Much-loved Cork writer: I miss family, friends and the casual chats

Writer Conal Creedon recently won an American literary award. COLETTE SHERIDAN catches up with him to talk about his work, Covid-19 and the future
Much-loved Cork writer: I miss family, friends and the casual chats
Conal Creedon. Picture: John Minihan

AN interview with Cork writer Conal Creedon is always an enjoyable occasion. A visit to his inner city home on Devonshire Street where we’d share a pot of coffee while I would take in the art work in the dining room — a room that is dramatic with dark reds, velvet curtains and ornate, curvaceous furniture.

But because of the pandemic and the fact that Conal doesn’t really like the phone, we have to settle for email.

Conal has just won the Eric Hoffer Book Award 2020 for commercial literary fiction for his novel, Begotten Not Made. The award was established to honour free-thinking writers and independent books of exceptional merit. It honours the memory of the U.S philosopher, Eric Hoffer, by highlighting salient writing.

“I’m not exactly sure what constitutes being a free-thinker,” says Conal, “but I am most definitely a free spirit. I have been freelance and self-employed since the early 1980s.”

Following the success of his plays in Second City Trilogy commissioned for Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2005, Conal set up Irishtown Press Ltd (for his books) and Irishtown Productions Ltd (for his stage plays and the making of documentaries).

Conal Creedon. Picture: Clare Keogh
Conal Creedon. Picture: Clare Keogh

“We have been successfully touring abroad, picking up a number of theatre awards in the USA and glowing critical reviews from Shanghai to New York,” he says,

“I firmly believe that my input in producing my own work is very much part of my creative process. It’s all part of what I do and what I enjoy doing.”

Asked what kind of a lockdown he is having, Conal says that very little has changed for him.

“I always work from home and I usually don’t travel too far from downtown. I miss the regular large gatherings in my house and the visits of book clubs, student groups, family and friends, and the freedom to strike up casual chats with people.”

Conal also misses “the physicality of hugs and the intimacy of deep conversations. But realistically, those are first world problems and pale into insignificance when compared to illness and the death of loved ones, or the serious issues of people trapped in developing countries or the conditions facing refugees from war zones and famine.

“And of course, closer to home, the daily trauma faced by our frontline health workers. Thankfully, I do believe we’ve managed to ‘flatten the curve’ for this current surge. That’s a great testament of our ability to co-operate as a people, but I anticipate more to come.”

It has been said that the lockdown is going to change society and its priorities.

“Well, we’re always in a constant state of flux and every now and again, we are confronted with a shock beyond our comfort zone that creates a quantum leap of change. That’s where we are right now as a society. The change has occurred. Now we must adapt to it and hopefully, the end result will be a change for the better.”

The lockdown isn’t necessarily good for Conal’s creativity.

“I am tipping away, but here’s the mad thing and I don’t understand it. With so little interruption at the moment, you’d assume I’d be very productive. But maybe it’s because the whole world has slowed down, a surreal sense of calm has descended. It’s as if the body and mind has gone into a lockdown of sorts. But I’m enjoying the calm and I find it’s helping my process of thought.”

There has been much coverage about the difficulties experienced by artists, now that book launches, festivals, stage performances and art exhibitions have been cancelled. Conal sidesteps my question about the relative lack of funding provided by the Government for creative artists.

“The world has been hit by a tsunami and is still shuddering on its axis from the effect of it. We’re not sure if there’s going to be an after-shock or a Covid-20. Many mistakes will be made, this is an extraordinary situation. But this is not the time to begin the blame game, either domestically or internationally. This is a time for everyone to pull together — to trust the science. It’s all we have to go on.

“If anything good comes of this, maybe we as a species will develop a spirit of co-operation for when the big future shock of climate change comes knocking on our door. I believe this planet will be still spinning around the sun, long after humans as a species have become extinct. My hope is that we can delay our extinction date by a couple of millennia with a little co-operation.”

Conal Creedon. Picture: John Minihan
Conal Creedon. Picture: John Minihan

Conal’s income has been badly hit by Covid-19.

“My income is derived from a combination of book sales and performances at festivals up and down the country — and one or two tours abroad,” he says, “The festival season for me begins at St Patrick’s weekend and ends on the Sunday before Christmas when I’m invited by John Spillane to join him on stage at the Everyman Palace — always a highlight of my year.

“So, no less than shopkeepers, publicans, hairdressers, taxi-drivers, bar and catering staff, my income this year is a total wash-out because of Covid-tide.”

Becoming a member of Aosdana, the Irish association for artists, some of whose members receive a stipend, would be an honour, says Conal. He points out that Aosdana has an internal selection committee and process.

Back in 2000, when Conal had picked up a number of short story awards and his first novel, Passion Play, had been published, his star was very much in the ascendant. The Corcadorca production of his millennium street play, The Trial of Jesus won awards, his second play was in production with Red Kettle and he had commissions from RTÉ and the BBC. Aosdana members, Patrick Galvin and Desmond O’Grady, “were in the house one night after a book launch and suggested they would put me forward for Aosdana. That was 20 years ago.”

Both of those writers are now deceased. Maybe it’s time for another Aosdana member to propose Conal for membership?

Asked if he has any political allegiances, Conal says he is not a member of any party.

“Consequently, I never find myself blinded by allegiance to an organisation. I do hold strong political views but in general, I keep them to myself. I avoid expressing my politics on social media.

“We fought long enough and hard enough to achieve the democratic right for confidentiality of the ballot box. Over the decades, I have become involved in a number of campaigns in a peripheral way, but generally, I like to keep my politics private.”

Conal is currently working on another novel. Its working title is Glory Be To The Father. He has been “tipping away” at it for years. He says he is not very disciplined.

“I don’t work to a schedule or a plan. I might begin my day working on one thing and then decide to bring the dog for a walk. I’m not disciplined but I am highly motivated. I do feel a great sense of goodwill and public support towards my work and I find that very motivating. And I guess I am also motivated because I’m doing what I enjoy doing — and so far, that seems to be working fairly well.”

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