I was surprised when I discovered I could write. I always knew I had stories to tell and initially thought I would do so through the medium of film. However, I soon realised that my ‘limited’ organisational skills didn’t allow for Felliniesque scenes of elephants charging through city streets. So, I decided to focus my sole attention on what I had in front of me: the blank page. I began writing poetry first, pages and pages of free verse, allowing my imagination to run wild. These early long poems were really a series of sketches for the poems I write now, and it was where I began to develop my relationship with language, which is ever-evolving.
It seemed a natural move into short story writing, which for me broadened the narrative focus and facilitated a more in-depth exploration of characterisation. Many of these early short stories are set in Dublin and were written in the old Bewley’s Café in Westmoreland Street, where I, along with several other aspiring scribes, spent long afternoons labouring over our creations. The short story form is one of my favourites because there’s never a pressure to sustain ideas and motifs for an extended period. Having said this, there must be immediacy of impact and precision of execution on a par with miniature portrait painting.
The first public confirmation of my abilities was being shortlisted for the Hennessy Literary Awards for new writing in 2010. I was living in London at the time and had to wait till I came back to Ireland on holiday to get a copy of The Sunday Tribune. It’s difficult to describe the sheer thrill of opening the paper and seeing my story, A Hotel in Mayfair, splashed across two full-length pages. It was an important moment because it signified for me that I could produce a finished product. Soon after, I was chosen as a winner in the Lonely Voices series in the Irish Writers’ Centre and gave a reading there. In 2015, I undertook the MA in Creative Writing in UCD and it was an honour to be tutored by such esteemed writers as Frank McGuinness and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne.
My first novel, The Cry of Wolves, is set in early ‘90s New York and charts the odyssey of a young gay Irish immigrant through New York’s music, fashion and nightclub worlds. I returned from New York myself in 2000 and wrote the novel in my bedroom in Newbridge. It is certainly a love letter to New York, but also an attempt to process my experiences there. Though a relatively straightforward coming-of-age-tale – if told from the unique perspective of the gay Irish immigrant experience – the form is experimental. Often the main events are only alluded to before and/or after they’ve occurred, which weaves an interesting non-linear timeline throughout. In this I’m influenced by a lot of modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf and Ford Maddox Ford. Having recently moved to Paris, I was fortunate to meet a gentleman who runs a small press that specialises in gay and lesbian fiction and he published my novel.
I’ve recently completed my second novel which charts a day in the life of a struggling gay Irish playwright in London. It’s a modern twist on Ulysses – though a lot shorter – as the gay Irish anti-hero meanders around London musing on life, death, the state of the nation and the price of oranges! The Joycean influence on my work is continuing with a collection of short stories that are based solely in a city, in my case, Paris. These days I often write in the first person, which can blur the line between fiction and reality somewhat. This more intimate style may be a literary trope in itself, in that it encourages the reader to think they’re closer to the story than they actually are and is therefore perfect for subverting expectations.
If I was asked what is the defining characteristic of a writer, I would say that they’re infinitely curious. I remember being eight or nine, and everyone in the house was asleep, and looking out my window into a starry world and asking myself, ‘What’s out there? What’s it all about? What has it got to do with me?’ I’ve never stopped asking those questions.
(c) Michael Donohue
About The Cry of Wolves
Paul Kelly escapes his backward small town in Ireland for the bright lights of New York only to find himself in a state of paralysis. Desperate to move forward, he embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery through New York’s music, fashion and nightclub worlds. While dealing with his present predicament he must also confront the psychological ramifications of growing up in a homophobic culture. He finally accepts that the vindication he seeks for his past suffering is unobtainable and likens himself to a wolf howling on a wasteland, his cry for justice everlasting.