Hugh Flanagan with a copy of his book.
Hugh Flanagan with a copy of his book.
Kilbeggan author, Hugh Flanagan, explains his novel and his strategy
Are you married?
Yes to Eileen. I’m a Biffo, but 33 years ago she captured me and dragged me across the border to Westmeath, and I haven’t been able to escape since. We have three children, Elaine, Donna and Darragh. Elaine is married to Chris and they have two beautiful daughters, Kimberly and Erin.
How long have you worked for An Post?
About 10 years. I started as part-time cover for lads taking holidays and sick leave. But for the last two years I’ve been working full time, riding a bike around Kinnegad, it helps to keep the middle-aged-spread at bay. I enjoy my job and the banter with the lads in the mornings before they go out on their runs. You meet some very nice people on the post.
What is your new book about?
Primarily it is a murder mystery, but that is too simple an explanation for it because so much more goes on. It’s a who-dunnit, it’s a love story, it’s a family tale and it’s a story of revenge.
When did you start writing?
A little over 11 years ago. My father died and I wrote his eulogy... it made people laugh and cry. Afterwards, people came to me and complimented me on it. My brother-in-law said, “You b.....d you made me cry and I never cry.”
Then a first cousin suggested that I should try my hand at writing. I had never written anything before and I hadn’t thought about it either. I always had a great interest in books, the feel of them, the smell. If I was out shopping with my wife and got separated, she’d always know where to find me... the nearest book shop. I left school when I was 12, after just one year in the secondary. But a couple of years before my father died, I went back to night classes and did leaving cert English. I achieved an A.
Hiding Ugly Children is your debut novel – had you written anything before it?
Yes. My first effort was a family novel. I didn’t know if what I had written was good bad or ugly, so I enrolled in a creative writing class. I brought excerpts of the novel to the class and the lady running the show thought it was very good, but something was telling me different. Then I saw an ad for the Offaly Writers Group. It was run by a gentleman by the name of Malcolm Ross MacDonald. I went along the following Tuesday night to a room above Birr fire station. I brought my laptop and then waited patiently for my turn to read. I was nervous of being in such distinguished company.
When it came to my turn I introduced myself and then read for about five minutes. Malcolm stopped me and did a savage critique of what I brought. He then finished with the line “I suppose after that, we’ll never see you again?”
I said, “You will, that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”
Over the years I have learnt so much from that man... more than I can ever repay.
You are self-publishing this book, why is that?
Because I’ve run out of patience with the conventional publishing world. I had been trying for several years to get published and late last year I thought I’d caught a break when I received an email from Robert Hale in London. They really liked the book, but – and there is always a but – because of the religious overtones in the story, they didn’t think it would sell well in England. But they said they had taken the liberty of sending it to their agent in Ireland, Andrew Russell of Somerville Press, and that he had really liked it as well, and that he would be in touch.
And he did get in touch and he did say he liked it, but, (there’s that word again) because their fiction titles were losing money, they had decided to discontinue publishing fiction from January 2013. Later in 2013, Transworld Ireland got in touch, again they said they liked it, but, the book business was going through a difficult time and it was not the right time to take on a new writer, especially in my genre.
So I was at a crossroads: keep sending it out until I’m old and grey (I’m middle-aged and grey) or take a chance and self-publish. I did a little research and found that self-publishing is no longer the poor relative of the book world any more. EL James of Fifty shades of Grey fame, to mention one of many who took the self-publishing route, hasn’t done to badly for herself, has she?
Who do you think should buy your book?
Anyone who is over 16 and likes a good story. I don’t expect anyone to spend their hard earned cash on my say-so. A musician, new to the scene, and who has an album to flog will first release a couple of singles from the album. That way the public gets to hear the sound of the voice and the music and if they like what they hear, they will buy the album. It’s a little more difficult in the book trade, but to help people hear my voice, I created a blog and on it are two short stories, Flatcap’s Dream and Waiting on an Answer.
If you like them, then chances are you’ll like the book. Type in www.eldoda.simplesite.com or on Facebook, go into my home page and click on the link there.
Will there be more books in the future or is this a one-off?
No, this is the first of at least four books. At the moment there are two more in the boiling pot, one is finished to first draft level and another is three-quarters there.
It will be the next in line, hopefully out some time next year. After those two I intend to do a book of short stories.
Hugh’s book is available from Flemings Newsagents, Kinnegad, Days Bazaar, Mulingar and all good book shops from September 20.
The annual digital subscription of the Westmeath Examiner is 60% cheaper than an annual postal subscription. Click here to subscribe-it's a great gift.