Thursday, 28 June 2012


 “Hey! Wake up, you can’t sleep here.”


“Come on, up!”

“Okay, okay, give us a sec’,” he said, wiping sleep from his eye.

“I’ve told you before you can’t sleep here. If I catch you again I’ll arrest you. Understand?”

He pulled himself up into a sitting position and nodded. He glanced up quickly at the uniformed police officer and looked away quickly, unwilling to make eye-contact. It was not just the uniform, he rarely made eye-contact with anyone anymore.

“This is a public park not a doss house, how do you think it looks to a young mother with little kiddies coming for a play in the park, only to find you sprawled all over a bench?”

“Sorry,” he mumbled an apology.

“Look at the state of you, I could smell your stink before I saw you.”


“Five minutes… if you’re still here when I get back I’ll have your sorry arse before a judge.”

He nodded once, but the policeman had already turned on his heel and moved on. His head throbbed, his throat was parched, his stomach felt queasy. It was a warm summers day and yet, despite wearing a heavy winter coat, he shivered from the cold. He brought a hand up to his temple, it came away sticky with blood. How had that happened? he wondered. A fuzzy image came to mind of being heckled and pushed around by a gang of faceless youths, dressed in hoodies and tracksuits.

 His arms, legs and back ached, a cramp knotted in his stomach and lower abdomen, he wasn’t sure if he needed to eat or shit, or both. He reached for the bottle beside him, cooking sherry, he held it by the neck and tipped it back, he wretched and then drank some more, draining the bottle.

 “Eww! Mummy, that man is so smelly.”

He no longer flinched with shame when young mothers pulled their children out of his way. It hurt at first, cutting him to his very core, especially the little ones, the fear and disgust in their eyes. Blocking out the memories was the first thing he had to do, the booze helped with that.

“Keep walking, you’re scaring the kiddies.”  The policeman was back. He nodded and shuffled on his way, keeping his eyes low. He wondered where he would sleep tonight, best not come back for a day or two.

He walked on, leaving the calm and peace of the park behind. All around him the sounds and smells of the city assaulted his senses, buses and trucks belched out noxious fumes, people hurried past all giving him a wide berth. A car screeched to a halt, the driver shouting and gesticulating at him, before he realised he was in the middle of the road. He shuffled on, not answering, not looking back.

“Oi, you, fuck off!”

He looked up from the skip, a man dressed in a chef’s aprons had come out of a doorway into the alleyway and was shouting at him, he dropped the leftover food back into the bin and moved on.

 He rummaged through the on-street bins for whatever he could find, scavenging whatever food he could get his hands on or anything he could use. A piece of cardboard he dragged from one bin would make sleeping on the cold streets a bit more bearable.

He felt dizzy and disorientated most of the time now, his body ached for food and sleep, his mind craved drink. Drink to take him away, drink to help him find the oblivion he constantly sought.

“Malone?” He looked up from the bin. “Jesus, Malone, is that you?” A man dressed in suit and tie addressed him.

 Malone? That was his name once. Not anymore. He shrugged off the man and shuffled on. The man followed.

“It is you, Malone. What the hell happened to you?”

 He pushed him away and tried to move on, but the well dressed man was persistent.

“This used to be my boss,” he laughed, turning to his friends.

 “Come on, Freddie, leave him alone, he stinks,” a woman’s voice said.

“Seriously, this was my manager at the bank. He got fired when he came into work drunk one day and told all the customers to go fuck themselves. Apparently his wife had taken the kids and buggered off with another man.”

“Please, Freddie, I want to go.” He could hear the fear in her voice.

“Jesus, Malone. Here,” the man said and shoved a tenner into his hand.

He looked up when the couple walked away, tears blurred his vision. He looked down at the ten pound note, he wanted to run after them and tell them to keep their bloody money, tell them he didn’t need it, or them and tell them to go fuck themselves. He scrunched the note up tightly in his fist, his knuckles turned white. A sob escaped from his throat, a harsh guttural noise, a mournful wail of despair.

He wiped away the tears and snot and unfolded the note, calculating how much booze he could get with it.

He wanted to forget.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

                                             Over the Black Hills

I ran away from home at the age of fourteen. I watched my father break his back toiling on barren rock to pay a fat, foreign landlord an exorbitant rent. Every night he drank himself into a stupor, not before I felt the sting of his belt or listened to the pleas of my mother as she begged him to stay his hand, while she prayed to the Lord, our almighty God to protect her.

 The day I walked down that country lane, the dark hills behind me, supposedly on some errand or other of which I can no longer remember, I felt exalted. Behind me I left the life of my father which I was bound to follow, another ignorant peasant following a life of servitude. Ahead lay adventure, a road to a new life. One where I was master of my own destiny. My heart sang with the joys of freedom, even as the fear of discovery threatened to overwhelm me. If I was caught, I knew I would be thrashed, beaten black and blue by a father who himself had been mercilessly abused by a harsh life and vengeful god.

 Fourteen years of age without a bean to my name and barely an arse left in my trousers, I set out into the world. I’d never been but more than a couple of miles from home before, never beyond the sight of the mountain. I glanced back once, taking in the grey clouds over the dark shape of the rocky slopes. The wind chilled my bones and I turned my back on home forever.

I arrived in County Cork long after my shoes had given up the ghost and walked barefoot through town and county. If I’d had a plan I’m sure it would have evaporated like the leather on my over-worn footwear. The sights and smells of the city threatened to overwhelm my senses. I am and always have been a country lad, simple at heart, even now after I have travelled the world and seen more things than any man ought to see.

 I was there no more than a couple of hours when a kindly stranger took pity on me, at least he appeared kindly to a naïve lad unused to the ways of the world, bought me a meal and fed me full of ale. When I woke, my stomach lurched and head span. Rough hands grabbed me and shook me awake. I was hauled kicking and spitting from my slumber and dragged up a wooden ladder. A hatch above opened and bright light pierced my eyes.

 “Welcome to the Royal Navy, boy,” a harsh voice cackled. I looked around, taking in the sight of the ship that would become my home, all around was the deep blue of the ocean. I immediately ran to the rail and spewed by guts over the side. My first day in the navy and the first day I felt the bite of Percy Fletcher’s lash. I still bear the marks, and more besides, on my back.

A month later I fought my first battle. When I say fought, I cowered in the corner with my knees clung tightly to my chest, jumping and whimpering at the thunderous roar of the guns. I pissed and shit myself that day. Not my finest hour.

 I’m still aboard that ship, only now I am the master. Some years after that first day I led a mutiny and we flung his majesty’s officers over the side. Percy Fletcher is sill with us, only now he administers justice at my say so, with an undiminished, lusty relish. We travel the high seas in search of easy prey and plunder, terror of the waves, loathed and feared by all.

 I’ve killed some men in my time, both by my own hand or with a barked order. But the closest I came to dying was in a whorehouse in London. A harlot by the name o’ Daisy O’Brien took exception to me not havin’ a brass farthin’, havin’ screwed her royally for half the night. I ran from that place with me breeches around me knees and me coat and hat tucked under me arm. She put a musket ball in the right cheek of me arse and left me with a limp to this day. She was a feisty wench, I was almost tempted to go back and give her some more, but I liked having me bollocks attached to the rest o’ me.

I’ve dined with kings and emperors, been entertained by the royal circus in the Orient. Supposedly it’s all in the mind, the miraculous feats of balance those performers are capable of, lyin atop o’ poles no thicker than your arm. I’m a God fearin’ man, despite me evil ways, but I’d swear there’s witchcraft at play there, some eastern dark magic.--

 They say it’s a long way from here to there and it is a long way from the banquet hall of the Chinese emperor to the black hills of home. Me ma and da are long since dead, buried on the side of that stony mountain. Did I mourn them? I reflected on the death of my mother, she’d had an awful cross to bear all her days and I’m sorry I never helped her more in her hard life. As for me da, he was a bitter, savage man all his life, and no, I feel no guilt, I did not mark his passing.

 Maybe someday they’ll ship me own bleached bones back home and bury them in that hard earth. Holy lantern Jaysus, I hope not.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Euro 2012

Some people may have noticed there is a small football tournament underway at the moment, most probably haven't. Well, Ireland has qualified. The first time since 1988, so this is a pretty big deal for us over here. Okay we're probably the weakest team in the whole tournament, we're in one of the toughest groups along with Croatia (no8 in the world) Italy and Spain (World and European champions) Our first game was last night, it didn't go too well, so we'll move swiftly on. Back in '88 we weren't fancied either, but we managed to beat England in the opening game, drew with Russian and lost to a single freak goal to the mighty Holland. In the opening game against England we scored in the 8th minute and what followed for the next eighty odd minutes was like the siege of the Alamo. A personal duel between Gary Lineker and Packie Bonner ensued, with the big Donegal goalkeeper coming out on top.

Anyway, win, lose or draw we'll have a party. Here's a story I wrote for the last World Cup, I think it's apt for now too.


     World Cup Dreams

Billy Heffernan sat in the dressing room surrounded by the noise of his teammates, his coach, the muffled sound of the crowd whipping themselves into a frenzy of anticipation and excitement. He heard none of it, his legs shook, his hands would have too only he was sitting on them. He sat with his head bowed, his eyes closed, a muscle in his face twitched. Behind him, hanging on a peg was his jersey, it was green with a large ‘10’ printed in white on the back, above the number, his name, ‘Heffernan’.

Billy could not help living in the past, a different time, a different place, a different Billy Heffernan. Eight years previously he was the next big thing, his club, Liverpool, had just won the Premier League title for the third year on the trot, thanks mainly to his goals. His international team Republic of Ireland had qualified for the World Cup Finals, again thanks to eight goals he scored in the qualifying rounds. He had the world at his feet, fame, money, anything he wanted.

He brought trembling hands up to wipe the sweat from his brow. He glanced up, looking at his teammates, a collection of journey-men professionals and promising youngsters. They were a unit, goading and encouraging each other in equal measure. Except him.

At the age of twenty four, Billy had felt himself invulnerable. The immortality of youth heightened so much more by legions of adoring fans and a multimillion Euro bank balance. Followed around by a collection of glamour models and would-be pop starlets, and a posse of hanger-ons feeding his ego.

He could feel a knot tightening in his stomach, he was sure he would either cry or vomit. He needed a drink and a smoke, neither of which he had touched since arriving at Camp Ireland for the summer festival of football.

Ordinary rules and laws do not apply to the young, rich and famous, blind-eyes are turned, discretions ignored, excuses made. That is, until the world unravels. Until suddenly you are a liability, an outcast.

The voice of his coach penetrated his thoughts. “Keep it tight, hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em often… You okay Billy?”

Billy looked up and nodded, wondering not for the first time, what the hell he was doing there.

He had always loved cars, even as a small boy he had had posters of Ferraris and Porches on his wall. High-powered sports cars were a must, an accessory to his lifestyle just as important as champagne and beautiful girls.

The team lined up in the tunnel, the opposition dressed in yellow and blue beside them. A team mate clapped him on the back. The referee, flanked by his assistants pushed his way to the front. The roar of the crowd echoed around the ground as the official led the teams onto the pitch, sending a shiver down his spine.
He still could not remember what happened that day. He had picked up an award the previous night, voted player of the year by his peers. The celebration went long into the night and through the following morning, there was booze, cocaine, girls. Of course he should never have driven. Every day for eight years he wished he hadn’t. Cried himself to sleep every night trying to replay what happened, in his mind. All he knew was, his Aston Martin had mounted the footpath, a mother and child were waiting for a bus. The mother had at least survived.

He missed the World Cup that year. Couldn’t even bring himself to watch it on the small television in his cell. After his release from prison his club tried to release him, but he was under contract, so binding even the death of a child could not break it. In his first game back he broke his leg. He still was not sure had he gone into the challenge recklessly, on purpose. A self inflicted punishment.

A year later he was out of contract and on the move. Eight years, eight different clubs in five different countries. He was currently starring in the Belgian second division. His career, his life washed up…An unfulfilled potential.

“We’re going with five across the middle, I need you to hold the ball up, keep it for the on-running midfielders. I need that famous Heffernan touch.” The words of his coach echoed in his mind as he stood with the ball at his feet in the centre circle. The guy must be completely off his rocker, he thought.

So what had happened?

An old teammate and international colleague had secured the job as coach of the Republic of Ireland. Billy had followed their progress, from his flat in Bruges on satellite television as a team made up of Premier League reserves and lower division players played beyond themselves. A team far superior to the collection of individual parts had somehow clawed there way to the World Cup Final. They were drawn in the group of death, Brazil, England and Nigeria. They of course were the bottom seeds.

The last thing he expected was a phone call.

“Ronan Morgan is out, cruciate ligament. Peter Murphy can’t play – hamstring. Joey Butler’s got a virus. There’s no one else. I need you, your country needs you.”

Billy had put down the phone with tears glistening in his eyes. He was not the Billy Heffernan they wanted, he was not a twenty four year old arrogant superstar. He was a thirty two year old has-been. It was his latest girlfriend, a twenty year old Belgian air stewardess who had convinced him to go.

“Do it for you, not for them.”

The ref brought the whistle to his mouth, with an eruption of noise from the eighty thousand spectators the game was under way. Billy was more used to playing in front of crowds of a couple of hundred, these days. The roar was deafening.

He tapped the ball to his teammate and sprinted towards the Brazilian half.

The game went pretty much as expected as wave after wave of Brazilian attacks assaulted the Irish goal, a thin green lined battered by a yellow sea. Only luck and some brilliance from the goalkeeper kept the scores tied 0-0 at half-time.

“We’re doing well,” the coach paced the dressing room while the hard breathing players took a much needed break. “Let’s try and get Billy on the ball a bit more. Let’s give him the ammunition he needs.” That’s a laugh, Billy thought, he’d hardly had a kick the whole game. It still hurt when he heard a snort of sarcasm from an unknown teammate.

The second half began as the first finished with more dazzling skills from the Brazilians and dogged defending from the Irish. But, with ten minutes to go… Disaster.

The Brazilian striker, Romario sprung the offside trap, he sprinted clear, rounded the goalkeeper and calmly placed the ball into the net. 1-0 to Brazil. Ten minutes of Brazilian keep-ball followed with the Irish unable to even get a look at the ball. The referee signaled three minutes of injury time.

Billy drew up alongside Mick O’Dea, the Irish captain and central midfield player, the play-maker, the man that made the team tick.

“One chance, just give me one chance,” Billy panted, his chest wheezing. O’Dea regarded him skeptically, but nodded.

Ireland had a kick-out, thirty seconds left on the clock, surely this would be their last chance. The ball was played out from the back through midfield, Mick O’Dea took possession of the ball, he looked up. The full-back had sprinted down the wing to his right, Billy made a diagonal run to the left. O’Dea hesitated, changed direction and launched the ball towards Billy. It came at him fast.

In his day, when the name Billy Heffernan was splashed all over the back pages of Europe’s newspapers Billy played on instinct, there was no thought necessary, he was like a predator, he knew when and how to hit the ball or to let it hit him, which angle how much power.

Give the man a ball and a yard of grass.

He let the ball glance off the outside of his left boot, it looped up in the air. He spun on his heel rounding the Brazilian defender who tried to stop him by grabbing a handful of his shirt.

Time slowed down, suddenly he was alone, no teammates, no opposition, no screaming fans…No guilt. The ball dropped in front of him and he hit it on the volley. It flew straight as a bullet, the onion sack bulged.

Time stood still, now. Billy stared open-eyed at the Brazilian goal, the crowd were stunned. Nobody moved, nobody breathed. Then the ref blew his whistle and the place exploded. Fifty thousand green clad Irish fans leapt in the air, yelling at the top of their voices. Billy realized what he had done and he ran.

He had scored against Brazil in the World Cup, he ran towards the screeching fans, he could hear his name being chanted, Heffo-Heffo-Heffo. Out of the corner of his eye he spied his teammates running towards him, like wolves chasing a stag, but this pack just wanted to kiss and hug their quarry.


He ran the length of the pitch, his arms outstretched, his head back soaking it in, the adoration of the crowd. This was his moment, his hour… His life.


He was a gladiator, a hero, a god.


Only one thing could top this.

Bring on England!

Friday, 8 June 2012

My first blog

So, my first blog. What should I say? This is the main reason I've resisted up until now, I don't think I have that much anybody would be interested in. But my publisher thinks I should have one so here it is... Oh yeah I'm getting ahead of myself here. My epic fantasy novel, medalist in March editors desk on has been signed by Cogwheel Press, click the thingie in the left corner and you'll be magically transported to their website. It'll be published and available to buy this autumn or fall depending on where you are.
Here's what it's about:

A warrior in exile seeks a path home

Banished from his homeland, a warrior of the Northern Clans grows weary of life in a harsh, alien land.

With the dark god Morrigu haunting his dreams, and a desert princess as a companion, Culainn, a warrior and champion sets forth on a journey north in search of a merchants daughter abducted by clansmen and taken back across the mountains. Through a land baked by a scorching sun, where bandits roam free and dark beasts stalk the night.

An ancient evil is rising from the desert. A Benouin myth of a ghost city inhabited by the souls of their ancestors, a bridge to the Underworld is unleashing demonic creatures on an unsuspecting world. Culainn and Persha, warrior and mage stand alone against a tide of darkness. All the while, Morrigu, the dark war god of the north seeks to use Culainn as her own tool, her own champion.

So that's it.

Slán agus go raibh maith sibh