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First Past the Post with Brian O’Connor

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Interest | Interviews | Non-Fiction
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By Julie Murphy

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IN A FRANK INTERVIEW, Brian O’Connor shines as an inspiration to those would-be journalists contemplating their coming-out into an already intimidatingly competitive industry now gripped in the scary world of economic recession and engulfing unemployment. And to fiction writers he shows just how tenacity pays off….

Brian graduated from UCC in 1987, just as the country was drowning in a similar depression but his determination proved that success can surface once hard work and willingness is added to the mix. It was his childhood interest in horses that led him to where he is today but it was not a straight-forward ride.

Having left UCC behind him Brian applied to almost 30 bloodstock agencies but received only one response. He was advised by an agency in Newmarket to go and get some practical experience working with horses and so after working in his home county of Cork and at a stud farm in Lucan he again applied and was offered a job in Newmarket.

Before he left Ireland he had been – much to his own surprise – offered a place in DCU to do a post-grad in Journalism, but he opted to defer this for a year and see how Newmarket would work out. As it turned out Brian was to stay just six months in the UK before he returned to Dublin to begin the obstacle strewn course to writing success.

While in DCU Brian was placed at the subs desk in the Irish Times and he quickly realised that to get anywhere in the newspaper business he would have to make sure he got there himself. He was soon writing features for the sports section along with some news features and after graduation he began freelancing for the Irish press.

The transition from journalism to books –fiction or non-fiction – is not always an obvious one and so that was the big question I put to Brian. His first book, Add A Z€ro: From €5,000 to €50,000 in an Irish Racing Season was published in 2008 by Hachette Books Ireland and he admits that it wasn’t until he saw his wife, true crime writer and journalist Niamh O’Connor, sit down and begin the writing process herself with her best-seller, The Black Widow: The Catherine Nevin Story, that he believed he could do it.

In 2009Brian had his second book published by Aurum Press Ltd. In Kings of the Saddle, Brian profiles the twelve most high profile men and women in Irish horse racing at the moment and 2011 will see the release of his third book, a profile of the twelve best horses in the Irish racing world.

The well-respected racing correspondent for the Irish Times is now turning his hand to fiction with the release of his first novel. Following his contribution to the Big Book of Hope – a compelling and eclectic collection of fiction and non fiction intended to raise money for the Hope Foundation – Brian was approached by Poolbeg Press. This may seem like an odd partnership between what is generally recognised as Ireland’s number one publisher of women’s fiction and a man who has spent his life writing about a sport traditionally dominated by men, but Poolbeg are renowed as talent spotters and Brian has now signed a three book deal with them. He has a busy 2011 ahead of him. Bloodline is out now and is a thrilling read that keeps you turning the pages and hooked to the last word. Ireland’s answer to Dick Francis, Brian shows every new fiction writer just how knowing your stuff is so important. He said,

“I’ve been working around race tracks and horses all my life. It’s a natural place to set a thriller as the stakes are high for everyone, owners, jockeys and the horses. It’s a fast paced, exciting environment full of characters.”

Brian’s biggest tip for those of us out there who imagine ourselves surrounded by a collection of our own successfully published masterpieces is to persevere. Brian dispels the images of monster editors and confidence-shattering publishers and explains that it is a combination of personal “stubbornness and perseverance” that will bring about your breakthrough. He says there are no real superstitions, lucky charms or routines that his writing career depends on and all he asks for is a modicum of peace from the kids while he sits down to write under the careful watch of Europe’s Champion horse of 2009, Ireland’s own Sea the Stars. Sea the Stars won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October 2009 and a photo of Brian next to the champion horse the day after this victory holds pride of place on the wall above Brian’s writing space.

As well as writing for The Irish Times, Brian blogs at Irish Racing.com

 

About the author

© Julie Murphy for writing.ie

 

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