Up at 3.30am as Cork city comes to life

Writer Cónal Creedon has launched his second novel. He talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about starting his day at 3.30am, drifting from religion, his recent time spent at UCC’s English department, and his latest book, which has been almost 20 years in the making
Up at 3.30am as Cork city comes to life

THE WRITTEN WORD: Conal Creedon has written radio soaps, plays, as well as his two novels, ‘Passion Play’ back in 1999 and ‘Begotten Not Made’ which is published recently

CORK writer, Cónal Creedon, whose second novel, Begotten Not Made, has just been published, keeps strange hours.

The Devonshire Street-based author likes being up in the early hours of the morning. In an ideal scenario, he is in bed by 8pm and gets up to start his day at 3.30am. He listens to the radio, has cups of tea and works.

“I tap away at whatever I have to do, so it might be writing, rewriting, emails or letters. I love that time, slowly hearing the city come to life. It might start with a motorbike or a car or it might be stragglers heading home. Then the whole thing builds up to a cacophony around 9am.

“I might go up to the Metropole around 8am for a swim. That’s like the middle of the day for me. Then I’ll go for a coffee and maybe go downtown to do a few things like organise dinner.”

He does the cooking for himself and his partner, Fiona O’Toole. The couple’s inner city home, all dark reds, velvet curtains and ornate furniture in the dining room, is fronted by a garden full of bamboo plants, chosen for their abundance of leaves. There are two benches to sit out on and, with the high gate, there’s a sense of being cut off from the city, despite the central location.

Cónal might drop into the Corner House for a tea-time glass of wine. But he is never far from his writing desk.

Conal's second novel, Begotten Not Made
Conal's second novel, Begotten Not Made

Begotten Not Made is a kind of fairytale for the 21st century where miraculous cures happen, saintly apparitions are seen and a homing pigeon achieves death-defying feats. The wonders of nature and the frailty of humans are all part of this enchanting novel.

Its premise is that an elderly Christian Brother looks out from a monastery towards a convent. Brother Scully’s focus is on Sister Claire’s bedroom window. It is a secret ritual that he has observed every morning for almost half a century.

Brother Scully only met Sister Claire once, the night Dana won the Eurovision Song Contest, in 1970. Since their only encounter, with a flicker of a light bulb, Sister Claire has sent a coded message of love to Brother Scully every morning. But when the novel opens on a Christmas Eve morning, no light shines from Sister Claire’s bedroom window. What unfolds is an unrealised love story. Not to mention the intrigue surrounding the nun’s whereabouts.

Cónal started writing this story almost immediately after the publication of his debut novel, Passion Play in 1999. He wasn’t writing it towards any end, initially. It was always there in the background.

Prior to working on it, he wrote his surreal radio soap, Under the Goldie Fish, broadcast on RTÉ. He went on to write and tour plays in New York and Shanghai as well as publishing short stories and making television documentaries and radio plays.

His three plays making up the Second City Trilogy were a big hit.

“All the time, I was coming back to this novel. After five or six years, I realised I had written thousands of pages. But it seemed to me it was almost like another version of Passion Play.

“I began to wonder if I really wanted to write about working class life, bedsits, drugs and prostitution. That stuff is fascinating and there’s great humour in it but I decided to take a leap in the other direction and write something more formal about somebody who has a broader view, someone who has read more books.

AUTHOR: Conal Creedon, who has launched his second novel, ‘Begotten Not Made’. Picture: John Minehan
AUTHOR: Conal Creedon, who has launched his second novel, ‘Begotten Not Made’. Picture: John Minehan

“I thought what better (kind of person) than a Christian Brother. They often come from the ranks of small farmers in working class areas so it’s the same values (as Passion Play) but a bigger world view and a better way to express it than maybe somebody who slipped through the net and found themselves on smack in a bedsit.”

Two years ago, Cónal was appointed adjunct professor to UCC’s School of English. During his year at the university teaching creative writing and working on his own writing, he finished the novel that had been almost 20 years in the making.

“I loved every minute at UCC, that whole engagement in a place where you can just engage with your head. Often, when writing, you have to convince yourself that there’s validity to it because sitting around writing stories is a funny old past time.

“Being in UCC gave me the sense that this is what I want to do. It was the catalyst for finishing the book.”

Brother Scully “has his doubts about the supreme being but at the same time, he doesn’t believe that man is the be-all and end-all”.

While he believes in Jesus, the brother “is not convinced of this God sitting in judgement. But that doesn’t take from the fact that he is religious in his own way.”

Cónal grew up in an Ireland seeped in Catholicism.

“Corpus Christi was a huge public event. All the houses around here would have the flags out. Growing up, I would have believed what the status quo believed. I don’t even know if belief was a big part of it. It was just the way it was, this Christian culture.”

In his late teens, Cónal drifted away from religion.

“There was no real recoiling against it. It just wasn’t working for me. I just didn’t get it anymore. It wasn’t really a step away from the church; it was just a step towards something else.”

For Cónal, the writing life is all-consuming.

“The part I like is the writing and not the publication part. I love the process of writing, sitting down and just enjoying these people I’ve created. When you get rid of it and publish it, that’s the end of it.”

Having written The Trial of Jesus (produced by Corcadorca in 2000) and Passion Play, which takes place on Good Friday, Cónal became fascinated with the gospels.

“I just think the gospels are powerful and are open to interpretation.”

Cónal came up with a theory as to the’ real father’ of Jesus. Brother Scully believes this theory.

Cónal finished the manuscript for Begotten Not Made last January. He agreed with his agent that it would be best not to send it to multiple publishing houses “to keep the paternity narrative fresh”.

There would typically be a two year lead in to publication “and the story of Brother Scully’s theory about Jesus’s father could inadvertently seep out into the general knowledge before the book came out.”

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