John Arnold: The story of my life... but will I ever be a published author?

It’s ten years ago now since John Arnold spurned an offer from an international publishing house - but has he changed his mind?
John Arnold: The story of my life... but will I ever be a published author?

PEN TO PAPER: John Arnold is pondering writing a book — “but who in their senses would want to read 580 pages of such stuff?”

I WAS often wondering could I ever write a ‘real’ book, I mean a novel or an autobiography or something like that. Maybe a thriller — definitely nothing to do with crime or violence or murder or stuff like that.

There’s a saying that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ but it’s not idleness, boredom or solitude that has me thinking about serious writing. I have plenty to do — in truth I lead a very full life and I’m not at an existential (that’s a new word I read lately!) crossroads or bordering on a moral dilemma.

Yerra no, ‘tis nothing really awe-full or anything like that, but I’m simply just pondering in a kind of child-like way about potential.

You know when we were small and young you’d be asked by a grown-up ‘And what would you like to be when you grow up?’ To come to think of it now and being truthful and honest, I don’t recall anyone ever putting that question to me! If I had been asked as a child, even as a teenager, my answer would have been the same ‘Dunno, haven’t a clue’!

I got a great education mind, so ‘twasn’t lack of learning that impaired me or held me back. Wait, now, one second, what am I saying because no one ever put a block or brake on my future. Though I was half-afraid of water, and the sea especially, the world was my oyster as a youngster.

Then again I had no overweening ambition. I never wanted to be a teacher, a scientist, an explorer or a carpenter, or for that matter a farmer. At no stage between the ages of four and 17 can I recall a heart to heart discussion with my mother or any of the various gifted people who tried to teach me about my future.

Recently, I came across the Report on my last Christmas ‘tests’ in St Colman’s in the early 1970’s. The late Canon Twohig wrote: “John can do much better with more effort.”

During my years in Colman’s, developed two passions and neither concerned the pursuit of academic excellence. Firstly, I fell head over heels in love with hurling. It wasn’t just the Fermoy College that nurtured and enkindled that affair. In the late 1960s my parish Club, Bride Rovers, enjoyed a ‘golden era’ and my hurling neighbours and family and friends were my heroes. The playing pitches of East Cork were my ‘fields of dreams’. I knew hurling was special.

Neither of my parents were from what could be termed ‘GAA families’ but they were supportive and encouraging. I was never going to be a Christy Ring or a Seanie Barry but that caused me no trouble.

From early on, I realised the GAA was and is ‘a broad church’ where players, members, workers, officers and supporters were pure communists — no airs or graces, all for one and one for all.

In Colman’s, during my term we never won the Harty but we should have. I still recall the lads won a match fair and square below in Midleton. I’ll never forget it ’cause our bus was stoned as we left the East Cork town that evening! The Fermoy College won the game but, lo and behold, ended up getting kicked out of the competition!

So hurling was one passion. The second was that most basic of traits that oft comes as one goes through teenage years, love. Michael Harding always refers to his wife as ‘the beloved’ and similarly with me, and luckily my beloved came from a clan steeped in the GAA — talk about winning the First Prize, twice!

My love of hurling and love of a woman in no way stymied me in terms of career prospects. Indeed, as a farmer by accident rather than by design, domestic bliss and sporting pastimes went hand in hand.

Before I settled down to farming I had done one job interview. It was a positive experience and I got the job.

Sometimes I let my mind wander... if I had gone to London in 1975 and if I became a successful executive with World Book and if I had got promotion and if I was transferred to the HQ of World Book in New York and if I became Managing Director?

I do occasionally ponder on what might have been, but not for long.

Regrets? Not for a minute. Life has been good to me. I was never one to bother much about accumulating wealth or riches... just as well I suppose because I never made a heap of money!

Of course, I’d have preferred to have made more from farming… if only those bloody interest rates in the 1980s hadn’t reached 20%. Borrowed money has to be repaid and that’s what we did, tough and all as it was.

On the flip side, what price health and happiness, great friends and a great community? As Patrick Kavanagh might say: ‘I have lived in interesting times and met wonderful people’.

To me, people are everything, I just love their seed, breed and generation, their history and culture — warts and all. What is history if not the story of who we are and where we’ve come from?

People say to me, ‘John, you’ve a great memory and a great head’ To be truthful the opposite is the case. I’ve a head like a sieve and a memory like a strainer. Ask where I left the hammer last week or the crowbar or the grease-gun or the chisel?

I do, however, write down what I hear and rewrite it and read and reread what I’ve written over the years.

Eamonn Kelly used to end his stories by saying, ‘I’m only saying what I heard and I only heard what was said... and what was said I’m afraid was mainly lies!’

Wisha, I’d agree with most of that but even in lies there’s a smidgen of truth if you can separate and de-cipher the fact from the fiction.

Getting back to my prospects or prospectus of writing a book on some subject other than hurling, history or humankind, I’m not so sure. I know people who have done course after course on creative writing, novels, crime fiction and murder mysteries and still find it difficult to produce even a slim volume.

I love writing about facts, about people and their stories. Fiction on the other hand means one has to create things like characters and plots and other such non-realistic figments of the imagination.

I know in me heart and soul I’d never be able to ‘make up’ a story. Telling a yarn or a tall tale is one thing but knocking out two or three hundred pages on such matters would leave me mentally constipated.

As for telling ‘my own story’, well I doubt I could manage that either. Imagine Chapter 1; Early Years and Schooling. Chapter 2; Farming, Marriage and Family. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 would deal with, respectively, the Cork County Junior, Intermediate and Senior Hurling Finals (subtitled ‘Two Out of Three ‘Ain’t Bad’). Chapters 6 to 20 would recall my scribblings for The Evening Echo and later The Echo. I’d have an Introduction, Prologue, Epilogue, a Glossary — for the ‘big’ words — and an Executive Summary.

Who in their sane senses would want to read 580 pages of such stuff?

It’s ten years ago now since I spurned an offer from an international publishing house. Back then they wanted me to pen a ‘Kiss and Tell’ racy, saucy pot-boiler. We were busy at hay at the time and I had to get my priorities right.

‘Tis much the same now, this very week. We cut the hay on Friday and the silage on Monday so I think I have enough to be doing at present.

We can be certain of one thing anyhow — we’ll have the hay well cut before we even get an opportunity, in November maybe, to ‘bate’ Tipperary.

We’ll probably need overcoats and as for the chance of dust flying in the square... in November?

Forget it.

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