A NEWCASTLE West writer has spoken of the travels and travails of a life that has led to him publishing his first book from his new home in central Spain.
Jonathan Dunne, 37, is receiving acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his tragicomic new e-book Balloon Animals, a self-published work which is fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition for a self-confessed “class clown”.
Jonathan lives in Toledo with his wife, Ruth, and two children, but grew up in Newcastle West and traces his first connection with writing to childhood glances of the town’s famous old scribe, Michael Hartnett.
“I always had a love of writing but I still didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer. I have vague memories of my dad, Bill, pointing out Michael Hartnett sitting on the bridge that passes over the Arra in South Quay.
“‘That’s Michael Hartnett,’ he would say, ‘he’s a poet.’ There was something magical about that and it stuck with me and I developed a likeness for Hartnett and his poetry”.
Jonathan said that for the most part he was a less-than-engaged pupil of the old St Ita’s secondary school in the Market Yard, “the only teacher that inspired me was a priest who taught religion, and he would tell us stories about crossing the African deserts on a Honda 50 as a missionary”.
After not getting much from his leaving cert - “I got enough points for fish farming in Donegal” - Jonathan decided to travel. He journeyed around India and Europe, working odd jobs where he could find them.
“One of the high-lights was when I met a vagabond in a bar in Bristol on my 21st birthday. We got talking and I mentioned that it was my 21st. He dug in his khaki pockets and threw a fist of change onto the counter. ‘If you’ve got the price of a pint then it’s on me.’ It was a gesture that I will never forget”.
During his travels he dabbled in free verse poetry, and later studied a BA in literature as a mature student with the Open University.
He found out that some of his work had been published in the Limerick anthology What Worth the Head while he was “on an icy beach in Holland”.
On returning to Limerick, he had short stories published in local papers and worked in bookshops while he developed his writing. However, his life changed when he met his Spanish wife, Ruth, and moved to Toledo where he took up work as an English teacher.
Balloon Animals, his self-published debut novel, is already gaining traction in Amazon’s Kindle store. He has taken part in a cross-interview with band DeVotchKa, while actress Janet Varney is also a fan. Balloon Animals is available from Amazon, and will be available from other ebook stores soon.