WEST Cork-based American writer, Tom Richards, a best-selling young adult novelist and screenwriter, recently published Dolphin Song, his debut novel for adult readers.
Some of it is set close to his home in Eyeries, on the Beara Peninsula. The novel, which he hopes to adapt for the big screen, is an Amazon best-seller. It offers “a ray of hope to lighten the dark times we face”.
The novel’s protagonist, Dawn McCarthy, suffers a double tragedy when her husband is killed in an accident at sea. Having been traumatised by witnessing his father’s death, Dawn’s son, Jason, develops traumatic mutism, and retreats into a silent world of his own. It is only when Jason and his mother meet an enigmatic dolphin, that the boy takes his first steps towards healing. Dawn discovers that the mammal is not what she had first supposed.
Dolphin Song, which includes legends, is inspired by a true story that Tom read about. A family of three were involved in an horrific accident in London. A six year old boy and his father were trapped in their car. The car started to burn.
“This boy watched his father burn to death. He was rescued. But he was so traumatised that he wouldn’t talk any more. He had acute traumatic mutism.
“The poor mom took her son everywhere, trying to get him healed. Nothing worked. And then, for some reason, she decided to take him swimming with dolphins. The boy started talking again.”
The story intrigued Tom. He relocated it to Beara “because it’s a beautiful part of the world. It’s also isolated. One of the themes in my novel is about connectedness. Dawn needs to reconnect if she’s to help herself and her son. They go back to Boston where they’re from. But Dawn can’t find anyone to heal Jason.
“When they go back to the Beara Peninsula, they meet a wild dolphin which results in Jason making his first tentative steps towards healing. I can’t say anymore after that.”
Tom, aged 65, who has been living in Ireland for 40 years and in West Cork for ten years, says his novel will appeal to female readers of fantasy, aged 25-plus.
“It is a book that is close to his heart because if it hadn’t been for his late best friend, Liam O’Neill, it would never have been written. Liam, who died from Covid in May, 2020, aged 64, was working on the screenplay of the novel.
“He was just starting to pitch to European production companies for finance. He was hoping to make the film in Beara. Liam’s passing has changed the status of the project. “
Tom hopes that if can get enough traction with the novel, he’ll be able to attract a film producer and eventually bring the film to fruition in Beara.
“It is what Liam wished, and I so much hope I can help to achieve that.”
Tom has a well known German director in mind, Berlin-based Katja von Garnier.
Liam was Irish American, who was brought up in Chicago.
“We were born two miles from each other and we had to come all the way to Ireland to meet. We became best mates. Liam would have helped to establish the Irish film industry as it’s known today. Nobody hears much about him. He never had a breakthrough film.”
Liam leaves a wife, living in Carlow, and two children.
In 1998, Liam recommended that Tom attend a screenwriting course. “He called me and asked me to put together a 25-word pitch for a story that could be used as an excuse to get on a European screenwriting training programme. I came up with the 25 words.”
That became Dolphin Song.
Tom came to live in Ireland when he fell in love with an Irish woman. They have been separated for some time and are going to get divorced.
Tom has three children and five grandchildren. He spent 30 years in Navan where his ex-wife is from. Now semi-retired from his marketing company, he is concentrating on writing.
What brought him to West Cork?
“I fell in love with the place. I came here 15 years ago to work on Dolphin Song.
“I went to Anam Cara (a writers’ and artists’ retreat in the village of Eyeries) to do that. I was working on the screenplay of Dolphin Song with Liam. The area reminded me of Seattle, where I’ve lived. If you took this place and added trees, you’d kind of get Seattle. It felt like home.”
Tom lives with his partner, Carol Murray, in Eyeries. His company, Storylines Entertainment Ltd, was set up to handle the rights and “sort of be a producer for the Dolphin Song film if it came about.
“If it works out, I want to turn Storylines Entertainment into something that would publish Irish writers of fantasy, legends, poetry and fiction. I’ll have to get traction first on the novel.”
Tom has written novels before.
“I started writing in 1995 for young adults. The most successful book was Hot Foot which went to number 1 in the Irish Times bestseller list. And good old Gay Byrne had the book on The Late Late Toy Show.
“My intention with Hot Foot is to rewrite it and republish it under the Storylines brand name. I’d hope to have it ready for next summer and see what happens.
“I wrote it specifically for Liam O’Neill. That’s how we met. He optioned it years ago as an animated movie or a TV programme. You never know what could come of it.”
It sounds like Tom has no shortage of stories and imagination, nurtured by living in his West Cork idyll.