Monday, January 14, 2008

Loaded Questions: "Tipperary" Author, Frank Delaney


I like Frank Delaney. Delaney is a former BBC broadcaster, created the program Word of Mouth, hosted his own talk show, and has written for several television programs and films. He's a nice guy, very approachable from my experience, and a bit of a role model as he has interviewed some of the prolific authors of his time.

I first bought Delaney's Ireland, an epic novel that begins with the unexpected arrival of a storyteller who, in exchange for a warm bed and food, gathers all around in order to tell stories from Ireland's history. The story follows young Ronan who, entranced by the storyteller's words, sets out to find him after the man disappears just as suddenly as he arrived.

And so when Delaney's newest novel, Tipperary, arrived I knew immediately that I would have to get my hands on it and interview the author if at all possible. A few emails to friendly publicists lead to an email from Delaney who was delighted at the prospect.

Tipperary takes place seventy-five years after the death of Charles O'Brien, a healer and journalist born in 1860. O'Brien's journal has been found and the contents of it are incredible and quite possibly embellished. You see, Charles claims to treat Oscar Wilde on his deathbed; advise a young James Joyce, tell Yeats the story of Finn MacCool; and inadvertently bring down Charles Stewart Parnell. He also meets the founders and leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA and finds his fate one in the same with theirs. Charles O'Brien is a fascinating character and reading his puzzling diary makes for a fantastic journey.

Kelly Hewitt: Your primary character in Tipperary, Charles O'Brien, meets many of the important Irish figures during the time period, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, Parnell, de Valera, and Collins. Were there any historical Irish artists or authors that you would like to have worked into the plot but just couldn't?

Frank Delaney: Many! Some readers and reviewers have commented to me on this (what they call) "Forrest Gump" factor (I must now go and read/see "Forrest Gump"!). The fact is: Ireland is a very small country and anybody with Charles O'Brien's family connections and, later, his travels and occupations, would have met and did meet almost anybody he wanted to meet. I did, as a reporter. Therefore, I had - regretfully - to be selective. For example, I had to cut a scene - for reasons of structure and length - involving Maud Gonne, the great unrequited love of William Butler Yeats's life.

Kelly: Lets say that you have the chance to meet one of the great Irish thinkers that Charles encounters in this book -- which one would you chose?

Frank: Oh, that's easy: Oscar Wilde, without a doubt - not simply because he was a great writer and thinker - philosopher, even - but because he was such a hugely likeable man. In the biographies of people whose paths crossed Oscar's, he comes across as one of the kindest men of his era, a fact that often gets lost in the more lurid details of his life. Also, he was great company, a terrific gossip.

Kelly: While reading your bio I saw that you were born in Tipperary, Ireland. The book, too, is named Tipperary but in the context of the book refers to a particular castle. Does such a castle exist in the town you were born?

Frank: It did exist - a dramatic and beautiful building called Thomastown Castle, now alas! it amounts to not more than some piles of stones. It was the building that my childhood eyes saw first thing in the morning and last thing at night - it sat on top of a hill across the fields from my home. Once a place of great style, with lavish banquets and famous hospitality, it had begun to fall into ruins when I was a boy, but the gardens and much of the interior were still intact and so I could imagine what it had been like in its glittering, magical heyday.

Kelly: As a reader I could not help but wonder about the possible similarities between your life and that of your main character in Tipperary, Charles O'Brien. I gather that there are a great number of things that you don't have in common. But there's the Tipperary reference and O'Brien's dream to write. Do you have more things in common than I've hit on here? Did those coincidences occur to you at the time?

Frank: Good question! The answer is (thinks...) Yes - and No. Yes, in the sense that Charles O'Brien roams the fields and lanes that I roamed as a child; my house is even marked on the maps that form the end-papers of the book and it's a few fields away from his house. And, Yes in that we both write and have the constant urge to travel. But, also, No: Where we differ is this: Charles decides to write, in order to be seen as a more considerable man; I write because I don't have any choice, there's nothing else I really think about, or have thought about, for as long as I can remember. It's my dominant thought process.

Kelly: I noticed when looking at some of your books on Amazon that a few of your books are available in a Kindle Edition so that they can be read on the new electronic book device that Amazon has been selling. How do you feel about the idea of an electronic book?

Frank: I'm fascinated by the thought and, in common with so many others, will be watching keenly to see how Kindle does. Obviously, any new device that gets people reading is exciting; what I wait to see is how readers educate themselves to the new idea. One of the things that most interests me about Kindle is the eventual opportunity to have an author's entire output in one small and convenient package.

Kelly: One of the reviews of Tipperary that I read suggested that those who wish to fully understand your historical fiction are better served if they find a glossary or reference of Irish history. Is there a particular book or source that you would recommend to your readers who want to touch up on their Irish history?

Frank: Many - the Irish are well historicized, by themselves and others. In my view the major living Irish historian is Roy Foster and almost anything of a historical nature that he has written has immense value - and his two-volume biography of Yeats is peerless. And for the power of brevity there's a concise history of Ireland by Maire MacEntee O'Brien, which comes closely up to date. I haven't counted how many Irish history books I own - but I can tell you one of my absolute favourites, which comprises philosophy and contemplation as well as historical fact, and that is How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill - I highly recommend it.

Kelly: While reading about you I was really impressed and interested in your broadcast history and work with BBC as a news reporter and creator of programs. Do you feel like that work and experience aided you in the writing of your first book and those that have come after?

Frank: Undoubtedly. Broadcasting taught me about addressing an audience - and respecting an audience. It gave me a love of conveying information for people's enjoyment and, I hope, elevation. Further, it taught me about gathering information and applying it to themes, which is a substantial part of a writer's apparatus. And it taught me how to recognize what ignites the spirit. There's a real sense in which broadcasting, and its producers - who taught me how to package material for public consumption - was my university.

Kelly: I also read that you have conducted interviews with hundreds or possibly thousands of authors during your time on the radio. Are there any particular interviews with authors that stick out to you as particularly special or memorable?

Frank: Many. In a spontaneous response these are the names that are pouring out: John Updike, Richard Ford, Richard Adams ("Watership Down"), Norman Mailer, Anthony Burgess ("A Clockwork Orange"), Patricia Highsmith, Douglas Adams, Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin, Jorge Luis Borges, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Attwood, Gore Vidal, Seamus Heaney, Nadine Gordimer, Tom Wolfe - now the soundtrack is overloaded! There are dozens, hundreds, more...

Kelly: What kind of advice do you have for me about the art of interviewing authors?

Frank: Begin with the great question - "How do you write?" Also ask, "How do you protect your writing self from the rest of the world?" And I've found that the question, "For whom do you write?" will get you a long and interesting answer. Authors like to be asked to think about what they do.

Kelly: I suppose an author of your stature is familiar with my next question -- what can your readers expect next?

Frank: A novel in February/March 2009 called "Shannon" (and one a year after that for at least three years). "Shannon" tells the story of an American Marines chaplain shell-shocked in World War One who is sent to Ireland to recover his spirit. I'm deep within the writing at the moment and I'm finding that, again, nothing is what it seems...

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