Although born in Gaoth Dóbhair in the Donegal Gaeltacht, I have lived in Monaleen since I was seven.
Both of my parents were from Galway. My father came here to work in the Shannon Foundry after he was laid off following the completion of the ESB’s Clady Hydro Scheme. Monaleen was a small rural half-parish when I was growing up and, hard as it is to believe now, there were just two teachers in the National School during my time there. I did my Leaving Cert in St. Munchin’s in 1972, before being part of the first intake of students into the University of Limerick (UL) or the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE) as it was called then.
My father was an engineer, and my two younger brothers, and two younger sisters, also ended up studying in that field.
I was good at maths and studied Materials and Industrial Engineering before starting work in Ferenka after graduation. I was laid off when the factory closed eighteen months later and have been a self-employed industrial engineer ever since. In that time, I have also tried my hand at such diverse occupations as designing software, valuing commercial aircraft, selling incinerators in East Germany (just after ‘the Wall’ came down!) and keeping a Minister of State’s name in the newspapers.
Strange as it may seem, spending weeks watching production lines with a stopwatch was ideal training to be a writer.
Part of an industrial engineer’s job is to record everything that happens in a production setting in minute detail, and the necessity to summarise detail in legible concise text, was beaten into me in my first job. All the hard work involved in producing a report is wasted if you can’t communicate the message to your audience. That stood to me when I starting reporting on Gaelic games. I was involved in setting up the County Football Board during the 1990s and a main concern was increasing coverage of club and county teams. When the Evening Echo started a Limerick edition, they asked me to write a weekly column as well as covering the games. That really exposed me to the discipline of writing, as I had to come up with a thousand words of well-written material, to meet a deadline that was set in stone. After the Echo’s Limerick edition closed, I began reporting for the Limerick Leader. I am still at it (writing under the name John Redington).
Creative writing came about through necessity rather than choice.
The industrial engineering market contracted around 2004 when most of the labour-intensive industries, including my main clients (Wilo, Fulflex, Dell and Atlas), moved east. The Echo’s Limerick edition and Daily Ireland folded-up around the same time, and I couldn’t fall back on sports reporting to earn a crust. Instead, I did a course in screenwriting which I thought might be the easiest format to crack. I have a curiosity about the past, as it is the one place left in this age of travel that we still cannot go to. My first effort was a script about the First World War, the War of Independence and the Civil War. That decade, which shaped the state we now live in, has never been tackled in its entirety. Unfortunately, it was a bit too long for a film and a bit too short for a TV mini-series. It would, also, have cost zillions to produce, a consideration I had overlooked.
When you catch the writing bug it’s a wonderful feeling.
With the silver screen looking unlikely I thought that I might have a better chance with a novel. The first one I wrote was based on the life of Count Bismarck, who united Germany in the nineteenth century. He was an intellectually brilliant, half-crazy, vindictive, and visionary leader who fascinated me just as he mystified most of Europe during his lifetime. Sadly, it didn’t attract a mainstream publisher. Neither did a few crime novels set in a fictional city not a million miles from Limerick. At that point, I decided to publish Shanagolden in July 2013, the novel I produced from my first screenplay. Distribution is the biggest problem when you go at it yourself, but I sold most of the print run of 500, which is good going for self-published fiction.
Now, in a difficult period of my life, filled with those uncertainties about where you’re going, I decided to try poetry.
It took me a while to get the hang of it but when my thoughts finally found their way into words, I was astonished by the outcome. I set myself a target of six poems to enter a competition run by Listowel Writers’ Week. This duly became a collection entitled Under the Black Bridge (Faoin Droichead Dubh) which was published last December by Dominic Taylor’s Revival Press. The reaction has been very positive. We have sold out the first print run already and are on to our second.
While I can’t pretend that you can make a living out of being a writer, the world certainly needs creative writing to make sense of itself.
Maybe you might get a break and leap into the stratosphere like JK Rowling, but that’s the equivalent of being a junior soccer kid who dreams one day of making it to Old Trafford. You have to approach it from the standpoint of writing about what you want to write about. If there is something inside you that the whole world needs to hear, then get a hold of your pen (or your computer) and put it into words. If you can put in the hard work coupled with sufficient passion and style, it is a uniquely satisfying experience!
For more information contact Dominic Taylor, Community Literature Officer at The Limerick Writers’ Centre (LWC), on 087-2996409 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org