Carlo Gebler Transcript

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Listen to Carlo Gébler talk and reading.

Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode author Carlo Gébler reads from his novel ‘The Dead Eight’, and takes questions from the audience. Recorded in the Central Library on 13 May 2011 as part of its 'Dublin Revealed' series.

Sinéad Mac Aodha: Good afternoon everyone and thank you for coming to the second of the Four Fiction Fridays.  My name is Sinéad Mac Aodha I’m the Director of Ireland Literature Exchange an organisation which has a function similar to that of the Literary Department of the British Council, we promote Irish literature abroad.  Occasionally we run events here in Ireland.  We’re very to the public library system for hosting us, for allowing us to run the series of events here, and also for taking our books which are available in 50 different languages, we’ve 1,500 titles of works of Irish literature in translation and these books are available through the public library system through a list called the Rosetta List so if you ever are interested in reading a book of Irish literature in another language have a look at the Rosetta List within the public library system and books will be sourced for you and you can read and compare and check if the translators have done a good job.  It’s my great pleasure to welcome Carlo Gébler here today.  Carlo is a novelist, a playwright, a biographer, a man of many parts, a writer who has produced so many books in different genres. He has been described as a sensitive talent.

Carlo: Yes.  (laughter)

Sinéad: He has a talent for setting a scene and filling in the character in a few adept strokes according to Penelope Lively.

Carlo: Yeah, she should know.  (laughter)

Sinéad: Will Self has said of The Cure, one of Carlo’s books, "it is both edgy and exact, haunting and serious, it’s also the best historical novel I have read."  So that was some compliment Carlo.

Carlo: Yeah.

Sinéad: Carlo was born in Dublin in the 50s and brought up in London.  He has a degree in English from the University of York and the practice of film making at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.  Amongst his books, and I’m not going to list them all because there really are so many, The Eleventh Summer, Work and Play, Life of a Drum, The Cure, How to Murder a ManA Good Day for a Dog, his collection of stories W9 and other lives was published in 1996, he has written for children and young adults, August ’44 and The Bull Raid are some of the books that he’s produced.  His non-fiction works include Driving through Cuba:  an east-west journey – sounds like he may have actually done that journey, I have read that book.

Carlo: I did.

Sinéad: And The Glass Curtain:  Inside an Ulster community.  He lives in the North of Ireland.

Carlo: Someone has to.  (laughter)

Sinéad: And works in Maghaberry Prison ...

Carlo: Yeah.

Sinéad: ... as a writer of residence.

Carlo: Member of Special Branch.  (laughter)

Sinéad: So please welcome Carlo Gébler.  (clapping)

Carlo: Good afternoon.  Thank you for very much for coming.  Translation is a very good thing.  When you leave go home will you write, all of you, letters to your TDs saying we believe in translation, please give the translating people lots of money.  (laughter)  Actually it is a really good thing and it should be supported by the State more because what we are best known for – I know this is going to come as a shock to you – in the world is our literature.  I know you thought I was going to say our sex appeal (laughter) and our fashion sense (laughter) but it’s our writing and the fact that there isn’t more support for the translation of books written by people on this island into other languages so other people can read them is really one of the curious facts about modern life. 

I’m going to ... this is a book called The Dead Eight which was published ... I think it was published this morning or tomorrow morning, anyway it is being ... nothing is published in the way that it used to happen which is that there was a day when it arrived in the book shops.  You may be able to get it in a bookshop today or you may have to wait but it is sort of out.  The book is called The Dead Eight and the titled refers to what people ... the way that people describe the end of a shot gun when they look at it.  Some people describe it as a dead eight and this book involves the use of a shotgun. 

I’m going to read you a bit from early on in the book and it’s about a character called Moll McCarthy, she’s red-haired, she’s in an orphanage, everyone calls her Foxy Moll and she is being preyed upon/seduced/paid court to by the gardener who is a man called Willie Garrett and the date is 1914.  And he gives her a present.  He gives her a barley sugar and she takes it up to the dormitory and she puts it inside the pillowcase of her bed and then later she goes to bed. 

Come in, come in.  There’s a seat down here.  It’s the audience participation seat.  (laughter) Sit yourself down.

Thank you sorry I’m late.

Don’t worry.  Do not worry.  So I’m just reading about a 14-year-old girl in an orphanage called Moll and a much older man has given her a barley sugar. 

That night in bed she listened to the breathing of the girls around her, their breathing was normal but as time passed it became slower and more regular. After a while the point came when she felt sure that everyone was asleep. She pulled her barley sugar out from inside the pillowslip and undid the ribbon with care. She put the ribbon back inside the pillow slip so that she could use it in the morning and now at last came the moment she had anticipated all day.  She slipped the end of the barley sugar, not the crook but the straight end, into her mouth and began to suck.  At first the barley sugar did not taste of anything. The sensation she had was of something cold and glassy and hard in her mouth but within seconds she was graced with the new sensation, a moist and extraordinarily sweet taste that spread through her mouth and down her throat. It was the nicest taste that she had ever tasted in her whole life. In the morning after she had brushed her hair she remembered the ribbon in her pillowslip.  She fetched it and tied her hair at the back.  Claire Corrigan, who is another of the orphans, saw the new coloured ribbon.  “Where did that come from?” she asked, “It was a present” said Moll.  “Who gave you a present?  You don’t know anybody.”, “Willie Garrett” she said, “the new man in the gardens”.

Hello come and sit down.

“Oh!” said Claire Corrigan her eyes wide, what Foxy Moll recognised was a mixture of surprise and anxiety and envy.  Envy she thought as she ran downstairs, envy, no one had ever envied anything of hers before.  The very idea made her feel giddy and powerful.  After breakfast Willie, the man who has given her the barley sugar, the gardener, came and found her in the little kitchen garden.  Her job in the orphanage is to go and collect the eggs in the morning which are in the little kitchen garden.  “I like the ribbon” he said, “Do you?” he touched the ribbon.  It was only a gentle touch but her whole scalp tingled.  She had never known anything like these feelings before they were strange and powerful but not unpleasant.  “There’ll be more where that came from” he said.  We walked off and filled with elation she went on with the work of egg collection.  Over the seasons that followed Willie brought her several ribbons of different colours and widths as well as buttons and cakes and coloured thread and a woollen shawl.  All of these things which she had never owned before gave her the same giddy powerful feeling that the barley sugar ribbon had.  She was also gratified that Willie liked her enough to give her these things and before long she decided that the very fact that he gave them certified his ardour and guaranteed he felt the way he said he did.  The gifts also affected the other orphans and how they treated her as news of Willie’s generosity spread she was treated with a respect that she had never known before.  She, who had been a nobody, had become a somebody, somebody known as Willie’s girl, Willie’s Foxy Moll.  The next thing that happened was that she no longer looked forward to the gifts alone as he had done, and rather than wonder what he would give her, she began instead to look forward to when she might see him.  What was more, when he spoke to her and called her Foxy Moll or asked her if she was Foxy Molly or used the other endearments that were part of his repertoire her heart raced and she felt a great bubble of happiness fill her up inside.  Then the anxiety set in, it was almost like jealousy, she had to see him.  She had to see him and it hurt when she did not as much as it thrilled her when she did.  Then she began to wheedle, she wanted his assurance that he liked her most out of all the girls in the orphanage and in the town and in Munster and in the whole of Ireland.  She asked and he gave her the assurance time after time and at first it satisfied but then it was enough, it had to be more, he had to say that he loved her and her alone and no one else and what was more that he had never and he would never love anyone but her.  For a long time Willie Garrett would not tell her this, all he would say was that he liked her.  Then all he would say was that he adored her.  Then at last the day came when he told her that he loved her.  From the moment he spoke the words strange surges of feeling darted through her stomach, her legs trembled and she felt odd between her legs.  It was in some measure an ache and also to see degree something else that she had never known before and in her small nascent breasts she felt needles of pain.  Every Sunday afternoon the orphans were allowed to leave St. Brigid’s and walk out into the country for an hour.  The Sunday after that she met Willie by arrangement and they walked out to a little wood.  Here she let him kiss her.  They walked out to this wood on more Sunday afternoons after that and many times he kissed her.  Then came the time when he gave her the ring and promised to marry her.  She had never felt so happy in her life and she let him lift her skirt.  Then he did what he had been on at her to do for quite some time and even though she knew she should not let him she felt that she could not deny him now.  When he was finished they walked back to the orphanage arm in arm.  She was 14.  The next day was Monday but Willie did not turn up for work nor was he there on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday.  On Friday a parishioner told a priest who told Mrs McSauley who told several of the orphans who passed through her kitchen one of whom was Claire Corrigan what had happened.  In the classroom Claire Corrigan’s desk was behind Moll’s, the Master wrote on the blackboard, the chalk scratched as he did.  ‘Did you hear?’ whispered Claire Corrigan.  Pale and white and heavy with ache she knew at once that what Claire Corrigan was about to tell her must concern Willie.  She was desperate to have news of him and at the same time she surmised that whatever Claire Corrigan had to tell her must be bad.  ‘Willie was seen on Monday going into an army recruiting office in Limerick and then he was seen at the station getting on a train,’ said Claire ‘he’s joined the army, he’s going to France so he is, to fight.’  Foxy Moll bolted from the classroom and into the garden, she doubled over and out it flooded, the bread and dripping and tea that had been her breakfast and the kipper she had eaten for dinner at mid-day.  The mess of undigested food formed a puddle at her feet.  The Master sent Claire Corrigan after her.  Claire found her outside and went to Mrs McSauley in the kitchen, the cook had greasy hands and was making meatloaf with sausage meet.  ‘Foxy Moll’s sick.’ said Claire.  ‘Where?’, ‘On the grass around the side.’ ‘That girl’ said Mrs McSauley, ‘I’m only busy making a supper and now I have to stop because of her’.  Though nothing had been said everyone in St. Brigid’s blamed her for Willie’s disappearance and the adults complained it was a terrible nuisance to lose him.  Mrs McSauley brought Foxy Moll back into the kitchen.  She found a bit of cloth in the rag box.  ‘Wipe your face with that’ she said ‘then throw it in the fire’.  It was a scrap of old green curtain.  The material very rough. She wiped her mouth and threw the rag into the open fire.  ‘Here’ Mrs McSauley handed her a tin cup, bubbles floated on top of the milk inside.  ‘Drink that, that’ll settle you.’  She sniffed the milk, it smelled of cow and pasture, it was heavy and rich and buttery and she knew impossible for her to swallow.  ‘I can’t, it will make me sick again.’  She put the cup on the table.  ‘I’ll take a cup of water though if you have it.’  Late that night she began to shiver and sweat, her teeth chattered and then ground against one another, then she started to murmur and before long she shouted and her yells woke Claire Corrigan who got out of bed and lifted her nightdress so she would not trip on the hem and went to the annex. 

There’s an annex in the dormitory where the woman who looks after – who sleeps there at night sleeps.

‘Mrs Johnston?’, ‘What’s the matter now?’ said Mrs Johnston in her bed.  ‘It’s Foxy Moll.’  Mrs Johnston climbed out of her high wooden bed and threw a shawl around her shoulders and padded out into the dark dormitory.  She heard Foxy shout and thrash under the blankets as she approached.  Mrs Johnston put her hand out in the darkness and found her head and clamped her hand onto her forehead it was both hot and wet.  ‘At the side of my bed there’s a candle’ she said to Claire Corrigan who stood beside her ‘Light it and bring it here’.  Claire Corrigan went away and returned by the pale fluttery light of the candle Mrs Johnston and the orphans saw that Foxy was red faced and she streamed with sweat.  ‘She’s boiling said Mrs Johnston, I’ll need a basin of cold water and a flannel and we’ll have to get the doctor.’  The next day the doctor came in the afternoon and diagnosed a fever and prescribed isolation in case whatever it was that Foxy Moll had was contagious.  A bed was made up for her in the attic under the eaves and she lay up there for a week and sweated and wept and slept and was tormented by a terrible feverish dream that repeated over and over again.  She was out on a dirt road that snaked across flat boggy ground under a sullen filthy black sky.  Willie was there in front of her, he hurried on and she called to him to wait and tried to catch up with him but he did not listen, he moved faster and faster.  She tried to catch up with him but it was useless, no matter how hard she struggled and how much she shouted and wailed and cajoled he got further and further and further ahead of her until, in the end, he vanished and she was left alone in the middle of the endless bog.  In the odd hours that she was awake and conscious she would lie in her bed and stare up at the slanted slope of grey slates just above her head.  She sometimes heard the scratches made by the claws of birds as they walked out on the roof outside.  At these times she felt a pain in her chest more or less in the region of her heart, it was a powerful feeling, it excruciated and exhausted in equal measure.  In comparison to this she found that on balance she preferred her awful dream.  At last her temperature returned to normal and she was allowed to return to her dormitory.  The first thing she did when she got there was to go to her shelf in the press where she kept her clothes and pull out the buttons and the ribbons and the shawl hidden under her things.  At the sight of Willie’s gifts those awful sharp stabs of pain that had tormented her when she had been awake in the attic hit her again.  They hit her so hard that she felt her legs shake and she knew she needed to sit.  At the same time at the sight of all she had left that connected her to Willie she felt something like relief.  She grabbed it all, the ribbons and the buttons and the shawl and carried them to her bed and sat and cradled them on her lap.  For a long while great gusts of pain and joy flowed through her, the feelings were terrible, they also comforted her.

I said that she is an orphan but in fact she’s not an orphan because the next chapter concerns her mother.  Her mother is a prostitute who decides that she doesn’t want to look after her daughter Moll anymore so she arranges for her to go into the orphanage and she goes back to Dublin and she resumes working as a prostitute and she then eventually ends up with a man, an ex-soldier, called Horace Conway and they live in a little house in Drumcondra and he supports her and she doesn’t take clients anymore and she thinks that he’s going to leave her his house, this little house in which they live, but as he’s dying his sister gets in touch and he changes his mind at the last minute as people so often do.  (laughter)  And he doesn’t give the woman who he has been living with for several years the house as he’s promised, he gives it to his sister and his sister’s husband and their children.  So she has to leave – her name is Mary.  Mary has to leave the house and so she decides to go back to where she comes from which is a village, New Inn in Tipperary, to a little tiny cabin – a two roomed cabin – that she’s inherited from her parents and she decides to get her daughter Moll out of the orphanage and bring her home, which she does – she brings her home.  And the two of them start living together and gradually due to the mother’s influence Moll, the daughter, becomes a prostitute but a different kind of prostitute.  She doesn’t walk the streets, she just has relationships, some of which of last for several months – very long relationships, only one at a time – and then, when it ends as it always does with the man going back to his wife or his family, she gets something in return.  She gets a winter’s worth of turf or she gets all her bills paid at the grocers or she gets all her dispensary charges settled and over the years this goes from 1917-1918 all the way through the 20s and the 30s.

This character, who I’ve been reading to you about, Moll, has a number of children.  She has 6 children and now she’s met the man that she’s going to have her 7th child with and I’m going to read you – she hasn’t got pregnant yet but she’s – well she may actually just have got pregnant because I’m going to read you the bit where she’s just been with him for the first time.  Obviously it’s very difficult for her to be ... sometimes she goes to people’s houses, it’s very difficult for her to be intimate but there’s a dug-out, there’s a pillbox a few fields away from her little cabin at the bottom of the farm that surrounds her small holding and it’s a Free State pillbox, a big Free State pillbox, built in 1921 for Free State soldiers to hide in and wait and shelter from when they’re out looking for republicans, for irregulars, and it’s very large, very substantial and that’s where she goes and so she’s just gone with this man called JJ to the pillbox and the act has occurred and now they’re walking back.  It’s 1938.

They started to walk and followed the exact route they had taken on their way to the dug-out.

That’s what the pillbox is called locally.

She could tell because of the way the grass had been ruffled by their passage through it.  ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ he said.  ‘Tomorrow?’ He was keen, he must be desperate.  What was his wife’s name?  She had been told it.  Could she remember it?  Oh yes it was Nancy, yes, Nancy Spink, Mrs Nancy Spink, or to be precise and to use the proper title Mrs Jimmy Spink.  ‘Tomorrow?’ she said again.  She tried to think, would she be doing anything?  Did she have any plans?  Was it not just another day like the one she had just had?  ‘At about this time,’ he said, ‘what will you be doing?  Will you be at home?’  ‘I should say so’ she said.  ‘I suppose you’d always be there when the children come in from school.’ ‘I would.’ She said.  ‘That’s the time then, to come and find you, at this time.  It would be in the week but of course Saturday and Sunday, well, those days I’m not usually free’ he said.  ‘Of course’ she should have thought of that.  That was doubtless when he went home to see his wife.  Did he have children?  She tried to remember if she had been told when she had been given the wife’s name.  Yes, she probably had been.  Her mind was like a sieve.  Why did it not hold these things?  Or perhaps it did but she had put the knowledge somewhere in her head where she could not locate it, like putting something in the back of a drawer and forgetting you had put it there.  Perhaps.  How old was he?  Mid 40s she guessed, maybe a shade older, 50.  If he had any children then they must be grown up, if that was the case they would surely be out in the world at this stage in which case why did he go home on Saturdays and Sundays?  Ah, perhaps he had another woman somewhere and that was when he saw her.  No, no that was wrong, the pants she had heard in the dug-out told her that he had not had a woman in a while, on top of which he wants to see her again.  No, he had no woman, not at the moment, not of late.  She was sure of it.  ‘Look at that, will you? he said.  They both stopped and he pointed at a vixen ahead of them.  She scrambled at the earth with her front paws, she was dark red and her long tail looked heavier and bigger than her long lean body. ‘What’s she up to?’ she asked.  The vixen heard her voice and glanced back.  The vixen stared at them and she did not move, as she stared at them she stayed quite still.  Foxy Moll was struck by the animal’s stillness as it gazed at them and gauged how far away they were and whether they were a threat and how fast she would have to scurry off if they approached.  The vixen stared for several seconds and then as they did not move towards her she judged they posed no threat and resumed digging in the turf with her front paws.  They watched as she worked, first she dug, then she snapped at her quarry, whatever it was her jaw worked in a furious fashion and her teeth showed for a moment.  What was it she was after, Foxy Moll wondered.  Perhaps it was a mouse.  Did they burrow in the earth?  She had no idea.  The foxes jaws stopped, what she was after had evidently escaped.  She pushed her snout down in to the turned up earth and scrabbled with her paws.  ‘She’s going for worms.’ JJ said.

That’s the name of the man.

‘She must be starving.’ ‘Well she better not come near my birds,’ said Foxy Moll.

She keeps chickens, sells the eggs.

The vixen lifted her head and started to move away, she dragged her left hind leg behind and moved with an odd twisted gait.  She was lame.  ‘She wouldn’t be hard to shoot in that condition.’ said JJ.  ‘I’ve no gun,’ she said, ‘get Badger to do it.’

Badger is the farmhand on the farm beside her.

‘He shoots these fields with Old Caesar’s gun doesn’t he? ‘Yeah he does,’ she said, although she thought that Badger would more often than not be after something for the pot and not on the hunt for vermin when he took the gun out.  ‘Right,’ he said ‘Badger can give her the dead eight then.’ ‘The dead eight?’ she was unfamiliar with the phrase and shook her head mystified, ‘I don’t follow’ she said.  ‘When you look at the end of the shot gun’ said JJ ‘ the two barrels side by side, what do they look like?  She pictured the end of a shot gun, the two circles touching. ‘An eight.’ ‘But it isn’t standing is it?’ he said ‘it’s lying down, it’s dead, the dead eight.’ ‘Ah.’ 
The vixen was still in view and she watched it now as it dragged its bad hind leg and she wondered, shoot a creature that could just about walk, that did not seem right.  Besides, would it not die of starvation soon enough anyway?  She shrugged and wished she had not said ‘She’d better not come near my birds.’ That had been stupid and if she had kept her mouth shut there would not be any of this foolish talk about shooting and guns.    ‘So,’ he said ‘will you ask Badger?’.  ‘Maybe’, ‘You won’t ask Badger’, he said in a shrewd way ‘because you’re female, you’re sentimental and you think it’s wrong to shoot a wounded animal, am I right?’.  Her face went red.  ‘I have my answer I see’ he said.  The vixen squeezed under a hedge with three legs.  She said ‘She’s not going to harm my birds’, ‘Ah, there speaks a true woman who only a moment before was worried this vixen might come for her poultry.’  The vixen was gone, they started to walk on again.  ‘If you think something won’t harm you you leave it alone, don’t you?’ he said.  ‘And what’s wrong with that?’, ‘I’ll tell you, one, never assume anything.  Two, never predict because you’re going to be wrong.  Three, don’t make excuses just do the correct thing.  Those have been my watch words and they’ve served me well.  I leave nothing to chance.’  She nodded as if she was interested but she was not, lists bored her and besides her thoughts had turned to money and what she needed and what she would do if JJ gave her money.  She had seen some stockings with clocks on them in the haberdashers that she rather wanted, then she rebuked herself, she was not to think like this, he would not give her any money, he would give her something for the children perhaps but not for her, not yet.  He would give her things like potatoes and flour and butter and tea and maybe whiskey, he would buy what he knew she needed for the house.  Then after the end to assuage his conscience he would gift her something very big like a winter’s worth of turf and if there was any money it would come then.  They moved on.  Their steps were slow and neither talked.  She did not mind because without speech she was free to listen to the sounds around her.  The swish of her feet as they tramped along and the winds that moved through the bushes and the bray of Caesar’s donkey and the bleat of a sheep somewhere and the rumble of a lorry as it ground down the public road in the direction of Knockgraffon National School.  Some minutes later they reached her cottage.  ‘Will you take a cup of tea?’ she said, he looked at his wrist watch, it was a good one, the face was black and the numbers in white and the strap was leather and brown and sturdy, it looked military, perhaps it was army issued.  After the British Garrisons had gone the new powers in the land, the victors, and JJ at that point was one of them expropriated much of the stuff they did not take away with them.  ‘I won’t,’ he said ‘I have to be somewhere.’  He pulled a purse from his trouser pocket, unzipped it, counted out 5 silver sixpences and a florin ‘For the children, they can buy some sweets, sixpence should get them something decent.’  She nodded.  ‘The florin is for Daniel.’
Daniel is her oldest son who has started working.
He put the money into her hand.  Yes if she wanted those stockings she would have to find the cash from somewhere else.  ‘Until tomorrow’ he said.  He got into his car.  He drove away.  She went inside.

There you go, that’s 20 minutes of reading.  (laughter)

The book is about somebody who really existed whose life – because it’s called a novel – I’ve made up but this woman really did exist and the person that she – she was murdered.  She really was murdered on the 19th of November 1940, a couple of years after these events, and the man – come in, hello.  The man that she refers to, that is referred to, Badger, who is a local, he’s a ... well he’s ... I refer to him as the farm hand actually by this stage he’s the farm manager on the farm beside where she lives.  He is the person, he was the person, who found her in real life.  He had a greyhound, he was a great hare coursing man, he liked his greyhounds and he used to exercise his greyhound, a particular greyhound, every morning following exactly the same route.  He didn’t vary it, apparently with dogs that’s what you have to do, and he was training this dog and he followed his route and it took him past a gap in a hedge and that’s where he found her – she’d been shot with a shot gun – lying on the ground.  So he went back to the farmhouse to Mr. and Mrs Caesar who were his employers and he said he’s just ... he knew who it was but he didn’t tell them that he knew who it was which was probably a mistake.  And they told him to go to the police station and he went to the police station and reported her, reported the body.  Brought the police back, that was on the morning of the 20th of November 1940 and on the 7th of April 1941 the Irish State hung him for killing her which he had not done.  She had to have been shot either that morning or at some point in the course ... well actually it was raining all night and the body was dry so she had to have been shot, you know, quite recently.  And, you know, he was with ... I mean he had an alibi, he was with people, but the police, the guards decided that the 7th child – remember I was reading you a section when she only had a 6 – the 7th child who died they decided was his.  I mean she was a woman with what they called a certain pedigree, he was an unmarried farm labourer/manager, she’d had a child, the child had died and their case was that he was being threatened by her.  She was going to go to the authorities and say that he’d fornicated and that she’d had a child and look for compensation.  The compensation, whether or not she would have got it would have been small but it would have destroyed him.  He was in his 40s, he worked on Mr. and Mrs Caesar’s – Mr. Caesar, John Caesar, was his uncle and he’d worked on his uncle’s farm for nothing all his life on the understanding that when they died he’d get the farm.  So the police case was well obviously he didn’t want to lose the farm so he arranged to meet her at the dug-out and shot her and then left the body in a hole in the hedge and then went home and then got up the next, morning and found her and that way he covered up his case.  And that essentially was the case against him and it was regarded as a very convincing case for all sorts of reasons and so they hung him.  His defence counsel, junior defence counsel, was Sean McBride and the reason the case is interesting at least in Irish legal circles is that McBride until then wasn’t really fussed about capital punishment one way or the other but this was so flagrantly a miscarriage of justice he changed his mind and this was what really started him on the road to Amnesty International and all the things that he did much, much later in his life because I mean he was ... at that point in his life he was probably quite reactionary, not politically but socially and culturally reactionary.

So this is a novel, it says it’s a novel very clearly at the beginning.  I mean certain things are known – when she was found, how she was shot – all sorts of things but there’s a great deal more information about the case much of which I’ve taken from a book by a man called Marcus Bourke, a sort of forensic account of what the police case was and how they constructed the case, the police constructed the case against him.  I mean they did things like they went into the fire arms, they went and got the fire arms register from the local shop where Caesar bought his cartridges and inserted – but on the 5th of October – Caesar or Harry Gleeson the man who was hung, Badger, bought 50 Eley 5 Grand Prix cartridges, which were the cartridges used to shoot her.  They actually wrote it in and you can go and look at this book.  They did all sorts of things like that.  I mean it was what’s called a fit up, it was more complicated than that.  So I’m very interested because of the work in the prison I’m very interested in crime, I’m very interested in miscarriages of justice.  I’m also very interested in the way when things go wrong in the criminal justice system it’s always the least – usually it’s the least powerful, the smallest, the most insignificant and the most blameless who cops it but what’s interesting about this case is this applies to both the victim and the man who was hung.  This woman lived a very difficult life as a sort of marginal excluded woman who exchanged love and affection and sexual favours for economic support.  She got a little tiny bit of assistance from the State, I think they gave her a few shillings a week and a little bit of milk.  The State also tried to take her children off her twice – that was their main intervention in her life because she was immoral.  The priest – the church had nothing to do with her.  Nobody had anything to do with her, except for the men who slept with her, and she had one line of support and it was a very, very strange – the local landlord was a Catholic not a Protestant and the daughter was a woman called Miss Cooney, and Miss Cooney who had driven ambulances on the Western Front in the first World War was the only woman to visit her and gave her food.  There was a college nearby, arranged for the college to send her food, gave her a pram, gave her clothes, gave her money, paid her medical bills as well.  So with her clients and Miss Cooney’s help Moll McCarthy, Foxy Moll, survived very, very, very, very – with enormous difficulty, a two-room cabin, no water, no electricity, no means of support but the State tried twice to take the children off her but they couldn’t because they couldn’t prove that she was a negligent mother because the evidence was that she was the reverse.  And Harry Gleeson, the man who was hung, was similarly an absolutely blameless ... he was just a bloke who, you know, worked and played the fiddle and was very keen on hare coursing, some people nowadays might think hare coursing is, you know, sort of unacceptable but, you know, this is 1940 and they both got it.  Some years ago I wrote a book on somebody called Maguire, Patrick Maguire, who was the youngest of the Maguire Seven, seven people who were sent to prison for the Guildford Bombings and, you know, he was just a bloke.  We actually he wasn’t even a bloke he was a child, well he and the other six people were just ordinary people and there does seem to be something in the way in which States, all States, not just the British State, act in relation to people who are very small and tiny and powerless.  The little people as Laura Helmsley called them (laughter).  But it is somewhat bizarre.  So I read Marcus Bourke’s book and I had a long correspondence with him and I told him because obviously he doesn’t say who he thought killed her but I read his book very carefully and I decided who I thought did kill her and who it was and how they did it and why they did it and I can only write that as fiction so I had to write this sort of strange novel that very, very carefully explains at the back what bits of it are true and what bits of it are made up.  Basically up to when she’s taken away to be killed I made up because there is no evidence of how – I mean she had 7 children and she lived in the cabin and, you know, Miss Cooney is a real person but a lot has to be imagined and that’s one of the things that novels can do, they can go well we know these things so if we invent these things that will get us from a-z and well there we go.  I’ve been spieling now for 50 minutes and I was told 50 minutes was my limit.  (laughter)


Participant: Who killed her?  Or who do you think?

Carlo: The father of the 7th child.

Participant: Ah yeah, yeah.

Carlo: The actual father of the 7th child. 

Participant: JJ?

Carlo: Yeah.

Participant: JJ yeah.

Participant: And of course they would have known?

Carlo: Yeah, what’s very interesting is everybody knew.

Participant: Yeah everybody knew.

Carlo: Everybody knew but of course nobody was going to say anything because as soon as you started speaking about what had happened then you’d have to explain, well, okay so if it wasn’t Gleeson, known as Badger, who did it then who did?  Oh right, well how many children did she have?  And how many different fathers?  And how many different relationships?  What?  This woman was living in the village how many men did she sleep with?  You know, I mean it would have just ... everything ...

Participant: Everybody would have been implicated.

Carlo: ... yeah everybody would have been implicated so sort of collective omerta, nobody wanted this discussed.  But Miss Cooney, she found out, she wrote to the Minister of Justice, her uncle was a judge, she was very well-connected.  She found out and wrote letters and tried her best and she failed.  Sean McBride tried very hard and failed.  I haven’t really gone into that, he failed because the defence case was conducted in completely the wrong way but you can’t ... they conducted on the strength of ... they honed in on the ballistics and so forth and that was the wrong thing to do but you can’t blame them for that, they thought that was the best way to demolish the State case.  But the State, you know, had a very persuasive argument which was 75 acres, of course he killed her.  But it’s a great book (laughter) and I’d recommend you all rush now to a bookshop and buy it.  (laughter)

Participant: What’s the name?

Carlo: It’s called The Dead Eight.  Yeah, you’ll enjoy it.  It’s great.  It’s a laugh.

Sinéad: It’s published by New Island Books ...

Carlo: Yes.

Sinéad: ... and New Island is a local Dublin-based publishing house.

Carlo: Yes, of great genius (laughter) selecting me, yes.  (laughter)  Yes?

Participant: RTE did a series a number of years on famous murders ...

Carlo: And that was in it.

Participant: And that was in it.

Carlo: Yes.

Participant: That was the one where two school boys were fighting in the yard and a third school boy said "What are you fighting him for he’s your brother?"

Carlo: Yeah.

Participant: And one of the boys went home and said it and that seemed to be ... sparked off ...

Carlo: There is that, there is that ... I’ve actually ... I mean there were ... what the police did was they got her children to perjure themselves and then wrote it down and used that as evidence.  They basically got one of her children to say that, the boy in that scene, I haven’t seen the film but I’m aware of it, they got her son to say that his mother and Badger had arranged to meet on the night that she disappeared.  Miss Cooney then got hold of the children and got statements from them saying that the police had paid them and inveigled them into making these statements.  But yes, I ... in fact that playground scene is also invented so I’m not the only person inventing but yes I know about that but I didn’t deliberately look at that because I didn’t want to plagiarise, I have a tendency (laughter), if you plagiarise it’s anonymous at the moment, I’m trying to get on top of it.  Nor did I read ... there’s a ... Evelyn Conlon wrote a book about Gleeson, really about capital punishment, called Shadows on our Skin – Skin on our Shadows, Evelyn Conlon did it, published a book about 5 or 6 years ago and then Una Troy, the judge who refused to take her children away, was a man called Sean Troy, who was the District Justice in Cashel or ... yeah Cashel I think, he wouldn’t take the children away and he had a daughter called Una Troy and she wrote a book.  She wrote a novel also about this case called Now we are 6 or Now we are 7Now we are 7, which I haven’t read either, which I will read but ...

Participant: But you’ve written your own book.

Carlo: ... yeah I’ve written my own.  All I read was, you know, the trial stuff and newspapers and Marcus Bourke’s book and I’ll just end by saying what Cormac McCarthy says which is that literature’s dirty secret is that books come out of books.  (laughter)

Sinéad: What’s your question there?

Participant: We met coming up in the lift.  I had no idea you were ...

Carlo: We were ... we were ... yeah.  I counted to 10 though.  (laughter)

Participant: To listen to you talk about yourself and how you write and about the publishing industry and the need for translators and stuff I’m impressed by this light mischievous sense of humour, you’re somebody looking on the bright side of life and just when read from dead ...

Carlo: The Dead Eight.

Participant: ... Dead Eight, yes, you seem fascinated certainly in this book with the darker side of the human condition, absolutely no question about that.  Is that consistent in your writing or is it just this particular novel?

Carlo: I like to think of myself as kind of like Danny Kaye, you know, light and frothy (laughter), do you know, if I could write funny like, you know, like Perlman (laughter) if I could write wittily and lightly that would be fantastic but every time I get behind the f-ing typewriter or qwerty board it all comes out gloomy and doomy.

Participant: Not every time.

Carlo: Not every time.

Participant: One of my questions was so many books have many happy endings ...

Carlo: Yes.

Participant: ... there’s an inevitability about them ...

Carlo: Yes.

Participant: ... but you deliberately want to lift your readers’ spirits, I think in a Good Day for a ...

Carlo: A Dog ...

Participant: ... for a Dog.

Carlo: Yes.

Participant: And Life of a Drum which were both very uplifting so did you decide to do this?

Carlo: Yeah, no, I ... this is true.  What happens when you write is the imagination is a sort of cinema in your head with a screen and you go into the cinema and the characters appear on the screen and you sort of see what they’re wearing and where they are and you sort of write it down and they have autonomy so they tend on the inner fill in my head to be on the melancholy side but occasionally it’s cheerful like in these two books that you’ve mentioned.

Participant: Does the prison make you depressed?  Does the prison zone in on the darker side?

Carlo: The prison has ... I mean I was pessimistic about human behaviour before but now, you know, I used to think when I was young that the man on the money was Mr. Tony Chekhov, you know, now the man on the money is Mr. Jonathan Swift, I mean he is absolutely ... he tells it like it is.  But in prisons you also do see things that give you grounds for optimism, a few, not many but a few. Some people do change and transform their lives.  And the novel that you referred to, A Good Day for a Dog, which is about a career criminal, he is going to go back to his wife at the end, he is not going to get involved in a vendetta but he is also a bastard.  I mean he is ... if he has to he will kill somebody, if it’s them or him he’s the one who is going to come out but he also has his own curious moral code.  He doesn’t want to necessarily harm people but he will if he has to.  The men who attack him in ... he’s attacked in Amsterdam, he would have killed them if he had to.  Can I answer any more questions?

Participant: Could you recollect some of the ... just stories from the prison, like you’ve seen people ... you said you saw people change?

Carlo: Yes.  The point about prison, no.  When you are in prison even though you might mix with other prisoners and share a cell you’re forced to have a relationship with the last person you ever expect to have one with, namely yourself.  In the outside world we can avoid having a relationship with ourselves, you know, we can smoke marijuana or go to the gym or, you know, whatever – watch TV.  There are ways of avoiding it.  When you get to prison you can still avoid it by smoking marijuana or taking heroin or going to the gym or watching TV but it’s more difficult because you are going to find there are periods of time when you are locked and there is nothing but you and your unconscious, you and your history, you and yourself.  When that happens it’s a very painful disagreeable process but the brain starts to work because the brain is a self-regulating mechanism.  Every prison, no matter how much heroin they take to block the thoughts, starts to think, why am here?  What did I do?  Was it my mother’s fault?  Was it my father’s fault?  Is it my fault?  I must be mad!  And out of that interrogation/communication/conversation come things – word streams, thoughts, that’s why so many people write in prison, it’s all bubbling up – all this stuff, they don’t know what to do with it so they write it down or they turn it into songs or they block it, you know, they go to the gym a lot and, you know, they take narcotics.  And with some of the people, I’ve been working now since 1993 so I’ve done 18 years so some of the people I’ve been working with maybe for 10 or 12 years and at the beginning basically they just are not very sort of interested.  They’re never unpleasant to me but just they’ve got better things to do like smoke Jazz Woodbines or, you know, look at pornographic magazines or play grand theft auto – a huge in the prison.  (laughter)  But gradually it starts, the work dream starts, the brain starts working and then they start doing education and then they start working and now with some people, you know, there’s one man I’ve been working with for about 6 years, he’s written a novel, we might get it published.  Another man has written a kind of memoire, a football memoire, just as ... honestly, I mean I know you’re going to think he would say that but as good as Nick Horny.  We’ve had ... I’ve got prisons to write plays that have been performed, then there’s the Koestler Foundation.  Do you know what the Koestler is?  Arthur Koestler, the great sort of ...

Participant: Novelist.

Carlo: ... yeah.  He set up the Koestler Foundation to ... it’s kind of competition for prisons in Britain and Ireland.  Prisoners submit work – anything, you know, virgin Marys made of matchsticks at one end of the spectrum to novels in three volumes at the other and they get judged and awarded prizes and money and it’s a very, very good thing, the Koestler Foundation.  And the Listowel Writers’ Week runs something of a literary nature only here for prisoners as well, which is also very good.  So anyway people, yeah, so you know I’ve got people to write things for Koestler but I’m not really interested in the end product, I’m interested in getting people to stop ... I’m going to swear, stop fucking up and start using their brains.  I don’t always succeed.  Actually usually I fail but occasionally I succeed so that’s good.  So I’m a little bit optimistic and quite a bit pessimistic.  (laughter)  Does that answer your question?

Participant: Yeah.  Well I thought you might talk about something specific.

Carlo: Something specific?  I have to be careful because they get paranoid ... I can’t talk about the individual prisoners.

Participant: Oh that’s okay, no.

Carlo: But yeah people do, people are transformed yeah.  I mean some of the people that I’ve worked with RTE did a programme with them last year, interviewed them about writing and stuff, yeah.

Participant: Okay thanks.

Carlo: Any more questions?

Participant: How old did you say Willie was in the novel?

Carlo: Oh, the man who seduces her?

Participant: Yeah?

Carlo: Oh I can’t remember, I think he’s 20 or 22.

Participant: If he’s going into the army he must be quite ...

Carlo: Yeah, yeah.

Participant: ... not old and not young.

Carlo: Yeah.

Participant: No it’s just when you said an older man I thought he was ...

Carlo: Oh I see.  Oh he might ... actually I don’t know.  Do you know I can’t remember.  I’ve forgotten this book!  So much has happened since I’ve written it I’ve forgotten it.  He must be in his 20s, yeah.  He’s not 16.

Participant: Did you find when you were writing this book that the research that you had done interfered with the book or did it just take off because I know you’ve written other historical novels and I just wondered ...?

Carlo: No, I try not to do any research before I write the book.  I only do the research afterwards.  (laughter)  Yes it’s true.

Participant: How strange.

Participant: Yes, and you don’t want it to influence you.

Carlo: No, I mean I knew, I’d read Marcus Bourke’s book Murder in Marlhill ...

Participant: Yeah.

Carlo: ... so I knew, I knew what ... I had these fixed points, you know, when she was going to be killed, when he was going to find the body, when he was going to get arrested.  I’d read the statements that the police had taken from him without obviously a solicitor present, of course, they had to have no solicitor present because they were fitting him up.  You know, leading questions like "So you receive no salary from Mr. Caesar do you?  You’re understanding is you’re going to inherit the farm?", "Yes", "Have you ever had sexual relations with Moll McCarthy?".  I mean the police ... that’s the way they did it so I’d seen those sorts of things but I didn’t do any research, the kind you’re talking about, social, earlier but what I did have – I did have and I always have – was a map.  We have a map!  As long as you have a map and you know where people are in space as soon as you have a map then you can work out how long it takes to get from places and suddenly you think, oh, ah, ah yeah, I see exactly, and it was by looking at the map that I decided ... I knew she’d be killed in an outbuilding and I decided ... I picked the building that she was killed in.  I don’t know it but I’ve decided and I’m not the first person ... I’ve stolen this thing about using the maps from Georges Simenon – Maigret.  Yeah, great writer, he used to do ... he wrote these roman durs, these hard novels, just about crime and punishment and they were psychological, they weren’t like the Maigret, they weren’t thrillers, they weren’t detectives, they were just accounts of people’s miserable lives and Simenon would decide ... he’d have a story, he would pick a town, he would pick a district, he would decide where the victim lived.  He’d go, he’d just pick the flat, get into the flat, he’d make a plan of it.  He had the space, the three dimensional built environment completely worked out, he might give the town a fictional town but everything in terms of where people were and how they moved was all clearly worked out.

Sinéad: Are there any more questions?  Well all that remains for me to do then is to thank you very much Carlo, it was excellent what you said Carlo.

Carlo: Thank you. (clapping)

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