It is with great pleasure that I host fellow writer David J. O'Brien. David is a busy man and I was honoured that he dropped in to tell us about his new book Five Days on Ballyboy Beach.
Mary Bradford: David welcome to my blog. I am going to hand it all over to you today to tell us about this wonderful second novel.
David O'Brien: Thanks for hosting me today, Mary.
MB: So David, take it away...
DO'B: My second novel Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, is just out and it feels like the rushed second album of a young songwriter, even though this book, like Leaving the Pack, was written a long time ago. When I started it, however, it was as a more experimental effort at literature than my first novella-expanded-into-novel-because-the-characters-demanded-it.
In all drafts up until the second last, even after I signed the contract, the main character was called David. It was, and still is, written in the first person and I decided at the time to use my own name - or it's derivative, Dave.
There were a few reasons. One is that Dave is a common name. More than that, it's a kind of Everyman name, like Jack, or Bill, or Chuck. I wanted the character to be a common or garden bloke, similar to most other men.
Dave is also usually the name of someone nice, someone likeable. I'm not just saying that because I am nice and likeable (though I seriously am), but I've never yet met a real asshole called Dave. Not in real life - David Brent, or David Copperfield (the magician) might be plonkers - even gobshites - but I've never met them: one is fictional, the other a persona. The movie Dave with Kevin Kline, is a great example of the niceness of characters with that name: a nice guy substituting an asshole president. Calling the "hero" such a likeable name allowed me to make the character a bit of a dick without (hopefully!) turning the reader against him - because there are elements of his personality that originally might have made you wonder whether he deserved a happy ending. Using a first person narrator helps make the reader more invested in the character, which also allowed me, as the writer, to let the character do things the reader might dislike him for. He does of course later show that he at least deserves a little happiness, though whether he gets a happy ending is something the reader will have to find out.
In addition, using my own name would make the reader wonder if some of this weren't really my own feelings. I did inject a few anecdotes and opinions that both the character and I share, just to muddy the waters, too. I think that the closer the writer superficially seems to be to the action, the characters, the more he hides real facts that are far from his real life and experience. None of what happens in the novel actually happened to me or to anyone I know. But the ruse was too well done and it read more like a memoir than contemporary fiction - so I changed Dave to another everyman's name - Dave's brother in Only Fools and Horses - Derek. He's still a plonker, sometimes, but ultimately just as worthy of our friendship.
MB: Gosh, David, that is a very thoughful insight into the naming of your character and clever too. So give us a bit on the novel to whet our curiosity.
DO'B: Well, the Blurb is as follows:
A startling revelation - the long-time friend you never viewed romantically is actually the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
But what do you do about it?
For Derek, a laid-back graduate camping with college friends on Ireland's west coast in the summer of 1996, the answer is … absolutely nothing.
Never the proactive one of the group - he's more than happy to watch his friends surf, canoe and scuba-dive from the shore - Derek adopts a wait and see attitude. Acting on his emotional discovery is further hindered by the fact he's currently seeing someone else - and she's coming to join him for the weekend.
As their five days on the beach pass, and there are more revelations, Derek soon realises that to get what he desires, he'll have to take it. Events conspire to push him to the forefront of the group, and, as unexpected sorrow begins to surround him and his friends, Derek grasps his chance at happiness. After all, isn’t life too short to just wait and see?
MB: Please share some more, this is intriguing.
DO'B: Okay, here is an excerpt, so enjoy.
The five of us had been friends for about five years. We’d met in first year of our science degree course, during freshman week, and conglomerated together the way people do when they arrive in a new university. I used to cycle there from Deansgrange, where I was still living with my parents. Sarah got the DART from Blackrock, where she had lived with her parents until she graduated. Bill did the same from Howth. Sinéad lived on campus, since she couldn’t be arsed commuting from Naas, where she was from. John shared a flat in Donnybrook, because it was nigh on impossible to commute from Bettystown, Co. Meath, from where he hailed. We’d found ourselves deciding on mostly the same courses, and were in the same classes for nearly all our time there.
I met some people in those first few days of university that I would hate to meet now. Some of them I could safely ignore and would, since our acquaintance didn’t last long before I’d moved on to more fruitful associations. Others I could not ignore, and would thus avoid if at all possible. The individuals I was camping with, however, were people with whom I'd just clicked and stuck with, like Lego.
They liked most of the stuff I liked and that’s why we were such good friends. The major difference between me and them was that they were more inclined to actually do things, whereas I was more content to laze about and do nothing. Not exactly nothing. I mean watch: watch them surfing, watch the waves, watch the clouds travel across the sky. Look at the birds foraging and gliding over the sand and waves, see the rabbits warily leave their warrens and seek out succulent plants among the dry dunes. That was why we were there; to do things and to relax – mostly the former for them and mostly the latter for me. There was a kind of gradient of laziness, to give it a name, though; from me to Sarah, her to Sinéad, then to John and Bill.
We had gone away on weekends and for short holidays together in summer many times since we'd met. This was our first summer in real jobs. Or rather, it was the first summer after we had finished our degrees. I still didn’t have a job. I’d gone back to study English and Spanish. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, I’d discovered a love for the written word, and had decided life would be rewarding even if all you did was read. I was prepared to be poor for this, at least for a few more years—a bit like the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meany, though there was no way I would cut off my trigger finger for it. Second, I’d decided that Spain was a place that I wanted to become more familiar with, and it was necessary to learn the language in order to do this.
It was Hemmingway who brought the country to my attention. He wrote as if he’d known the language all his life, which of course he didn’t. I never got an idea from his writings when he actually learned it and how much difficulty he’d had in doing so. But I hoped I could also become fluent one day. Third, I hadn’t been sure quite what to do when I finished university. I had gotten used to the quiet life, the one where quality is more important than the standard of living. Time had become more precious to me than money—well, the large amounts of money gotten by working hard for long hours. I didn’t want to give my time to a job I wasn’t really interested in. I’d toyed with the idea of doing a PhD, but had decided against it. The first years might be light on work, but the long year or more of writing up the thesis would be unbearable. I'd only have time to read literature concerning my project, and I'd probably end up no more ready for work or employable than I already was, or would be with a second degree.
The others had real jobs. Sarah worked at Proctor and Gamble, doing statistics of medical experiments and tests. Sinéad worked for an environmental impact consultancy, a recently created company called EnviroSol. John had got a job with the Central Fisheries Board, somewhere a high percentage of Zoology and Environmental Biology graduates ended up, since it was one of the few places where there were any jobs going. Bill worked as a sales rep for a company that sold medical supplies. He liked to say he was a travelling salesman, and I suppose you could call it that, because he did a hell of a lot of travelling, up and down the country week in, week out. Luckily, he liked to drive, and was an expert in living out of a suitcase.
So this was the first time the others had two weeks holiday to spare in the summer, and they’d decided to stay in Ireland for some of it and we’d spend a long weekend on the west coast together.
MB:To find out more about this talented writer and to engage with him about his work, you will find David at any of the links below. The links will also take you to where you can purchase this book and find out what happens to Derek. It only remains for me to thank David for joining me today and to wish him all the best with Five Days On Ballyboy Beach, no doubts it will be a great hit with his readers.