FOR as long as he can remember, writer, broadcaster and comedian Colm O’Regan has been an observer, always attuned to quirky phraseology.
It has served him well. His latest book, a novel, entitled Ann Devine, Ready for Her Close Up, follows his bestselling Irish Mammy books.
The Dripsey native, who lives in Dublin, sold more than 70,000 copies of his three humorous books on the quintessential matriarch familiar to us all.
His debut novel is about a mother in her fifties with empty nest syndrome and her efforts to be more active in her community in the fictional town of Kilsugdeon. Throw into the mix a film crew and a Hollywood star fond of the drink, who are filming a TV series in Kilsugdeon, and you’ve got the makings of a narrative that makes for much hilarity — and some home truths about rural Ireland.
The novel started as a column in The Farmer’s Journal. Colm was asked to write the diary of an Irish mammy. “I kind of figured that it would be a good way to set up a novel, if I was ever going to write one. I made the characters as open-ended as possible so that I could go in any direction. I wrote about 40 snippets about Ann Devine and asked my publisher if they thought there was a novel there. They said ‘yes’
“I had written episodic pieces. I needed a bigger arc for a book so I came up with a plot. With the TV crew, there’s all sorts of chicanery and shenanigans. Two implacable forces meet. That’s where the craic and the plot come in.
“It’s supposed to be funny. Thankfully, the people who read it for me laughed while reading it so that’s kind of encouraging. It’s for anyone who wants a laugh and also, it’s for people who want to see contemporary Ireland and what’s left of old Ireland and how they clash.
“It’s also about different generations and it’s a little bit of a thriller, a whodunnit or a ‘what happened at all?’”
Colm attended Deerpark CBS, Ballyphehane. “For a lot of the time, I was the only country lad in the class. It was great from an observer’s point of view. I kept my head down a bit and did a lot of listening. I think a country background teaches you how to tell a story whereas a city background teaches you how to tell a joke. It’s faster and there’s more competition for time.”
With no plans to be a writer or a comedian, Colm studied civil engineering and had a job lined up before he left UCC. He worked in IT consultancy for two different companies for ten years in Dublin. But niggling at him was a growing desire to do stand-up comedy.
“About halfway through my decade of having a proper job, I started to do a bit of comedy in 2005. I had this desire to stand up in front of people. If it had been years ago, I probably would have become a priest!”
Colm made people laugh in all the main comedy venues in Dublin and subsequently at City Limits in Cork and later, abroad, at international festivals. To concentrate more fully on comedy and to start writing, he gave up his day job in 2010 — during the recession.
“I had a mortgage. Everything was falling apart in the economy. It seemed like a good idea to start something new.” Colm didn’t encounter any negativity from his family. “My mother is very good in the sense that her main concern is whether I’m happy. She doesn’t care about status. Often, making big decisions is just the freedom from other people to not say the wrong thing. The best support they can give you is a bit of space. My wife (Marie) is very good. She said ‘Let’s give it a go’.”
Marie, says Colm, is a good support. She’s in touch with the zeitgeist although less so now as she is busy looking after the couple’s two young children, Ruby, aged “three and a bit” and Lily, who is nearly two.
Writers tend to mine their lives for material. Colm made a six-part radio documentary series for RTÉ on the experience of men when they first became fathers. It was broadcast recently.
“Julian Clancy, who produced it, had a child around the same time as me. We were talking about becoming dads. I think men have difficulties sharing. We don’t have that practice. Two women who don’t know each other but have toddlers, will talk a lot about what’s going on. Me and Julian had a very clear brief for the radio programme. We wanted to hear men talking about their first year as dads. We spoke to six dads in different situations.”
How does Colm find fatherhood? “It’s hard work. It’s like the Leaving Cert every day. You think you did well in the day’s exam and then it’s maths paper 2 the next day.”
Colm does a certain amount of work from home, although since working on his novel, he has been going to an office. “But I’m there for the bedtimes and the waking up times and often the middles as well. At some point, you pick up the skills. I now know that if there’s an absolute meltdown in public, I don’t panic. I’m learning from Marie as well. She’s the senior manager while I’m the manager.”
Aged 40, Colm, who lives by his wits, realises that nothing can be taken for granted. “I do a lot of different gigs. My hope is that if some drop off, others will start. That’s just the way of it. It keeps it interesting. There’s no relaxing.”
Sometimes, he takes note of a line of dialogue that he hears, for possible use. “There’s a lot of dialogue in my novel. It’s very important for me to capture how people really talk in different situations. This morning, I was at the dump getting rid of a few bags of rubbish and a broken microwave. Somebody came in and asked a guy in high vis a question. The fellow in high vis said ‘I’m not here at all’. I would never have come up with a line like that. It wasn’t clear whether he worked there but wasn’t on duty, or whatever.
“The great thing about books is you can use lines like that which wouldn’t always work on stage.”
Amusing, thoughtful and an astute observer, Colm is clearly highly resourceful.
Ann Devine, Ready For Her Close-Up by Colm O’Regan is published by Transworld Ireland at €16.