Today we’re meeting author/journalist/musician Tom Galvin. He’s from Ireland, so please read his responses with an Irish accent.
Tell me three things about yourself that you think everybody should know and one thing that almost nobody knows.
That’s a tough one . . . but sticking to the writer theme: like most writers I’ve been rejected more times than I care to think about and only now understand why, appreciate why and can live with it; like most writers, self-doubt is a constant visitor; bad reviews do hurt . . . for a day, that’s all the time I ever give them, the good ones are always at hand; at various stages, I’ve picked an age where if things haven’t worked out, I give up but that’s never going to happen because what else would I do? Anyway, I really think that unlike a lot of writers who wrote great stuff early, I realise now my best stuff is only on its way and it was worth the living to realise it!
You write for magazines and newspapers. How is writing fiction different from the journalistic writing?
Very different. And it really depends on what area of journalism you are in. Things have changed a lot these days with blogs, Twitter and other formats, even news apps. Most people just want their news to be delivered in the most succinct way possible and this is placing a lot of pressure on newspapers who traditionally had to fill pages of white space and there was always room for being a bit more elaborate.
My area used to be features, travel mostly, and documentary-style work and I always took my own photos having studied for the qualification that was designed for media. Sadly, all that kind of glamorous work has dried up, at least when it comes to newspapers and I found myself having to write about babies, housekeeping, mortgages . . . even travel features have become a bit boring. So unless you are working for a magazine that caters for a specific area of interest, being creative and writing Hunter S Thompson material is no longer an option.
Nowadays, my work in journalism is basic news editing. There’s a strict format and style and no room for anything else. I miss doing the other stuff, but at least I get time to concentrate on my books.
How does your philosophy degree inform your writing, if at all?
It definitely does. I always describe doing my masters in Philosophy as the best worst mistake I made. It took too long and there was never going to be a job at the end of it. But I did it because I wanted to be a writer and an old lecturer of mine always maintained that English and Philosophy were the best combination, presumably meaning pairing good language with disciplined thought. It doesn’t suit everyone. The western philosophical tradition is very rigid, very rational. However, when it came to doing the masters I chose Albert Camus and existentialism (although he was not an existentialist as many believe) and his ideas helped me a lot.
Your website says that other than the writing, you also work as a musician. Could you elaborate on that?
I play in two bands at the moment, lead guitar, a Fender Telecaster with a VOX amp which combined is better than any drug going. I have always played music, learnt classical guitar and played acoustic guitar for a long time and when I lived in Poland I played with a blues band, on the blues harmonica actually most of the time (For more on that, there is a chapter devoted to it in my memoir on Poland called There’s an Egg in My Soup, shameless plug!). I also wrote a lot of songs and someday, hopefully, I’ll get them out there. I often regret giving up the dream of being a songwriter when in college, as I took the advice of many to be more practical. It was good advice, but I wish I’d given it a go rather than allow it to become a â€˜serious hobby’.
Now, I play a lot and the music is blues/country blues/Americana-style material. I do it enough to enjoy it â€“ too much and the fun goes out of it.
What was the best thing about living in Poland for a few years?
The freedom to roam, for one. Growing up in Ireland you are always conscious of being on an island in the Atlantic. I loved being on the continent with the ability to hop on a train and be in another country with another culture within hours.
I loved living among the Polish people. While I was lonely as hell at times, there was always the sense that you were never really â€˜alone’. The Poles are fantastic in that regard and it is why I was able to stay so long.
I also became absorbed in the history and culture and wanted to learn more about it.
The other element of course was that it was a very interesting to have been there, just after the fall of communism. Very strange, at times almost surreal as an old way of life was being literally cleansed and a new one ushered in. You could sense the young people wanted to embrace it with vigour and the older generation felt they were standing still. There were so many things going on politically that it was amazing to be just there and to have been part of it.
Also, it was where I began writing as there was so much time on my hands. And it was where I got my first job as a writer, so a lot of things fell into my lap that wouldn’t have at home.
I wouldn’t go back to live there now. I visit regularly. But it’s a completely different place and I like to live with the memories I have.
What is Gabriel’s Gate about?
The idea began in college as a utopian type of book. Friends and I who studied similar subjects would sit up drinking and talking instead of studying and came up with lots of alternatives views on society and all that. Of course there have been many utopian novels, but I and began writing it alongside a thesis on Rebellion. When I later went to live in Poland, many of the ideas I had about communism changed dramatically.
So I rewrote the book and tried self-publishing it in Warsaw. It was an exciting if pointless way to go about it and I realised that ultimately the book lacked a context and let it lie to work on other material. I saw the perfect window to revise the novel and press home the central themes â€“ land, youth, man’s inhumanity to man and his blasÃ© slaughter and disregard for the animal kingdom, greed â€“ after the recession hit. There are positive points too though — friendship and good bonds between people, hope, determination etc.
The book is set in modern Ireland â€“ or recession-era Ireland â€“ and involves a group of college kids who decide, rather than be forced to emigrate or remain jobless, to take over a farm inherited by one of the group and to make a living from the land.
What they discover is no fairy-tale â€“ they have to get their hands dirty in many ways, toiling and working the land every day and are forced to do things they never would have imagined doing like killing for meat â€“ but they discover their pace and eventually peace settles on the group despite the hardships, until . . . well, the heart of the story kicks off once the ghosts return, as the farm is, unbeknown to all except the owner, sinking under bad debt and a history of betrayal. This book has been called the first in the â€˜recession-lit’ novels, which is flattering, but it’s as much an old Irish fairy tale or a fable with the central themes just given a modern twist. It differs from a conventional novel and it’s also been criticised for that â€“ but you do what you do and stick with it. I was very happy with the results and very, very happy with some of the better reviews that hit on what I was hoping to achieve.
What do you hope to accomplish as an author?
I think every writer shares the same dream â€“ just to write, full-time, as a profession, and not have to do what I do, which is find the time to write. I plan to release two more novels and see what happens then. It is only recently that I now know the type of material I want to write and how I want to write it. Before, to be honest, I was a bit scattered, a bit impatient and my style was very ordinary. I got rejected and now I see why.
Are you currently working on any other fiction projects?
Yes, my next novel is called Everything is Foretold. It is set in Mexico and is loosely based on the (supposed) doomsday predicted by the Maya in December 2012. But I say loosely as I don’t want to restrict the plot line to a date like that. There is a much wider story and it’s a road book, about a group of friends who travel to Mexico to discover what happened to their pal who disappeared. I like it. So I hope others do when it comes out, hopefully, at the end of the year.
Learn More about Tom
He has several sample chapters from Gabriel’s Gate posted as a pdf on his site. Go check him out!