The Arts Interview: Joe Coleman

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

The Arts Interview: Joe Coleman
Born in Cashes’s Range, Thomondgate, I have lived in Meelick, for the past 29 years, but have never forgotten my Limerick roots.

Born in Cashes’s Range, Thomondgate, I have lived in Meelick, for the past 29 years, but have never forgotten my Limerick roots.

I first went to St. Munchin’s Christian Brothers School (CBS) at Hassett’s Cross and later attended St. Anne’s Vocational School. I dabbled a bit in writing at school, but never saw myself as a published writer as such. My first book, ‘House Full’ (2014) came about primarily because of my interest in the subject matter, having worked in a cinema in the 1970s, while still at school. My pursuit of further education, over a number of years from 2001, including a number of creative writing courses, quickly led me to believe that I could produce something about my life experiences.

The subject of ‘House Full’, Limerick’s Cinemas, was never covered before, at least not as a body of work.

It was my contribution to our rich social and cultural history. It was, also, something new for the reader, so I wanted it to be different. As a result, I structured it to create several layers of storytelling with several timelines running through the work. This seems to have appealed to the readership in a big way. Indeed, the main focus right from the beginning was on people, and that’s what makes it different. After all, people are the life blood of everything, without them; there would be nothing to write about. The book is especially about those workers and patrons of our many cinemas, and theatres, down through the years. While researching it, I became totally intrigued by the unruly behaviour that went on, particularly in the early ‘Playhouses’ dating back to the 18th century. Of course, misbehaviour continued on in our cinemas right up to the 1960s.

Local history is important to me and I am currently working on a new book, this time with a railway theme.

I am from a railway background, going back a few generations, so it is a topic that is close to my heart. The challenge is to find an original approach to the subject, in order to appeal to a wider readership, outside of the railway fraternity. There have been many books written about this area, but mine will be different, and promises to remain faithful to historical developments here. I am, currently, a member of The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI), and The Irish Railway Record Society (IRRS). I have, also, been involved in preparing a number of papers for these societies, who regularly organise site visits to places of railway interest around the country.

Local writers, such as Denis O’Shaughnessy and Dr. Matthew Potter, have been a great inspiration for me.

When writing a book it is useful, at the outset, to try and visualise how it might look when it is finished. Every possible source of research must be explored, in addition, to how effectively the material can be used to complement the work. However, this should not take away from the writer’s own voice. Researched material, also, needs to be fully understood and should be blended in a way that makes the whole thing flow. You have to have a great passion to be a writer/historian. The writer should, also, attempt to make the subject as interesting and entertaining as possible.

Always having an interest in filmmaking, I produced two full-length amateur efforts in the 1980s, but quickly disowned them.

However, it is a subject that I would like to come back to sometime in the future. The Old Limerick Journal has been a major source of research data for my book, and I have, also, contributed material to it, for future editions. Currently, I am heavily involved in ‘Toastmasters’, which is a group that concentrates on developing communication and leadership skills. This has helped enormously to build my own self-confidence and public speaking skills, thereby, reducing or eliminating any anxiety.

Writers will only succeed if we can get them to want to do it in the first place and not just think about it.

When I have an idea, I set myself a goal and work towards it. In the case of my book, on Limerick’s Cinemas, Sean Curtin and Denis O’Shaughnessy gave me great encouragement. It was they who first articulated that it needed to be written, as a contribution to the city. They, also, gave me huge support and contributed material specifically for the project. If someone has something to write they should be encouraged, in every way possible, to do so. Personally, I was driven by motivation and determination to succeed, sometimes against difficult odds. I self-published, because, from a commercial point of view, it is always difficult to convince publishers that certain subjects are viable. In addition, a book has to sell a huge number of copies, to be profitable, because of the small percentage that the author receives from sales.

Promoted by Limerick City of Culture (2014), my book on cinemas received huge media coverage, in the run-up to its spectacular launch, at the Granary Library, on Halloween night last year.

Indeed, the Library was ‘packed to the rafters’ for the occasion. I, also, used my Facebook page to promote it, and much to my surprise, and despite a limited release, the book became an instant Best Seller. Indeed, I was soon overwhelmed by the many requests for signed copies, and the very positive feedback, received, from both here and overseas!

Inspired by his book, ‘House Full’, Joe Coleman will be conducting a walking tour of Limerick’s old cinema and theatre sites on July 22 at 7pm, on behalf of Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society. The tour will last two hours, take-in 21 locations, and cover a distance of some 2.5kms. For more information please contact Mary Kenehan at (061) 312592.