Thursday 27 October 2016

I'd have Nobels, Bookers, Tonys, all of them - if I wasn't so shy

Published 06/06/2016 | 02:30

'Seamus Heaney was the only Irish Nobel Prize winner on my books and I was proud enough of my being the making of him' Photo: Steve Pyke
'Seamus Heaney was the only Irish Nobel Prize winner on my books and I was proud enough of my being the making of him' Photo: Steve Pyke

I did it for the money. Well, maybe there was another reason. I was shy. Didn't want to be the man. You know how it is for us introverts.

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Seamus Heaney was the only Irish Nobel Prize winner on my books and I was proud enough of my being the making of him.

He came to me one day in a desperate state. "Billy, I've lost my artistic spark, poet's block and all that. Is there any chance you would write the few poems for me? You being a dab hand at the old poetry and all that."

"Go on so, Seamus," says I. "I'd see no man stuck."

I was Seamus Heaney's ghost. I wrote all his masterpieces and he paid me so much per poem. There I'd be in the pub late at night when the customers had gone home and I'd sit down with a pint and rattle off a few poems for poor old Seamus, God be good to him.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I'll dig with it.

Those were his favourite lines of mine. That poem 'Digging' took me 10 minutes to write and I got a tenner for it, not bad pay that - a euro a minute. Even the Luas drivers would be happy with that.

I should have been given that Nobel Prize but, as I said, shyness got the better of me. But fair play to him, the next time Seamus called in to the pub for a parcel of poems he brought me an apple pie, and it wasn't bought out of a shop either. Marie made it herself.

So why did I keep my silence until now? Well, it's Writers' Week here in Listowel and this woman came in to the pub and told me I was a terrible scribbler, who wrote tripe and rubbish all the time, with far too much sex in it, and that I was always using horrible words like vagina and 'discumbumblelated'. (I'm pretty sure she didn't know what 'discumbumblelated' meant. Truth to tell, neither did I. Sometimes I throw big words in here to make myself look important.)

She ranted on. "John B took the wrong baby home from the hospital." And much more.

I cried bitter tears. I was so upset I didn't even bother to finish off 'Harry Potter and The Hurler of Hogwarts' for JK Rowling, who was one of my best customers.

I often leave a clue in the books to show future scholars it was really me who wrote all the masterpieces. Quidditch is no more than hurling in the sky and sure writing about sport was no bother at all to me.

So yesterday in the pub, I was that agitated, I upset a customer who asked for a Harvey Wallbanger, by saying: "Sure if I knew how to make one a dem, I'd drink the effin thing myself." She was a poet and therefore very sensitive. Bawled, she did, but I made it up to her by giving her a few verses I'd had oven -ready for Seamus.

And with the crankiness and artistic temperament, I threw a lad out for missing the urinal. We'd have no trade left at all if we threw out every lad with a bad aim.

Ah, but there were great days.

I wrote 'Da' for Hugh Leonard. He won a Tony with it but it was really Billy's Tony. Joe O'Connor nearly won the Booker prize with one of mine. Christine Dwyer Hickey has been described as a genius. All my work.

And when the internet came, I did the bit of writing for foreign writers. Your man Dan Browne did very well with one I rattled off for him when he was stuck for the few dollars to pay the mortgage. It was called the…hold on…hold on…ah sure, I forget, I did that many. I have it. 'The Da Vinci Code', it was, and they made a movie out of it.

I won my third Nobel for Svetlana Alexievich from Belarus. I wrote her stuff in Russian. The Russian was a hoor to learn and to think one of my teachers accused me of being illiterate in two languages when he was correcting my Irish essay.

Between ourselves, I did a few books for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn too. I was only a young lad and was trying to do the Leaving at the time but poor old Solly, as I called him, was locked up in the gulags and needed a bit of cheering up. That was my second Nobel. Sure, before long I'll have as many medals as Jonathan Sexton.

I'll have to be off in a minute as there's work to be done for Donal Ryan. He's here for Writers' Week.

If I say so myself, the stuff I'm rattling out for Donal is the best work I've done. He's only a youngster, and it's nice to help out a struggling writer. And a great thrill it was too when they put 'The Spinning Heart' on for the Leaving Cert, especially after what the teacher said to me.

"Where did you get the writing from?" asked Donal. "It must have been from John B, was it Bill?"

"From the mother, actually Donal," says I.

"Go on," says he, as he hands me the grand for writing his new book.

So I explain. "The oul' fella was too busy goin' to football matches and opening things and closing things and going on the television. Sure, don't I remember her well, the mother, trying to cook the dinner, and trying to write 'The Field' at the same time, with a baby up in her arms, and another kicking football in her womb.

"That's when I took over the family business, Donal. Didn't I write 'Big Maggie' when I was nine. And it was me who killed off the stranger in 'The Field' when the mother was changing the child's nappy."

"You're a mighty man, Bill," said Donal with a tear in his eye the size of a slug from a pint. "I'd never be heard of only for you."

"Ah, will you stop that oul' carry-on, Donal," says I, all shy like.

Irish Independent

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