Transatlantic, The Ballad of Thomas Fox

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My new novel, Transatlantic, The Ballad of Thomas Fox, is available now to buy for $3.99 here at Amazon.com and here at Amazon.co.uk for £2.47 and here for $3.99 at the Barnes & Noble Nook store. Very soon, it will also be available at the Apple store as well as in Kobo.

Transatlantic, The Ballad of Thomas Fox, tells the story of Mayo man Thomas Fox and his adventures – or should that be misadventures – working in NYC in 1984 as an illegal Irish migrant worker.

The inspiration for the story was my own experience working in NYC in the mid-1990s and the time I spent mixing with the Irish community there – the only difference is my stay in the Big Apple was minus the Irish gangsters and pretty girls!

If you do decide to purchase the book, please don’t forget to leave an honest review on whichever platform you bought the book.

The Inspirational Bill Hicks

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I first saw the late, great Bill Hicks – once dubbed “the most dangerous comedian in the world” – on The Tube, a late night British programme on Channel 4, in 1992, and I was immediately hooked. His humour was altogether something else: It was clever, made you think, and above all was funnier than anything I’d ever seen in my life. Before Hicks, my favourite comedian had been Dubliner Dave Allen, whom my father and both grandfathers loved; but though Allen was funny, his humour was a bit old-fashioned for me and lacked any of the funky, youthful rebel-rousing nature content that Bill Hicks was famous for. The Arkansas native followed in the footsteps of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin: both these comedians spoke of taboos that very few other comedians would talk about, yet Hicks did. Like Bruce and Carlin before him, Hicks was a comedian’s comedian, a man bent on comedic self-destruction for the sake of his art. The supreme iconoclast of American culture in his day, he died too young at the age of 32 in 1994.

One of the funniest sketches I ever saw him perform was about UFOs. This was off the back of a reported UFO sighting in Fyffe, Alabama in 1989. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1MuT_KSOo4. The piece was off his Relentless album and basically makes fun of Southerners and Alabama. I used this as one of the plot themes in the second volume of my Napoleon Clancy PI books, called Cuyahoga Blues. In the book, Napoleon ‘Nappy’ Clancy and his sidekick Barry Fanning make their way down to Alabama in an attempt to rescue Clancy’s kids from some rough and mean bikers.

On the way to Alabama, Clancy and Fanning have a conversation about comedians:

“What are you laughing at?” I say to Barry as he’s cracking up at something on the internet.

“Jaysus, kiddo, I’m just readin’ on Wiko about this Bill Hicks… Never heard of the fella before.”

“You’ve never heard of Bill Hicks?” I say with amazement.

“No, honestly.”

“He was some comedian.”

“It’s very subjective, though, comedy, yer know wha’ I’m sayin’?”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s just very subjective… Take Monty Python, for example… D’yer like Monty Python, Nappy?”

“They’re all right, yeah.”

“Well I have to say I don’t understand it at all… Now I’m not tryin’ to tell yer I’m a thick shite an’ the jokes just fly passed me, because they don’t – I understand them, it’s just I don’t appreciate them.”

“Why’s that then?”

“I don’t know. It’s unexplainable.”

“So who do you like?”

“Dave Allen. Tommy Tiernan. Jarlath Regan. Dermot Morgan was gas too before the fella went an’ died on us, God rest the poor man’s soul.”

“But they’re all Irish, Baz.”

What of it?

“Well, I don’t know – what about the Americans and the British comedians?

“Like who?”

“Adam Sandler. Chubby Brown-”

“Chubby fuckin’ Brown’s the biggest perverted shitehawk tha’ ever walked the earth,” Barry gasps, “an’ as for Adam Sandler, no comment.”

“What about Denis Leary – Irish-American, can’t be bad?”

“Too crass.”

“Okay, but if you were going to rate your top five, who would they be?”

“Allen, Tiernan, Regan, Morgan an’ err, Podge an’ Rodge.”

“But you’re missing my point, Baz… Of all time… And anyway, you chose six.”

“I chose five.”

“Podge and Rodge make it six.”

“Ah, they’re only muppets anny way, so they shouldn’t at all count.”

“Nah, but serious – who’s in the top five. You’ve got to count stand-up, film comedians and all that.”

“Hard question tha’.”

“Well just have a go.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start – an’ yerself?”

“Charlie Chaplin’s got to be on the list somewhere.”

“I don’t think Charlie’d count, kiddo.”

“Why not?”

“He wasn’t a comedian.”

“Yeah he was.”

“He was a silent film actor.”

“Still a funny bloke.”

“I’ll tell yer wha’ I’ll do, I’ll put it in Wiko to see wha’ comes up… Grea-test… com-ed-ians… of… all… time,” Barry says as he’s hitting the keyboard. “Ah, here we are. We’ve got: One-hundred greatest stand-ups of all time… The ten best comedians of all time… Ah, I’ll go with tha’ one… Jaysus, I don’t believe it,” Barry then says.

“What is it?”

“Bill Hicks number one. Louis C.K number two. Richard Pryor number three. George Carlin number four. Bill Burr number five… an’ a black fella’s number six called Patrice O’Neill, a Paddy no doubt.”

“But is that for stand-up?”

“No. For sit down.”

“You’re boring, Baz.”

“Well, none of these fellas would be on me list… Well, maybe George Carlin an’ yer man Ricardo Pryor.”

“Pryor was a really funny bloke.”

“Yea’, especially in that film Bulger’s Millions.

Brewster’s Million, Baz.”

“Well, whatever the title, gas film all the same.”

“Carlin was a bit hard to understand.”

“Clever fella – made yer think at the same time yer were crackin’ up.”

“Check to see if you can find anything on Bill Hicks and UFOs in Fyffe?”

“All righ’, kiddo… Ah, here’s somethin’ on YouTube… Here… Bill Hicks UFO’s… Listen to this:”

And then I have the funniest three and a half minutes I’ve had in all my time since I’ve been here, listening to Bill Hicks take the piss out of poor Fyffe, Alabama… And I know, I know, I shouldn’t be cracking up and laughing and having a good time at the expense of Fyffe, Alabama, because my kids are in the hands of some loony who wants to sell them off to some paedophiles.

“Fuck me, Baz, that was funny,” I say with tears in my eyes.

“Jaysus, wasn’t it – maybe I’ll have to put Mr Hicks in front of Mr Allen on me list?”

“Yeah, I think you’ll have to, mate…”

Moonbeam_UFO

Now, if you want to know what happens, you’ll be able to read Cuyahoga Blues very soon, as it will be available at Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and the Apple iStore, though I’d recommend you first grab a copy of Spaghetti Junction here at Amazon.com, here at Amazon.uk, here at the Apple iStore, here at the Barnes & Noble Nook store, and here at Kobo for 99c/77p before you do that, the first volume in a six book series on the pair of private detectives.

 

My Grandfather and Brendan Behan.

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I only found out about the event, by chance, one day when I was reading a book by Brendan Behan, The Quare Fellow. At the time I must have been fourteen or fifteen. It was a warm summer’s day, and my Grandfather came round – betting slip in hand (he was living next door to us) to the garden where I was sitting and reading the book, wanting me to run down the bookies to put a quick bet on for him.

“Wha’ yer readin’ there, hairoil?” he asked me casually. I gave him a flash of the bookcover. “Wha’ is it, I haven’t got me glasses?”

“Brendan Behan, Granda. The Quare Fellow.”

“Brendan Behan, yer say?”

“Yeah.”

“Brendan Behan, yer say?” he repeated.

“Yeah.”

“Did I ever tell yer about the time I ran into tha’ fella down near Boland’s Mill on the Grand Canal Dock?”

“No.”

“Listen till I tell yer…”

 

And so my Grandfather went on, telling me how the great Irish writer-to-be – then just a teenager himself and a few years older than my Grandfather – was picking on one of my Grandfather’s pals for some reason or other. My Grandfather told Behan to leave his pal alone and that if he didn’t he’d get to meet the end of his fist. My Grandfather said that Behan just laughed at him and told him ‘to go an’ shite’, at which point my Grandfather belted Behan a few times. Behan, it turned out, according to my Grandfather, ran off like a little girl and was never seen in Ringsend again, according to my Grandfather. Now, you can just imagine how I – then an impressionable teenager – took it. I was proud of my Grandfather and proud of the fact he had some small connection, no matter that it was a bad connection, to Brendan Behan, a person who went on to write some of arguably the best literature in mid-twentieth-century Ireland. Yes, my Grandfather, John Mary O’Reilly, general labourer, did that.

 

I always had the story in my mind, and even sometimes boasted about it to any interested parties: My Grandfather beat up Brendan Behan, a man that as a young fella knew how to use his fists, who was sent to a borstal, and who was a general loose-cannon. Yes, my Grandfather battered him.

 

Over the years, though, things began to change a bit regarding the story and how it was told. Since that time, I can remember two other versions, all including Behan and my Grandfather as the main protangonists, but that was as far as the similarities went in regards to the original story.

 

Version 2: My Grandfather was younger than in the original version by at least two or three years. He was also nowhere near Pearse Street and Boland’s Mill, but somewhere near the Poolbeg Lighthouse. He was fishing, supposedly, and Behan, according to my Grandfather, was making fun of him and telling my Grandfather how to catch ray. My Grandfather – like Behan in the first version – told the writer-to-be ‘to go and shite’. Words were exchanged, fists flew. End of story. Behan was on the floor – or maybe that was the Irish Sea – with more than a few bruises.

 

Version 3: Took place in Ringsend, on Thorncastle Street. My Grandfather was playing soccer with a few pals when Behan – who in this version had a few confederates with him – asked my Grandfather and his pals if they could join in for a kickabout. My Grandfather and his pals duly obliged. Now my Grandfather was playing in goal, and according to him, he was a better goalkeeper than Irish international Tommy Godwin was at that age, whom he went to school with. So here he was – a-better-goalie-than-Tommy-Godwin – in goal and defending the honour of the Southside from the evil hordes from North of the Liffey. Something or other happened, because my Grandfather said that Behan kicked the ball out from his hands when he caught it fairly. Well that was it. There was another fight, the third such one. And guess what? My Grandfather won again. That was O’Reilly three, Behan nil. Are you keeping the score?

 

Over the years the story changed, and even with those three main variations, there was always some additional piece of information I’d never heard before that got put in, on the sly, for reasons, no doubt, because as a mind gets older, it forgets. I tend to believe the original version of the story to be the closest one to the truth, though.

 

And the final question: Do I believe my Grandfather and his story how he taught the rough and tough, no-holds-barred, rebellious writer-to-be a thing or two about a thing or two? I have to say I do. And it’s more that I need to believe it anyway. No matter what colourations my Grandfather added to it, it is still and always will be a great story to me.