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Books Are Like Babies by Declan O’Leary

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me

Declan O'Leary

Book are like babies. With some you have a very long pregnancy and quite a difficult birth and with others it’s over before you even realise you have been pregnant. “What do you know about having babies?” my wife shouts from the sofa while I put the finishing touches to my traditional apple tart, but I can tell you she’s very wrong. I have just delivered two this month alone.

My first one: An Unfolding Love Story, looked like it was never going to come out. I was carrying it around with me for three years. The world does not appreciate how much we writers suffer for our art. It expects us to function normally while something that big is growing inside. I thought it was going to be twins, but in the end it turned out to be just one big healthy baby. The other one: “A Jewish Christmas Carol”, just emerged over ten days in a wet and dismal Spain.

If I ask myself why An Unfolding Love Story was such a difficult delivery I have to admit that it involved a powerful explosion of emotion that was locked up inside me for a long time. You see, I have fathered two books quite late in life. Being a teacher and a father of three there were always copies to correct or Irish dancing lessons and football games to chauffeur the children to. Now, that I have taken early retirement and am still in my mid-fifties I can finally devote myself to my passions.

unfolding_love_story140x210For me, the writing process involved writing down everything I wanted to say on my two chosen themes: the incredible power of true love and the search for an acceptable cultural and spiritual identity. Finally, I had over six hundred pages, but no clear workable structure. The real work of editing started at that stage. The structure developed slowly and the tension between what I wanted to say and what I had achieved left me no peace. The first stage of the breakthrough came when I realised that I had been writing about one single, great, universal theme: our never-ending thirst for love and acceptance, above all self-acceptance. This allowed me to edit my manuscript down to two hundred and eighty pages and it pointed me towards the structure which I finally went for. The final impetus came from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas which had encouraged me to give Jesus a second chance after the unsettling experiences of my youth. The Gnostic Jesus told me never to live a lie and never to do that which I hated. That pointed me towards the ending to my love story. Shaun, my protagonist would only find peace and self-acceptance when he finally discarded the fake cultural and spiritual identify which had long weighed him down. My love story has turned out to be about an Irishman growing up in the Dublin of the eighties and only coming of age in his fifties.

The parallels between my protagonist Shaun and an Ireland on the brink of the 1916 Centenary are not accidental. Both have missed out so much of life by clinging to lies and false cultural identities. Shaun has been brave enough to grasp the nettle and my hope is that my fellow citizens will also stand up for what is in their hearts. There was a time when we trusted somebody else to look into his heart to decide who we were and what we wanted. He saw us dancing happily in tweed caps at the crossroads, conversing in Gaelic. I hope our horizons have broadened as a nation since then.

Just to carry the metaphor a stage further, you may very well ask about the fathers of my two babies. As you know, we writers are seldom monogamous. In the case of  An Unfolding Love Story Rob Bell certainly gave my baby its name and he had a lot to do with the conception. His unfolding of God’s love story in such books as Love Wins won my heart. However, Holden Caulfield also took my fancy along the way. Shaun my protagonist had also spent a year in psychiatric care when we first meet him. Like Holden, he found his society, 80’s Ireland, to be fake and two-faced. Shaun turns to Communism and finds himself in East Germany with a Worker’s Party delegation. There he falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful Polish girl on a rainy day in Wittenberg. This crazy love forces him to abandon Ireland and take refuge in East Germany. It would be a difficult story to believe if it were not in fact my own.

The overwhelming power of this love and the ensuing love for his three children, gives Shaun a window on God. It isn’t the homophobic, misogynistic one of his youth, but a credible, loving one, which the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas brings to life for him. What started as Shaun’s feeble search for love and meaning ends in the celebration of the love which is all around us. As I have said, in the end the twin themes merged into one big, healthy baby.

a jewish christmas carol 140x210The paternity of my second baby: A Jewish Christmas Carol, is even more in doubt. Scrooge would be the obvious contender, but he was just a passing fancy. In truth, the Jewish influence is not to be denied. Noam Chomski and Norman Finkelstein were certainly very entertaining company. They enlightened me on the Israeli-Palestinian situation, but a youthful Jewish journalist called Gideon Levy was the one who finally breathed life into my protagonist Jeremiah Levy. Like Gideon, Jeremiah is a Jewish journalist for an outspoken Tel Aviv newspaper, which tells the truth about the situation in Gaza.

An ugly Hassidic Jesus, who denies being a Christian, chooses Jeremiah for the unenviable task of averting Armageddon. The training course takes Jeremiah through Jesus’ life and puts us in contact with a Messiah who is not just Jewish, but Muslim as well and even a little Christian, despite his claims to the contrary. He is happy to be the messenger rather than the message. His message is a Gnostic one: We have enough in our hearts to solve all the world’s problems on our own. It is enough to trust and believe in ourselves even if we are only fishermen or housewives. It is time for us to stop acting as sheep when God has created us to be shepherds.

Amazon is looking after my two babies at the moment, but I’m looking for good homes for them. Please consider taking them in. They will pay you back tenfold for anything you invest in them. You will find them by clicking here An Unfolding Love Story ; A Jewish Christmas Carol.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas

(c) Declan O’Leary

About the author

In the eighties, as a reaction to a strict Catholic upbringing, I joined “The Workers’ Party” while at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. I played a leading role in promoting the party at college, but later became disillusioned while on a party delegation to East Germany. Despite this, I returned to the GDR to study and met a beautiful Polish girl on a rainy day in Wittenberg.

Overcoming the many obstacles which lay in our path, we started married life in East Berlin. Later, we returned to Dublin, where we settled down and had a family of three. We were both involved with education for a further fifteen years before returning to Germany.

Our relationship gave me another pair of eyes through which I could look at Irish society, forcing me to look ever more critically at the system of values and beliefs which I was helping to uphold. The years in Munich have helped me to maintain a healthy distance from the darker Ireland of my youth which stubbornly refuses to let me go. It burns inside me and the only relief I can find is to put pen to paper.

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