Interview with Tom O'Brien
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Today just might be the day the postman doesn't ring twice! In other words, no rejections today. (THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE was Jame's Cain's best seller and its title was inspired by the fact that his postman always rang twice if he was delivering a rejected manuscript!)
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading mostly. To be a good writer you have to be an even better reader. Other writers fascinate me; how they put a book or play together;what it is about their work that makes it great; what I can learn from them. I am often in awe of how good some writers are.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I am an avid reader of reviews, be they in newspapers or online. They don't necessarily have to be good reviews, just interesting. With certain writers I don't even bother with the reviews; when a new book comes out I just know I will like it.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was a story about a security guard planning a robbery at a holiday camp ( I worked as a security guard at Pontin's holiday Camp in Bracklesham Bay in Sussex at the time) and it was terrible. Complete rubbish! Needless to say it never saw the light of day.
What is your writing process?
A little and often is my routine. I will try and write something every day - even if it is only a page. One page a day will give you a pretty substantial book after a year! I work in a small, rather "claustrophobic" room which I call my den. If it was big and airy and too comfortable I might be tempted to do nothing at all. As with every writer, the blank page is always a problem. Staring at it, I mean. It can get mesmerising, so I always try to leave something unfinished from the previous day to kick-start my day. I will write for a couple of hours after breakfast, then go and do something else; maybe go for a walk or do some shopping, then read for a while before doing another couple of hours in the afternoon. I usually do another hour or two in the evening if there is nothing interesting on TV.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I remember reading a lot of Nat Gould books in my youth, but I don't remember much about the stories apart from the fact they were about horse racing. The first book I really remember was called The Mask Of Glass, by Holly Roth. It was about this investigator whose facial appearance is changed when he is blown up in an explosion, fooling all his friends/acquaintances into thinking he is somebody else, and it still sticks in my mind.
How do you approach cover design?
More in hope than anything else. I know my covers leave something to be desired and I keep telling myself I will get them professionally designed, but so far I haven't!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
FIESTA by Ernest Hemingway. Anything by Hemingway really, but Fiesta in particular because it deals with its subjects, bullfighting in Spain, broken people/relationships, in such a highly personal manner. You can read it again and again - as with all his books - and still find something new in it.
SMILEY'S PEOPLE by John Le Carre. Again, anything by him, but particularly this one as George Smiley is such a complex character and the story such a fascinating one.
COUNTRY GIRL by Edna O'Brien. Any of her books really, but this autobiography ties her life together; her books, her relationships, her fascinating early life. Great read.
THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD by J M Synge. This is the play that really got me started as a playwright. It has everything that a great play should have.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Millar. Willie Loman is one of the greatest, and most tragic, characters every written for the stage, which is why I read it again and again
What do you read for pleasure?
As Many books and plays as possible. Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Millar, Graham Greene, Lee Childs, Brendan Behan, Hilary Mantel, Sean O'Casey, Jez Butterworth etc etc etc
What is your e-reading device of choice?
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
I think word-of-mouth has been my best friend
Describe your desk
cluttered! My laptop, printer, telephone, TV, desk lamp, files, papers, notes, pens, pencils, postal scales, wallet, loose change, etc etc
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Balyhussa, Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford in Ireland. Going to school at Newtown, across the Mass-path and eating raw turnips on the way home,(not solely because of hunger, I liked the taste!) form part of my earliest memories.
Others are of my father cycling to work at the Tannery in Portlaw on his 'high nellie' in hail, rain and snow (he worked there for over forty years), of open-air stage dancing at Carroll's Cross, of the threshing machine lumbering up Ballyhussa boreen as it headed for one of the nearby farms, of the blackberry-man calling to collect the blackberries from my mother, of dazzling rabbits with the Kiersey brothers on windy winter nights...
Finished with Primary school before I was thirteen, I spent another two years going to the 'Tech in Portlaw, where we made shoe boxes and coat racks by the dozen, learned all about dovetail joints, and made glue from boiled cow-hooves. In between times a willowy lady taught us the rudiments of bookkeeping. Neither pastime subsequently did me much good.
There followed spells of working at Flahavans Mills in Kilmacthomas and at the Tannery in Portlaw, during which period I helped form The Royal Dukes Showband. All the towns in the region prided themselves on their bands: Dungarvan had The Royal Aces, Carrick-on-Suir the Premier Aces, Thurles The Cossacks,Waterford Brendan Bowyer and The royal Showband. I played bass guitar (badly, I recollect), and we played all over the south of Ireland, and even as far afield as Barry's Hotel in Dublin.
However, a crash from my Honda motorcycle affected my playing (it also affected my brain, I think!), and shortly before my nineteenth birthday I was on the boat-train for London. It was a journney that was to keep me to-ing and fro-ing betwen the two islands, 'like a yo-yo', not ever really sure where home lay.
Living in London was like being transported to another planet so different was it from rural Waterford, and if the sixties were 'swinging' then London was in orbit! Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Carnaby Street, The Beatles, Minis, (mechanical and sartorial) Mods, Rockers, you name it, all life was there.
And if you were Irish, there was The Galtymore Club in Cricklewood, The Buffalo in Camden Town,The Gresham in Holloway Road, the 32 Club in Harlesden, and the Banba in Kilburn (where hungover Paddies sobered up on a Sunday afternoon at the tea dance). And pubs galore with such weird and wonderful names as The Black Lion, The Rifle and Volunteer, The Case Is Altered...
In Balllyhussa, I had grown up with Vince Power (once owner of The Mean Fiddler Organisation), and the two of us formed an even closer relationship in London. Rooming together, working together, we eventually started a second-hand furniture business in Harlesden. This was to prove the stepping stone to Vince's meteoric rise - hard to predict then - when a few months previously he had been best man at my wedding, wearing a suit borrowed from his brother-in-law. (Yes, he was once that poor!)
I worked for more than thirty years in the construction industry, as a welder and, latterly, as a carpenter. I did return to Ireland in the late nineteen-seventies and worked on the Alcan project on Aughinish Island, West Limerick, where I resided for a number of years. Now back in England, I live in Hastings.
I began writing about twenty five years ago. My first book, Confessions Of An Altar Boy, about my early life in Waterford, became a best seller in Waterford when it was first published in 2002 (ISBN 1-59129-164-X), and later had the film rights purchased by One In The Eye Films. Unfortunately we are still waiting for the film to be made! The book has been updated and is now available as an ebook, under the title, The Shiny Red Honda.
My first play was Money From America, which broke the box office records at the Tabard Theatre in West London, and had the Irish Post critic telling his readers they should be queuing round the block to see it. They were!
My most recent performed play was a musical titled KATHY KIRBY – ICON, which sold out its short run at the Camden Fringe Festival last autumn, collecting several 5* reviews along the way.
I have just completed another musical biography, PECKER DUNNE- LAST OF THE TRAVELLERS, which is now available to theatres/producers etc.
My most successful play so far has been ON RAGLAN ROAD, a play about the life and times of the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, which toured Ireland successfully several times, and has also been performed in London, New York, Florida and Canada.
My brother and sister still live in the Waterford area and I visit quite frequently. Although I have never worked with theatres in Ireland I am hopeful of rectifying that soon
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Books by This Author
Poems From The Boreen
by Tom O'Brien
Published: June 29, 2016
» U.K. Poetry
Ballyhussa boreen was potholed in winter and overgrown in summer, but it was home - and it possessed my young soul and my growing body.. I grew up there - and bits of me stayed there. In the hedges and furze bushes, in the groves and ploughed fields, in the streams and ponds. This chapbook is a tribute to that happy place of my youth.
by Tom O'Brien
Terry, Chris and Larry are three Irish friends in the London of the 1960's, with a liking for 'dishonest work'. Chris is a pickpocket,Larry is a gambler, and Terry's aversion to manual labour is so strong that he says 'I'd rather starve than work on the fucking buildings'. Into the mix comes Tessa, English, blonde, mysterious. Before she is finished all their lives are changed irrevocably.
The Shiny Red Honda
by Tom O'Brien
(5.00 from 1 review)
Growing up in rural County Waterford in the 1950/60's with my beautiful red Honda.
The Mass path, crossroad dancing, travelling shows, being an Altar Boy, memories of an age of innocence.
It is also about dreams and aspirations; a young man's entry into the world of work, and his brief flirtation with the music business. A story told as it was - warts and all