THE late author, Maeve Binchy, always advocated writing about what you know. But when attempting a novel, who you know matters too.
“I was lucky when I was researching my second novel, Whatever It Takes, set in Cork, that I could ask my friend, who is a member of An Garda Siochána, for guidelines regarding criminal matters and another friend of mine, who is a doctor, about medical issues,” says Tadhg.
He knew his subject well for his debut novel, The First Sunday in September, which is a story of a fictional All-Ireland Hurling Final day from the points of view of recurring characters.
Tadhg, aged 59, who came to writing late after retiring from his job as a librarian in Cork and later in CIT, knows his native townland very well.
“I’m from Mallow,” says Tadhg, who now lives in Ballinlough with his wife, Ciara. “In my earlier years I played hurling in school in Mallow, in college, and then for the county.”
He says writing a GAA novel “was something I always wanted to do”, and credits his MA course in Creative Writing in UCC for putting him on the right track to get published.
“I never understood when I was growing up why there wasn’t more sports fiction in Ireland, the Irish being so passionate about sport,” says Tadhg.
“My thesis subject for the Masters, GAA, formed the bones of my first published novel. The book, using a hurling background with Cork reaching and winning an All-Ireland Hurling Final, is made of 18 stories linking 18 characters.
“I have been writing full-time ever since.”
First Sunday In September was published when Tadhg was 55: “It was a great feeling”.
He is familiar with what the Irish love. “We love literature and we love sport,” says Tadhg. “We are obsessed with those two things in Ireland.”
He also has the luck of the Irish.
“I submitted First Sunday In September to Mercier Press,” says Tadhg. “It is one of the few publishing houses in Ireland doing fiction and it has a Cork connection.
“The following year my book was short-listed for a Mercier book prize. I got a call afterwards saying they’d like to publish it. I was so lucky and I was so happy. It gave me a huge boost.”
Pursuing an MA in Creative Writing in UCC also gave Tadhg a boost and gave him confidence. It gave him the final push to get down to writing the book that he knew was always in him.
“I had thoughts of writing a crime novel,” says Tadhg. “Before taking on the MA I was just flaffing around. The course was great, offering structure and valuable feedback. You had to write rigorously and produce work and show your work.
“Regular critiques were offered to the writers which was very helpful and which facilitated a very positive experience for everyone.”
He had like-minded people in his corner who knew Tadhg had a book, (or two) in him.
“Being encouraged and supported and being given a little push to meet deadlines was the way to go for me to get started writing; doing something I always wanted to do,” he says.
“The creative writing course was the spur I needed,” says Tadhh. “Perseverance is always a good thing.”
There always has to be a detective in a crime novel who emerges the hero, doesn’t there?
“Indeed there does,” Tadhg agrees.
He had begun writing the crime novel before undertaking the writing course.
“Whatever it Takes features Detective Tim Collins, a typical Corkonian, who is a single man living in Cork city.
The main character has other traits to draw in the reader.
“Tim is also a former inter-county Cork hurler,” Tadgh explains. “I threw that into the mix to make Tim more interesting.”
Is the book a whodunit?
“It’s not so much a whodunit, but it’s about what happens next after a young woman’s body is found in the river.”
Criminal Kingpin, Molloy, is the detective’s adversary in the book.
Tadhg’s books are a labour of love.
“That is a really good way to describe my writing,” he says.
His writing involves a lot of work, editing and re-writing drafts.
“Whatever it Takes was originally in the first person,” says Tadhg. “I had written about 6,000 words then I switched it to the third person and brought in other characters and other voices as well.”
He is a person who finds sense of place very important.
“Growing up, I would have loved an Irish sports fiction book. In the same way I would have loved a crime novel set in Cork city.”
Now he has written one himself.
Tadhg has also achieved another string to his bow, or to his pen, with Whatever it Takes chosen as the title for the 2020 Cork: One City One Book initiative.
He is thrilled his book was chosen, and loves seeing it on shelves.
“Seeing the finished product displayed in Waterstones is unbelievable,” says Tadhg. “It is truly a wonderful feeling.”
He believes that his former place of work, the public library, is a source of wonder and knowledge available to everyone.
“The public library is a fantastic facility,” says Tadgh.
“And it is free for everyone. Sometimes people can’t afford Netflix or X boxes. The library offers an array of different subjects to explore and to research, as well as enjoy.
“Reading is a gift for life, like a friend. You will never be alone and you’ll never be bored reading a book.”
Does Tadhg believe the old adage that there is a book in everyone?
“I do,” he says, smiling.
How do we get it out?
“It is easy to start a novel, a short story or a poem. It is not so easy to finish it and send it to people. That’s the hard part. You need to want to do well.” And you need to be something else.
“You need to be a little bit cracked to be a writer!”
I’m on the same page there.
“So you understand!” says Tadgh.
He may be a little cracked and very ambitious but Tadhg found the right environment to get cracking.
“The MA course gave me the momentum I had been lacking. I always knew I wanted to write but I didn’t think I had in me.”
He found his tribe that knew Tadhg did have it in him.
“Being among a community of writers was a very positive experience,” says Tadhg.
“I think for budding authors doing writing workshops or writing courses is of huge benefit to the writing process.”
Tadhg grew up in Mallow surrounded by books and by eight siblings.
“Books were everywhere in the house,” says Tadhg.
It set the scene for him to weave future tales of his own.
“The environment for writing was sewn into my childhood in Mallow,” he says. “I’ve always loved reading and writing.”
Does he relish the luxury of giving up the day job?
“I’m still working at CIT,” says Tadhg. “I am involved in the Clean Technology Centre in research and consultancy. My wife works too.”
Does Tadhg intend on becoming a man of leisure anytime soon, now that he has published two books and has another in the pipeline, the life story of Cork hurler, and Gaelic footballer, Denis Coughlan?
“I still have to work and earn some money!” he says.
But, like all happy endings, he will rest on his laurels someday knowing that he realised his childhood dream of being a published author. And he knows that it’s never too late for a dream to come true.
“I was just so lucky,” says Tadgh.
And he was just so talented.
Whatever it Takes, by Tadgh Coakley published by Mercier Press is in all good bookshops now, priced €15.