Swim The Fly Book Trailer Assignment

Sean O'Reilly was four publications into a career that was gaining traction and steadily favourable reviews beyond these shores. When he reached a roadblock after a four-year stint while working on a big magnum opus of a novel, there was nothing for it but to take a walk down to the Liffey.

  • Learning to swim with the current


    Sean O'Reilly was four publications into a career that was gaining traction and steadily favourable reviews beyond these shores. When he reached a roadblock after a four-year stint while working on a big magnum opus of a novel, there was nothing for it but to take a walk down to the Liffey.



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"I decided to destroy it," he says matter-of-factly. "I took the computer, all the discs, all the notes, everything, and I put it in a big shoulder bag. And I threw it in the Liffey."

The act is but a shrugging incidental on O'Reilly's journey as one of most distinct voices in contemporary Irish fiction. For him, it was a cleansing action akin to a forest fire that leaves a prime nursery for green shoots.

"For me it was 'who am I writing this for?'" he says. "I felt I was starting to write for publishers rather than myself. It was a crisis moment."

The book still lies somewhere in the mud of the capital's central water feature, and calls to him occasionally like a murder victim in a shallow grave. As with many times in his restless life, the Derry-born migrant tried to jet off to who knows where after the sacrificial rite but was stopped by a friend who intervened at Dublin Airport.

"He felt that I didn't quite perhaps know what I was doing. 'Stay in Dublin, wander around Dublin instead', he told me. So that was kind of what I did. I stayed put for the first time in forever."

What followed was a period of rebuilding that has led to Levitation, a gritty, elusive, carnal short-story collection and O'Reilly's first published work in 12 years.

He laughs that it doesn't feel like a gap to him seeing as there was always "more than enough going on". O'Reilly's day job is teaching in the American College where his slurred, Ulster-Tom-Waits voice and rakish Francis Bacon frown must surely make him a hit with students.

Galway author Andrew Meehan has used the words "mysterious", "amazing" and "lovely" to describe him. The mysterious thing is there alright, especially as he calmly starts riffing about "different plains" before looking me square in the eye and asking if I believe in levitation ("I ask everyone").

But what his students, peers, readers and his devoted publishing house The Stinging Fly (for whom he conducts writing workshops) must also cherish is O'Reilly's dogged eschewal of convention. This very much accompanies him into the classroom where he speaks of "pushing" writers to look into themselves and their material more piercingly.

You could imagine this attitude stemming from his early years in school in Troubles-ridden Derry, where an essay-writing class awoke in him the realisation that notoriety and acclaim could come through lying, spoofing and fictionalising. Outside the classroom, after all, truth came at a cost.

"You had to be careful about what you said and what you didn't say," the 47-year-old recalls. "There was a lot of secrets, a lot of not saying what you'd seen, who you were talking to, who you gave your name to. Everything around the spoken word was contaminated by suspicion and paranoia.

"In the environment, there was a lot of journalists around and so you were continually seeing your own neighbourhoods represented on the TV later in a different way to how you'd seen them with your own eyes."

Up until this discovery of a fiction-loving "interior space", O'Reilly's youth consisted of being banished out from under his mother's feet into the streets to "go mad". His was not the bookish, indoor solitude of most writers' childhoods. Film, acting and painting were the first avenues with which he could respond to where he'd come from.

And then silence.

After ditching school at 16, he relocated to London where he stopped grasping at artistic immortality and instead retreated into various bedsits to read and develop his voice.

University courses in London and East Anglia were dropped out of, or half-subscribed to. Like many of his era, he got swept up in the politics of Thatcherism, the miners' strikes, rave culture. His untethered life revealed a pattern of regular and random overseas wandering. Was he running from something?

"Absolutely everything," he nods. "I'd hit the end of a certain bit of myself. When I ended up in northern Scandinavia in the wilderness, it was like the end of the world but beautiful, like Valhalla. I started rebuilding myself, writing like mad. Writing is cheap - you don't need money, you don't need a big team of people, equipment, etc."

That stint in Norway resulted in not only a couple of novels' worth of material and a new existential superstructure but also a daughter, now 21 and living in London.

"Watching her grow up reawakened me to my roots," he explains. "What was I doing when I was seven, eight, 12? It becomes terrifyingly clear what type of environment you grew up in, what you saw, what you heard. It makes you see the damage that was done to everyone - left, right, prod, catholic - in the North. You'd do anything to keep your own child away from that."

Years have passed since that night on the Quays. O'Reilly is a different writer, more concerned with "broader brushstrokes" than "the perfect sentence". As a man, the river never left him.

"I believe more in giving than I used to," he says. "What you give is more important than any other aspect of what you're thinking. Teaching has given me that sense of trying to let the river run through you and not be parcelling it out. Let it just carry you away."

'Levitation' is published by The Stinging Fly, priced €12.95

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Remember that highly rated review I posted of Don Calame's upcoming novel, Swim the Fly, a few days ago? (If not, refresh your memory here.) Well, I am happy to say that Don agreed to answer my interview questions as well as provide a copy of Swim the Fly for the winner of this giveaway! This has been an incredibly fun author talk, and you'll find out why when you read onwards. Please welcome...


(He's the human, not the other one.)

1. Hello Don, and thanks for agreeing to this interview! How did you come up with the story for SWIM THE FLY?

It began as a short piece I wrote at a writing workshop five or six years ago. Just a page and a half scribble about the summer I was “asked” to swim the 100 yard butterfly by my swim coach. It was more of a rhetorical questions when my coach asked me so, really, I had no choice. One of the guys I was swimming against was this huge, muscle-bound kid who looked like he was twenty-five instead of fourteen.

My wife suggested I write it as a novel for teens and I owe her an enormous debt because it’s the most enjoyable writing experience I’ve had so far.

2. Matt, Coop, Sean, and even Matt's grandfather are such strong characters with unique voices. What influences did you draw on to create these characters? Do you have a favorite character, or one you can relate to best?
I didn’t really base any of the characters on anybody specifically. A few of the characteristics, maybe. My mom did sell health products out of the home for a period of time, if I remember correctly. Though I never accidentally drank any of the laxative powder (I swear. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

And I knew kids like Sean and Coop growing up. But I never even knew either of my grandfathers and my swim coaches were nothing like Ulf or Ms. Luntz.

Mostly, the characters sort of blossomed on the page as the story developed.

I guess there’s a little bit of each of the characters inside me. Though I’m probably most like Matt.

3. Characters in SWIM THE FLY are on a summer swim team. Do you have any experiences with swimming? Were they as terrifying as Matt's?

I was on swim team every summer from around seven years old until my late teens. I have fond memories of it but I also remember hating having to go to swim practice every morning and as I got older, wearing a Speedo was not the coolest thing in the world to be doing.

Nothing quite like what happens to Matt happened to me, but I was enlisted to swim the fly, much to my horror, one summer.

4. How did you come up with the characters' names? Do they have any significance for you, or did they just feel right for the characters?

I tried to come up with first names that felt right for each character. Last names are always difficult for me. Usually, I break out a Hockey News and take one of the hockey players last names that seem to fit the character.

Ulf I got from a hockey player named Ulf Samuelsson (although he is Swedish). Mostly, I just liked the name, I think because it means wolf.

5. You've had a lot of different writing backgrounds, most notably as a screenwriter. How has that affected your novel-writing?

It’s effected my prose writing quite a bit. When I write I think very visually. Everything is scene oriented. Which sometimes makes it difficult for me to expand a story. Originally, the story occurred over three weeks and my editor wisely made me expand it to cover the entire summer, which I think works much better.

Also, I write a lot of dialogue. Which makes the pages add up really quickly.

6. You have a great sense of comic humor that is evident on your website, blog, and in SWIM THE FLY. Who or what has influenced your writing style and sense of humor?

Growing up I was a huge fan of Monty Python, Woody Allen and Douglas Adams. I love things that are bizarrely comic and absurd.

7. Can you share with us something you tried to do for a crush that did not go the way you wanted it to?

As a teenager, I was too afraid to do anything for a crush except long for them from afar. I sort of stumbled upon my first serious girlfriend only because she was eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a friend. She thought I was very funny then had her friend tell me she liked me (it’s so strange how these things work in middle school and high school – imagine if we approached things like that as adults. “So and so in the creative department likes you. But only if you like her. What should I tell her?”)

8. If you could ask yourself any interview question, what would it be and how would you answer?

That’s a great question! I think would ask myself that very same question if I had the chance. And then I’d answer it just like this.


If that last question and answer was any indication of the sort of humor that Don possesses and is prevalent in Swim the Fly, then I'm sure lots of people are going to enjoy it immensely. To win a copy of Swim the Fly, leave a comment with your email address and an answer to the following question:

What is the most outrageous thing that you would do in order to win the heart of your crush?

For extra entries:

+1if you follow me

+1 if you post about this interview and giveaway elsewhere (sidebars are fine)

+1 if you add me to your blogroll

+1 if you comment on my review of Swim the Fly here

No need for separate comments per entry. Only comments that contain the answer to the question will count! This contest is open to residents of U.S. and Canada only (sorry, but the book is coming directly from Don himself). It will run until Friday, April 17.

And while you're at it celebrating the upcoming release of Swim the Fly (April 14), do check out Don's website. You won't be disappointed. He's rather entertaining, to say the least. :)

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