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An arresting new talent

Garda John Galvin could have a bestseller on his hands. But although he loves writing, he is the third generation of his family in the force and...

Garda John Galvin could have a bestseller on his hands. But although he loves writing, he is the third generation of his family in the force and he's not giving up the day job. Report by Myles McWeeney

John Galvin is already an award-winning writer, and is still a serving garda stationed in Dingle, Co Kerry. Five years ago he sat down in the spare bedroom of his house and started writing a full-length novel. Next week the result of all that midnight oil, Bog Warriors, will be published.

It is a comic crime thriller set in the imaginary village of Dunsheerin, where begrudgery and grievances thrive. To an urban reader it's a rural Ireland that doesn't seem too far removed from Dingle. It centres on the investigation of the murder of a local businessman and reveals a web of dark secrets and deep-rooted alliances complicated by the arrival of a crime investigation team from Dublin. Nicely plotted and peopled with well-drawn characters Bog Warriors moves along with considerable pace and is a highly accomplished first novel.

The first draft took Galvin six months to write, and in the first flush of enthusiam sent it off to as many publishers as he could. In retrospect he now realises the scatter gun technique was a mistake, that the recipients were all publishers who didn't handle crime fiction.

Naturally he garnered a fistful of rejection slips, and admits that the rejection still hurts.

He then had the bright idea of sending the manuscript to well known Irish literary agent Jonathan Williams. Williams read it and called to suggest a meeting halfway between Dingle and Dublin.

At a hotel in Limerick Jonathan spelled out exactly what was wrong with Bog Warriors, a chastening experience for the author. ``I hated the fact that he was picking holes in everything I'd written, but I did listen and I did go home and rewrite large portions of it.

``But I still hated having to do it and I wasn't really sure about it so I put it away and quite honestly forgot about it. About a year later my sister asked me what had happened to it and I told her I'd put it away and forgotten about it as I was writing another book. She asked me for it, and about two months later she rang me and told me she had sent it to Town House and they wanted to publish it.''

Garda Galvin has signed a two-book deal with Town & Country publishing, among whose stable of successful fiction writers are Deirdre Purcell and Julie Parsons. He's actually well ahead of himself, with the second book completed and a third well under way. He's says he's not a disciplined writer, though he does sit down in front of the PC four days a week, mostly at night time when he comes home from work. He says he hates writing during the summer, as there are far better things to be doing on a warm sunny evening.

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When he is in front of the PC things happen quickly. ``While I'm at work I often think about scenes in the current book. I work out how to write them so when I come home it's as if it's all ready to be written,'' he says. ``It seems to be the best way for me to work. On a day off, or when I'm on holidays, I've sat down in front of the computer at nine o'clock and tried to work, but nothing happens. I write lots of words, but on the page they seem completely dead.''

John Galvin's book has recieved some heavyweight pre-publication accolades. John B Keane says John Galvin tells a great story and describes the book as a fast paced, Irish crime investigation, the authenticity of which is refreshing. The former Head of the Murder Squad, John Courtney, is impressed by the very fine insight the book gives into rural Ireland and the tactful use of local knowledge by the Gardai.

But come what may even if Bog Warriors tops the best sellers list for months, John won't be giving up the day job. He says he'll even be able to resist the siren call of Hollywood. He's the third generation of his family in policing, following the the footsteps of his grandfather, a RIC Inspector, and his father who was an Inspector in the Garda Siochana. ``I haven't risen to those dizzy heights,'' he says with a smile. ``I'm still just a plain Garda, but I wouldn't want to do anything else. It's not as if the spirit of a Garda Commissioner appeared to me and told me I had a vocation that could not be denied, but from early childhood, since about the age of four, I've always known that this is what I wanted to do. I suppose I'm one of the lucky people.''

And doing it in Dingle suits him right down to the ground. ``I wouldn't want to sound like a Bord Failte brochure, but it really is a magical place to live. I get calls all the time from Garda friends stationed in cities and towns on the east coast or in the Midlands asking me if there are any vacancies in our area. I really like being a Garda in a small community because I enjoy contact with people. Taking the time to talk is the best skill a Garda can have, because if you don't know the people then you don't know your job.''

He admits that a Garda's job has changed radically since his father's days on the force. ``I remember him telling me that when he was a Garda in Waterford many years ago he caught a burgular redhanded,'' he recalls. ``To get him to the station to charge him, Dad invited him to hop up onto the crossbar of his bike and off they sailed down the road. It's not the urge to commit crime that has changed, it's the nature of crime. In my Dad's day poitin was the nearest thing they had to a drug problem. Now drugs are a rural as well as an urban problem. The Garda's contact with the young people of his community is more important than ever now.''

And it is this close contact with his beat that fuels John's literary imagination. He began writing on a £5 fifth-hand typewriter and one of his first short stories won the Sunday Tribune/Hennessy Short Story Award. He writes about what he knows, which is policing, and the winning short story featured Hegarty and Costigan, two rural gardai.

Hegarty and Costigan have now made the transition to major characters in a full length book, and have done so with considerable success.

* Bog Warriors by John Galvin,Townhouse, £6.99

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