Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

John Brady

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John Brady was born in Dublin, the setting of his acclaimed series of Matt Minogue mystery novels. Brady immigrated to Canada at the age of 20, and has worked as a bank official, RCMP clerical officer and teacher. His first Matt Minogue mystery novel, A Stone of the Heart, won the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Award, and his novels Unholy Ground, Kaddish In Dublin, All Souls and The Good Life have all been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. The sixth novel in the series, Islandbridge, was shortlisted for the Dashiell Hammett prize and his most recent, The Coast Road, was named a Globe & Mail Top 100 book for 2010.

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The Proust Questionnaire, with John Brady

John Brady is Open Book's December 2011 writer in residence.

What is your dream of happiness? I don’t have one: minute by minute, hour by hour, there are wonderful times daily, along with the opposite. I particularly enjoy talk with lifelong friends on a walk, or in a pub. So much the better if I can hear the sea nearby.Were there to be one 'wish,' it would concern health.

What is your idea of misery? Misery is when you realize that you are giving stock answers, thoughts, responses: that you have stopped becoming somebody interesting, and cannot see a way forward.

The Coast Road: A Matt Minogue Mystery

By John Brady

From the publisher's website:

Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy has imploded, but something stirs in the rubble, striking a chord with the public: Patrick Larkin, a homeless man, alcoholic and mentally ill, is beaten to death in a park. Larkin was a well-known fixture. His solitary walks along the coast road in a posh suburb near Dublin had earned him the nickname ‘The King of Ireland.’

Recent Writer In Residence Posts

Against the grain: networking Yogi Berra, Vaclav Havel, a liking for trouble.

Murphy’s Laws have no statute of limitations. If there is no Murphy’s Law to fit the situation that crashes over you, it’s an easy matter to write a new Murphy’s Law. This I do regularly. I have more than enough inspiration from Yogi Berra to enliven the creation of new Murphy’s Laws too. Yogi Berra-isms are the modern iteration of what used to be called Irish Bulls.

Irish Bulls are contradictory, logically incoherent or non-sequitur statements:

"If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive." (Samuel Goldwyn)

Cursed: swearing off swearing?

Unwisely, I tried an experiment – ‘experiment’ indeed: I already had a good idea of what I would find. I performed a search of this 'Haywire' manuscript for …curse-words. What most people seem to call swearing, I still call cursing. So I went for the old reliable, the f word.

The results were unsurprising. It is of little consolation that all except two of them occur in dialogue. This first book of a new series sets a tone that will be hand to change, so decisions need to be clear here. The central character, Malone, is doing – as he says himself – a fierce amount of cursing at certain times. And why not? He’s a Dub, born bred and starved. Cursing in Dublin approaches Glaswegian volumes. It’s not even cursing half the time.

Housecleaning: bringing historical fiction up to date?

Sometimes you need to take stock, and January is the time for doing it. Income tax prep can wait – it’s time to open the vault. I have been thinking of rejigging a long story, a 4 part screen play called ‘A Rebel Hand.’ Like the saying goes, The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. (Faulkner??)

It’s a common saying about Ireland is that there is too much history and not enough geography there. As though this were a problem for people who want to read and to write stories..? But as keen as I am on Irish history and historical figures, I usually stay away from writing about it. The exception is a long, four-part screenplay I wrote on Michael Dwyer.

Undertow/Underworld : The Backstory

Some of the beaches that I know and love look almost too inviting. But what a newcomer to Fanore Beach on Ireland's West coast needs to be told is that it has an undertow. There is only so deep you should go at the southern end of this long strand, and only at certain times of the day too. I knew all this, and was free with my advice to newcomers. That did not prevent me one day from being drawn down the coast and out to sea, from that self-same beach.

The Quiet One aka The Other Guy

Sometimes it’s time to … step off the bus.

And sometimes you have to throw X under the bus.

The ‘bus’ I am referring to is not a bus bus. It’s the story that is underway and proceeding, and close to finished. Doing this longish detective story imposes its own assumptions and habits as I write and edit each day. These notions and expectations and reflexes carry on just below the level of conscious awareness.

As always, the danger lies in letting things carry on, as though the story itself has its own logic and destination. Part of the destination has to be the revelation of the villain who is behind the violence stalking my protagonist and main character from the get-go.

Research? I drive a Ford

“I hate for things to get finally pinned down, for possibilities to be narrowed by the shabby impingement of facts…. when the facts are made clear, I can’t bear it, and run away as fast as I can … (etc)”
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Research: how here’s word that covers pretty-well anything, so much so that it is a byword for mischief in our house. I don’t do ‘research,’ I do ‘stuff.’ As I mentioned, I have no interest in details about techie aspects of a story. It may sound like a Hail Mary because it is a Hail Mary: preoccupation with tech detail is the opposite of story. Detail for me means how a person says something, or sits, or gazes at something – long slow panning cinema is my weakness, not hyperkinetic action flicks. Harrumph.

Chasing the Muse: It takes a city?

Here’s a question that is rarely asked today: ‘Where do you get your inspiration?”

It is a great question. The problem is that it has been mocked into obscurity. Maybe it gives too much room to a person to blather on about The Muse, or go on an endless riff about boring, useless details and quirks. Or maybe the answers were too stock, too predictable. Me, I used to get the question wrong.

The Devil’s Dictionary and The Blank Page

To my embarrassment now, I once thought that part of building a set of writing tools should include me making a thesaurus of ways to write ‘said’ and 'thought.' This even after Hemingway years of adolescent reading, by the way. The problem (I thought) was that there were too many ‘He saids’ and ‘She saids.’ The ‘said’ wasn’t expressive enough. Wasn't the english language greater than 'said?' It is to cringe now, remembering the enthusiasm with which I went after that. It would have been a Devil’s Dictionary.

I thought so: or so I thought? / What 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' means for writing...

A neighbour last week was staring at the sky, and nodding his head slowly in a way that said to me that he was confirming something that he had known about for some time. He was on his way to work. I was headed down my ususal road, through the streets and lanes to Wychwood to downtown. Habits, etc. The need to be around trees.

“Those things...?” He was aiming his commentary to no-one in particular, eyes still scanning the sky. “They look like contrails, but uh uh.”

Mornings are not my best time for chit chat, but your neighbour is your neighbour. He’ll be there where you come home too.

“See how they spread out like that, in that weird way?”

The dangerous attractions of mystery novels: forensics, redemption and the F word

Some views of mysteries, or ‘whodunnit’s stay in my mind. Somewhere between smoking and doing the crossword. Edmund Wilson’s take is often quoted: “ the reading of detective novels is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between smoking and crossword puzzles.”

Imaginary Homelands: the long way around... and is a prosperous society boring?

The same thoughts come every day. They’re vexing but necessary, and in a strange way they are reassuring. But in their wake the same bewilderment and anger leak in, the same wishfulness and longing. Such thoughts are also embarrassing to air publicly… so therefore I will. These thoughts are hardly thoughts at all actually; they’re more imaginings. They are, of course, about Ireland.

Some background first – some ‘cover.’

'Shut up,' he explained. Man-talk / editors and the demotic / the Inchoate vs the Good-in-school.

I ‘m trying a bit too hard to get the voices right in two characters, friends since childhood, in this novel. To that end, I head back every day to refine what they say, and to rewrite – often minute details – parts that I thought were long ‘safe’ / ‘finished’/ ‘in the can.’ There is no ‘can’ apparently. Hearing their voices more and more clearly each day, and having them mutter away in the back of my mind, makes this editing necessary. It can be annoying, but I do keep that saying visible above the desk at home: ‘Books are never finished. They’re merely abandoned.’ (Wilde?)

Cause and Effect?

Sometimes – often? – writing can bring on delusions. Really.

Bear in mind that there’s a critical difference between falling into the unconscious or uncontrolled delusional fantasies, and diving into same. This ‘falling/diving’ dichotomy is used to comment on the difference between Lucia Joyce’s sad life bound up in severe mental illness, and the products of her father’s imaginings and explorations beneath the surface of life and language.

Scene of the crime / library paean

Scene of the crime/ library paean

Work, in the form of writing, hurls me out of the house every morning. Home is for family, for goofing off. Only rarely will I work on a manuscript at home. Home is where I am myself. There’s an avalanche of irony waiting to fall on this ‘self’ business, but it’ll remain unsaid. What I mean is, at home I’m a husband, a father, a brother, and so forth. There are no airs at home. There’s plain talk, daily stuff that look a lot like dishes, or laundry or bills. The only illusions are the ones that keep the domestic economy going. All the letters and the phrases and the sentences, and all the teeming thoughts and notions and half-wishes and dreams and imaginings – the whole shooting gallery - they will wait. It’s not like I am ever short of that stuff.

Fail better..? A meditation

Mistakes: failures are your teachers

Once you hear Beckett’s non-advice, you never forget it:

Fair. Fail again. Fail better.

For me, it is a call to endure, to be resilient. It has a subtle comic charge too: a writer shouldn’t take him or herself seriously. Beckett was deadly serious of course, but he knew better than most that how the serious and the comic share the same space. So for me, ‘failure’ is the engine of writing - just as I'd say it is the raw material of Darwin’s revolutionary theory.

The trouble with this 'failure' thing is that it can become a prescription. The mind sabotages itself very well, in what’s called the ironic effect. Having kids who are now passed through their teens, I know more about that topic than I did.

Tools of the trade

C'est ne pas une

Fresh and a bit ragged from a recent discussion with a fellow author – Mr Unnamed, and the discussion was in a licenced premises, with a fair amount of ribaldry and the kind of mockery that men friends so lavishly shower on one another – I tried to revisit a long-standing practice about writing. This is something you meddle with at your peril. But change is good, right..? No, not in this case. Result: I have to conclude that pen I am using isn’t a pen at all. It’s actually a wand, or maybe it’s even a madeleine.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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