Thursday, December 27, 2012



I’m really not a believer in rugged individualism—though most of my American friends seem to be be. It strikes me as a selfish sort of an attitude, and inaccurate into the bargain because we are all helped, one way or another, by others. Are there exceptions to this rule? No, I don’t think there are any, though I know plenty of people who regard themselves as “self made.” They aren’t.

You might think that a relatively solitary occupation like book-writing would virtually define personal accomplishment, but I doubt I would have written a line without help from others—and since I was first published nearly a quarter of a century ago now (a sobering thought) I have had a vast amount of help (plus not a little obstruction).

When I talk about help, I don’t mean help in actually writing. I have had very little in that regard and some of my editors were downright destructive. Instead I mean help in terms of moral support, encouragement and sometimes in a practical sense such as financially. The totality has meant a great deal to me and I just wish I could acknowledge it adequately. Of course, I have tried in terms of book dedications and credit in speeches, but such gestures don’t come close to recognizing the full extent of the support I have been given.

A book writer tends to need most help before he or she is published. That can be a bleak time in a world where so much of one’s status and self worth is tied up with one’s job. Indeed, during that period—which can last for years—one can feel rather like a cockroach in a world of giants wearing heavy boots.

It is all too easy to have your spirit crushed when you are unpublished—and one of the best antidotes is to have few people who believe in you. Arguably best of all is a wife or husband, but if one is not fortunate in that regard, a few close friends—or even one—can help you keep the faith in your creativity. Trust me, that is not an easy task when you have sold nothing, have no agent, have no money—and know far too many people who regard you as a wastrel at best and should get a proper job (and write in the evenings if you really have to). And on top of that, you are at a dead end with your story—a situation which gnaws away at your self-esteem every waking minute.. 

What you really crave, when unpublished, is respect and to be taken seriously as a writer—at a time when you have little or nothing to support your claim to credibility. Since respect is normally earned within a particular context, that is a hard result to achieve during such a period.

I have been very lucky in having supportive friends during some very difficult times. One was a true prince of a man called Niall Fallon who I was told was “difficult” before I was first introduced to him and warned that I might well not like him.

As it happens I found him demanding rather than difficult, and we became the best of friends. Niall was an assistant editor on The Irish Times, an author of several non-fiction books, extremely intelligent, and a thoroughly decent, generous and warm-hearted human being. Typically, I would go and stay with him for a day or two—at fairly frequent intervals—and then we would ramble across the countryside and talk about anything and everything; and I would leave refreshed and invigorated. Niall was a great walker, fisherman and naturalist, he was happily married to Patricia—and his home in the country not far from Dublin was the happiest haven you could imagine.

Sadly, he died prematurely of a heart attack but I miss him to this day, and think of him often. He was the epitome of a fine human being—and I owe him more than I can say.

I feel much blessed at having known him and I’m deeply indebted to Kate Hammond, one of his closest friends, for having introduced us.

Christmas is a time for feeling nostalgic.

Happy New Year Kate—and the rest of the Hammond and Fallon clans.







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