In 1994, I went to Poland with the Irish state body for overseas development to work as a teacher in a state school. With limits on baggage I was able to bring only a few carefully chosen CDs and a prized, handmade steel-string acoustic guitar, invaluable company for those long winter nights. I later began writing regularly for the Warsaw Voice, the English language paper for Poland and Central Europe, about life in a small town outside Warsaw full of big, wonderful people, some of whom, like me, had the sound of music in their lives. We formed a blues band and played in bars and basements and lived the dreams of troubadours until the final note was played in a cellar bar on a bitter winter night in Warsaw. My memoir of this magical experience was published by O’Brien Press in 2007, There’s an Egg in My Soup.
I left Poland after five years and returned to Ireland where I began working as a staff writer (and later editor) for In Dublin magazine, becoming the chief music correspondent and getting to live that most coveted of lives where the best things in life – concerts, album launches, books and CDs – are free. I then went on to pursue the vagabond’s dream and worked as travel writer for a spell, completing the City & Guilds in traditional photography so I could take decent pictures on my journeys.
In 2004 I compiled the quirky The Little Book of Dublin for New Island and That’s Cork for Collins Press (these paying gigs are handy) before taking a post as arts and culture editor of Village magazine, a radical political and cultural weekly which faded well before its time, sadly. Eventually, I settled into life at Independent News & Media where, between working on the Polish edition of the Evening Herald and playing in pubs on the weekends, wrote my first novel, based on a group of students who try to make a living on an isolated farm to cope with the crippling recession, Gabriel’s Gate, which was published in 2011.
I live in Wicklow, with my lovely twins and Polish wife. As well as working on the next book, I’m lucky enough to get out and play with the country blues band, The Big Muddy, great guys, always fun . . . just to make sure that rhythm never dies.