I was very lucky to get the opportunity to read A Man with One Of Those Faces, the debut novel from Irish Comedian, now writer & all around ‘jack-of-all-trades’, Caimh McDonnell.
To read my full review of this very humorous debut please click here:
Caimh very graciously took some time out from his very busy schedule to answer a few questions in this very interesting Q & A.
Oh……and he knows Sarah Millican 😉
I do hope you enjoy!!
I’m so happy to have you visit Swirl and Thread.
Having read your debut A Man with One of those Faces I’m curious to find out a little more about you, as I’m sure many more readers are too!!
Caimh, I would love if you could share with us a little of your background. An Irishman through and through but not just that…a Dub!!!
‘Actually, to be 100% accurate – I’m 98% Dub.
I was born in Limerick and I’m told I was there for all of a couple of weeks before moving to Dublin where my dad had just started a new job. The most extraordinary thing about that is, because of the timing, my father had to buy our first house in Dublin without my mother ever having seen it.
To put that in context, my father is not allowed to go clothes shopping on his own.
I can only imagine his levels of terror.’
In researching for these questions I was reading a piece by Julia Chamberlain for Chortle and she describes you as someone who knows how ‘to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and keep them roaring. He’s warm, vigorous, charming, with no ‘diddly feck’ element to con us, just excellent, tightly constructed stories and a cracking pace’
It must be lovely to hear that.
How did you decide to get involved in standup comedy? Would I be correct in assuming it’s a very tough gig?
‘I always loved comedy.
From a very early age I can remember being mesmerised by anyone who could hold the attention of a room just by using words.
Hard as it to believe now with the explosion in popularity in stand-up on TV, but when I was a teenager, the only stand-up on TV was the BBC stand-up show that was on really late on Saturday night.
I used to videotape it (I know, showing my age) and then watch it again and again. I didn’t actually think I could be a stand-up at that point. I was just fascinated with how you make somebody laugh.
As for being a stand-up now, it’s not really a very tough gig at all.
I’m particularly lucky in that I don’t really have to make a living entertaining stag dos on a Friday and Saturday nights, which is comedy’s frontline.
I do that kind of gig occasionally but I spend a fair amount of my time doing tour supports and those gigs are an absolute delight to play. It’s all big rooms full of people who’ve come specifically to see comedy and they’re a joy.
Plus I get to hang out with my mates, which is great fun.’
Caimh, your debut novel A Man with One of those Faces is set in Dublin primarily. What was the inspiration behind writing a book about your home city?
‘Honestly, it kind of happened by accident. I started writing what I thought was a short story about a guy who spends his life being confused with other people and who ends up doing a job visiting elderly patients in hospital and pretending to be whoever they think he is.
When I came to write it, the opening conversation that the main character has with a patient, came out naturally as being that most Irish of conversations; being told by your mother about someone you don’t know who has died. I wrote that and went ‘oh, I guess this is in Ireland then’ and just went with it. Then, when the idea expanded in my imagination and it turned into being a novel, it just grew in an Irish context.
It is an odd thing but, as someone who has lived in the UK for 15 years and counting, Ireland is still a lot more vivid in my imagination. I honestly don’t know why that is but weirdly, Ireland and then the US are the locations that interest me most.
If I was to guess, I’d plump for the fact that writing a novel set in Ireland, gives my mind a chance to reconnect with home and I’ve been away for long enough that its peculiarities, that you take for granted when you’re there, come into sharp perspective
. As for the American thing, I have always been obsessed with the States from a very young age and despite having been half-a-dozen times, it is still the place I most like to go on holiday. It is endlessly fascinating to me, for good and bad reasons.’
It’s a book that, for me, carries similar humour to Roddy Doyle and Lisa McInerney. There can be a very dark side to Irish humour and you all capture it so well.
Is it tough to write a book that does carry violence and mental health issues in its pages, yet entertains the reader at the same time?
‘I guess all books are balancing acts in some ways but I suppose the tone I am striving for is maybe trickier than most.
I think humour in and of itself can become a bit tedious in a novel, it really only works for me if it is complemented by a driving plot. You have to care about the characters and you have to want to know what happens next, otherwise it becomes an exercise in showing off and that wears thin pretty quickly.
While my characters exist in a heightened reality, I still want it to be a believable one. I think if you can get the light and shade into it, the contrast can be really powerful. I read a lot of crime and I love it but I think some of it has the tendency to be too unrelentingly grim. I think something dark occurring can be more effecting on the reader if you weren’t entirely expecting it.
Combining dark subject matter with humour is a big challenge though, especially in the books I have planned for later in the series.
Some dark things happen, and some very dark things exist in one of the main character’s pasts. Right now, even I don’t know how I’m going to mesh them together, and that challenge is a really exciting one.’
I excitedly read that you have another book on the horizon with a few of the same characters from A Man with One of those Faces.
Can you give us an exclusive of when we can expect it on our shelves and what it will be about?
‘I had no idea A Man with One of those Faces would be the first in a series until I’d almost finished it. I think then it dawned on me that I liked these characters way too much to leave them behind. It’s an odd thing but while I was writing the book, my imagination just kept building and building the world around them and now it feels like there is an enormous amount of story there, more than I think I’ll probably be ever able to fit into books.
I’m currently half way through the second draft of the follow-up ‘The Day That Never Comes’. Once I’m done, it’ll be time for my editor to get his hands on it. It features the three main characters from the first book, although a lot has changed in the six months between the two novels.
With regards to the bigger story idea – I guess looking at it from the outside; it feels like the vast majority of people whose irresponsible actions brought about the Irish economic collapse seemed to get away with it scott free or indeed, in some cases, actually managed to make money from the crash. Meanwhile, a lot of ordinary people suffered real hardship and will be feeling the effects of it for generations to come.
So what would happen if somebody decides that enough is enough, and they take the law into their own hands? Imagine all that anger that had nowhere to go, suddenly found an outlet and an individual or group began extracting bloody vengeance on those people who never seem to face the consequences of their actions?
All that, plus there’s a dog in it.’
Caimh what genre of book would you normally gravitate toward yourself? Who are your favourite authors and were any an inspiration to your writing?
‘There are two authors that I’ve read every single thing they’ve ever published, Sir Terry Pratchett and Christopher Brookmyre.
They’ve both had a massive effect on how I write. In very different ways, they have managed to combine comedy and a strong narrative to their work.
I think the single biggest takeaway from Pratchett is that comedy works best when you establish strong characters that the reader is drawn to. There’s a reason that nobody makes you laugh as much as your best friends do, it’s because you are invested in stories they are in.
Brookmyre, continues to teach me that you can combine humour with real-world stories to great effect. He is also always developing as a writer and I think that is really inspiring. How you have a great career is you keep pushing yourself to do something different.
Overall, I’m a big fan of crime thriller – so Mark Billingham, Dennis Lehane and Marcus Sakey are real favorites plus Irish authors like Tana French, Alex Barclay, Adrian McKinty and Declan Burke. I’m also an occasional sci-fi fan because it is wonderful at taking a big mad idea and just running with it.’
It must be some buzz to support the very funny Sarah Millican on tour. What does that entail on a daily basis?
I imagine it’s an exhausting but adrenalin filled roller-coaster…..
‘It is an absolute delight, mainly because Sarah’s fans are the nicest people in the world. They’ve never been less than great to play to. As for what it entails, well – a lot of days it is myself and herself in a car driving up and down the country. Comedy, even at the top level like Sarah is at, involves a whole heap of driving! We have great fun though, often with Barry the tour manager and an awesome dog in tow. The biggest downside of doing those gigs is that going back to ordinary ones can be a real shock to the system!’
Finally Caimh, what’s next for ‘The White Haired Irishman’ aside from writing 10,000 words a day of course?
Oh stop, I’m a very happy bunny when I hit 2,000 – that’s a very good day. Next up for me is getting ‘The Day That Never Comes’ knocked into shape and out there, plus I’m very keen to get started on the third book in what I’m calling at least in my head ‘The Dublin Trilogy’.