishments to wake the deceased pet. It used to be done after hours, but irate pet owners stated it wasn't dignified and their pets were family members (latter part, I agree with) and deserved respect.

So, technically, a group of mourners can be at the funeral home sniffing and talking good or bad about Aunt Rosie and another group next door can be wailing about Clarence, the Great Dane. (One establishment has already performed the funeral of a beloved pack mule who took people on treks of the Grand Canyon.)

I'm sure there will come a day at one of these establishments when family members are sitting grieving in front of a closed casket for the entire visiting period, only to discover on the day of the funeral or later that their loved one is interred in a pet cemetery and the funeral Mass was for an old donkey.

Great plot line for Six Feet Under if it was still around.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dubai's dark side

I watched a fascinating documentary on the telly on Friday night. It concerned the plight of Veronique, mother of 16-year-old Alexandre, a French-Swiss citizen who was driven into the Dubai desert and raped by there men including another teenager.

When he went for a medical examination, the doctor twisted the story so grossly that he was branded a homosexual (illegal in this bizarre kingdom of glittering towers and man-made islands formed in the shapes of palm trees that is surrounded by camels, sand and poverty) and a willing participant in his rape. the police were no less sympathetic and now he is facing prosecution for homosexuality. Worse, neither the police nor Dubai authorities informed him that one of the rapists is HIV+

His mother refused to accept this idiotic status quo and has a campaign going to boycott Dubai. Though part of it's in French, you can visit it at

Here's the ABC Story

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Always look on the bright side of things...

The Friday Project have published a book by a chappie called Steve Stack entitled It is just You, Everything's not Shit and the opening paragraph of the introduction reads:

In recent years there have been a number of popular books moaning about life and how crap it is. Whether it be grumpy old men, miserable old women, or people asking 'Is it just me or is everything shit?' I am OK with that, I accept that the world can be a crappy place sometimes, but do we have to be so bloody pessimistic?

Well, with an opener like that, I just had to read it and have him on as a guest on the blog, didn't I?

I'm delighted I did because it's a fun book, the sort of book you'd keep in your powder room and read in snippets. In segments that begin with the letters of the alphabet, the author lets us know about a few things in the world we should be happy about. There's 'Amuse Bouche'--a small appetizer given for free in good restaurants, similar to what's called 'lagniappe' in New Orleans. Some of his picks are naturally very Brit and will appeal to Anglophiles--Bacon sandwiches, The Pudding Club and A Quarter of (various candies sold in the UK corner sweet shops), but others are universal including honey (pots of it were found in King Tut's tomb still edible), unexpected encounters with wildlife--the description was so on point--and Dr. Seuss.

Anyway, here's the interview.

Should you be interested in Steve's book which isn't published in the US, he informs me you can order it directly from The Friday Project at half price as part of their Christmas offerings and they'll even mail it to you for free.


DMN: Steve, you conceived this book as a sort of humorous antidote to people who are always complaining or whining about stuff? How did you go about deciding what you wanted to include and what you were going to discard?

SS: It really was as simple as sitting down and making a list of things that I liked. That naturally makes it quite a personal list but I think that there will be a core of entries that are universal. Also, part of the fun of the book is disagreeing with it. I know people who violently disapprove of some of the entries and others who claim I have made terrible errors of omission. They are all correct, of course, but the point of the book is not to be a definitive list but to prompt people into a more optimistic frame of mind.

DMN: I was interested to see 'It's a Wonderful Life' made the cut. Is there a British film you could recommend as a close second?

SS: I am a big fan of Hollywood movies and It's A Wonderful Life is such an amazing and life-affirming film so not much comes close for me, although I think an honourable mention could go to the Michael Powell movie A Matter Of Life & Death with David Niven. Great stuff.

DMN: Your Pudding Club entry appealed to me because I'm a lover of puddings, especially Sticky Toffee and Syrup Sponge. They even sell these in ex-pat shops here in the US. Any club in Britain like that that's dedicated to appreciation of fine beer and ales?

I am not a big drinker but I hear lots of good words spoken about CAMRA (the Campaign For Real Ale). They have a website and shop at

DMN: When you gave the pyramids the nod, what did you compare them to? Did you consider the Aztec and Mayan temples. I mention these only because I had an opportunity to visit them and was bowled away by the engineering as well.

SS: I would guess that if I had also visited those amazing places they would have made the list too. I must confess that part of the reason for including the pyramids was that it made for a neat joke alongside the pyramid tea bags entry.

DMN: Tell us a little about the interesting artwork on your book's cover. What's the significance of the rabbits, lambs and ducks?

SS: Well my book is a response to another book called Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? which had a road sign on the front. We thought it would be fun to parody that and surround it with lots of fluffy bunnies and cute animals.

DMN: Are you working on another project and, if so, can you give us a hint?

SS: I think I can possibly give you a world exclusive on this one. My next book, scheduled for Christmas 2008, is called 21st Century Dodos and is an affectionate look at the everyday objects and experiences that are rapidly becoming extinct - milk bottles, cassette tapes, that sort of thing.

DMN: I just have to ask this because everyone's dying to know....Tell us about something that bugs you.

I am not overly fond of dogs, it must be said. They slobber everywhere and smell.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The height of barbarity

Following up on my post about the Saudi prince who bought one of the new mammoth Airbus's, he and any other enlightened captains of industry over there now have a splendid opportunity to speak up and demand their country effects real change to better the lot of women and every day Saudi citizens.

A married woman and a male she was riding in a car with were both attacked by a band of thugs who pulled them from their car and raped both of them. Yes, that's right--the man as well as the woman. The female victim's punishment will be 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence.


She broke the law because she was in the company of a man who was not a male family member.

So the prince and others can now deal with a concrete and pertinent issue of justice and not wax on about how it takes time to change his country and America took years before they gave women the vote, yada, yada, yada. That argument is disingenuous and Westerners are not gullible as you seem to believe we are.

The fact America changed should be a catalyst, NOT a reason for obfuscation by men who're making millions a minute. Until Saudi Arabia changes, it can only be regarded as a barbaric kingdom.

And the current American administration should be ashamed. Many serving in its highest echelons wear their religion as a banner and reason to attack others with whom they disagree, yet they do not speak out when it is right and proper to do so. The current reason goes, 'it might upset the Saudis and cause them to pull out of the Israeli-Palestinian meeting scheduled tomorrow in Annapolis.' Horseshit. Nothing concrete is expected to come out of that meeting. At least the Canadian government had the balls to say the woman's punishment is barbaric.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A buying frenzy

Well, it was inevitable, wasn't it?

Now that the dollar is sinking fast--it hurt when I was in the UK two months ago and the exchange rate then was 2 dollars to the pound, but now its 2 dollars ten cents--there are plane loads of Brits, Irish, Germans, French, Italians, etc. arriving at JFK and Newark to buy us out of our increasingly probable recession . They're coming armed to the teeth--with Euros and empty suitcases, of course. And they're not heading for the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building.

Apparently they're heading for some obscure town up state where there's a huge complex of outlet stores--DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, etc... One guy from Dublin was interviewed on the telly this morning, gleefully telling us that he can buy 5 polo shirts here for the price of one in Ireland. And the stores are accommodating them cheerfully, offering them discounts for every $100 they spend, because Americans have their wallets tightly closed this season. The chains here are stating they're going to have a miserable Christmas season.

I wonder how long it's going to take the European Community to realize they should be collecting taxes on all this booty that's a comin' westward.

Now we hear China's considering dumping some of its huge dollar reserves, though we did also learn last week that the size of their burgeoning economy has been grossly overstated and the US will remain dominant for many, many years to come.

There's even talk that the Euro might become the world currency.

The only good side for us is that American exports are up and our deficit is shrinking. I am a bit cynical here because, given the trend in America for the past ten years according to the Gospel of Lou Dobbs to send all our manufacturing overseas, I'm wondering what American products we have left to sell. And it's not just physical goods I'm talking about either, because people from India call at night trying to get me to take out a mortgage, swap my phone service or try a new credit card.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Private Airbus's and Paris Clones

A Saudi Prince--there are 6000 princes in the desert kingdom, which makes them as ubiquitous as vice-presidents of corporations in the US--has purchased the new A380, the largest flying airplane in the world built by Airbus. Apparently, he wants to use it as a flying palace, though if people wish to visit some of his Middle-East residences and vacation resorts (according to Diana Sawyer's interview on Good Morning America) they'll have to use his other jet with its gold-lined sinks and white mink duvets.

The chappie is the richest man in the world and has many investments throughout the world, including the US, and is dead progressive because he lobbies for women to be allowed to engage in commerce and wear Western clothing. He also wants "almost all" people to have good opportunities, though it was not determined who did not qualify. From what I could reckon, his philosophy thus seems to be something akin to the "elephant must be eaten in small chunks", though there is no mention to any desire to bring an end to the large chunk of autocratic rule by that country's monarchy and instituting democracy.

However, he must be applauded somewhat for his tenuous moves in the right and enlightened direction.

As an aside, we were treated to views of some of the decor in his residences and, from what I could see, they looked a trifle tacky, especially an area or compound--or perhaps "county" is the more fitting word--that is designed to resemble a country in Africa with its abundance of stuffed wildlife that seemed to include adult lions, antelope, etc.

Speaking of tacky, Paris Hilton is in Philly this evening. No, it isn't to do a charity event, sadly. It appears her promise to turn around her life and do good is, just that--a promise. She was in Macy's to launch yet another fragrance.

It was quite astonishing to watch the line of Paris Clones waiting for their Goddess to appear--there were at least a bushel of bleached blondes. When interviewed, all spoke in awe of the huge talent and importance of this wonderful actress and how educational The Simple Life reality show was,
how it had changed their lives. Most startling of all was how they all finished their monologues with a nervous titter, a sort of baby gurgle minus the spit bubbles.

And they say cloning is illegal in the United States.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The pamphlet

Yesterday was election day in the US, so off we went to exercise our right at the local township office. As is usual, members of the Democratic and Republican parties were gathered by the entrance, canvassing people as they made their way inside.

A chap from the Democratic Party called us over and asked whether we'd like to review the ballot sheet which they'd blown up and pinned to a presentation board, which we did. A question included was whether we wanted the allow the county to raise money to buy farmland and keep it out of the hands of developers, and there were six or eight justices of the Pennsylvania supreme court seeking re-appointment--though it was wholly unclear which was Democrat and which Republican as is usual when local politics are involved.

As we were reviewing the board, the chap from the Republican Party came over, thrust pamphlets into our hands, and said, "You'd better read our positions as well, seeing as they're getting you to read their propaganda."

I thought he was joking, but his purple cheeks and tight lips suggested otherwise.

"Hey! Hey!, the guy from the Democratic party said. "That's not on. All I was doing was showing them the layout of the ballot. I didn't call them over to show them any literature from my party."

The Republican chap looked at the easel. "Oh, you put a ballot up, did you? That's alright then. Sorry. But guys, you should read what I gave you before you vote anyway."

Inside was more sedate and we chatted with the obligatory Republican and Democratic party representatives and the impartial overseer--who learned I was from Ireland and rabbited on about her Scottish roots--as we were signed in. It was the second time I used the new electronic voting machines, which are very satisfactory though I'm glad our voting district maintains a printout in the event of a challenge or malfunction.

All in all, I've a feeling next year's Presidential election is going to be a lot of fun. A lot of fun.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hooves beating leaves

While working at my desk yesterday, I heard the loud rustle of dead leaves outside my window and looked out into the woods to see the most amazing sight. Five bucks of varying sizes were wildly chasing a couple of does.

November is the deer rutting season, which lasts until the end of the month. It's also the hunting season, but the bucks become obsessed with the does to the point of obliviousness and don't know what else is lurking behind the trees. I called Larry and we went out onto the deck to watch. They chased the does back and forth, the bucks stopping occasionally to check each other out (the size of antlers being a factor) and run the younger males off the land.

At one point, one of the does ran towards our house, stopped by a thicket and lay down. She watched the bucks prancing back and forth, her head moving one way then the other as she kept them in her sights. It was fascinating to realize she was hiding from them deliberately. The bucks sniffed the air and drew nearer and nearer because she was giving off a scent that she was in season. (The bucks actually chase teh does until they are exhausted.)

Out of the blue came the largest buck I have ever seen. He was a five-pointer (five points in his antlers which means he was five years old). He sniffed the air and walked with absolute determination toward the hiding doe. She saw him coming, rose and bolted. He gave chase. The other bucks didn't challenge him, merely watched and then fell into line and followed him. Probably hoping to learn a trick or two for whenever their turn comes to rule the woods

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two 'Englishes'-One novel

Currently, A Son Called Gabriel is going through the process of being converted into a UK edition. The Friday Project will use the artwork created here by my US publisher, but will amend it to better suit their needs. The novel will come out over there in what's called 'B' format in March 2008 (mass market in the US). Very exciting.

Already I've been working with Clare Weber who's an editor at TFP and the copy editor they use is finding lots of American English that needs to be changed. I'd even forgotten how to spell 'pyjamas' because it's 'pajamas' here.

It's extraordinary. I've been living in the States for fifteen years and have no idea when I started to write 'American'. It just crept up on me. Now I wouldn't know if I was spelling a word incorrectly in standard English.

On that note, I was watching a documentary on PBS last year where they stated American English is now regarded as the official English language throughout the world. Apparently, more people abroad are taught or opt to be taught American English than Oxford English.

Yikes. Will a day come when Oxford English goes the way of Cornish, Scottish, Welsh or Irish?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mississippi property

My eyes popped open this morning while drinking my coffee and watching the morning news shows before leaving for the gym.

A husband was suing his ex-wife's new boyfriend--all parties in their sixties--for TWENTY TWO million dollars. The wife started seeing him AFTER they'd split up and had left her husband because of his excessive drinking and abuse.

The cause of action is 'Alienation of Affection' and based on the premise the new man took his property from him.

Yes, PROPERTY. Apparently, in seven Southern States, a wife is regarded under their laws as property, as in chattel. I am NOT kidding.

Only in the blessed and dark parts of the South. And people from abroad wonder why there's a bit of a social divide in this country.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Give me a break!

JK Rowling's announcement that Dumbledore's gay has lit the fires under the arses of some bigots again, albeit some of them seem to be using the tired old 'fear of leading children down the path of witchcraft card.'

Rev. Ron Barker (it embarrasses me to learn he's Roman Catholic and not a rabid Evangelical, but what can I say) has banned all Harry Potter books from St. Joseph's Catholic School in Wakefield Massachusetts. His reason is the above-mentioned, but we all know that's horseshit given its proximity to the recent Rowling announcement.

Disingenuousness at its most blatant, most foolish, most despicable. And this guy's in charge of educating young minds.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Still writing, still editing, still working

Just finished a long session of writing as I want to get this first novel rewrite completed and move on to 'the next thing' as Jeanne, one of my writing group members, says. It's tough to write when we're still experiencing summer temperatures that have in effect prevented the usually spectacular fall foliage in this part of the country. This year, many of the trees are still green and, of those that did turn, only a few exhibited any dazzling color. The sugar maples, for example, can always be counted on to put on a show, a show of crimson and gold.

I'm also riveted by the plight of Californians who're struggling against the Santa Ana winds that are barreling down the canyons and fueling the fires and turning their homes into pyres. But Californians are tough people and will come out of this better and stronger. Also heartening to note the current administration is promising to send financial aid to that state because it's time our taxes were spent on helping people at home. (Last I heard on the telly, Jane Seymour--who's doing bloody well in Dancing with the Stars' I'm happy to say and despite her Mum's recent death--was on telly saying her hubby was in Malibu trying to protect their home.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Review on

Kathryn Esplin-Oleski, a prodigious author on, interviewed me recently for and has just posed a lovely review of A Son Called Gabriel that I wanted to share with you.

Here it is (and you can alos see her layout in all its technicolor glory by joining, which is a free social networking site):


Damian McNicholl is a long-time Gather member (February 14, 2006) ( who grew up in Northern Ireland and went to law school in Wales; in the 1990s, Damian came to the US as an attorney and taught himself to write fiction as he commuted from Long Island to New York City. Agents picked up Damian's manuscript of A Son Called Gabriel and it was published.

The protagonist, Gabriel Harkin, is the sensitive, first-born child of four in a working-class, Catholic family set in the Northern Ireland of the 1960s; Gabriel's childhood is beset by oft-brutal cruelty set within a loving family. Life is difficult for Gabriel because times were strict and he tries to hide his fears as he realizes he is not like other boys. In this coming of age novel, Gabriel soon realizes that Uncle Brendan, a priest, also struggled with a secret and had to leave Ireland for Kenya. The novel deals very poignantly with how Gabriel's parents and siblings try to offer Gabriel comfort as he struggles to conform to life. A Son Called Gabriel goes beyond most coming-of-age novels published in recent years. A must read.

A Son Called Gabriel was made an ABA Book Sense pick and was a finalist in a couple of literary awards, including the Lammies. Damian has co-authored a play with another playwright, based on 'Gabriel' that is under consideration for production at theatres in the US and abroad.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Damian about A Son Called Gabriel.

* * *

Damian, your novel, A Son Called Gabriel seems to be partially autobiographical, or, at least, based on some truth. Would you like to describe for readers what growing up in Northern Ireland was like?

A Son Called Gabriel is what I refer to as semi-autobiographical. By that I mean it has the elements of truth in certain aspects of the work, especially the political climate in which I grew up where the minority in Northern Ireland were repressed and discriminated against and took to the streets to demand their civil rights, and the complex issues involved with both heterosexual and homosexual sexuality in a very conservative environment. However, Gabriel is not me and Gabriel's family is not my family.

Growing up in Northern Ireland at that time [Ed note: 1960s and 1970s] was difficult for Catholics because they did not have the right to vote and all the best jobs were reserved for the Protestant majority. That is not to say that all Protestants had good jobs, of course. There were working class and impoverished Protestants, particularly in the inner cities, who were brainwashed or allowed themselves to be puppets for their Protestant masters--the landowning, Eton-educated Protestant masters--by accepting their bigotry and ideas that Catholics were wicked and untrustworthy, and vassals of the Church of Rome whose goal was world conversion to Catholicism.

But life there was also full of joy and fun. I grew up in breathtaking part of the Northern Irish countryside where farmers tilled their fields, juicy plums were picked from trees that grew alongside the road; carnivals, sports events and concerts featuring local talent were held frequently, and neighbors socialized and looked out for one another. (We also had our share of community gossips who kept the fires well banked and used attendance at Sunday Mass for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance.)

There was a lot of church because the area I grew up in was fervently Catholic and I attended Catholic primary and high schools. The entire community attended Mass on Sundays, observed Holy Days and fasted during Lent. Lent was always difficult for children and teenagers because it meant Mass every evening for six weeks, with Benediction and Rosaries thrown in for good measure.

Contemporary Northern Ireland is a very different place. My nephews and nieces are pretty similar to American kids today because of the Internet and TV, though they are not as coddled and micro-managed as many kids are here. I was over in Ireland a few months ago and my brother's twins--they're six--are speaking with very proper English accents and it was quite hysterical to listen to them. No one can understand why they are speaking like this or where it comes from, but it's very funny. They've been talking like this for two years. A few years ago, it would have been scandalous for an Irish kid to have an English accent. But the economy over there is doing extremely well and many people over there are now as well off as Americans, so the political strife and hatred has given way to reconciliation and a slow built trust between the two cultures. Those who still hate are being marginalized. That's how it should be.

How long did it take to write Gabriel?

The first draft of A Son Called Gabriel only took six or seven months to write. I think this was because it was so personal and Gabriel and his story was already fully formed in my mind. Of course, rewriting and editing took as long again.

You have such a beautiful, lyrical style to your prose - so haunting, quite reminiscent of Frank Mc Court's Angela's Ashes. Have you published other works besides Gabriel?

Thank you. I've read Angela's Ashes and enjoyed the writing style. Gabriel is my first published novel.

Your second novel will be published in 2009. Would you like to give us any hints as to what it is about?

It will be published in 2009 (maybe earlier if they so decide) by The Friday Project in the UK. Well, I can reveal it's now going to be a series of novels and they're going to be comic with just the right amount of darkness thrown in. I like to use humor in my writing where possible, even when dealing with heavy subject matter, because I can't stand books that are too heavy.

The working title of the novel is Unusual Steps. However, after working with my editor, we made the decision to split the novel in two, as the principal characters are very strong and have their own story lines. I'm working now on Marcus's story, which is about a young well-bred man leaving Ireland for the bright lights of London.

He moves into a house belonging to a very assertive young woman who's an immigration officer at Heathrow and next door lives a very meddlesome neighbor. He also befriends a very interesting American woman who's studying at the LSE [Ed note: London School of Economics] has a couple of run-ins with the law, and the story depicts his adventures as he goes about finding his place in the world. The second novel in the series will be about Julia, the immigration officer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

She's absconded: You're dismissed

Today I was summoned to the County seat for jury service. Anticipating a great deal of downtime, I took the book I'm currently reading, Rachel North's, Out of the Tunnel, a riveting memoir from The Friday Project about her life and suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after she was injured in the bomb that went off on the tube at King's Cross on 7/7/05 (the UK's 9/11 equivalent).

Jury duty was an interesting experience because Bucks County has a One Day-One Trial system, which means the jury is on call one for day only unless selected to form part of a jury in which case it's for the entire trial and not for the full two weeks as they do in say New York State. It makes for a very efficient handling of both the Court's time, the jury's time and the lawyers time. Indeed, it appears that Bucks County, as a result, is the most efficient court system in Pennsylvania (and undoubtedly beyond) as as result of this system and many jurisdictions are emulating it because it has been so successful.

In the United States, the fact I am an attorney does not preclude me from having to do jury service, which I believe is right and proper. I think the jury should reflect society at large, so the fact I have legal training and am a litigator should not mean I can't serve the interests of justice in a case in which I have no direct interest. I'm sure I would get elected the foreperson for the jury--or would try my damndest to make that happen, as I'd like to manage the deliberations and read the verdict at the end of the trial.

In any event, it wasn't to be on this occasion. I was to be sent to a court room for 'voir dire' (selection or rejection by the attorneys) in a criminal trial, but the judge and a tipstaff (Pennsylvania equivalent of a bailiff) came into the jurors lounge at 1.45 and stated the defendant had decided to abscond during lunch and the bailiffs were now in hot pursuit of her. Much chuckling ensued. After thanking us for our time, the judge said he was letting us go as he was not a mean man and going to keep us until she had been apprehended. I guess she decided she was guilty and likely to do time.

I was rather hoping to serve in a murder trial, though one part of me was also nervous because Pennsylvania has the death penalty which is very alien to me as Ireland and the UK abolished capital punishment many years ago. It would, however, have been marvelous grist for a plot or two.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting

I'm busy with the rewrite of Unusual Steps (my second novel), in between being appointed to scour the internet for interesting ideas for flooring for our new house.

Unusual Steps is really no more. I've separated the novel into two parts and am now concentrating on the male protagonist's story. I'm having a good time as I'm developing people in the novel who had no point of view, but really 'demanded' one.

It's a slow process. Not the edit I first thought it would be when my UK publisher--The Friday Project--acquired the novel.

But hey, it makes life interesting and challenging and worth living and all those good things.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Way to go, Bono

U2's vocalist-cum-activist Bono in my neck of the woods tonight to pick up his Liberty Medal, which is a prestigious award administered by National Constitution Center and given to those who advance the cause of liberty around the world.

In this instance, Bono earned his for his work in lobbying for debt relief for African countries. As always, Bono has his critics for sticking out his neck and urging us American and European fat cats to have a conscience. I liked his saying to the effect that if we all treated Africans as our equals, he wouldn't need to do this sort of thing.

Way to go, Bono.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Excuse me! Don't we we live in a democracy?

I am amused by the outcry against Iran's Ahmadinejad speaking today at Columbia University after his speech at the United Nations.

No one sane agrees with this man's views, in relation to his idiotic denial of the Holocaust, to his call to wipe Israel of the map, to his appalling record on human rights and development of nuclear weapons.

However, we live in a democracy and the principle of democracy is that all people have a right to be heard and a right to be grilled and heckled and castigated by others about their positions. And people not wanting him to speak have a right to protest, but they do not have the right to veto what others can hear. That is what happens in a vibrant democracy.

I have the right to hear Ahmadinejad discuss his positions and to hear others question him about them. Ahmadinejad has the right to be heard in America. Columbia University has the right to invite him to speak and I applaud their decision to do so. Their doing so shows free speech and academic freedom are alive and vibrant in the United States.

Are we so afraid of Ahmadinejad that we cannot give him a forum to express his views no matter how odious they may be? (He certainly is charismatic, witty and smart, but is this a reason to fear him to the extent of denying him the right to speak in public?) Are we so beholden to interest groups and their lobbies who're offended by his views in a matter of interest to them that we must accede to their demands and refuse him that forum?

I think not. America is comprised of many cultures and creeds and no one culture or creed can hijack our right to hear another voice. 60 Minutes gave him a forum last night and there was NO protesting that. Why pick on Columbia University?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I want my money....NOW!

I've been fascinated watching the meltdown of Northern Rock, Britain's fifth largest mortgage lender that's found itself in a credit squeeze that's related to the weak US housing market and financial woes of the US sub-prime market. I never in my life imagined I'd see what is essentially a depression-era run on a bank, with thousands of average Joe's and Mary's lining up at the bank's branches to withdraw their savings. And this despite assurances from the Bank of England (who've stepped in to loan Northern Rock money to meet its obligations due to their unduly risky and greedy business strategies) and politicians who're urging calm.

I've always thought there's too many dodgy and unscrupulous people working in finance especially in Wall Street and that the government, even here in the US, are not regulating the stock, commodities, investment banks etc. sufficiently. There's far too many risky investments calculated to churn huge fees cooked up by these institutions with no real meaningful regulation, especially given the wildly pro-business government currently in the US.

America sneezed during the summer and now Europe and other world markets are catching a cold. Let's hope this Northern Rock fiasco is contained and real panic doesn't set in and there's a run on some other weak institutions in the UK and it then triggers a run on banks over here. Then we'd really be in the shit. It'd be 'back to the land' for everybody--maybe not a bad thing. And let's hope the next administration regulates Wall Street so we get rid of dodgy investments that are nothing but gambling rackets at the end of the day and the besuited cowboys are made to leave town.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ireland's newest types

It's remarkable how in the space of a couple of years the Northern Ireland economy is booming and people are becoming wealthy. Everywhere I turned there were new businesses opening and houses being built, though I'm also happy to report that the government has put a moratorium on building in the countryside and developed a strict set of guidelines to ensure that proposed dwellings fit in with the topography, etc. Many developers and people wanting to sell their land are grumbling, just like they do over here. Yes, people should have the right to develop their land and people need housing, but there's no need for monstruous McMansions sitting on quarter or half acre lots--no need even on two acre lots--just to satisfy the egos of Ireland's nouveau riche. Developers must work in conjunction with the locals to develop responsible housing projects and the character of the countryside must be preserved.

The nouveau riche are found among both religions and they're abundant (not an exaggeration) and it's humorous to hear the kind of stuff they get up to so neighbors will talk--flying to work or fun in private aircraft(screw the environment and carbon footprints because it's our turn to show off now, and anyway China's doing it, so there), others driving huge American SUVs, yet more throwing over-the-top engagements and weddings. Sixteen birthday bashes, never before celebrated in Ireland, are now practically de rigueur.

Yet some of these same people fiddle things so that the government pays for their children's university education while teachers and government employees and others have to stump out the full amount to educate their children. I'm not joking. At least that sort of scam doesn't exist here in the US.

It's a bit like the Wild West over there, or as if excessive Hollywood uprooted and moved across the pond. I've no doubt some of them will start buying minor English aristocratic titles soon.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Food for thought

I watched an interesting segment on telly last night where a chap sets up situations to see how the general public will react. One of the scenarios involved a trip to the Bronx where he began to spray-paint graffiti on a wall to see if some of the neighborhood residents would get angry and stop him or call the police. No one did. Some chaps even offered to help.

More disturbing was his visit to two bars, one at NJ shore and the other in Manhattan. At the NJ pub, he chats to a couple of thirtyish chaps, points out an attractive woman in the crowd (his accomplice), tells them he wants to have sex with her and is going to 'roofie' her. They laugh energetically. He behaves as if he's adding something to her drink in their presence, hands her the drink and fifteen minutes later leaves with her. On his return half-an-hour later, the guys crowd around him and he tells her he's had his way with her and left her to sleep under a pier. Three of them laugh and congratulate him and one tells him he's going to go and get her as he doesn't mind 'sloppy seconds'. A few minutes later, the camera watches him looking under the piers for the sleeping girl, allegedly under the pretext he wants to check if she was okay. Hmmmm!.

He finds no upright men in NYC either. There, a herd of twenty-something chaps laugh, slap him on the back when he tels them he's had sex with his victim and they admit they've always wanted to 'roofie' a girl.

"Whatever it takes," one of them says as he slaps the 'assailant's' back. "Whatever it takes."

They also admit they'd do it if they knew how to get the pills, to which he offers to supply them and they eagerly give him their cell numbers so he can contact them. Two gave him false numbers, but one--a reptilian looking chap--gave him his legit number.

Have young men become so predatory, so hard-assed, so criminal of mentality? Have they got no respect for women, regard them merely as meat to satiate their thrusting penises? Or did the chap making the documentary ask lots of chaps in the bar and some walked away. The fellow making the documentary didn't say if any men walked away and I feel sure he would have had it occurred, which makes me conclude he met far more men willing to be complicit in rape. If so, God help society, young women in particular.

Monday, August 27, 2007

On reacquainting

Spent a lovely evening a little while ago in Portrush in the company of my cousin Adrian--a guy I've been friends with since we were kids--and two of his lovely friends Molly and Smokie who live now in the England and Wales but come to vacation at their family home here. Marvelous girls and much laughter and vino was consumed by all. Their house commands breathtaking views of the East strand--a gently curving golden sand beach that dips without fuss until engulfed by the cold, frothy Celtic eye-blue waters of the unpredictable Irish sea. Waking up was a treat because I pulled the bedroom curtains open to look down on the beach where a two muscular chestnut and black horses were being put through their paces, first cantering then galloping along the length of the beach.

The previous evening--after first meeting the ladies and sipping a few glassfuls of champers--Adrian took me out to dinner at a very decent Italian restaurant where we caught up with a lot of family stuff (immediate and extended) and stuff we'd been both been doing for the past few years. The week prior my sister Siobhan and her hubby Michael had had him and our Aunt Mary over for a delicious supper (a supper that included my favorite sherry trifle pudding for desert) during which Adrian regaled us with anecdotes from a recent Russian trip he'd made that was hilarious, so much so indeed we were doubled over with laughter. He should have been a writer, too. I think its in the familial genes.

As I watched him at my sister's and then at Molly and Smokie's, I thought how grateful and happy I am to have re-acquainted with him. Life has many twists and turns and it becomes so busy we can never seem to carve out space and keep up with the doings of cousins and past friends. I love meeting new people, immediately knew Molly and Smokie will be good friends, but it's wonderful to be able to make time to spend with relatives and old friends. It's what life's about.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

So many 'shades' of rain

I'm presently in Northern Ireland visiting family, which is wonderful, but I'd forgotten just how many different kinds of rain there is on this island. There's driving rain, gentle rain, blinding rain, tepid rain....on and on it goes and people know by the color of the clouds exactly what kind of shower they're going to get. I suppose the many types and quantity is the price to pay for the enormous variety of colors of grass there is that ranges from emerald to kelly-green. And it's also responsible for the fantastic vibrancy of the flowers adorning the street corners of every town and village throughout the province. Every town also has huge arrangements by their entrances--some arranged in the ancient crests of the town--and the colors of the petals is so intense the flowers actually appear as if made of plastic. An artist's paradise.

Last week we nipped up to the ancient city of Derry (Londonderry to some)to meet our friends from New Orleans who're on a trip of Ireland that began in Belfast. They're traveling with their friends Jan and Bob Carr--who were formally the 'Richard and Judy' of New Orleans, later moved into radio and had me on as a guest on their show just before Hurricane Katrina struck and their radio station has not returned to the air waves--and all were stunned by the beauty, cuisine and wealth of Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gorgeous Ibiza

Gates to the ancient city of Ibiza
What a wonderful vacation destination the island of Ibiza is. It lies off the coast of Spain and is one of Europe's real holiday destinations because it's full of Germans, Italians, Spanish mainlanders (of course), a smattering of French and no Americans. I was truly astonished by the latter reality, so used am I to encountering American accents.

Of course the dollar is performing so crap against the Euro and Pound this past few weeks that's it's hardly surprising Americans aren't flying overseas this summer--but while painful, this doesn't fully account for the paucity of my fellow countrymen I was told by some of the tourists residing at the hotel Larry and I stayed at. Apparently, while it's an open secret that it's a hotspot for Europeans, it really isn't known or been discovered by yet.

A fascinating island, the main city bears the same name as the island and was established by the ancient Phoenicians who built the old city on top of the hillside. (Indeed, a friend informed me that the Phoenicians were marvelous traders who created salt flats using plumbing that is still in use today and that much of the salt is sold to Britain for use on their roads In many respects it's similar in outlook to Dubrovnek in Croatia--meandering streets, museums, Roman ruins, spectacular views of the shimmering bay below, but the restaurants are of a better quality and the buildings better maintained more vibrant in appearance.

We met up with our friends Niall and Poul who'd flown in from France for a 50th birthday party of a good friend and spent the following four days in their company. Days were spent at the beaches and, as a result, their friend David (the birthday boy) and his partner Domingo invited us to join in the celebrations, including a delicious Paella lunch cooked over an open fire by the seashore and a marvelous BBQ at their sunwashed 'Can' (which means 'house') just outside the city of Ibiza. There we met a great number of their friends who'd flown in from all over Europe (and even a few guests from Boston).

Only downer of the whole trip was the dispiritingly sour attitude of one of our middle-aged German hosts at the hotel. The chappie was a wee bit mutton dressed as lamb due to a foppishly boyish haircut and a penchant for clothing far too young for him. Constantly on unblinking surveillance, he prowled the common areas from morning to night as if expecting us to pee on the patio when present or perhaps move a table, umbrella or rickety chair out of precise alignment or even imbibe a second cup of cheap coffee over our unchanging continental breakfasts. (I never want to see another razor thin slice of fatty schinken (ham), grayish leberwurst or a previous night's hard-boiled egg in my least for the next twenty years. What was most annoying was how his attitude changed when he knew a guest was German--then his face creased into an unnatural smile and he laughed and giggled and chatted, even joked in German, totally oblivious to the fact I could speak it, which I made him aware of on the last day. I also left him a little note in their guestbook. Maybe it'll work wonders--though probably not.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I'm wrong...apparently

While watching one of the evening entertainment mag shows on telly tonight, I was informed by Nancy O'Dell (I think that was her name) that Victoria "Posh" Beckham is definitely posh.

'How so?' You may be thinking.

Well, apparently her PR machine has leaked the following factoid (one of ten including she went on a pea diet) for, and no pun intended here, American consumption:

Victoria is posh because, as a kid, she was dropped off at school in a Rolls Royce...every day.

So the evidence is now before you America--straight from the horse's mouth, it seems. She is posh.

Was the school Roedean School, I'm now wondering. Hmmm. No. No, definitely don't think so.
And I wonder if Fergie, Duchess of York was driven to school in a Rolls Royce or a horse and trailer.

Another Factoid:

Son Brooklyn is called Brooklyn because he was conceived in Brooklyn. No Brooklynite worth their salt would consider Brooklyn posh.
(Related factoid--Son Cruise is called that because...have you guessed? Yes, because Tom Cruise is a friend. Why is he not called Tom, I wonder? Why the guy's surname?

I have just got up from the telly because Posh is now on doing her Coming to America stichk. She has just passed her LA driving test and told the driving test official handing her her documentation that she owns a Bentley--one wot the top comes down on.

Very nice. Very posh. Oh, unquestionably posh.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mommy, who's Posh Spice?

I was watching the telly yesterday with some friends and they showed the arrival of David Beckham and Posh Spice at LAX. It's the official move state-side apparently. He's to play for a soccer team in L.A. and she will be on the telly next week (courtesy of NBC who hope they'll get a summer ratings lift because it's the silly season) showing America what it's like for her moving to the United States and her attempts to settle in, buy a house, apply for a driving license. Yet another reality show.

Apparently, they (NBC) must think their American audience is very gullible because it's supposed to be a reality show but they show her applying for a CA driver's license which means she has legal residency here already. No cliche was left unexplored because the promotional clip shows her asking if she can have her mugshot retaken for the driver's license. She pitches the show "Victoria Beckham, Coming to America" as a great opportunity to show America what the lives of the Beckhams is like. Judging from her remark, I guess America is definitely the target market. Get the picture? Pardon the pun. I imagine most of regular America will be indifferent. Some Americans will devour the pitched Hollywood glitz of course, but I'm not sure the ratings will be a high as "Fearfactor" unless she serves them worms and stink bugs for tea.

Judging by her accent, Posh is definitely not posh. (I'd never heard her talk until today.) It's not the enunciated, dulcet English vowels that Americans associate with 'cute British.' So that will undoubtedly disappoint. She admits she and her hubby have courted the press and want this to happen, but also states it's tough on the children.

If I hadn't had a publicity campaign for the launch of my novel a few years ago and learned about generating 'buzz,' I'd have been very impressed by the way the media and NBC are attempting to sell this couple to an American audience. Moreover, I believe "American Idol's" Simon Cowell is the magic wand. (Believe me, this campaign is costing millions not the mere thousands that my publishers spent on my book.)

It's amazing really. But all in all I think the whole things doomed. After all the Spice Girls are done. Posh doesn't even sing anymore. Her fifteen minutes are over as is the way of the world. Why Ginger Spice is now hawking salad dressing on an telly ad here--barely recognized by an American audience, I might add--and Posh is no Princess Diana despite the pretty couture. She's not even Sharon Osbourne, whom we love because she's warm and witty and bright. There's a rumor doing the rounds about a Spice Girls reunion tour, but there audience has moved on.

David is also being packaged but might have too many tattoos for mainstream America and he plays soccer which is not America's game. (I think that was a major mistake to feature his tattoos because they're not very artistic--a mish mash on his arms and something like a cross with wings on his back--not like the fantastic artwork you come across over here.) He made his inaugural appearance at the footie stadium today and it was hyped as only American media can do, but the background of an empty stadium did not help to convince us of the thousands and thousands in attendance. It was his loyal fans who attended. The rest of sports mad LA were getting ready the LA Dodgers game tonight.

But summer's boring so it'll be interesting to watch this circus via the entertainment shows. And no, I'm not going to watch Posh's show, which runs up against America's Got Talent--the irony, the irony--and Big Brother 8 or is it 9.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Insistent characters

A lot going on at the moment as I'm preparing to leave for Europe soon--Spain and Ireland. To top it all of, it's July 12, Orangeman's Day back in the old sod though of course I don't take part because I'm the other sort. Live and let live! New Northern Irish tourism slogan--or should be.

Editing started on Unusual Steps--the new novel--and the UK publisher has now emailed 12 edited chapters. As I read Scott's edits, it struck me that perhaps the Unusual Steps manuscript contains two novels (I'd thought this originally)as it's a long manuscript and alternates between three people's points of view. There's Marcus, the shy Irish chappie who moves to London in search of adventure, and Julia, a wellbred young English woman who's an immigration officer at Heathrow and hedonistic, and finally Tilly Hartley, a meddling widow. Oh, and by the way, Julia's lesbian.

I'd always conceived of this novel as a series from the beginning. It's kinda 'in' to write series now, right!!. Well, that's not the reason I'm doing it...not at all. It's just I love the characters and they have a lot to say. They're interesting and some are just downright eccentric and I'm having a lot of fun with them and, let's face it, writers should have a bit of fun with their creations when they labor alone in quiet studies and dens.

It's certainly a very different novel to Gabriel.

Anyway, both the editor and I chatted today after a few days of pondering--via Skype, which is the way to go if you're calling the UK because it's computer to computer and free--and we've decided its definitely the first two books in a series and I'm now going to pull the story apart and write Marcus's story. After I've done it, it'll be sent back to Scott who'll edit it.

It's a lot of work, especially since I've just emailed my agent the finished nonfiction manuscript of my first few years in America. After he and Lyndsey read it, they'll send me changes they recommend and that'll have to be reworked, too. But stories must be written the way they're intended to be written. No half measures allowed, not in my book. And besides, my characters refuse to allow me to tie them up in one big novel.

So all in all, it's going to be a busy, busy Fall.

Monday, July 09, 2007

A bit of reconnaissance

As it's a friend's birthday, we popped into a local strip mall that contains an amazing shop that makes homemade chocolates (that are as good as Belgian chockies though I believe the owners a frenchman) and an expensive day spa/hair stylist that boasts to its clients 'it's all about me' and then proceeds to define the definition of 'me' and 'pampering' on a parchment inside one of their front windows.

Not finding a parking space near the candy store, we parked in a bay belonging to said spa. Larry ran in to order the chockies and I remained in the car in case any of the irate owners came out and asked us to move. Two well-shod ladies came out--dripping in gold jewelry, matching fresh platinum blond hair tumbling over the nape of their Pierre Cardin scarves, wrinkled face skin, heavy blue eye shadow and blazing white teeth. They dropped their Gucci handbags into the leather back seat of the Mercedes, climbed aboard--the driver put on a pair of crimson spectacles--and off they rode for lunch.

A small red car with many dents zipped into the freshly vacant spot, the passenger door creaked open and a young teenage girl climbed out.

"You comin', Mum," she shouted when she got to the sidewalk opposite the spas entrance.

I was surprised.

"You go in," Mom shouted out the open window and she expunged her cigarette and flicked it onto the pavement. "I need to get decent."

The remark amused me endlessly. Mom was very jowly, very hefty and she had a mullet haircut--the sort of do some baseball players like--that made her rather mean of appearance.

"Shit Mom. Hurry up will ya'!"
"I said 'go on in' for chrissake. We're late already." She nodded at her daughter like an annoyed filly. "Go"

"Aw, shit, Mom." Her daughter disappeared.

With utmost care and discretion, I surveiled Mom. She brushed her mouse colored hair fiercely with a large brush, shook her head vigorously, then checked in the rearview mirror. Next came a potion of some sort, white, from a nubby stick, which was dabbed on the forehead, the fleshy cheeks, the chin, part of the neck. A fierce rubbing commenced during which she turned and saw my surveillance. I looked away instantly, raised a book I was holding and turned a page to give her the impression it was all in her imagination. Sidelong I checked, saw her continue to regard me for moments further, and then the rubbing of the potion continued again. A lipstick followed--color indeterminate--which was applied with a brush as one would varnish. Lips were smacked and checked in the mirror. The brush was taken in hand again and another spurt of vigorous grooming began again, this time followed with the bizarre act of raking heaps of her hair in between her small fingers and scattering them about her neck. Another check in the mirror seemed unsatisfactory because more desperate brushing continued until parts of her hair flew out due to static.

Her daughter put her head out the spa door and beckoned madly. Opening the door, Mom got out, seized her battered handbag, and slammed the door shut and walked away without locking the vehicle. All about me, indeed. Amazing what happens in a parking bay in front of a day spa/hair stylist.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Debut novel review and an author interview

As a rule I'm not a lover of novels that experiment with fonts and
grammar as a means of telling a story, perhaps because I'm a product of a rigorous Catholic school education where Latin, ancient Greek and the rules of English grammar are so inculcated (in my day with the aid of a leather strap) that one dares not stray or experiment even in adulthood. I'm also deeply suspicious of such experimentation because, more often than not, they're lazy gimmicks used in an attempt to gloss over flaws in the plot as opposed to flaws in the protagonist's character. But every now and then a work comes into my hands that does break all the rules magnificently and, as a result, rises above the fray of novels that do experiment so. Without question In Search of Adam by British debut author Caroline Smailes is one such novel.

(For the sake of full disclosure, I wish to state at this juncture that her publisher, The Friday Project, is the same publisher who will publish both A Son called Gabriel and my second novel, Unusual Steps.)

Set mainly in a gritty, working-class council housing estate (project in the US) in Newcastle, a coal producing city in the North of England, the child protagonist, Jude Williams, happens upon her mother who has just committed suicide and left a cryptic note bearing the words "Jude, I have gone in search of adam. I love you baby." What begins from that instant onward is the end of innocence for Jude and the commencement of a search for her mother and the meaning of life amid harsh circumstances.

A quiet, courageous novel, the author in simple direct prose--occasionally seasoned with Newcastle dialect in order to present and anchor the setting--unflinchingly and with admirable skill tackles huge universal themes including sexual abuse, parental dysfunction, bulimia (as Jude grows older) and the loneliness of childhood. In less accomplished hands, these themes would result merely in the reader journeying through the terrain of a dark novel landscaped only by ominous hillocks of pain and ponds of sadness; in Smailes hands however, while pain and sadness is certainly present, we are engulfed in the swirling current of the story so abruptly and powerfully that within twenty pages we already love and feel so protective of the protagonist that we'll follow her anywhere--a feat made all the more remarkable in that the protagonist does not speak a great deal throughout the work and yet we get to know her as intimately as we would a family member.

Moreover, Smailes does not resort to the trick of presenting us with a perfectly formed, unblemished and blameless protagonist to admire and cherish. Jude has flaws that exacerbate her situation, flaws that include silence, a terrible failure to tell her secrets at critical moments--understandable when she is a child but perhaps less so as she matures--and promiscuity in late adolescence. It is these flaws that are the essential keys to our growing understanding and sympathy.

One aspect of the novel that struck me particularly was Jude's observations during a street party to celebrate the wedding of Charles and Diana and the author's juxtaposition of dualing scenes of extreme happiness and danger. To many Brits, this is a moment of time that's permanently frozen within their cores and they remember exactly where they were on that day in exactly the same way that Kennedy's assassination is frozen in the American psyche. A very interesting interplay in the novel arises in the "Thoughts" section of the book. As the author begins to answer questions posed by an unknown interviewer, Jude intrudes and begins to speak her mind much more forthrightly than she has done throughout the story, even to the point of teasing the author and it's endearing. My only quibble, though it is a minor quibble, is that the fate of the molester during her childhood is left unresolved and I would have liked some kind of confrontation by Jude; but then I imagine the author is mirroring reality where the vast majority of these situations remain unresolved.

Kudos to Caroline Smailes for writing such an accomplished and insightful debut novel. It deserves a worldwide audience and I hope it gets it.

Author interview:

Caroline, thanks for stopping by to talk about your novel. I should have bought a couple of bottles of Newcastle brown ale that's available here in the US as a treat to myself.

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me.

DMN: I read on your blog that you felt compelled to write this novel,which reads so true-to-life it's as if it is nonfiction. What prompted you to write In Search of Adam and desire its publication?

CS: I started writing /In Search of Adam/ after having a miscarriage.The writing gave me an outlet to express the emotions that I was experiencing. I didn’t realise at that time that the story would continue to unfold. That initial part is still within the novel. I didn’t actually get around to seeking publication. I finished the final draft in August 2006, and then I launched my website and blog. I was beginning to write a list of possible agents to send the manuscript to, I’d managed to pull together a synopsis and a cover letter. Then, within 3 weeks of starting blogging, Clare Christian (an aside: Clare Christian is MD of The Friday Project and recipient of the 2007 UK Young Publisher of the Year Nibble) emailed me and requested the manuscript.

DMN: Who is Jude Williams and why did you decide to set your story in a council housing estate (project in the US)?

CS: Jude Williams is a little girl who lived and grew inside of my head. She lived inside of me for the 18 months that it took to write/ In Search of Adam/. I still have days when I am writing and I hear her voice, so I guess that Jude is now part of me. The setting of the story is very familiar to me. I grew up in a similar estate on the North East coast of England. I wanted a strong sense of place to emerge through the surroundings, place names and dialect, and so the setting emerged as Jude grew as a character.

DMN: How did you research the book?

CS: Unfortunately, In Search of Adam was not difficult to research. My research stemmed from extensive reading. We exist within a society where abuse is common place and is now documented within books and online. The accepted evidence of abuse, neglect, self harm and eating disorders are easily accessible for those who wish to look. I also referred to my own diaries as part of my research and I have acknowledged that some of the events within /In Search of Adam/ stem from personal experience.The researching was not difficult, but the findings often left me devastated.

DMN: How long did the writing process take?

CS: It took me 18 months from start to finish. I enrolled on an MA in Creative writing 5 months after my miscarriage and this ensured that /In Search of Adam/ became a priority in my life. Until I enrolled, I was juggling writing with motherhood and work. By studying, I was forced to meet deadlines and became less precious about my work. I am sure that this hurried the writing process along.

DMN: You have taken on some very large themes--sexual abuse, family dysfunction, abandonment, mental illness--in your novel and successfully treated them as if you have been writing for a long time and been much published. Were you nervous as to how your book would be received upon

CS: Thank you for your kind words. I have to admit that prior to publication. I was terrified. I had sleepless nights and was full of panic. I think people were expecting me to be ecstatic that I had been published, but inside I was terrified of reaction. Receiving praise from professionals, from others who understood Jude’s very core and from general readers has touched me beyond words. I set out to present an authentic journey of a young girl growing within an abusive and neglectful environment. I realised early on that I had a duty to present
as authentic a portrayal as possible and some of the reactions that I have had have overwhelmed me. I never expected to receive as much support as I have.

DMN: I am intrigued by the way you experimented with format and fonts in the book? How did you come to use this in your first novel?

CS: I teach linguistics and I have always been intrigued by the representation of spoken language. The different fonts were used to
indicate altered voice and mood. The first person child’s voice of Jude Williams had restrictions. I could only describe her world through her eyes and with her sounds, so the limitations of her language were expressed through altered fonts and variation in grammatical constructions. I wanted to give the words life and breath on the page. I wanted the words to speak and have a unique voice depending on Jude’s mood. I wanted the words to be given a creative expression beyond the surface meaning, so I experimented with format and fonts to add a depth that could not be obtained through standard presentation.

I see you are busy with your next novel. Can you tell us a little about that?

CS: During the countdown to publication of /In Search of Adam /a writer told me to focus on my next book. He said that it would keep me grounded. Those wise words stayed with me and guided me. I am currently on the second draft of /Black Boxes/. The story unravels through two very dissimilar voices and stories, as the reader is presented with the evidence that is left after a breakdown in communication. The story is in two parts and the clues that are held within two black boxes are presented after a mother and daughter’s relationship has crashed. I hope to have completed the final draft by the end of the summer.

DMN: Your novel is not yet published in the US. How can interested readers acquire a copy?

CS: Unfortunately, the rights to/ In Search of Adam/ haven’t been sold into the US yet, but the novel can be found in a number of ways. There is of course Amazon, or there are limited edition copies available direct from my publisher The Friday Project, or there are a series of travelling /In Search of Adam/ copies journeying around the world. One blogger has started a forum where readers cover postage costs and In /Search of Adam/ is travelling. I know that one copy is currently in Australia. All details can be found on the sidebar of my blog.

Caroline, I wish you much success with In Search of Adam and your next work.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sipping life's nectar--a jolly evening with friends

Last night Larry, as a pre-independence Day sort of thing, Larry and I entertained L&L, Lynne's birth mother Joyce who was down from Connecticut and whom we love to bits, her friend Barbara from Staten Island, and Paula and Maddie--hereinafter to be known as P&M--from Long Island. All arrived in one enormous SUV, which Maddie (sporting an elegant new Susie Quattro-ish hairdo) handled with admirable expertise though Paula was playing Cinderella because I had to 'lock her' into the trunk when they left for home.

It's amazing how one experiences the countryside though another's eyes on occasions because P, Larry and I were standing outside on the steps peering into the bossoms of the trees (the snort of M's SUV audible in the background as she was executing said admirable maneuvers) and P remarked how breathtaking beautiful the area where the house is situate is--the tall trees with their sprawling canopies, the intermittent flicker of a million fireflies within them, the glow of the lilies in the flowerbeds, and the absolute silence.

"Good night," I said, after I'd walked her to the garden gate.
"Not yet. You have to lock me in the trunk."
Hahahaha. "Good night."
"I'm serious," she said.
I looked over at the SUV, at M who had both hands poised on the wheel and smiling over at us, at L&L, Joyce and Barbara nattering and laughing within because much vino had been consumed by all. I looked at the back door of the SUV, its window pane at an angle toward the sky as if waiting for the sun to rise. P, petite and very suntanned, skipped over, leaped inside and crouched, awaiting me to perform my duty.
I slammed down the trunk door and M did another quick maneuver (just to show me she could) and I waved as they sped past, the sound of laughter piercing the silence, though wasn't sure if Paula could see me. (Paula's beloved horse had to be put to sleep a few weeks ago, so I hoped especially that she'd enjoyed the evening.)

An enjoyable evening of rigorous conversation. One that touched on a myriad of subjects from Hillary and Obama that got a wee bit hot and sent P fleeing to Larry who was busy in the kitchen because some of the guests asserted testily that Hillary can never win and Obama was inexperienced, through the arrival of the latest Harry Potter novel in shrink wrapped crates at Lee's Borders store in NJ with an order written on their sides that they weren't to be opened until 12.01 on the day of the launch or there'd be consequences, and finally illegal immigration. Regards the latter, the discussion was whether foreigners should be compelled to speak English in the US. Everyone agreed they should. To everyone's astonishment, Barbara (who's studying Hebrew in NYC because she wants to read the Torah in its pure form and interpret it herself and not depend on a third party's interpretation) informed us that there's a part of Brooklyn where the road signs are only found in Russian.

Wishing everyone everywhere a great Independence Day. Now how does that go in Russian!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mommy Doe and the triplets

We decided to go to the shore for some R&R last weekend so we headed to Rehoboth in Delaware to stay with friends who have a condo there. Weather was disappointingly overcast though thankfully not as humid and brutally hot as we had last week in Pennsylvania. We were hoping to catch the spectacular fireworks display that the town lays on (from a barge on the ocean) and learned that this year it will take place on the actual July 4th--Independence Day falling on a Wednesday this year--as opposed to the weekend as they've done in previous years.

We did, however, eat delicious crabcakes (they were the size and shape of navel oranges) in a restaurant that is actually an old ship in the pretty nearby historic town of Lewes.

On our return, I chanced to look out our driveway and saw the doe and triplets who've made our grounds their exclusive territory. She's extremely vigilant, hears the slightest noise and senses the tiniest movement and begins to drum her hoof into the ground and flash her white tail to warn her babies. It's comical watching them dash into the underbrush--sometimes tumbling over one another--while she heads in another direction to distract the predator. Nature is truly amazing.

The fawns are still skittish so these photos were taken from a bit of a distance and you can't really see the clouds of white spots on their bodies. I will try again when they're more accustomed to humans.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Paris Hilton, John Street and bloody iPhones---Grrrrrr!

I am sick of the Paris Hilton crap passing as legitimate news here in the United States. Are fans of all things Paris Hilton now such a large demographic group that they're eclipsing what the rest of us want to watch? Adding to the freak fest was the fact she was invited on Larry King Live. That's truly disgusting. Is Larry King so desperate for the attention of this demographic? I really can't believe so. I watch his show and it's good in general.

Barbara Walters had the good sense to ignore the whole Hilton fiasco and refused the offer of the first interview after the talentless but media savvy Hilton was released and in a lather to divulge the specifics of her miniscule incarceration that included a "humiliating" strip search. Aren't all strip searches humiliating? Shocking to have
to watch her father drive into his house in a large BMW, stop before the electronic gates, and stick his neck out the door to a reporter to say something to the effect that his daughter is weathering the whole ordeal. Does this man or his family give back to society I want to know--in the way Bill and Melinda Gates gives back. If so, that's at least something mitigating.

And here in Philly, this morning, John Street, the mayor of a city that's rapidly approaching a murder body count of 200 for 2007 and we're only just passing the six month mark, decides he must join a line of kids probably playing hookey from school for the past three days (my friends are bringing me food" said one) and selfish yuppies waiting to buy the latest iPhone that's to be released at six tonight. There he was on the local news proclaiming shamelessly that he's an electronics junkie and has been camping out since three o'clock this morning. And Rome burns and burns around his ears.

It's outrageous what we have to put up with here in the states. Is the dumbing of America perhaps irreversible? Scary thought. Very scary. Too scary.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Taking the initiative

TNWhat I Meant...

My friend and a co-founding member of our writers group Rebel Writers of Bucks County, Marie Lamba, wrote a wonderful YA novel entitled 'What I meant...' that's scheduled to come out in July. It's receiving great reviews that'll post after publication and have selected it as a Summer Pick. (You can click to Marie's website via my sidebar.)

Marie learned yesterday from her agent that Random House will not be publishing What I softcover and her already approved sequel.

Naturally, Marie was devastated.

A fighter who takes charge of her destiny and aware that decisions can be reversed, Marie has developed a strategy to save her book and has emailed all her friends and requested them to help by buying the book from Amazon and B& as pressies for girls aged twelve through adult and it's working.

The day of an author sitting in an ivory tower churning out novels and/or nonfiction and insisting it's their publishers responsibility to market their precious darlings and their duty is only to write gorgeous prose is well and truly over in this age of the internet. Authors need to develop time-management skills and write as well as help their publishers market their work. But this is a double edged sword and publishers, especially the large commercial houses, need to reprogram and come to see that authors can be an integral part of the entire project, not just the producers of the raw material.(Granted some authors will be incapable of wearing a marketing hat or be clueless as to who the audience is for their work, but they are in the minority, I feel.) My publisher involved me in the process, sought out my marketing ideas, called me in to the sales meeting to present my book to the teams, and we brainstormed. Sell-in to the chains was excellent as a result of the synergy and A Son Called Gabriel became an ABA Booksense Pick with independents as a result.

There's just too many forms of entertainment competing for the consumers dollar so all steps have to be investigated within budget.

Here's my interview:

Hello Marie, thanks for dropping by and it's nice to chat about books in a forum outside see our writers group

Thanks! It's great to be here.

What's What I meant about...?

What I Meant... is the story of 15-year-old Sang Jumnal, who is crazy about a guy, but her Indian dad won't let her date until she is 16, maybe. And her American mom, who usually sticks up for Sang, suddenly thinks she's a liar, a thief and a bulimic. Sang knows why. Her aunt, who has been living with them for a few months, has been stealing food and money and setting up Sang to take the blame. But who will believe a 15 year old over an adult?

Who do you think the reader is for this work?

Girls ages 12 through adult (including the adult chick-lit audience) will get a kick out of this comic novel. There's lots of wacky humor, so it's a fun read, but there is also a more serious theme. Here a girl must fight to be believed, even when an adult is lying about her to everyone. When all the truth finally comes out, it's a humbling moment for her parents and a touching moment for Sang. I think this appeals to any teen who has told the truth, but wasn't believed or trusted.

The book will also will have a huge appeal to biracial kids, and Indian teens.

Tell us about the day your agent told you the novel had sold?

You know, all I remember is saying, "You're kidding," over and over again. Then I called my husband, and he said, "You're kidding," over and over again. I wandered around the streets smiling like an idiot for hours. All those years of struggle had finally paid off!

What has the editing process been like?

First of all, I have the world's best writer's group, with wise mentors like one Damian McNicholl on it. My group helped me focus my novel, and shaped it up before I even sent it out. Then the editor at Random House sent me this huge letter of suggested changes, and words of encouragement. No contract, though. This was clearly a test. I spoke with her on the phone first, to understand her vision. Fortunately I totally agreed with her suggestions! Then I set to work. The contract for a two book deal soon followed, along with several months of back and forth corrections. My editor was wonderful. She'd suggest changes, never demand. I usually agreed with them, though, because they made a ton of sense.

How have you found the process of working with a publisher? Frustrations, joys, laughs

For writers, working with a publisher really translates to working with an editor, which was great. I've never met anyone else at Random House, truthfully. And I just started working with my publicist there, a nice person who I've emailed back and forth with.

Okay, now to the turmoil of the other day. Tell us what happened and how you felt about it?

Two days ago, less than a month prior to publication of my novel, my agent called to tell me she had terrible news. My already written and accepted sequel What I Said..., which was to appear in 2008, was cancelled. The paperback of What I Meant... was cancelled. The hardcover of What I Meant... was being printed but at a smaller than anticipated number. The reason? Prepublication sales were low because the major chains mostly passed on carrying What I Meant... I don't know why. Perhaps they didn't know where to put a YA novel that was clean enough to be enjoyed by younger readers, too. There is nothing wrong with the book, which is being enjoyed by reviewers.

Naturally I am devastated and heartbroken. I haven't slept much since...

Would it have helped if you could have met with the salesforce and been able to have given them pointers, do you think?

Definitely. Who can pitch a book better than the author? As you can see, authors are simply not involved in sales at all. In a way I can understand it. Can you imagine the zillions of authors that'd be running around these meetings? All with varying degrees of abilities to pitch and speak to a sales force? But on the other hand, I certainly could have helped. This book has a huge market and a wide appeal.

Have you done or been allowed to do any marketing for the book?

The publicity department at Random House has been sending out press announcing the book's publication. Because it won't be seen in most chain stores, I know I have to get involved by really stepping things up if I want to get this book into the hands of readers throughout the country. I've laid a lot of groundwork on my own, and that is definitely paying off now.

I have a website A myspace page with lots of friends and groups. I've participated in blogs and contacted other authors. And I've just begun to spread the word that this book needs extraordinary support from readers in order to succeed.

One thing I'm doing on my own is helping out girl scout senior and cadette scouts throughout the area by offering a workshop. In 2 hours they can earn a Reading badge that would take them normally about 2-3 months to earn, and at the end of the workshop they each get a signed copy of my book. Various girl scout councils are getting excited about this, and it ensures anywhere from 10-100 book sales per event. I hope to do much more of these in the future, and will drive throughout PA, NJ and perhaps even NY or DE, depending on the venue, if any readers out in cyberspace are interested in setting up a date.

How did you come up with the strategy to 'save' your book?

I came up with this strategy because, quite simply, I had to. I couldn't let this book I'd believed in so much die quietly. Nevermind my poor sequel.

My strategy is this: I figure the only way to save What I Meant... is if there are massive pre-orders, followed by a groundswell of support. We need to quickly sell out the first smaller printing and go into reprint. We need readers, press, and bookstores to take notice. I'm contacting EVERYBODY I know and asking them to please pre-order ASAP through their local bookseller, or I'm asking people to talk to librarians and bookstore managers to tell them that this book is in trouble, not because it is a bad book, but because pre-publication sales were low. If we all ask them to champion this cause, help the underdog, great things can happen. A great time to ask booksellers about What I Meant... is when readers go in to pick up their copy of Harry Potter. What I Meant... will be out just three days after Harry Potter.

You know, without the Internet, it'd definitely be over. But now with a click of a button, thousands of people are informed. It is truly miraculous. I am overwhelmed with the support and kind words I've received. I watch my numbers on amazon and barnesandnoble improving by the second. I read about people who have bought 4 copies, forwarded my message to 100 people, to 14,000 people even, and I feel so lucky to have people like this in the world.

What words of wisdom do you have for a writer about to enter the process?

You know what? All I can say is be brave and believe in yourself against all odds. It ain't over till it's over. But then again, we writers already know that!

Thanks for these insights, Marie.
And let's wish Marie lots of good luck as she moves to turn the fortunes of her first novel around.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Obese cats and doggies: some thoughts

Now we're in the throes of summer, people are walking about the streets and parks with their dogs. I was watching one couple--a young man and woman in their early thirties and their young, very fat labrador (American breed because it was taller and had the boxy head)--the other day in a town near where I live and a thought suddenly occurred to me. Do people who are overweight also own animals that are overweight? I began to look around.

Sure enough, all the dogs that were fat belonged to overweight people? I couldn't believe it. Yesterday, I was in NYC to sign my Friday Project contract at my literary agent. Finding some time to spare, I went into Central Park for a bit of research. What did I learn? I learned it isn't just a Pennsylvania phenomenon. All overweight dogs in the park belonged to overweight people. And teh more overweight the dog, the more overweight the owner. So there was a decided correlation

Another idea popped into my head. If these owners managed their animals diets and exercise scrupulously, would they also begin to manage their own diets and exercise regimes too? It's very possible. Maybe that's the way toward a more healthy society. Focus on the fat percentage of our animals, not on our own weight. Hey presto.

The only other way I think the health of a nation can be improved is if the government mandates that we go to gyms in the same way they mandate that all children must be educated to a certain grade. As part of that initiative, they could give corporations tax benefits if they enroll their employees in gyms and pay fro the indigent to go to gyms, etc. they coudl alos impose higher taxes on corporations producing junk food, food with too many calories due to too much saturated fat and/or sugar.

It probably wouldn't go down well in the US where many people are hypersensitive about governmental interference in their private lives. But hey, we allow the government to set the rules for school kids attending school and we monitor their attendance. We do so because it's a legitimate benefit to society to have an educated population. So why can't we do it in this area. It's a legitimate benefit to society to stamp out obesity. It would produce a healthy population and we'd save billions of dollars on medical bills for heart disease, diabetes and a raft of other ills. And we'd have healthy dogs and cats, too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

On writing and a bit of news

For anyone aspiring to have their work published, there's a very illuminating entry in Scott Pack's blog today that's entitled What was the name of the chap who rejected the Beatles?

Scott is the commercial director of the The Friday Project, an independent publishing house in the UK. I'm delighted because they will publish A Son Called Gabriel early next year and my second novel, Unusual Steps, thereafter.

I love independent publishers and TFP is the perfect house for me because it has the energy, creativity and huge enthusiasm of a small house backed by the distribution muscle of Pan Macmillan which gets their books into all the places where books ought to be. Scott will be my editor for Unusual Steps and we've already begun the edits a few weeks ago. It's hugely exciting because he 'gets' the novel and he actually edits, as opposed to some at the larger houses who, due to corporate policy and/or lack of experience, do no editing at all. As I go through the process I'll post my thoughts.

Anyway, back to writing and the acquisition process. I think it's wonderful and very useful that writers are able to tap into insights like this from a publisher's perspective. And, while he's realistic and remarks how competitive the market is, he gives encouragement and hope to unpublished writers, which is vital. He also talks about writing competitions.

Without the net and blogging, it just wouldn't be possible to get such valuable info.

Here's the link:
Me and My Big Mouth

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kudos to Sweden

Have been listening to a wonderful radio show in which I learned Sweden has been very diligent and busy accepting for immigration Iraqi refugees whose lives and families are being threatened by the insurgents for helping the coalition forces spearheaded by the US. This behavior one expects from Sweden. It is a country of people with a conscience, makes a good faith effort to treat all its citizens justly, and they've always been ahead of the curve in deciding how their laws should develop as society becomes more complex.

Another bit of the show was very troubling--dismaying actually. The United States has accepted only about seven hundred refugees. I was astonished. What is going on? Is procrastination linked in some absurd way to the immigration debate in Congress?.

I know we're currently being urged (and certain sections of the the media are buying it, to wit CNN) to fear immigration--read Mexicans and South Americans storming across our Southern borders--by the "small-town-America" brigade. But surely we have a moral duty to accept and speed up the processing of legitimate Iraqi refugees, people who have assisted the United States and who are endangered as a consequence. Why is Sweden, a country infinitely smaller than us, having to bear a disproportionate share of the burden?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Human quirks

It's amazing how anticipation and excitement affects us humans, how it causes a natural high that makes us act out of character sometimes.

On Saturday morning, someone whom I've seen at the gym for nearly two years but whom I've never spoken to approached as I was completing my first set of arm curls.

He's a man in his early sixties and is a friend of another guy who's Irish-American who once told me he's conservative and doesn't care for Hillary Clinton, couldn't imagine America being led by a woman. I'd imagine this chap feels the same way. We've passed each other on the way to the various pieces of equipment but never spoken or acknowledged one another. He's always come across as unfriendly, actually.

"You're Irish, aren't you?" he said, his smile as broad as Nellie's dresser. (an Irish saying.)
I had to clamp my mouth shut so as to stop my jaw from slamming into the floor. "Er...yes," I said after I finished the last rep of my set. "The genuine article." I tossed him a grin.
"My wife and I are going to Ireland."
"Really. That's very nice. When?"
" six." He smiled like a schoolboy who'd been praised for good marks.
"Out of Newark?" I said.
"Nah. Philly."
"Which part?"
"County Meath."
"I'm from the North. That's in the republic...but it's not far. Everything in Ireland isn't far from anywhere else."
He laughed. "Yeah, I'm Irish American and my relatives live in Meath."
"Well, have a good time."
"Thanks. Will do."
"Have a nice time."

I picked up the handles to start another set but stopped to watch the man walk away. He knew I was Irish yet we hadn't even traded names. This isn't the first time I've seen this sort of behavior. He was buzzing. I think the anticipation of something pleasurable makes normally reticent people drop their guard or shyness and approach others to share their news. It's almost a compulsion--a snap decision by the brain to act when an opportunity presents. In this case, the nexus was my Irishness and his trip to Ireland to see his relatives. Wonderful. It'll be most interesting to see if he speaks on his return.