"Goodby to the Hill"
- "Barleycorn Blues"
- "Dancers of Fortune"
new book "DANCERS OF FORTUNE" comes
out in Ireland on March 22 - we're launching it at Hughes
and Hughes bookshop in the St Stephens Green Centre in the
heart of my city - People are saying very good things about
it already and we have high hopes its going to be big. It's
a departure for me, being a historical sort of novel - don't
know where it came from, just kept looking up while it was
coming through telling my anonymous donor, just keep sending
it pal, it feels real good. The same thing is happening now
with the sequel - lucky me. Lots going on - great from a middle
aged guy like me!"
ARLEYCORN BLUES was a total blast - in the writing of it and
in the way it turned out - I found it a great read when I
went back to it - I'd been buried with other things and all
I know is that I went on feeling grateful for what poured
through me in that story. I was continually surprised and
that made me feel good. It's selling well and has the stamp
of a book that will be around for a long time. It was well
reviewed and I got a letter from one of my literary heros,
Alan Sillitoe, that I will cherish as long as I live.
I can tell you guys I’m delighted with the response to
my first novel in a few years. Yes indeed, “Barleycorn
Blues” is going very strong and looks like being an
LDR – a Long Distance Runner. I’m delighted –
it was such a gift of a book to write – not that I wrote
it – it just kinda happened to me and even when I was
weeping during the working of it, I felt so good to be at
the coal face of such a good story. The book has been well
reviewed and the word of mouth has been particularly good
– can you imagine how thrilled I was when one of my
literary hero’s Alan Sillitoe wrote me the following
Copy of a letter from Alan Sillitoe sent to Lee - Dec 11th.
I’ve finished “Barleycorn Blues” and what
an excellent novel it is. Once I’d started, of course,
I couldn’t stop. My rationing system of so much a night
went to hell and it was impossible not to keep on. The only
trouble with such a novel is that it comes to an end, and
in spite of the end being near and fitting one wants more
– being only human. Like all writers I was a reader
before I started writing and have been one ever since. Most
modern novels I pick up I don’t want to go on with,
and don’t, after the first few pages, but with “Barleycorn
Blues” I recognise greatness straight away, a wonderful
writer of vast experience, skill and imagination, with all
the stops pulled out. It was a rare treat for me. A novelist’s
immortality (whatever that means, and for what it’s
worth) depends on readers remembering the people in a novel
as if they’d known them in real life – well, I’ll
certainly remember the people in “Barleycorn Blues.”
Keep on keeping on,
This letter from such a distinguished writer, I have to tell
you, it made my Christmas. Just before the big day, I had
another big day MY 70th BIRTHDAY. That’s right, I’ve
finally reached MIDDLE AGE. And in November I was conferred
Honours MA in Scriptwriting from IADT, Dunlaoghaire and believe
it or not, I came Top of the Class. I have to watch myself
guys, I’m heading for respectable!
Last words for now – There’s film interest for
“Barleycorn Blues” in New York, while “Goodbye
To The Hill” the play I wrote from my novel (this book
will be 40 years old on Oct 4 05 – I’ve talked
a deal for a special birthday edition) which, incidentally
is Ireland’s longest running play, has reared its head
once more on the Broadway scene.
The Irish Film Board have given me a grant to develop my screenplay
“Riley’s Bonfire” which helped me earn my
Masters – Robert Quinn has shaken my hand as director
and I’m into the current pass on the script and as keen
as mustard to do a good job as I have been from the first
day I began earning a crust as a wordsmith. One thing about
this job, you don’t have to be able to run a four minute
mile to get to the desk!
Now, go out and do yourself (and me) a favour and buy “Barlecorn
Blues” – I promise those people that know my work
“You will not be disappointed.” Happy New Year!
I’ve been Ireland’s
most banned writer for three decades or more (in this country
the Rosary gets in everywhere) – and I had a film that
I wrote for a Hollywood producer banned because we saw a breast
for a second and a half, a breast that should have been left
on screen for the afternoon, along with the other one. Never
mind. The censor in Ireland has made more than one boob in
I also wrote the play “Goodbye To The Hill” (from
my own novel of the same name) which is Ireland’s longest
running play of all time and likely to hold onto that title
for ever. It ran (six nights a week in a 280 seat situation)
for two years and ten months, plus going on tour, and several
other productions of it since then. It is arguably Ireland’s
most popular play and I still light a thank you candle to
whatever scriptwriter in the sky dictated it to me so that
I could pay the back rent and the coal bill and a long line
of creditors. Ten years after that main run of the play people
are still talking to me about it on a daily basis. Unbelievable,
I know, but I swear this is true and I will produce it again
when I find an Angel who wants to back a sure thing.
The book “Goodbye To The Hill” is just now out
of print for the first time since 1965.
Hutchinson (London) first published it in hardback, Arrow
buying the paperback rights. The US Rights went to Houghton
Mifflin of New York, and Boston, the paperback rights going
to Ballantyne. The novel has since been published in many
other countries, and I’m currently talking about a special
hardback edition to be published in 2005 on its 40th birthday.
I’m happy to record that the book is right now being
reassessed and there is a growing opinion among those who
decide these things that my novel is seminal to the 1950’s.
Wouldn’t that be a bonus to the luckiest book any guy
ever had come through the heart and the fingertips to put
color into the cheeks of the blank page.
“Goodbye” wrote itself in 6 weeks. I typed it
up – just the one draft - in three or four hours an
evening sessions after I got home from day job as a London
Taxi Driver. I put that in capitals because I was a Real Cab
Driver, not a mini cab guy. I rode 7,400 miles on a pushbike
On The Knowledge of London (which is really the knowledge
of the twin cities of London and Westminster since you need
to know both cities inside out to be a cabbie) and I have
the Chalfonts (the Chalfont St. Giles = piles) to prove it.
In a while I’ll give you a list of the work I’ve
done as a professional writer since 1964
B-E (Before Everything) – Before cell phones, videos,
page 3 girls and all that followed, Before girls hitting on
guys like guys used to hit on girls, Before girls dropping
the hand to check out your lunchbox contents, Before everything
guys, Before everything.
But first I just want to mention the picture of my wife Maura
and me. The reason you get us both for the price of one is
because she is the better part of me. I kid you not and I
don’t make the claim lightly. Having earned my stripes
as a Hell Raiser -such a creature being a pain in the ass
masquerading as an adult – I was living alone and in
no way looking for a partner. I was through being Jack The
Lad – I was coming through the growing pains, having
hit the big 50 a few years back, still, somehow believing
that things would work out okay simply because I was me. Innocent
sure. Naïve sure. But thank God for that streak of optimism
that never quit running through me even when I was trying
to wipe myself out with the booze and the smoke and the nose
candy, my head still working pretty good, euphoric recall
only allowed into the picture because it gave me pointers
to some good stories that had helped me go on earning a living
as a writer, a wordsmith, whatever, for a lot of years.
Then some decent skin of a Higher Power looked in, looked
in at me and said, “This sucker needs an Angel.”
And so Maura got the gig of helping me believe I was something
very special. I say this without a single blush because when
Maura began looking at me I knew I was made of the right stuff.
I’ve not written about Maura and me just yet. But you
can read the lead in to our life together in a book called
“No Time For Innocence.” The story covers the
first 37 years of a life that was some kind of a wild river
with me in there getting soaked to the skin most of the time.
If you’d like to read the book, send me the equivalent
of ten pounds sterling and I will mail to you a copy of it
as published by Gill &MacMillan (Ireland). I’d be
happy to sign the book to you or a loved one – just
enclose your need in this area with the bread, okay!
The story tells of my journey from a Dublin slum: We were
a small family really, only seven of us living in two rooms
not big enough to swing a cat in. So you had to break yourself
of the habit! Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. And I love
cats really. I once had nine when I lived in the country with
a previous wife. Anyway, I left the slum and I touched for
some kind of fame – Published in America by Simon and
Schuster as well as Houghton Mifflin – hosted my own
television show here in Ireland – became a household
name – became Ireland’s most banned author –
7 books and a movie banned – my stage play of “Goodbye
To The Hill” encouraged a demonstration from some Holy
Women – and no, this was not in 1920 – it happened
in 1990 would you believe? This protest stemmed from two lines
in the play where a Dublin layabout called Harry Redmond is
giving advice on sex and work to a young guy Paddy Maguire
in the 1950’s.
The first rule – if yer work interferes with your sex
give up the job. What you need is a job in insurance.
Ah, I think I’d be happier as say, a carpenter.
Jeyzuz! Have you forgotten what happened to St. Joseph?
And he didn’t even get laid!
I went out of our hotel theatre and talked to some of the
protesting women. I invited them to come and see the play.
Some did. And they laughed so hard they put away the placards
and left us alone.
The first of my novels to be banned was called “Paddy
Maguire Is Dead!” In a way I contributed to this happening
when I called the then head of the Censorship Board, a rather
nice man called Judge Conroy, a cretin on national television.
But my input to the banning started some way before this when
I insisted that the book be published directly into paperback
so that the ordinary guy in the street who didn’t have
the bread to buy hardback books didn’t have to wait
a year to read the story. Judge Conroy admitted that had the
book been published in hardback it wouldn’t have been
banned. I jumped on him over this – I was genuinely
angry that the board consider a book respectable or clean
or whatever the fuck they called it at the hardback price
while the same work, word for word was deemed indecent and
obscene at the paperback price.
I made a protest of my own over this. I stood at the top
of Grafton Street and I still have the pictures to prove this,
and I gave away (very slowly) one hundred copies of the book
while I waited for the authorities to have me arrested for
handing out an obscene publication on the streets of the city.
What ensued is hilarious but its too long a story to recount
here, suffice to say the powers that be spiked my guns even
though I blocked up that street corner and cause traffic problems
for a few hours. They screwed me royally by ignoring me completely
though they were good enough to have a couple of cops standing
by throughout the demonstration. Sadly, not one writer joined
me in that protest though I had made it known, loud and clear,
that I intended to make a stand.
A decent lawyer, Larry Murphy, RIP, took me to see Mary Robinson
(ex President of this country) who was then a barrister, but
we didn’t go on with the task of taking on Censorship.
After this the censorship board banned six or seven more books,
funny, sexy paperbacks, plane ride train ride books about
a team of sexy London Cabbies. Books with titles like “Midnight
Cabbie” – “The Day Of The Cabbie”
- “The Cabbie Who Came In From The Cold” –
“The Virgin Cabbie” – and my favourite “The
Cabfather”. When you read these titles you surely know
that these are intended to be funny books, with sex running
second to the comedy inherent in the very titles.
I’ve lots more to tell you.
Like I’ve just finished a new book “Barleycorn
Blues” and I am to direct a film I’ve written
about The Granny and the Aunt Lily. The story of a marriage
that wasn’t consummated for ten years because the Granny
Dunne kidnapped her daughter from the church after she’d
been signed up as a wife. This is called “Do You Remember
There’s also a remake of “Goodbye To The Hill”
very much on the cards. This was called “Paddy”
when it was made in Dublin in 1968. As I’ve already
told you, it was banned over Maureen Toal’s perfect
breast being seen for a second as she took off her bra to
get into bed with lucky Des Cave who was playing me, Paddy
being my alter ego. I bought the film rights back and have
rewritten my original screenplay and it will happen. The story
is just such fun, the laughs coming out of pain and sadness,
and all the better for that.
I’m up to my armpits in projects that I want to write
and direct and produce. I’d also love to make an album
before the voice starts to go.
And I will finish my Dublin musical in the next year or two.
I know I will. I have a great show fighting to find the right
way to come out of my heart. Thank God I have so much time.
Like I’m ageing guys, but I don’t have anything
to do with old. From the start you might as well know, I’m
39 and Holding!!!
Talk to you soon.