Long long ago, I had a tiny pair of khaki underpants and wanted to grow up to be Tarzan. Then I switched to the Incredible Hulk. Around about age eleven, came the notion of being a writer. Through my teens, I laid plans for becoming a rock star. In my early twenties, I decided that three of these dreams were not very realistic. I began to write short stories.
The stories, about thirty of them, weren’t much good. I had bad influences from great writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Kurt Vonnegut. In trying to copy the masters, I was screwing up the basics. There was no blood in the lines. Then in 1997, I wrote a novel called True Faith. It was about the search for ‘the meaning of life’. Four twenty-somethings wandered Dublin doing experimental things. I sent it off to a literary agent.
Now, if you’ve ever read about Marian Keyes or Cecilia Ahern you will know that what usually happens in these situations is that the agent rings you back in a few days, voice breathless with excitement, to say your book is brilliant and to offer a deal. Sure enough, this agent rang and invited me along to see him. Imagine my stunned shock then, when he told me a few truths. The book lacked structure, believable characters and some of the grammar wasn’t great. ’This, I assume, is your first attempt?’ he said.
I could hardly answer. He said more but I was in too much shock to listen. In the end, he made some conciliatory noises. He seemed a very decent sort. I shook his hand and went away with a glazed look on my face. As I walked back to the DART station it started to rain. I walked on but it rained harder. Then it turned torrential.
In the aftermath of the damning verdict (which I still denied to myself utterly) I decided to go around the world, across the US, then New Zealand and Australia. I brought the manuscript of True Faith in my backpack. I suppose I thought I’d meet someone who’d want to read it. In the event, I made lots of fast and furious friendships but the script was hauled perhaps 40,000 thousand miles without anyone wanting a bite. When I returned it was placed in a bottom drawer and then very, very slowly I came to understand that it was rubbish.
In Summer 1999, I completed another novel called 39 and a Half Sick Days. This time I thought I’d really cracked it. It was about a guy who splits up with his long-term girlfriend of seven years and is sick of his boring job. He takes one sick day from work which turns into several, while searching for Love and Fulfilment. In the meantime, he encounters various interesting girls. He has a pet gerbil. There are dream sequences…
The first person who read the manuscript was my then girlfriend (co-incidentally, of seven years). Within a month, she had moved out of the apartment we shared. At work, I suddenly got a promotion and my job became more interesting. In all the upheaval, the novel was forgotten for a while. Several friends read it and their responses were distinctly lukewarm. By the time I looked at it again, I didn’t need a literary agent to tell me it wasn’t good enough.
Yet still, there was the itch not being scratched. I’d written many terrible short stories and two bad novels. I saw in some newspaper that Shakespeare, were he alive today, would be writing for television. Right! I thought, me too. It was time to write a screenplay.
A historical comedy set in Ireland in nine episodes. I was too lazy though to learn the language of screen-writing so I just wrote very short chapters and called them scenes. And meanwhile real life was happening to me. I got married, was party to the birth of numerous babies and we moved house. I’d completed the first three episodes by early 2003 but progress was slow, eked out in the margins of a rare hour alone. Almost immediately, I began a radical reworking of the first episode which would definitely improve it immensely. That rewrite never was completed. Five years after I started, the project whimpered to a close around about Christmas 2004.
In 2005, I wrote a few short stories. They were a bit better than what I’d done before. In autumn, one of them ‘Seven Significant Trips to the Bathroom’ was accepted for publication in this magazine. Buoyed by this, I conceived the idea for 40 Fights Between Husbands And Wives.
By October 2006, I had written it and sent the first thirty pages to every literary agent and publisher in Ireland. By April 2007, I’d received rejections from nearly all of them. One publisher and one agent wrote back to say they’d like to see the full thing. The agent was that same agent from a decade before. I duly sent off the manuscripts. One month later the agent got back to say no.
In September there was still no word from the publisher. I thought it safe to assume that my manuscript had fallen down behind the photocopier. I began a new novel set in my workplace. It came out quickly and I finished it mid-December. And then one week before Christmas, my phone began to ring…