I’m delighted to be sharing #Ten Things author Eugene O’Toole would like to share with his readers. It’s a really interesting selection focussing on his writing, his path to publication and the inspiration for the novel. Molly Path, a contemporary novel for young adults, is due to be published by Hawkwood Books next week on 15 August and is available for pre-order online through all main bookseller sites. You’ll find buying links at the end of the post.
1. My full name is Gavin Eugene O’Toole but, as I’ve written several heavy and dull non-fiction books under the name “Gavin”, I thought it would be less confusing for readers to identify and (hopefully) remember my fiction under my middle name “Eugene”. I think when I was born millennia ago my Dad chose the former and my Mum chose the latter … so, sorry Dad and thanks Mum! Anyway, Eugene’s a cool name that makes me feel more special than I really am, translates in Gaelic as Eoghann, Ewan and Euan, and is sometimes shortened (especially in America) to Gene, hence Gene Kelly, Gene Hackman.
2. I was a newspaper journalist for most of my career and did just about everything you can do in that profession—reporting, editing, page design and production management, across different departments: news, foreign news, sport, business etc. Separately, I also did some heavy academic research on Latin American politics (my non-fiction books) and completed a Ph.D. which I am very proud of. Now I work freelance mixing and matching a bit of journalism with a bit of copywriting and editing. I’m usually stone broke and in debt, but I’m autonomous and free. I write (non-fiction) book reviews for the Morning Star newspaper. I always wanted to write fiction, from long before I became a journalist, and mistakenly believed a career in newspapers would help my writing: I’m not so sure these days. But it’s too late now…!
3. Molly Path will be my first published novel, although I have written several novels for both children and adults that have never been published and probably never will. Molly is a story for young adults about a teenage girl who refuses to go to school and is, therefore, visited by a peripatetic tutor from the local authority. They form a bond and Molly discovers through the books she is given to read how to understand her own circumstances and overcome them. Molly’s teacher, Eileen, meanwhile, discovers that they have something in common and learns something from her pupil as well. It is an unashamedly working-class novel based on a true story and inspired by real people: two good friends who taught children with special needs and mental health problems. In this country, behind the scenes, a legion of heroic teachers works away, often unnoticed, at the sharp end of the social problems that limit the prospects of far too many young people like Molly. To my mind, they have the most important job in the world.
4. My research and the interviews I conducted for this book informed me of a stark reality when it comes to children and young people who are excluded or self-exclude from school education: their problems invariably originate with their parents. It’s no exaggeration to say this, but in 90 percent of cases it’s the parents who are responsible (if not to blame). Molly’s case is one of those, and the book explores the nature of parenting and why the home is such an important adjunct of school when it comes to a child’s education. Put simply, a broken home often translates into a broken education, and that in turn can translate into a lifetime’s sentence of limited mobility … and further social problems.
5. I wanted to explore the nature of “home” and what it really means, so Molly’s parents Stella and Stan originated in travelling communities with no fixed abode and ended up outcasts from those as well. I really like these characters—they came alive for me and I have compassion for them because, like most of us, they are also victims of an unforgiving system. In short, the concept of what most of us regard as a stable home is completely alien to them … and this is the context in which Molly’s problems arise. Her teacher Eileen, meanwhile, left her “home” in Ireland many years before and has never been back. Home to her is a memory. A theme we often associate with a home is motherhood, and both Molly and Eileen share something: a loveless mother.
6. On a normal day I tend to slog away trying to earn a few pennies from paid work (if I have any!) and then turn to my fiction when I reckon I’ve done my breadwinner’s duty. It’s not an optimal arrangement: often by the time I feel I have earned my daily bread and can turn to writing fiction, I am fairly tired and the writing does not flow easily. I also write fiction at weekends if I have a spare slot in between chores. I have come to the conclusion that the natural condition of most writers is to be short of money, and so I no longer expend too much energy worrying about this. I am not complaining: I think the vast majority of would-be authors are in the same boat. By some strange alchemy and somehow bending time, many actually manage to produce work that is worth reading in between finding ways to pay the bills. If I were ever to be granted a wish it would be this: that I could stop time itself in order to write ceaselessly for a century without any interruptions. After that, I could go back to the day job. Check out the story of the great Irish author Donal Ryan, who has had to break off writing more than once in order to pay the bills.
7. I have all but given up on securing a literary agent, despite trying for years. I had a few close calls, but have never quite pulled it off. Luckily, Molly Path was taken up by a small independent publisher, Hawkwood Books, and I am very grateful to Ellis Delmonte, the director, for doing so. I would advise anyone who cannot attract an agent to at least try independent presses, which do sterling work bringing new voices into print. I have no idea what impact, if any, my novel will have but I remain grateful that the characters will achieve something like an existence through publication in this way.
8. I spend a lot of time writing short stories and entering competitions. As a journalist who is used to bite-sized narratives, I am naturally drawn to the short story, and I enjoy this form. I have won a couple of competitions (Listowel Writers’ Week/Irish Post, and Ovacome) and achieved a few other honourable mentions. I am also writing another novel for young adults which has a cracking storyline, but I have not made much progress in recent months, although I think I will finish it before I die. I have started at least four other novels that I have abandoned. This must be normal for a writer.
9. Like all writers, I also read as much as I can. Favourite writers: John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Paul Lynch, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Enright, Italo Calvino, George Bernard Shaw, Martin McDonagh, Kit de Waal. Currently reading: White City by Kevin Power, The Raptures by Jan Carson, and the rest. If I were able to stop time for a century, I could at least read a lot more (I estimate that in between writing, eating and sleeping, I would clock up about 3,000 novels in this 100-year period; at least I’d then have something to talk about at parties).
10. Molly Path will be published officially on 15 August and I will celebrate with a glass of whiskey. I am not one for fuss and see no real value in a formal, all-singing all-dancing launch, although I would like to visit bookshops to talk about the book if possible, and in particular about the work of the teachers upon whom it is based. But I am under no illusions: thousands of books are published every year and the great British reading public have much to choose from. If anyone does decide to read Molly Path, I shall simply be grateful from the bottom of my heart—because once a story has been told, it is free forever and can never die.
Eugene can be contacted for interviews, visits etc. through his website, geotoole.uk,
or on Twitter, @GOTwrites