The Tank and the Lady in the Painting

 

It was Raymond’s suggestion. I’ve never really understood art, so I was rarely inclined to visit art galleries. I can appreciate the colours, the skill; the talent involved. I understand that there’s talent. Well, most of the time—as Bob Dylan said. Other times . . . Well, I just don’t know.

   But it sounded like it would be a nice thing to do; I don’t see my brother often enough and if I’m to be completely honest I don’t get out often enough. Not since John became ill. And when I do get out it’s usually to visit him at the nursing home. Once a month at the home there’s a support group for the spouses of the residents of the home. One of the women there—Julie—she calls it the “Sad Bastard Get-Together” (SBGT). I laugh at that, even though I shouldn’t. I like Julie; she sees the humour in the sad side of life. She said there’s always a sad side (and don’t I know it), so why not try paint over it with humour? Like an artist painting over a lifeless canvas, you could say.

   At the support group they encourage you to be more active; become involved in different activities; join clubs; be more sociable. Now that’s all well and good, but I don’t drive, and with the miserable weather we get here most of the year I don’t want to go out half the time. And as for being more sociable; well, that’s all well and good, but any time I go out it’s always with couples, because almost all of my friends are married and have been for over thirty years. And I know that’s the way it is, because that’s the way it is. But it can be a little hard. It’s hard being around couples all the time when you remember what you had; when you instinctively reach for that hand.

   Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. That’s not important. At the SBGT they encourage us to avoid indulging in negative thoughts; not to spend too much time swimming around in the past. So, I shouldn’t do that, I guess. And in any case, I’m not a very strong swimmer—never have been. But sometimes I forget that I shouldn’t linger on those thoughts; maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.

   But the trip to the gallery . . .

   It was a Saturday and as usual it was raining. I had taken the bus from the shopping centre to town, which left me only a few minutes’ walk from the gallery. Once I’d rambled up the cobblestone street, I found Raymond standing at the entrance in his rain jacket. He’d always wear the same rain jacket, even if it was a sunny day. He has a gloomy disposition; always has and always will. John used to call him “Smile Awhile”. John always liked to joke and tease, but not in a mean way.

   Raymond and I have similar faces. We both share a petit, stubby nose and a big mouth, as if one was compensating for the other. But while Raymond has always had cheeks decorated with freckles, my skin has always been clear and soft, thank you very much. That’s one thing I’ll hold on to, please. Raymond’s black hair—like mine—is greying in places. He has these narrow eyes which have become narrower with time. You see, his eyelids droop, like curtains, and so there’s not much of an opening for his vision, but he never looks like he’s squinting—just gloomy, like I said. Me, I’ve got my mother’s eyes: big and blue and full of surprise, although there isn’t much that surprises me anymore.

   We kissed each other on the cheek and Raymond smiled in his usual way: as if it took a tremendous amount of effort. He paid the admission, and I thanked him, and we began to wander around the gallery. See, Raymond’s the cultured one in our family; he’s the smart one, the educated one. The one who went to college. Of course, I couldn’t go to college because I was running the family home from the age of fifteen; my mother needed all the help she could get because she was ill, and my father was out working most days. We were a poor family; me, Raymond, and our sisters Debbie and Cassandra, all shared the same room growing up just outside the city centre. The three of us sisters would pile ourselves into the same bed—which was good for keeping warm during the night, and for those moments when we’d hear a noise and become scared—and Raymond had his bed to himself. Considering our financial constraints, the fact that Raymond got to go to college is a miracle in my book. But he did, and he’s reaped the benefits of an education. And I don’t begrudge him that one bit. He teaches now, at a college outside the city.

   The gallery was quiet for a Saturday, or so I guessed; I don’t know what’s busy for that gallery. Raymond would comment on paintings every now and then; saying things like “isn’t the use of vibrant colours here marvellous,” and “the despair’s in the work; isn’t it obvious? This captures a moment in the artist’s life—a moment of despair. It all over it, isn’t it?”. He would look at the works in different ways; every now and then he’d place an elbow on a wrist and a hand under his chin, and would tap his lips with his index finger as he studied a painting. He’d seem displeased in many instances. I just looked at them and liked the ones I liked and didn’t think much about the ones I disliked. When we came to a painting, “A convent garden, Brittany”, by a man named William John Leech, I asked Raymond what he thought of it. In it a very pretty woman holding a book is looking up at something, maybe the tree, maybe the heavens—I don’t know. Behind her there are a number of women looking away so you can’t see their faces. There are branches and leaves and flowers in the foreground.

   “You like it?” he asked.

   “Do you?” I asked.

   “I do. I’m a great admirer of Leech; I share his love of sunlight.”

   “Then why do you live in this kip?”

   Raymond smiled and placed a finger over his lips as he looked at the painting.

   “Do you like it?” he asked again.

   “I do,” I said as my eyes lingered on it. “It’s like life, in a way, isn’t it?” I said tentatively.

   Raymond turned his head to me; I didn’t normally talk about art.

   “How do you mean?”

   “Well,” I began, and hesitated before continuing. “We can see her face. She’s very beautiful. You want to look at her. It’s like we’re the ones looking at her through the leaves and flowers there at the front, isn’t it? But the other women; they’re just there. We can’t see their faces.”

   “Go on.”

   “I don’t know. I think it’s like life; only a few will be seen and the rest will live in their shadow.”

   Raymond nodded. I don’t know if that’s what the painting meant. I don’t think it did: I don’t know very much about art.

   “It’s his wife, actually.”

   “Oh.”

“It’s oil on canvas. Beautiful execution.”

   I nodded as once again Raymond tapped his finger against his lips.

   It wasn’t long afterwards that we came across the tank. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight—not to my eyes. There were a number of people around it. It was hanging from the ceiling and was a few feet above the floor. There was a big fish in it, surrounded by blue liquid. The big fish’s mouth was open and its razor-like teeth were on display. It must have been around 6 ft long. It was a horrible-looking thing. We got closer and a few of the patrons moved along. There was a sign in front of it that told us the name of the piece:

                        In the Eyes of the Beholder—Death or Life

   Raymond nodded.

   “This is the piece everyone’s talking about,” he said excitedly.

   “It’s a fish,” I said.

   Raymond nodded again.

   “It’s a lancetfish,” he said. “That liquid is a formaldehyde solution. It slows the decomposition process.”

   I took a step back, walked around the tank. The fish was skinny, and its fin was tall. It’s dead, I kept saying to myself.

   “It’s like it’s alive, but it’s not,” I said to Raymond.

   “So it seems.”

   “Why put a dead fish in a tank?”

   “Why not?” he said.

   “Is it art?” I asked Raymond.

   “It’s in the gallery,” he replied, with a wry smile.

   We stood in silence for a few minutes, staring into the eyes, the mouth, the soul of this dead lancetfish. I felt sorry for the thing; it shouldn’t be there on display like this, I thought.

   While we were standing, looking at the fish and the tank, my phone rang.

   Raymond looked at me with disapproval in his eyes. I hunched my shoulders apologetically. It was the nursing home calling; I couldn’t let it ring out. I’d missed the last SBGT, maybe there was something they wanted to update me on. I walked away into a corner, where there was no one else, and I quietly answered the call.

   “Hello?” I whispered.

   “Mrs. Callaghan?” came the voice of a young woman.

   “Yes—Mary. Mrs. Callaghan makes me feel ancient—call me Mary. Is everything all right?”

   “It’s fine, yes, nothing to worry about, Mary. John’s just been worried and has been asking us to contact you.”

   “What’s wrong? There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

   “No, no. Not at all. John just wanted to tell you to remember to bring his cigarettes when you’re coming up next.”

   In the background I could hear John.

   “I’ve only five left,” he was saying.

   “Yes, I have some there for him. I’ll be up in the morning.”

   “Okay,” said the young woman. “John just wanted us to call to make sure.”

   “Okay,” I said. “That’s okay.”

   The rain had stopped when we left the gallery. Raymond waited with me until my bus arrived. I hugged him and we said we’d do it again soon. He trundled off in his raincoat as I waited in line to get on the bus.

   On the way to visit John, as the bus travelled along the river, as the traffic crawled tediously, I thought about that poor fish. Then I thought about the beautiful woman in the oil painting. I imagined her there on that day, in the heat of the sunshine, surrounded by the leaves and flowers, and all that beauty. Then, after all the hours her husband had spent on the work, he would reveal it to her.

   When I got to John’s room, I opened the door a little before stopping. I imagined the artist’s wife as she approached the door to the room where she would see the painting for the first time. She’d see herself on that canvas. I imagined the excitement, or the apprehension, as she prepared to enter and see the work her husband had made for her; how she’d be seen for years to come. Still I stood outside the door.

   And I waited.

Contra Teaser Trailer

 

Trailers: a little taste of what’s to come. This is a nice little teaser for my new short film ‘Contra’, directed by Daragh Murphy and starring Darragh O’Toole, Patrick Molloy, and Kyle Hixon.

From here we’ll be submitting to a number of festivals, and fingers crossed there’ll be a screening or three for us to attend soon enough!

Check out the teaser here:

 

A Significant Nothing

 

I wrote A Significant Nothing (originally — and, you might say, oddly — titled Cow Goes Moo) back in June. It’s a short script about human behviour and relationships in the age of social media and increasingly invasive, ever-absorbing, frequently distracting technology.

Our protagonist — an introverted doctor who lives a life removed from the hustle and bustle of the city in which he works — has found it difficult to make genuine connections with people for most of his adult life. And despite being quite romantic at heart, he has become disconnected, resigning himself to a life on his own. But when he treats an odd, overly anxious patient, he gets that inexplicable feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he’s hopeful for the first time in a long time that he has found someone with whom he can connect.

The problem is — has he found hope in a hopeless person?

You can read A Significant Nothing here: A Significant Nothing

You know how I was gonna self-publish my novel?

Well, if ever I felt like a liar . . .

Earlier this year I excitedly announced that I would be self-publishing my debut novel, Leaving Sadie, in June. Then, as the month approached like a freight train bombing along the tracks towards our tied-up hero in an action movie, I realised that I needed more time to free myself from those restrictive ropes; i.e. I needed to make additional changes to the story, let alone finalise the book-cover design (wonderfully executed by Chloë Keogan), get an ISBN, and prepare the final manuscript for digital and physical publication.

To be crude about it all: I’d blown my load.

So I said I’d aim for an autumn publication date, with October being the definite deadline. I’d even contacted Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin over at writing.ie about promoting the work on the site, as I had promoted my old blog Sounds From a Dublin Cafe. And Vanessa — wonderfully supportive of emerging writers as she is — was happy to offer me a slot on the site. That was that: I was certain I’d self-publish the novel by October at the latest.

But.

I had some thinking to do: Had I truly exhausted the traditional road to getting a novel published? Definitely not: Off the top of my head I would guess I’ve approached around six or seven literary agents — 10 max. Now, most people interested in literature know the famous J.K Rowling story, and how her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected time after time: The road to publication or landing an agent is a long one, and for that you need patience — like waiting at a railroad crossing for that freight train to pass by.

Now, I’m someone who has plenty of patience when it comes to writing a novel; I know it takes a lot of time and isn’t something that should be rushed. I know that landing a publishing deal is incredibly difficult and that these things take luck and time; and the world of literature can be kind to the aging process.

Despite my patience for the writing and publishing process, I had decided that Sadie was what it was: my first effort writing a novel. Completing the first novel is the real achievement, I’ve read umpteen times; it means you’ve got what it takes . . . when it comes to the next novels. Many authors don’t see their first completed novel published, and many of those who do wince and shudder when asked about that usually inexpert-though-rich-with-potential first novel (think Haruki Murakami and Hear The Wind Sing).

Sadie was sitting on my computer; a learning process that instilled in me the confidence to go and write my next novel. There it would stay, in the dark, left untouched, without a reader to heap praise upon it or tear it to shreds. And that to me felt . . . wrong. I’d poured a lot of energy into that work. And more importantly I loved my characters, for their talents and their flaws, for their courage and their cowardice, for their demand to be brought to life on paper — to be heard by someone.

It was the characters screaming from the laptop or the cold, dark desk drawer, who prompted me to decide to self-publish. If the work wasn’t up to scratch — if it was clearly the work of a novice; a writer experienced in film and advertising but not experienced enough in long-form fiction writing — then I’d learn that through the feedback of readers, the most honest critics. Why not put it out there? It would be a valuable learning experience.

And as explained above, I made that decision and had planned on publishing the work by next month, following that premature release date.

But then something else happened.

An early draft of Sadie was given the editing treatment by a young, recently graduated editor in the U.S. back in 2016. The feedback was mostly helpful and informed the future rewrites of the manuscript. But the story had changed so much since that first edit that I had to consider whether or not to have another editor take the story apart and find the flaws and inconsistencies.

Originally I’d said, ‘No, no, this is what it is. I’ve rewritten and rewritten and it will go out in its current state.’ That was a tad naive of me, but I knew that: I knew it would be a risk to self-publish without the final draft getting the editor’s touch. But then I was contacted by a fellow writer and copywriter, who informed me that their published-author sibling was now editing as well, and would possibly be interested in looking at Sadie before I put it out there, at a very reasonable fee.

At first I said it was okay; I had made the bed, tucked in my plot and characters and kissed them on their way into the unknown. I could no longer protect them, they were ready to be unleashed and whatever was to come their way would come; I could only hope that I’d equipped them well enough to deal with it. Then panic sat in: what if the work is awful? I mean, I knew the work wasn’t awful: I’d had plenty of feedback (no, not just from the mother and girlfriend!), and when I compared my work to other emerging writers on workshop sites I knew there was real strength in my writing. But the structure, the character growth, the conclusion — these aspects of the story could benefit greatly from the eye of a published author and editor.

I had to pause the self-publishing plan and send it over to that editor.

And now?

Now I have the editor’s invaluable notes.

Now I see where the story needs work: it needs more work.

And now I have the belief that Leaving Sadie could very well find itself a home by going down the traditional publishing road; the feedback definitely suggests that.

So now I have to get back to work.

The novel wasn’t ready for self-publication, I have to accept that.

But it could be ready for a traditional publisher very soon.

I’m going to go down the road of finding an agent, because while there was great appeal in self-publishing the work, and while I spent money and time on preparing for self-publication (cover design, ISBN, etc,), and while I know I had input from people on WordPress and Facebook on the book cover (for which I’m forever grateful), I shouldn’t self-publish until I’ve fully exhausted every option available to me when it comes to finding an agent and a publisher.

And if I fail to find one after all this?

Well, I guess I’ll self-publish; only this time I’ll be driving the freight train knowing the cargo is in the best possible condition.

Anyway, the call for last orders has sounded. I’m off .

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Book Cover Reveal!

Getting the cover for your debut novel right when you’re on the verge of self-publishing is not only pretty important; it’s also quite challenging! Here’s an update of where I’m at with the cover for ‘Leaving Sadie’, which hits shelves this summer.

So, the brilliant designer Chloë Keogan designed these three covers . . .

img-20180402-wa00051460223776.jpg

Sadie Design 2

img-20180402-wa0004595338904.jpg

That was after we had gone through a number of concepts. When I posted the three covers on Facebook and on this blog I got some invaluable feedback on each one (thanks again!), as well as some butterflies in my stomach at the thought of putting this out there for people to see (can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when I finally publish the work!).

When we tallied all the votes we found that most people leaned towards cover 1, with cover 2 in a close second. Personally, I was leaning towards cover 2, and this presented me with a conundrum: How would I decide on the cover when I’m leaning towards one and most people are leaning towards another?

Well, Chloë suggested printing the covers and putting them on physical books I have in my apartment. So we did that. Chloë also brought along some alternative versions of each cover to try on for size. Chaos kind of ensued . . .

Choosing Sadie Cover

(Okay, I concede that doesn’t look so chaotic. Exaggeration can help sell a story, though)

As I looked at the covers, it occurred to me: something is missing.

And this wasn’t an oversight on Chloë’s part; she had delivered exactly what I’d asked for—she was right on brief every step of the way! This was on me and my direction/requests.

It was only when I held the covers (or fake Sadie books) in my hands that I realized they weren’t true to the tone of the novel; the story focuses on the often turbulent nature of relationships and the madness of the arts (and of course the madness that is family :p), but it does it with a wink and a smile—there’s plenty of playfulness in there. And that’s what was missing from the covers we had in our hands: a sense of fun and adventure.

Then Maria got involved . . .

Maria & Moi

(That’s Maria, my girlfriend. She’s a very beautiful and talented woman, and she can do an incredible dolphin impression. Anyway . . .)

The three of us sat down, drank tea and chucked around ideas. Then Chloë went away, worked her magic like she always does, and came back with a brilliant new design (something of a redesign of cover 1).

So, let me reveal to you the latest draft of the cover for my novel. This is close to the finished version; only small changes will be made in the coming weeks. Here it is:

Leaving_Sadie_Final_NEW-01

Like it? Let me know what you like about it! Hate it? Tough shit, buddy!

Thanks again for all the comments and help along the way. And thanks to Chloë for being incredibly patient and for her unique talent. You can check out her work on her website.

More updates on the novel coming soon!

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Six Actors Who Always Die In Films

Picture this . . .

You’re an actor. You’ve wrapped up your first major movie. The night of the premiere arrives. The sheer excitement is almost too much to bear. You swagger your way down the red carpet dressed in your Sunday best, with a lovely lady or macho man on your arm (or maybe your ma — it’s good to take her out for a bit of glitz and glam every now and then, right?). You take your seat; the buzz of excitement and murmurs of expectation permeate the auditorium. The lights go down, the conversation is quelled—you could hear a pin drop, damn it!

And there it is—your movie on this gigantic screen; you spot your ugly mug, a shit-eating grin defines your face as you savor the moment. You’ve made it! But you know what’s coming . . . You know that the sun is setting on this first foray into the relentless and ruthless Hollywood machine. You know the character you’re playing is about to die.

The scene arrives. You see a giant version of you up there on the silver screen as your character breathes their last breath, utters their last words; so much blood fills the scene that the person next to you looks queasy—you offer them a bucket, if that’s how your ma raised you.

For an actor like Johnny Depp, this scenario isn’t too far from the truth. Legendary horror maestro Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ was Depp’s first film role, and his character Glen suffers a gruesome and iconic end at the hands (or razors) of Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. This wouldn’t be the first time Depp would see himself perish on screen, and for some actors they’ve watched themselves kick the bucket countless times (you’re thinking of the poor bastard Sean Bean, aren’t ya?). But dying over and over again ain’t so bad, not if you’re an actor—the more you’re dying on screen the more work you’re getting. Heck, some actors would kill to die on screen ad infinitum.

Here are six who go splat a lot. . .

 

  1. Bruce Willis

 

BW SC

Bruce is the man. He’ll always be the man. And one of his greatest characters, John McClane, has thus far managed to avoid finding himself six-feet under. But the same can’t be said for many of his doomed on-screen characters; Bruce has seen himself breathe his last breath in front of a large audience no fewer than 12 times. Compared to some on this list, that’s not so many, but still . . . it’s Yippee-ki-yay, Brucie baby.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Hartigan — Sin City, 2005

 

  1. Max von Sydow

 

MvS

This writer will always love Mr. von Sydow for his role as the reclusive artist Frederick in Woody Allen’s masterpiece ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’. But the Swedish-French actor has met his maker more than most thespians; from Ghostbusters II to the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this prolific actor has dined with death over twenty times.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Lankester Merrin — The Exorcist, 1973

 

  1. Mickey Rourke

 

MR TW 2

Did he or did he not die at the end of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s moving sports drama about an aging pro wrestler? Well, that one’s up for debate in the comments section below. But even if we don’t count Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Rourke still has plenty of characters who’ve turned up their toes in the movie theatre, which definitely qualifies him for this list.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Graff — The Last Outlaw, 1993

 

  1. Michael Biehn.

 

MB Al

He has the honor of starring in, arguably, two of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time, and has met his maker in many well-known movies including Tombstone, The Abyss and Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror. He’ll forever be remembered for his roles in The Terminator and Aliens, and also for the amount of times he’s snuffed it on screen—a whopping 24. Hats off, Mikey.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Kyle Reese — The Terminator, 1984

 

  1. John Hurt

 

JH MOV

Arguably the king of on-screen deaths,  the British actor saw over 40 of his characters perish. There’s one that stands out as the most gruesome, of course; Kane’s iconic end in Alien. Fun fact: many of the cast didn’t know what to expect during that scene, so those horrified expressions aren’t necessarily a result of years of training. Hurt’s characters met their end via hanging, explosions, drowning, fire and cliff-falls. In 2016, just a year before his death, the late great said, “I have died in so many spectacular ways, and I remember shooting them all, too. I imagine all those deaths will flash in front of me when I’m on my death bed, faced with the real thing.”

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Kane — Alien, 1979

 

  1. Gary Busey

 

GB LW

The outspoken and talented character actor has appeared in over 150 films, including a turn as tragic rock ‘n’ roll idol Buddy Holly, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. When he’s not giving solid life advice to Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton, Busey delivers some unforgettable performances, and these include some equally unforgettable death scenes, including the end of Special Agent Peter Keyes in his meaty role in Predator 2 (see what I did there?).

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Ty Moncrief — Drop Zone, 1994

 

So there you go—six actors who’ve seen themselves bite the dust more times than corrupt politicians have been bought out by unscrupulous lobbyists. Of course there are many who could’ve made this list, like horror masters Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, or South African actress Charlize Theron (although she’s also come back to life a few times).

Anyway, last orders . . . I’m off .

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

This is a slightly altered version of an article I wrote under the pen name Frank Carver for the wonderful folks over at MovieBabble. Check ’em out!

 

Pieces of you

If your mouth were a cave

I would crawl into it,

and find my way to the cranial staircase.

I would reach for every message —

every signal sent — and read each one earnestly.

If your thoughts were an ocean

I would dive into it,

and let the tides carry me wherever.

If your body were a mountain

I would ascend it,

and gather from the scree the pieces of you that were lost over the years.

I would tackle your crags and your slopes

until I reached your peak, holding your fragile fragments in my cupped hands.

If my body were a diary

I would open my pages for you

so you could write down all the things that you cannot tell me.