Despite having his debut novel published in recent weeks, teacher Kevin McManus isn’t quite ready to pack in the day job and bid his farewells to his pupils in Drumshanbo Vocational School.
“Some of them were asking me today, 'When are you leaving?’
“So I said, 'No, not for a long time’,” says the history and geography teacher laughingly. “Not unless my book sells millions - which is unlikely.”
It seemed unlikely to most who know the Carrigallen man that he would write a book at all. He hadn’t shown his face at any creative writers’ groups and any short stories the 47-year-old had penned had been squirrelled away. His only literary output had been a few articles in journals of local historical interest, so whilst not quite blazing a trail 'Whole of the Moon’ has come like a comet to his friends and neighbours.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it,” admits Kevin. “I kept it to myself. It was only in the last month that people found out about it and were totally surprised by it.”
For many decades he’d been tinkering with short stories, but a lack of confidence lay behind his reluctance to air his creations. Writing this book likewise remained a surreptitious hobby.
“I didn’t want people to be aware of it until it was complete. When you write a novel for the first time you’re a bit unsure about. Every writer’s the same - your first novel is something you’re nervous about - you’re worrying about how people will take to it I suppose.
“This current book started off from a short story, and from that it grew. I’ve worked on it for three years off and on and I went back to it during school holidays from year to year. It gradually grew from that - from just an experiment as a short story and I relalised I could take it further and develop the story and develop the characters.”
Set in the fictional County Sligo village of Ballinastrad in 1988 The Whole of the Moon follows the relationship of 27 year old Conor Doyle, who has returned home for Christmas from working in London, with his close friends, Darragh Lonigan and Sarah Gallagher. The plot turns on a fatal hit and run, and Conor’s dream of remaining in Ballinastrad turns to nightmare as he’s entangled in the murder investigation.
“It’s based around my own experiences of growing up in rural Ireland, in Leitrim and I went to college in Sligo as well so I decided to set it in Sligo, perhaps to protect the innocent and protect the guilty, if anybody thought it was based on people I knew from my own area,” he says with a laugh. “... Some of these characters are based somewhat on people I knew growing up and knew in college and so on.”
Impressed by their natural style, he cites Dermot Healy, Donal Ryan and Michael Harding as inspirations, which surprises the Celt since the publishers describe The Whole of the Moon as a crime novel, and none of those illustrious figures are regarded as crime writers. It seems that crime’s not the snuggest of fits.
“Essentially it’s in that category because a crime has been committed as such - a man is murdered in it, but I wouldn’t classify it as crime fiction, I’d classify it as general fiction because the book is more about the relationship between two of the central characters.”
The title is obviously snatched from the Waterboys 1985 hit, and while the song is familiar to all, the story behind it is less well known.
“The Whole of the Moon is supposedly about [Waterboys’ songwriter] Mike Scott’s envy or jealousy of the music artist Prince, and the way Mike Scott always thought he could never compete with Prince. In the mid-1980s Prince was a superstar and had great credibility at the time, so Mike Scott felt he could never compete with him, so there’s a sense of jealousy and envy and that’s linked to this story as well, because the root of the book is an undercurrent of jealousy that exists between Conor and his friend Darragh. They’re very close but in many regards Conor is jealous of Darragh because Darragh is a confident individual, whereas Conor is somewhat quieter and more sensitive.”
The book’s evolution from short story to novel was four years in the making. Kevin completed the first draft around Easter time last year and enlisted the services of a professional sub-editor in Dublin to get a second opinion.
“She referred to a lot of faults that new writers make, she referred to it as 'info dumping’ - where you throw too much information into a page. She advised me rather than describing something, to do it. So express more information through dialogue rather than pure naration. I took her advice on board and went back to it.”
By early summer last year he had shaped until he was happy with the 150-pages or so that makes up The Whole of the Moon and sent it off to publishers. A familiar experience for any aspiring author, Kevin received “loads of rejection letters” before he received an acceptance from London publishers Austin Macauley.
“It was a feeling of delight and excitement and probably a little bit of nervousness because you don’t know how people are going to take to it, because the only people who had read it previously were my wife and the copy writer in Dublin and she advised me to go ahead, but you don’t really know until you get it out there to the general public what they think of it.”
Kevin’s got modest hopes for his book.
“If it’s accepted well by my peers and accepted well by the people I know in my local area I would be happy with that.”
“I’ve no big ideas about it - there was a certain satisfaction just to write the novel in the first place and get it out there. All I wanted was to guage people’s reactions to it and so far it’s been very positive, which gives you a sense of satisfaction. I don’t think it’s going to be a major seller.”