Monday, February 14, 2011

Hugh Leonard - a Great Lunch Companion

Personal Memories of a Literary Giant

A writer was being interviewed on RTE, the Irish National Radio Station. I grabbed pen and paper and began to scribble, not making notes about what time he got up, or the hours spent each day getting words on paper. No. I was writing a letter of support championing a new beginning, airily giving my views on love. And with the idea of sending my thoughts to a complete stranger.

After the programme ended, I re-read my notes. Reality dawned. The content was far too personal to send. It seemed intrusive and much too forward, as my mother – a person keen on manners – might have said. What was I doing?  Surely this character had plenty of friends to offer support? Still, I felt he should know that I supported his new love and somehow, because of how he had spoken during the interview, I felt he would welcome words of encouragement.

Well known, not only in his town and country, but internationally, a rumour existed that he was not the easiest of people; he could be a bit of a Curmudgeon. What if rage, followed by a smart public riposte, and in a national newspaper, was the response to my letter?  What indeed?

The Internet was still in its infancy then but I, a modern gal, had an e-mail address. My name, with tagged on at the end catapulted me into a brave, daring new world. I proudly included it in my contact details and posted my letter, without even having the writer’s full address. I felt it would get there. Dalkey, a perfect, small town by the sea, south of Dublin city, is that kind of place.

I had never really doubted myself. In no time a positive response appeared in my e-mail inbox, (proving that he was moving with the times also) and heralding the start of many, merry lunches with Jack Keyes (Hugh Leonard) who died two years ago this week.

With my move to France in 2003, Jack knew that I wanted to change direction and become a full time writer, but he was always more interested in discussing the French and their wonderful approach to life, especially food. Though he could tell a scurrilous story really well and have me doubled up laughing, Jack wasn’t the warmest of advisers. (I didn’t mind this in the slightest; I already had someone egging me on:  Maeve, the Queen of the bookshelves.)

At our memorable farewell lunch at Les Frères Jacques on Dame Street, Jack got serious about my writing plan and told me to start immediately, write for a few hours every single day and get rid of ‘all the rubbish’ and then, in time, see if anything good came out.

I sailed away and began to write about life in Ariège Pyrénées. Articles were accepted; Editors liking my work was wonderful. Then, phone calls and e-mails from Ireland told me I had been mentioned in Jack’s Curmudgeon column in the Sunday Independent.

Jack had written: “My friend is not only in the early throes of authorship, but has gone the whole 'cochon', moving with her partner to the 'neck' of France just north of the Pyrenees between the Atlantic and the Med. Now and again, I hear from her to say that another article has been sold, and in between she has been the bride at a village wedding. Janey Shortall is living the dream with a vengeance.

He liked my stories of French life very much, and after a few years he seemed to think I had got rid of the rubbish, and might now be ready to move on to something bigger. I treasure one of Jack’s very last e-mails to me, in which, sandwiched between all his Dalkey news, he simply said; “Keep taking notes. In no time you’ll have enough for a book.”  

I did. I have. Now for that elusive thing, to find an Agent who has the same faith in me.

1 comment:

  1. You do express a dream almost completely realized in such an engaging way! I got a thrill just reading this. Good fortune follow you now that you're truly earning it!I love the look and variety of this blog. Can't imagine how many hours you must have put into developing it. I'm really envious!