Monday 31 March 2014

Mystery woman teaches scribbler the craft of writing!

Iris Leal (c.1985) in my rats alley flat living room.

It was the most bizarre coincidence. The acclaimed Israeli writer Iris Leal had somehow found her way into my flat. Walking into the living room, where I was hammering away at a typewriter, she asked 

“What are you doing?”

“I’m writing a novel!” I declared excitedly, wondering who on earth this stranger was, standing with her hands on her hips, red corkscrew curls swishing around an impatient face.

That was 1985, when after sofa surfing around London aeons before the term was invented, I’d finally found a home. The year before I’d left a lucrative career in marketing to travel the world on a shoestring, all the while scribbling into a notebook the first draft of my first novel.

Despite earning wads of green folding in marketing, I’d felt empty. Life seemed pointless; days wasted.

All I wanted to do was to write. 

By the time Iris entered my life, I was well into the second draft of that novel, blissfully unaware that I had no idea what I was doing. Her second question seemed reasonable enough, but it immediately exposed the screwed-up state of my book.

“What is it about?”

“Well, there’s this bloke and this girl but they’ve split up and she’s pregnant and he’s a cocaine addict and they’re in the Bahamas and she goes to Washington DC to fight for womens’ rights and he gets into drug smuggling and then there’s a sub-plot with the CIA and some incompetent Russians, but really it’s about female empowerment and she ends up in a refuge and he ends up a pop star, but it all goes wrong and at the end there’s a third bit that’s written completely differently and, well, look here...” I said, grabbing a pen and paper and frantically drawing interconnecting circles like Venn diagrams, with arrows flying all over the place, as I tried to explain the structure of my novel.

The memory of it is still embarrassing!

Since then I’ve increasingly come to appreciate what Iris did for me in the ensuing two years. As our friendship has grown, I also realise how unlikely it was that she’d take on such an ignorant and arrogant pupil.

At the time our relationship wasn’t pretty. She was as fiery a mentor as I was a resistant student. Each day I’d leave home clutching freshly-typed sheets, stomp along the back streets of Golders Green, stand in her kitchen and shout.

On some points we still disagree. She belongs in the world of high Literature, with a capital ‘L’  while my aspiration is to use language to be understood. She wanted to be Dostoevsky and I wanted to be Stephen King, or Woody Guthrie, depending on the day of the week. However, even then, I understood that as a writer I had to learn the skills and master the tools of the trade.

Iris demanded the highest of standards, asking enigmatic and quite possibly insane questions like “Is it the best you can write it, or is the best it can be written?” at which point I’d guffaw, throw my arms around and use words like ‘pretentious’, ‘claptrap’ and ‘bloody’ in various sequences.

Yet what she taught me in two painful, argumentative, friendship-cementing years saved me ten years of trying to learn the craft myself.

Had we approached writing from similar standpoints, my learning process would have been a lot faster. Instead she’d scream at me that if this book was not my masterpiece, she had no idea why I was writing it.

In response I’d yell back that while my masterpiece may be out there, this was just my first novel. I was simply discovering if I could start and finish a book, that’s all. No Catcher in The Rye yet. No Anna Karenina in the making. Just trying to write a bloody book: beginning, middle, end. Er, well, beginning, middle lost in circles and loops, an end and then another end. What was it you said again, Iris?

I finished that novel and three more, refusing to see their lack of publication as a setback because thanks to my marketing experience, I understand that publishers make decisions based purely on what they believe will make the most money at that moment.

At the risk of sounding immodest, I’m choosing to ignore the possibility that they felt I had no talent, as I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living from my writing for over 20 years.

If we strive for our dreams, we’ll attain something slightly different, yet equally as fine. I couldn’t have a better job, being paid to give my opinion writing features and columns, with well in excess of a million words published in Irish and UK media. Three of my plays have been performed (one of which won a prize) and yes, I still and always will love to write.

Even though I’m professionally successful, I’m driven more by my vocational desire to become a better writer.

These days I also enjoy teaching. There is no mystery to the craft of writing. Everyone can learn it. My Craft of Writing course at the Galway Arts Centre offers a supportive and friendly environment, as far removed from Iris’ kitchen as is possible.

I love this course, as we all write together, teacher and students, through eight fun and creative lessons.

Each week I’ll show you how to use one of the tools of the writing trade, and you’ll leave the course with your confidence boosted, ready and able to write what you want, in the way you’ve always wished.

If you've ever fancied yourself as a writer, or want to improve your writing skills for business or pleasure, I very much hope to meet you at the Galway Arts Centre.

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course runs 7:30 - 9:00 pm, starting Wednesday April 23rd, for 8 weeks. €100/90 concessions.

Numbers are strictly limited, so to book your place, please contact:
The Galway Arts Centre:
Phone: 091-565886


Monday 24 March 2014



... and so, the night and day are one again. Hallelujah! Growing up in London I was aware of the seasons but only fully experienced them for the first time 20 years ago, when living in Bunowen.

At the Spring Equinox I stood outside my little house and felt the repressed and burgeoning power of growth. All around me the boulder-laden heathery mossy fields that pass as pasture in Connemara felt as if they were about to explode.

It was vital and visceral. I could feel it in my guts.

If you grew up in the countryside you’re most likely blissfully unaware of this feeling. Yet as an errant Londoner gone walkabout, it rooted me to the earth in a way that I always suspected lay within me.

Not that I suddenly became Mr. Organic Universe 1995. I didn’t grow a beard (well, actually I did, but there was very little to do during Winter) nor was my land carpeted by rows of poly-tunnels.

Two decades later, umpteen houses down the road, it’s looking likely I’ll fail to erect my raised beds for the second year running. Time, money, energy, where does it all fit in? 

Yes, exactly, the usual excuses.

The Snapper also sometimes gets down on herself because she’s failed to move the hawthorn saplings to the new hedge, or split her primroses, so to make sure we enjoy our garden we wander around it, or on wet winter evenings look at photos of our contribution to nature’s handiwork.

 planted last year...

Now the sight of my blackcurrant bush pumping bulbous buds delivers a stab of hope. Shoots bursting out of rosebushes deliver energy to my storm-beaten body.

Ireland’s native plants act out an annual battle between yellow and purple. Early Spring, the yellow wins hands down with primrose, daffodil, narcissus, celandine and gorse.

When we moved here two years ago, I went mental with the strimmer and cleared the overgrown rear third of the garden.

We put down mypex sheets on one half of that area and planted three native apple saplings and an oak, grown in a pot, on the other side. We threw a net over the heating tank and grew sweet peas up its ugly breeze blocks and black plastic sides, camouflaging it with colour and scent.

Where the lawn rises to meet the old hedge we buried narcissus and bluebells. In the lawn we planted snowdrops and in the bed, tulips.

Two years ago, I cut a hole in the lawn by the front gate and planted a calla lilly, which I hoped might flower three weeks later, on her birthday. Happily, wonderfully, romantically, it duly obliged on the very day, since growing immense in the inexcusably shoddy stone wall enclosure I built around it.

Last year, we made two cuts in the mypex sheeting, one to become a crescent herbaceous border, the other a shrubbery. In hushed whispers of apprehension and excitement, we carefully rolled back the sheeting. How much work would we have to do? Would we lift it and see coach grass and dock, bindweed and no, no it’s pure brown earth. We cheered and jigged a silly dance, and raked and dug out a few stones.

Then I went inside to do a couple of probably very important things while the Snapper worked for another seven hours, two days in a row, but believe me, it was a breeze. 

Beautiful soil. Puh. Nothing to it.

In the bed I cast my old seeds of marigold, love-in-a-mist, cornflower and poppy, and helped by the dry intense heat of last summer, we enjoyed wildflowers as wondrous as imagination itself.


My beetroots, planted commando among the wildflowers, looked sadly like an old fella’s plums, but the display as a whole was stunning. Unfortunately the lettuce suffered because I’d planted them on top of a massive stone, which only revealed itself when the garden flooded this winter.

Behind, on the shrubbery (aye, ‘tis impossible to write, say or I suspect read the word without a Python-esque ripple) we planted three roses: one a deep red, another a wild and rambling lilac and one white. We have three thriving fuchsia bushes and a forsythia that I’m still coming to understand. We have two purply thingies that I forget the name of which offer contrast to the Golden Brians (he’s not a bush he’s a very naughty boy) behind them. There are three cornus, offering different colours each season and a couple of hebes, ‘cos their name made me giggle.

Over in the hedge the Snapper has performed miracles. Working ceaselessly through the daylight evenings, armed only with a rather nice glass of Chardonnay, she has revealed and tended to all the native plants, so that now we have foxgloves by the zillion, flashes everywhere of primrose that’s akin to the sun landing on the lawn, anemones and Lords and Ladies.

We have no need to be down on ourselves. It’s so easy to obliterate the joy of having a garden by mutating it into a burden. As often as I can, on those rare sunny afternoons, I lie on my back, on the warm grass, just for a few minutes, appreciating the place in which I live.

Spring is obvious and glorious, yet to each of us it comes in a different way. For the Snapper, it will be Spring when she arrives home from work in daylight. For others it’s announced by the arresting sound of the dawn chorus or power tools, the bleat of lambs or the Ryanair tourist in a rental car asking the way.

As a grunty earth-dweller, Spring this year came for me in a surprisingly artificial way. I rotated the heater in my car from ‘windscreen’ to ‘face’ and turned the temperature from the red area to the blue, opening the window, feeling a blissful wave of relief run through me.

At last, my mental winter darkness lifts. I can start to enjoy the beauty of nature once again.

© Charlie Adley


Thursday 13 March 2014


There was such a power to the man, it’s difficult to believe he’s gone. Mark Logan and I were not best friends. We would both describe each other as friends, but we rarely met beyond the confines of the back bar at Massimos, a Chelsea enclave known as Shed na Gaillimhe.

Our paths brushed as they do in Galway, but I was not one of his closest. Yet Mark’s cruelly premature death has affected me so gravely that it tells a lot of the man. If my sadness is such as a peripheral friend, how might those closer to him, those countless others in his labyrinthine life be feeling?

I try not to go there.

The very reason I know the exact day we met was the reason we first became friends. It was 3rd October, 1999. Truth be told, I didn’t remember the precise date, but I'll never forget the day. A quick Google for ‘Chelsea beat Manchester United 5-0 1999’ was all it took.

I was sitting at what was then the front bar of the Blue Note, staring at a tiny TV hung high up on a column. It was a beautifully sunny day and nobody else was interested in the game, except for a strange figure lurking in the shadows. When Mark emerged from his hidy-hole to come to the bar, I at first thought he was Elvis Costello, but no. Not with that chin.

What a fantastic chin.
Seriously, chin-wise, Marky Logan was Numero Uno.

So the sun was splitting the rocks and the bar was empty, save for us two. Chelsea were unstoppable that day. Gus Poyet scored after 27 seconds and we never looked back, knocking goals past a Man United side unbeaten in 29 games faster than we could drink the pints that celebrated them.

I stumbled home plastered, singing ‘Blue is the Colour’, celebrating not only a (then) rare and great victory, but also the meeting of a splendid new friend.

Whenever someone in my life dies, wistful currents run through my soul and belly, wondering at all the things I didn’t share with that person.
Happily, I did get the chance to tell Mark what I thought of him. Unable to make his 50th birthday bash at Roisin’s last month, I sent him a message on Facebook:

“Mate - sorry to miss your big night, not only 'cos it'll be a blinder, but also 'cos you're a good man, and it's a pleasure to know you, even if it's only a bit. I did that Assist course, and it was by far the best of gordknows how many I did as a youth worker. Happy Birthday, rock the house and I'll hopefully catch you soon. X”

Not one bit of me expected a reply. I was just making my apologies and taking the opportunity to tell him how much I admired his work in suicide prevention and mental health, both topics close to my heart.

However, early the next morning, he sent me a message:
 “You were missed, Adley!”

I’m no more doing myself a disservice than calling Mark Logan a liar if I suggest that I very much doubt I was, but as an illustration of the way Mark dealt with people, it’s perfect. Mark was considerate, kind and charming, an advocate of saying hello to the stranger and maybe saving a life.

Above that Olympian chin, Mark’s expression held a latent wisdom, tempered by a keen sense of the absurd: a fabulous combination of knowing and nonsense.  When Mark was looking at you, you knew it, his intense eyes somehow successfully balancing irony with absolute sincerity.

He exuded a warm and gracious charisma that pumped benignly into the world with such a vigour, such a life force, it makes it hard to believe he's gone.

The last time I saw Mark, he had no idea I was watching him. Indeed, it was a perfect Galway moment. I was having a cup of tea and a slice of carrot cake at a table upstairs in Lynch’s Cafe. As any Galwegian knows, from there you can look down below to the cobbled streets, let your mind wander a while and snarf an artery-clogging chunk of cake at your leisure.

Down on the street the people whisked by and oh look, there’s the Snapper, just about to go into McCambridge’s to buy her cheese and beetroot roll for lunch.

Oh and look, there's Marky Logan, coming up the street the other way.

I watched my friend and my wife smile and greet each other, have a hug and a peck on the cheek. After a couple of moments of ‘Howya we must oh yes let’s lovely seeya’ they were on their merry ways, but just as Mark went to walk on, he turned slightly and performed a tiny but wonderful little bow, which sent my missis into the shop with a broad smile on her face, a slight skip in her feet.

Sitting above the action, this voyeur was feeling all a bit gooey. How lovely to live in a place where people have the time to stop and hug and say hello, especially people like the Snapper and Mark Logan, wonderful spirits who return humanity its good name.

Like myself, my friend Richard is a Londoner and lifelong Chelsea fan. Being blokes filled with sadness, we were nursing mugs of tea while carefully avoiding the emotional profundities of the moment. Instead, we were wondering who now was going to lead the singing during the Chelsea games. Mark had always been choirmaster of Shed na Gaillimhe, and his goal-time rendition of “Let’s go fu**in’ mental!” was as rousing as it was ironic, for a man who worked in mental health.

After a suitable period of Man Silence, Richard turned to me and said:

“He was a diamond.”

Where I come from, you can’t get better than that.
Mark Logan was a diamond; maybe a crazy diamond, but he’ll always shine.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 10 March 2014



It’s time for a confession. Something happened to me, and I’m about to share it with you.
If that sounds an unusually grandiose introduction, considering you’ve been suffering my blather in this noble rag for 20 odd(!) years, it’s because there’s a substantial part of me that can’t believe I’m really going to put this one into print.

Now I’m building up your expectations of the tale, when what is important is not the story itself, but my reaction to it.

Let’s go back to August 2001. I’m living in north Co. Mayo, walking along a glorious sandy beach. The sky is cloudless, the breeze gentle and warm, and I’m the only human as far as I can see, hear or smell.

Stopping in my tracks I splay my arms out, lean back in exultation and roar:

“Thank You!”

In an instant, from deep inside and audibly all around me, a voice booms:

“No! Thank YOU Charlie!”

Simultaneously, I experience a fast-forward slide show of all the pain and hurt I had felt and inflicted upon others during my life in California. I see 4 years of rage and depression fly by. I see hurt morphing into comfort in that house in the Claddagh. I see anger becoming love with the recent meeting of a lass, who later becomes my wife. I see agitation blending with confusion, emerging as delight and enjoyment. At that moment I am loving my life, writing this colyoom and another in the Irish Examiner, selling features galore, finally living my dream.

A second or so later it’s over, and I stand there, alone on the beach. Staring at the ripples of water running around my feet, I laugh out loud, as torrents of thought flood my brain. ‘Woh!’ cascades into ‘Spooky!’ and then ‘Whoops! I’m a crazy man!’

Despite the wonder and awe I feel about what just happened, it somehow makes perfect sense. I understand. I had been grateful and given thanks, but was then reminded that I am merely a speck in the order of things.

My life’s path had caused pain and damage, yet now there was the chance of repair; of joy on all sides.

Hopefully you can understand my trepidation in sharing this experience with you. Maybe you’re off calling the men in white coats to come and get me.

“Oh look, Charlie thinks he’s Joan of bleedin’ Arc! He’s finally losing it, hearing voices. He thinks the sky’s talking to him. Oh, and his ego is so incredibly massive, he actually thinks God is saying thank you to him!”

So it’s out there. Sounds like I am too, but no.

I said this wasn’t about what happened, so why have I just told you this most personal and whacky tale?

The late Gerry Ryan used to say it on his radio show, and recently I heard Newstalk's George Hook say it again, with a giggle:

“Ah well, you see, there are no atheists in foxholes.”

Clearly the inference is that we all turn to God when in fear of our lives. The reason I’ve been willing to prostrate my sanity and vanity in front of you is because this smug self-satisfied denigration of others’ beliefs deeply upsets me. Respect should be shown to all, not just the religious.

Personal beliefs are no less worthy than religious beliefs, yet every time this colyoom mentions religion, I receive abuse.

When I wrote about the abortion referendum back in 1992, I received in the mail used condoms, a dog turd, vile photographs and finally, unaware that I had been successfully intimidated, I stopped writing about the Church.

My argument is no more with Catholics than it is with my own Jewish background. I don’t give a monkey’s if you’re a Muslim or a Sikh. You can be Humanist, Shoemanist or downright Poohmanist for all I care.

I respect your right to believe in what you wish. However I do not respect your right to belittle or mock the beliefs of others. Anyway, religion itself is not the issue here. Faith however, is personal, and until now, I’ve chosen to keep it that way.

Regular colyoomistas know I describe myself as a Jewish Atheist-Pantheist mutant, which might sound like a randomly crass tumble of words, but actually best sums up what I believe.

Personally I feel no need for formalised religions, but as they influence so many people I want to learn of them and from them all. Billions of people want a ticket beyond the grave, and believe that if they obey rules, they’ll make it. On the way, their faith will bring them great comfort; their religion will provide order in their lives.

That’s genuinely wonderful, but for me there is no outside force or figurehead. It’s all one and yet nothing. Essentially I find no comfort in reincarnation or everlasting life. Rather, I would find great comfort in them, were I to believe they existed.

The human in me wants to believe that there’s a latent benevolence behind the balance of nature and the chaos of the universe, but I don't know. I’m an animal who will return to dust, but on the way I’ll use my faith, my spirituality and moral codes to live what I perceive as a good life; at least a harmless life, at best beneficial.

So now you know. I’m an Jewish Atheist-Pantheist who heard what others have called the ‘Voice of God’, yet nothing changed my beliefs. There’s plenty that we don’t know. We see neither the infra red nor the ultra violet in a rainbow.

Something happened to me on that beach. It’s a beautiful mystery that makes no sense and perfect sense, and I can live with that anomaly. Just because I have no formal religious belief doesn’t mean I lack resolve in my own faith and spirituality.

So please, stop patronising those of us who choose faith without religion. There are atheists in foxholes.

© Charlie Adley

Monday 3 March 2014


In the hope that I might make them proud, my parents sent me to a distant private school. The one thing they never considered was how much of an ‘education’ I’d get on my journey home after school each day.

I’d have a long walk to the tube station, a train journey and then pick up the double decker bus. Sitting upstairs in the corner seat of the back row, I did my level best to remain invisible, but it was just about impossible. The bus stopped outside a Comprehensive school where the kids wore green uniforms, and then at another where they wore purple uniforms. My plain grey uniform blended fairly well into the background, and most days passed without incident, but sometimes a lad in a green uniform or a group of boys in purple uniforms would spot me and ask me which school I went to.

God help me if that happened to be the same day that I had to travel with my trombone, which I played in the school orchestra. They’d laugh and mock and beg to have a go on my trombone, and I’d end up wrestling them for control of the huge shotgun-shaped instrument case.

Sometimes standing out from the crowd became just a little too scary, and I over-compensated by replying aggressively. Other times the questions started out aggressively and headed inexorably towards a fight.

Whatever the outcome, every single day of my school life I lived in fear of that bus ride, yet if my mother were to read this now, it’d be the first she’d ever heard about it.

As kids we were all assured by grown-ups that if we just told them who the bully was, everything would be okay. Just say the name and nothing bad will happen.

Yeh, right. Don’t know about you, but when I was a child, that line never worked on me. To schoolchildren, adults appear as distant ignorant beings who have no idea how the world works.

How the hell could they guarantee that if I named the bad boy who was hitting me and tearing up my homework, he’d somehow turn into a benevolent angel the next day and leave me alone?

Worse still, how could I name names, when the only thing universally agreed upon by my parents, my teachers and my fellow schoolmates was that being a sneak was the worst kind of behaviour? Nobody should tell tales on another. If you do nobody will ever trust you again. You’ll be disliked, dismissed as a social entity and still get beaten up anyway.

It takes real courage to speak out, and sadly the situation doesn’t become any easier when you’re an adult. If you think that you’ve been unfairly fired from a job, do you fight back? Do you really want that job back? What will your work environment be like? Won’t you always be the one who said everyone else was a lying good-for-nothing?

Probably best to move on. Easier to keep your mouth shut and get on with your life.

Yet these days I see the whistleblower as something of a 21st century folk hero. While we little people cower in the shadows of the intimidating twin towers of state and corporate industry, we feel frightened and insignificant.

Of course we find it impossible to believe that everything done for us is in our best interests, yet equally it’s exhausting to even think of fighting back. So we keep our heads down and plod on, until somebody stands up and declares an injustice.

Whistleblowers are as vital today as the freedom fighters of yesteryear. On paper it’s not always easy to like them. Edward Snowden is a gun-loving libertarian whose political beliefs make Ronald Reagan look like Leon Trotsky, yet he had the moral fortitude and innate sense of justice to alert the world to the global über-surveillance being undertaken by his beloved USA.

Doubtless, in a weak and passive way, we already knew that our calls, texts and emails were being collectively observed by various nations’ intelligence agencies; we suspected that war crimes were being perpetrated in Iraq and Afghanistan; we never doubted that world leaders were all listening into each others’ secrets, but if it weren't for the likes of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley/Chelsea Manning, we’d never have the proof.

Given the roles that resistance and intelligence operations played in your recent and distant history, I’d have thought that Ireland had a profound respect for those willing to put their heads above the parapet. I wanted to believe that the Irish valued those willing to speak out.

Sadly here, as everywhere else, the whistleblower gets a raw deal. After the recent debacle at GSOC, how eager will the next Garda be to step up and voice disquiet about internal corruption?

Did the Irish State learn nothing from the discovery of mass child abuse perpetrated by the foot soldiers of the Catholic Church?  After that dreadful scandal, we all now know that no institution should be beyond reproach, however vital to or ingrained within Irish society it may be.
Indeed, if the Church and An Garda Síochána are anything to go by, the deeper ingrained the institution, the more it needs to be regulated.

Whistleblowers relinquish their right to a happy life. By speaking out against injustice they abandon any notions of freedom for the rest of their lives, opening themselves up to the horrors of exclusion and intimidation as the establishment fights back.

Some of them, such as Karen Silkwood, make the supreme sacrifice, losing their lives in the process, so that we might live in a better world.

We don’t have to like them, or even agree with everything they say. But we do need to respect their work, be grateful that somebody else has the courage to fight on our behalf and occasionally, just once in a while, we need to stand up ourselves, and state the truth, however uncomfortable it may be.