Thursday 25 January 2024


 Well, it’s finally here – 2024, the year of the bitch!

Rest assured, sisters, this has nothing to do with any gender-based slur, rather a recognition of the prevalent national pastime of whining.


I say national because on trips to Sicily, Scotland and Ireland in recent years, the whine level barely surpassed a whisper. 


Our era of complaint and victimhood inarguably amped up when Donald Trump glided down the escalator and announced his candidacy for US President on June 16, 2015.


Bloomsday, no less! Perhaps, Mr. Trump is a secret James Joyce admirer. Now there’s something for conspiracy theorists to sink their teeth into. One can only imagine the man from Queens and Mr. Putin exchanging Molly Bloom quotes or breaking into a few sober bars of Finnegan’s Wake during late night calls.


In no way am I accusing Mr. Trump of inventing the national whine. The No-Nothings beat him to it by a solid century and a half. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the most influential president since Franklin Roosevelt legitimized the art of complaint.


Even my Uzbekistani barber, a once cheerful man, has grown dour and can launch into a persecution-laced rant that could leave me hairless if I didn’t keep a close eye on the mirror.


Does Mr. Trump not realize the damage he’s doing to the national mood? What’s his problem anyway, he was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth, got free digs in the White House for four years, and now lives down in sunny Mar a Lago with his beautiful wife, yet he never stops whining.


Why doesn’t Melania order him to swear off social media, go to the pub a couple of nights a week, and lighten up my barber’s mood? Just the thought of four more years is enough to send me to Uzbekistan.


When I broached this matter to my Black 47 co-founder, Chris Byrne, he advised with Brooklyn logic, “Just don’t listen to him.”


But that means no more television, and what am I going to do when Slow Horses returns in the fall?

There are a lot of downsides to President Biden but give the man his due - he’s eminently ignorable.


 Come to think of it, neither of these guys takes a drop of the hard, Barack Obama could drink both of them under the table. Now that’s a scary thought.


But forgive me, I’m straying into politics, and it’s a long way to November. No, I want to deal with the whine, and why it seems to be everywhere. I know, the Mets, the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees and Manchester United all suck, but there’s so much else to be grateful for.


Whatever happened to the American ideal of the tall, silent stranger blowing into town on a palomino, and sorting things out? I never heard a single whine out of Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, or The Duke, all paragons of silent fortitude.


Where did we go wrong? I mean, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times agree that the country is thriving economically. In many ways we’ve never had it so good.


Wages are up, unemployment is down, new immigrants are lining up to do the jobs we want no part of; we even pulled together and came through a pandemic that could have floored us.


Financial markets are booming, 401(Ks) have rebounded, the big companies are raking in profits as per usual, you can listen to Taylor Swift on Spotify without paying her a dime, and though the outside world is in crisis, we merely supply weapons to the antagonists now, we’re not sacrificing our young as in previous generations.


And yet we bitch on. Maybe it’s time to smell the roses; they were still blooming in Manhattan on Christmas Day, the product of climate change, no doubt, but even that eventual cataclysm can be prevented, should we pitch in one more time and do something about it.


But that would take listening to each other, and we don’t have time for that, we’re too busy whining while being pushed around the chessboard, the willing pawns of self-serving politicians.


In the meantime, who’d like to open a couple of good Irish pubs within strolling distance of Mar-a-Lago and the White House? Rumor has it that certain politicians may soon be in need of a pick-me-up.

Friday 12 January 2024


 “Any Irish person who’s not writing a memoir is a feckin’ eejit.” Frank McCourt was heard to proclaim when Angela’s Ashes became a bestseller.

But how to begin, says you.

Anywhere but the beginning! “My name is Paddy Murphy and I was born in Ballydehob…” has been done to death.

However, if you insist on first things first, then try something like, “If the midwife back in Ballydehob hadn’t dropped me on me bloody head, then this would be a far different story.”

In any literary effort, be it memoir, play, novel, short story or even some scabrous lines scribbled on a bathroom wall, it’s not how or where you start that matters, but that you begin at all.

Many years ago, after an abysmal attempt at writing a first novel, I read a simple statement by an anonymous Greek dramatist. “Out of character comes story!”

Thus was I saved from the ignominy of typing Chapter One at the top of an empty page and praying like hell for a way forward.

No, instead I wrote down the first thing that came to mind about the hero of my next epic - nothing had to be in sequence, just a litany of facts, musings, observations, the majority of which I never used. It didn’t matter – the more I shoveled from my brain onto the page, the clearer my character became.

I began to see this person in ways I had never imagined. Soon other characters appeared, and I devoted the same granular attention to each. 

The sharper their outlines became, the more I realized I had never put much thought into those around me. Oh, I noticed their obvious attributes and foibles, but being a callow youth, I’d never delved much below the surface. 

And although I’d grown up around strong women and admired their grace and courage, it was as if they inhabited a world of their own. Suddenly, the women characters in my story came much more into focus, and life in general became richer.

The DNA of my story slowly began to emerge. Don’t rush this process - stories need time to marinate. Keep your eyes locked on your characters and before you know it, they’ll be interacting like old friends – or bitter enemies.

When that happens, it’s time to take a long warm bath in the darkness to allow your story to wash over you. Assuming you don’t drown, the hour has come to get the main events of your epic down on paper.

Number and name them. These ideas will provide the seeds of your chapters and a road map, as it were.

Then decide which of your characters’ aspirations and actions fit within these chapters. 

Don’t worry if some character resists your placement; this rebel may cause a surprise twist in a later chapter - a valuable asset in any story.

Take heart!  Although, you have much wrestling and desperate days ahead of you, you’re definitely on your way.

Remember that writing has much to do with rewrites and editing. Don’t become too attached to old ideas, for better ones may be on the way; and, for God’s sake, be careful about soliciting, or even worse taking advice. 

This is your story; you need to make your own mistakes – that’s the only way you’ll really learn. In other words, you Paddy Murphy are a star in the making, and the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue! 

This might sound egotistical – and it’s better you don’t trumpet it about - but it’s one of the keys to survival and ultimate growth.

By all means read your story aloud to some empathetic people – Irish American Writers & Artists salons are a wonderful, non-competitive resource in New York City where you can meet and chew the fat with fellow workers of the word.

But writing is a solitary business, paranoia and despair are always lurking.

On the other hand, you’ll never be bored or lonely again. Your characters will soon be teeming around in your brain driving you to drink and distraction. 

Your friends may worry about the new faraway look in your eyes, but as you belly-up to the bar, rest assured you and your characters will take up the same amount of space as a James Joyce, an Edna O’Brien or even the dashing, debonair Frank McCourt who continues to inspire.