November 28, 2011
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. So I believe is humour and that is what the following pages deal with; a larger than life rural general practitioner, his young, eager, naive assistant, and the recounting of the misadventures that befell them. As you read, if you behold the mischief, you will find yourself laughing out loud.
The redoubtable Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly will be known to readers of the Irish Country Doctor novels. In them he is a complex, flawed human being and his doings are either expressed through his own eyes or from the point of view of his young colleague, Doctor Barry Laverty. While there is humour in the novels there is, I trust, also the unfurling of the lives of some real people with the same hopes and fears of all of us, tears, little triumphs, disappointments, and laughter.
Not so with the template for Fingal, who began life with the full glory of the name Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde O’Reilly out of deference to Oscar Wilde. Fingal’s brother Lars was initally named, Lars Porsena Fabius Cunctator—a mouthful that would choke a pig, the Marquis Of Ballybucklebo, John MacNeill began as Lord Fitzgurgle. One Presbyterian minister has the monicker of the Reverend MacWheezle. The author must have been influenced by the Dickensian Mr. Fezzywig, Mister Bumble the Beadle and their ilk.
The prototype for O’Reilly got his start as the Oliver Hardy to a straight-man narrator and their function was to poke fun at an all too serious profession, my own. Medicine. Between 1995 and 2001 their monthly doings appeared in Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour. Thank you publisher Doctor John Cocker and editor Simon Hally.
I chose to cast myself as the teller of the tales for the simple reason that by doing so I could make facetious asides without spoiling the flow of the stories. Once again. I am not the Barry Laverty of the novels.
These columns have been on my files unread for ten years.
Since I started a Facebook page a number of readers have posted their wishes to read the early columns. Here they are, warts and all, exactly in the sequence in which they first appeared. In reading them you will be able to see how Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and his supporting cast evolved. You will read again in brief some of the story lines that have been developed into full sub-plots in the books. If you know the novels you’ll find yourself muttering, “I remember that.” You will in essence be indulging in a bit of voyeurism by peering into a writer’s sketch book. Look as hard as you like.
There are inconsistencies between the characters here and in the novels and even within these columns and I’ll send an autographed copy of one of my works to the first person who can post one glaring discrepancy on my Facebook.
But I hope that you’ll not get too engrossed in looking for literary merit. All of this was written tongue in cheek with one goal only. To make the readers laugh. Please feel free to do so.
November 11, 2011
One ‘thank you’ to make and one question to answer this week. To Juli Valley who posted a link to my reading and discussing my work, Hola, y muchas gracias, Senora. Si. Habla pocito Espagnol, and it’s time to start practising because Dorothy and I will be wintering this year in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a warm place and very conducive to writing. I drafted the first 20 chapters of An Irish Country Courtship the last time we were there and fully anticipate being hard at work on book 8 this time.
It’s hard to believe it will be my eleventh book length work of fiction, and that
brings me to Ann Burchfield’s question. Is there any chance the earlier three
which are currently out of print will be re-released? The answer of course is
typically Irish. Yes—and No.
The three books in question are a far cry from the gentle quiet of the now seven novels in the Irish Country series (Six published, one in production) and represent my very early attempts to write fiction. I was living in Belfast when in 1969 the Troubles broke out again. I felt a need to try to capture my own feelings about the horror of the situation. I was heavily influenced at the time by the works of W. Somerset Maugham so I tried to write a short story about a young man caught up in the internecine strife and torn between his allegiance to his
family and his loyalty to the British Army which he had recently joined. That
story, Gerry, never saw the light of day then, but many years later, when I was living in Vancouver, Canada I began to want to write more than research papers, textbooks, and humour columns. I turned back to my first love—the short story, unearthed Gerry, and started to write. I was having a pint with my friend Jack Whyte, author of the Dream of Eagles Arthurian series, the books of the Knights
Templar Trilogy and who is now well into another trilogy, The Guardians, about great Scottish heroes. Back then he’d just had his first novel, The Skystone, published. I asked him to read Gerry and two other short stories and give an opinion. “I think,” he said a few days later, “you should keep at it.” Then he laughed. That rumbling is a remarkable sound that only he with his glorious baritone voice can make. “I’ll tell you what. Just you keep saying to yourself, ‘If Whyte can do it so can Taylor.’” Encouragement is a wonderful thing early in a writing career. Without it then I might have packed up, but I kept going and, damn it all, he was right. A Toronto publishing house read my work and announced if I could produce 16 stories they’d publish. The result, Only Wounded: Ulster Stories. appeared in 1997. The stories tried to capture the lives of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times. The tales are sombre reading.
You may remember that I explained when I wrote An Irish Country Girl that a character from earlier books, Kinky Kincaid kept nagging at me to tell her story. Back in the late nineties a character from Only Wounded, Davy,
did the same. Eventually I told his story—twice. Davy made bombs for the
Provisional IRA and was losing faith in the cause. How that shattered his life
and the lives of those around him appeared in a thriller Pray for Us Sinners in 2000 and was followed by Now and in the Hour of Our Death in 2005
another thriller, but the theme that drove the story was that of lost love. All
three works are in stark contrast to the gentle world of Ballybucklebo. All, I
think, were written to express my horror at how the, no doubt deeply held
beliefs, of both sides led to such futile carnage that took 35 years and 3,268 people dead merely to end up
politically about where things had been in Ulster in 1968. I am proud of my
early works, all now out of print, and fully hope to see them reissued one day.
That’s the ‘yes.’ part of the answer, but there is a question of timing. I
don’t think I’m ready to see them in print just yet. One day—but not right now,
so, Anne that’s the ‘no,’ part of the answer. Not yet, but one day. I hope
that’s all right.
November 2, 2011
Dia duit, or hello again. Once more a reader’s question has prompted a blog—and has given me an idea for a bit of labour saving too. Please let me expand, and answer the question first.
Willa Bee Baker wanted to know if Fingal and Flahertie were common names in Ireland and how did O’Reilly get them. I’ll tell you.
I first started writing a column in the nineties for a medical magazine, Stitches: The Journal of Medical Humour. Originally I had told stories of my undergraduate days in the faculty of medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast. The electronic files for these, alas are lost. After six years the material was beginning to run thin so I asked my editor, Simon Hally, if I could move on to tales from general practice. During my time as a trainee Obs/Gyn I, like most of my contemporaries, moonlighted, filling in at weekends and in the nights for local GPs.
The result was a monthly column about an irascible country GP who was not patterned on any one individual, but on physical and character traits drawn from some of the men, and at that time nearly all physicians were men, for whom I had worked. He became the stock for the Irish Country Doctor novels.
In my novels I like to write in the third person, in the point of view of certain characters. In the columns I cast myself by name as the first person narrator, often bewildered, frequently the butt of the jokes, a Stan Laurel to the principle character’s Oliver Hardy. This allowed me, the story-teller, to make asides without indulging in authorial intrusion.
The columns would only work if the main character was larger than life. I believe those of you who have read the Irish Country novels would agree that Doctor O’Reilly is. His surname comes from the Irish Ó’Raghallaigh, ‘grandson of Raghallach’, thought to be derived from ragh meaning ‘race’ and ceallach, meaning, ‘sociable’—and O’Reilly certainly is. His ancestor who might or might not have been perished at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
And my O’Reilly needed a Christian name and middle name.
When I wrote the first column I had been reading Richard Ellman’s wonderful biography of Oscar Wilde, that is in full, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. I stole Fingal (literally, fair foreigner) and Flahertie, dropping the O’which in the Irish system of naming boys indicates, ‘grandson of.’ In Oscar Wilde’s case his O’Flahertie meant, ‘grandson of the prince.’ O’Reilly’s grandfather was a landed gentleman, but Fingal’s second name simply means, ‘prince.’
In An Irish Country Doctor O’Reilly explains to Barry Laverty that his father, a professor of literature named his son for Oscar Wilde. In A Dublin Student Doctor O’Reilly’s father explains to his son why Professor O’Reilly chose the names and those of Fingal’s elder brother, Lars Porsena.
Are the names common in Ireland? O’Reilly’s progenitors the Reilly’s were brilliant businessmen so much so their name became Irish slang for money—hence, a life of Reilly meant, ‘being in the money.’ Reilly is among the first fifteen names in Ireland. Fingal is fairly common as a boy’s name. Flahertie? I’ve never met anyone with that as a pre-name—except Oscar Wilde—and of course, O’Reilly.
So many folks have wanted to know about my early writing about Fingal Flahertie that very soon I’ll be releasing some of my first magazine columns on my website and on Face Book to tide O’Reilly fans through the fallow period until the next novel.
And that, by a circuitous route, brings to me to the labour-saving bit. It’s delightful that so many of you are interested enough to ask me questions. I’d love to answer every one individually. I ask you to remember that I spend every working day on the keyboard. One solution, and I hope you can accept it, is that I’ll collect up the week’s questions and try to answer them all in one blog.
In the meantime I’ll go on enjoying your Facebook comments, be relieved that I have sent the manuscript of book 7, set in Ballybucklebo, to my agent, and am starting getting into book 8.
Slan Leat. Pat Taylor.