IF you desire an immersive experience into a pre-digital world, back to a time when if you wanted to buy something you had to physically leave the house, if somebody wanted to give you a message they might knock on your door, a mouse was a small furry animal, and text was something you read in a book, then Cónal Creedon’s latest publication Pancho And Lefty Ride Again will take you on that journey.
The well-known writer from Cork published his original short fiction story in 1995 entitled Pancho And Lefty Ride Out and this latest work is a celebration of that book - which was written when he was running his launderette on Devonshire Street in the heart of Cork city.
“Ever since I opened the launderette I had been writing frenetically, filling copybook after copybook, putting word after word down on paper,” he reminisces.
From writing for the sheer enjoyment of it, this activity turned into his full-time profession, and his short stories, novels and plays went on to receive high critical acclaim and scoop many prizes.
He eventually closed the launderette.
“This latest book - Pancho And Lefty Ride Again - is a re- imagination of my first publication, a retrospective look to where my head was at in the ’80s and ’90s” explained Cónal.
“It was a different world back then, Ireland was monocultural. The issue then was emigration, not immigration. A whole generation of young Irish people climbed over each other to get out of here, scrambling for a green card in the Morrisey or Donnelly lottery visas.
“These were bleak times, politicised times, times when hope was in short supply, and although the book is not about any political issue per se, the hopelessness of the time casts its shadow over everything.”
All the original work in the book has been re-edited over the years, and the second section of the book, entitled Bonus Tracks, contains stories that have not previously been published, although Cónal has shared them at numerous public readings.
The collection presents a motley crew of beguiling, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic characters all set in a world which is swiftly passing.
This past though, is not seen through rose-tinted spectacles, but rather through the prism of the red, pulsating heart of imperfect human life.
There are multi-faceted meanings in his zesty prose as his characters drink, dance, go shopping, hide under duvets in grubby bedsits, nurse broken hearts, and grapple to stay afloat in a constantly changing world.
In Dockets and Dowels, a 58-year-old cabinet maker laments the demise of skilled handcraft as the market gets flooded with cheap imports and he decides to make his own coffin in the kitchen.
“Somewhere along the line he decided that he couldn’t face eternity in some thrown together plywood box fastened with a few dowels.”
In Same Old Tune we encounter Nero, a talented violin player, whose life is crumbling all around him. The juxtaposition of his name with what he does best is one of the many wry ironies in the book.
Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned, and though Cónal’s Nero spends his days sozzled on drink as a result of neglect and heartbreak, he manages to get the better of the priest Fr Cleary, who had called into him to deliver some unwanted moral guidance.
Nero, by way of hospitality, gets the holy man completely stocious, and all hell breaks loose as the priest loses his reason and begins raving about his misfortune at having chosen the wrong profession.
“I spends me whole time thinking about getting me hole. I’m not cut out for this celibacy lark at all.”
To the non-Cork reader, the dialogue in the book is worth reading aloud to get the full gist of the unique Leeside lilt, for although Cónal’s stories deal with universal themes, they are flavoured by and marinated in a hefty dose of Rebel spice.
“I write characters who just happen to inhabit a streetscape with a culture, topography and history similar to the one I inhabit,” he says. Although he draws from the well of Cork, most Cork people will recognise that reality is often suspended on the altar of imagination.
Every Picture Tells A Story is a beautifully elucidated tale recounted by an inanimate object - in this case a painting.
“I suppose my happiest days were when I was finding myself, lost in the mind of my creator,” it begins.
Consistently layered with meaning, each well-crafted story gives pause for reflection, making this a book to be savoured and reread.
The impact of the characters are visceral and charged. Some of the stories will bring you to tears, such as the one which documents the changes brought about by the colonisation of city streets, which were once the preserve of children playing games, by traffic.
In After the Ball, Cónal recalls the accidental death of a little boy who got knocked down playing football - a true story.
“Down our street change comes slowly, so slow it’s undetectable”
A golden thread of humour weaves its way throughout the book too and many of the stories are quite frankly hilarious, particularly Pana Done Wrong, where the hero tries to do his Christmas shopping in the lashings of rain in Patrick Street, and has the misfortune of bumping into ‘Tragic Ted’ who wants him to go for a pint, then insists on joining him shopping and messes up his plans.
“Sure look, I’ll come along with ya, we can go for de one after.”
As part of the Cork International Short Story Festival, Cónal will be launching Pancho and Lefty Ride Again in conversation with Tina Pisco at Waterstones, Cork, on October 12 at 7pm.