Write On! interviews writer Patrick Kealy
Patrick is a trained theatre director, writer and performer. He is also a Life Coach and Personal Trainer and Body Movement Practitioner in the areas of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), using over 40 years of movement training, improvisation skills and stress reduction techniques employed in his theatre practice as a director and performer.
He is a workshop facilitator and has worked with hundreds of participants to develop their self-expression and presentation skills. Patrick specialises in enabling teams and individuals to hone their pitching and general communication skills.
He has also worked as an international tour guide in the UK, France and Ireland.
WO: How would you describe your writing/work to someone new to it?
PK: I describe my first (as yet unpublished) novel Bogboy as “autobiographical in everything except the details”. So it’s about family, love or the lack of it and how our inner landscape is shaped and formed by the outer. Bogboy is set in the remote West of Ireland. Place, the meaning of home and family, and how it shapes our lives is central to my work. The family we’re born with and the ones we create for ourselves. This surprised me when I first started writing novels, although now I’m not sure why I was surprised, given that I was an adopted child who grew up gay.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, Lifeline?
PK: When I’d finished Bogboy, my first full-length novel, I took the advice of my brilliant mentor Claire Steele and immediately started my second. I remember being told when I did a parachute jump for charity back in the 1980’s: “First jump’s easy, wait until you try your second.”
Well, given the jump was terrifying, I didn’t wait to find out, but I think I knew what they meant! Second time is in some ways worse, because it’s still terrifying, plus you know what to expect, which oddly doesn’t make it any easier. In other words, better get back in the ring after the first bout as soon as possible if you’re serious about it at all.
Lifeline is an indirect sequel to Bogboy, which I’d imagined as a trilogy of interconnected stories based on the character of Bogboy. So, having written a tale of growing up, maybe the most obvious theme for a first-time novelist, instead of writing the next part of his story, I decided to skip to his death. I quickly realised I was writing a road movie, again set in the West of Ireland. Bogboy is historical, set in the 1950s, whereas Lifeline is contemporary. His friend Toby has been entrusted with taking Bogboy’s ashes and scattering them along the Wild Atlantic Way. So, to my surprise (spot the theme here), the story has become about Toby not Bogboy (real name Alf), although their troubled relationship is inevitably a big part of it.
WO. What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
PK: I think it’s the randomness of the universe, if that’s not too pretentious a response. Like a lot of us scientists and artists, I want to find patterns and some kind of meaning to existence. The world and fate can seem so chaotic and haphazard, yet we seem to be pattern-seeking creatures. That’s part of it. It’s a way to make order out of chaos, a little moment of playing God in an infinitesimally small corner of life. What inspires me is the beauty, wonder and complexity of living. Our failed but sometimes honourable attempt to live good lives for all our manifest flaws. In nearly all great acts of creativity, it’s the flaws we’re fascinated by; certainly in human behaviour and relationships. Bottom line: I’m just insatiably curious about the world, the who and why of stuff, followed by the consequences and the what.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Contradictions’. With that in mind, do you ever actively look for or specifically avoid contradictions in your writing? Is there a part of your writing process that contradicts itself, yet somehow works for you?
PK: Ooh! Great question. In the case of both Bogboy and Lifeline I had a major character, an adversary for my protagonist who I thought of as unlikeable, the psychological villain with evident character failings. Except, each time, the more I delved into their psychology, the more three-dimensional they became. Still flawed and damaged, but with much more nuance. In other words, a whole mass of contradictions. I’m not sure if it’s possible to write a genuinely interesting character who isn’t full of contradictions in one way or another. In the case of Lifeline, I’d thought of Toby my protagonist as a stuck-up, somewhat cold, priggish individual, as opposed to the warm, freewheeling artist Bogboy. Initially, one character seemed to be the abuser and the other the abused but, as the story evolves, it’s not nearly so cut and dried, which makes for a more interesting exploration. So in answer to your question, I’d say I don’t plan too far ahead and definitely allow for contradictions to emerge in both the character and the plot.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
PK: That’s easy. Next birthday I’ll be 69. I knew by the age of seven I loved writing and telling stories. By my teenage years, I was already writing interesting short stories. Then I stopped for nearly 50 years. I wrote plays, poems, travel journals, you name it, but never had the courage to say: “I’m a writer.” So tell yourself each and every day of your life: “I’m a writer.” Then do what writers do. Write. And share your writing with anyone who’ll listen, until any last trace of imposter syndrome vanishes. That’s what I had to do, anyway. It took me a lifetime, but it doesn’t have to take you nearly as long.
WO: Question from Twitter user: @madeleinefwhite How do you choose the name of your characters?
PK: I know there are writers who comb telephone directories or check out gravestones. I mostly trust gut instinct, plus mash in a few real-life names I’ve encountered.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
PK: I’m an actor and theatre director, so I’m still running my theatre company www.theatrenation.org although I’m pretty well on a writing sabbatical for most of 2023. In addition, I’m about to launch a podcast series, The Joy Of Age, the baby boomer sequel to The Joy Of Sex. Plus working as a dramaturg on a new drama project by my great friend and colleague Frances Viner, inspired by The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. Also, a powerful project based on life in the modern British prison system, Lads And Dads, which we’re planning as a documentary.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
PK: Sancho Panza. I once played Don Quixote, and I learned that everyone, particularly artists and dreamers, needs a Sancho in their lives to help ground them and save them from tilting at too many windmills.
You can find out more about Patrick Kealey and Theatre Nation here www.theatrenation.org
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Tell yourself each and every day of your life: “I’m a writer.” Then do what writers do. Write. And share your writing with anyone who’ll listen, until any last trace of imposter syndrome vanishes.