Q: You’re not particularly well known, yet you’ve published a book of memoirs called Leaving Dublin. Why would people be interested in the memoirs of someone they never heard of?
A: It’s all in the storytelling, don’t you know? Nobody had ever heard of Frank McCourt before he published Angela’s Ashes, yet his book became an instant bestseller.
Q: Do you think your book is going to become an instant bestseller?
A: One lives in hope.
Q: What would it take to become a bestseller?
A: A review in The New York Times would help. So would a review in The Globe and Mail. Or the National Post.
Q: How about a review in the Irish Times?
A: That would help too.
Q: But what if the reviews were negative? Wouldn’t that adversely affect sales?
A: Not necessarily. Yann Martel received some stinging reviews for Beatrice & Virgil, yet that didn’t stop him from ascending to the top of the national bestseller lists in Canada. Pierre Berton used to tell young writers, “Don’t read your reviews. Measure them.” The longer the review, said Berton, the better the chance that readers will want to buy the book.
Q: Have you received negative reviews for any of your previous books?
A: Yes, a couple.
A: The best revenge, as one of my publishers once told me, is to forgive your antagonists, live well, and wait for the sales figures to come in.
Q: You’ve changed the working title of your autobiography a few times. Initially it was called Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Dublin Rogue. Now it’s called Leaving Dublin: Writing my Way from Ireland to Canada. Why the changes?
A: An editor pointed out that I had not, in fact, reinvented myself after I moved to Canada at age 23. I had simply adapted to new opportunities. My publisher suggested I put the word “writing” in the title to indicate that this is what I do.
Q: But you’ve done other things. You’ve been a professional musician. You’ve been a radio announcer.
A: Yes, I was a writer who played music for a living, and a writer who worked in commercial broadcasting. I’ve been a writer since I was a child, when I made up bedtime stories for my younger brother.
Q: Your publisher, RMB ❘ Rocky Mountain Books, puts out books about outdoor adventure, mountain culture, hiking guides, and so on. Where do you fit into that mix? Are you a climber or a hiker?
A: No, not at all. My publisher, Don Gorman, has broadened the scope of his catalogue considerably in recent years. He also publishes books of travel, biography, history and social justice. A very popular recent title, for example, is John Reilly’s Bad Medicine, about crime and punishment on a First Nations reserve where the author served as a provincial court judge.
Q: What prompted you to write this autobiography, and why did you decide to do it now?
A: Because I can still remember. I hoped that in the process of remembering things and writing them down, I might be able to make sense of my life and give it context.
Q: That sounds like a self-serving rationale for writing book of memoirs.
A: Indeed. A book about oneself is – by definition – an exercise in self-absorption. But an autobiography is also about being rooted in a particular time and place. That makes it an exercise in social history, a subject dear to my heart.
Q: You write about growing up in Ireland during the 1940s and 1950s. Why would readers in Canada, the U.S. and other countries be interested in that?
A: They have read about the Celtic Tiger and how it stopped roaring in recent years. I expect they would also be interested in what things were like in suburban Ireland before the cub was born.
Q: Then you write about coming to Canada at age 23. What makes your immigration story different from any other?
A: The fact that I came here not to find employment or escape from a repressive regime, but to get away from an Irish civil service job that was driving me crazy.
Q: Why couldn’t you have looked for another job in Ireland?
A: Because Ireland was driving me crazy too.
Q: You worked as a singer of Irish folk songs after you got to Canada. Couldn’t you have done that in Ireland?
A: As a matter of fact, I did. But there wasn’t enough money in it to justify giving up my day job. Canada gave me the chance to do it full-time.
Q: Then you worked in radio. What was that all about?
A: I wanted to try something different. I knew the manager of the radio station in Prince George and he opened the door.
Q: During your 30 years in the newspaper business you worked at a number of different jobs: police reporter, theatre critic, staff writer for the Calgary Herald’s Sunday magazine, obituary columnist. Why so many changes?
A: They were all great gigs. I enjoyed the challenges and the rewards of every one.
Q: One of the longest chapters in Leaving Dublin is about an eight-month lockout and strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999-2000. Why did you devote so much space to this topic?
A: Because nobody had told the insider story before. This was an unusual dispute in Canadian labour history in the sense that it wasn’t about wages or vacation allowances. It was about a group of journalists who wanted to be treated with dignity and respect.
Q: Do you think people will take issue with your interpretations of certain events, for example your description of what was happening at the Calgary Herald before the journalists started walking a picket line?
A: Undoubtedly. Everyone has his or her version of a story. This is my version.
Q: What other stories are you writing these days?
A: I’m working on the centennial history of the Calgary Public Library, for publication in the spring of 2012.
Leaving Dublin will be available as of Sept. 15, 2011 from Amazon.com and wherever else fine books are sold.
Copyright 2011 Brian Brennan's Blog