Saturday 21 September 2019

What to do when you haven't got all the time in the world

Liam Hayes was told his cancer will return - his new novel deals with someone who is told what day she will die, writes Alan O'Keeffe

SILENT CONTEMPLATION: Liam Hayes takes a moment in Paddy Cullen’s pub in Ballsbridge. Photo: Tony Gavin
SILENT CONTEMPLATION: Liam Hayes takes a moment in Paddy Cullen’s pub in Ballsbridge. Photo: Tony Gavin

Alan O'Keeffe

Long hours of cancer treatment led former GAA All-Star Liam Hayes to write a psychological thriller about a woman whose days are numbered.

In his novel, the woman is told she will die by drowning on a certain date in the future.

The sports journalist, publisher and former captain of the Meath football team is in remission from a second bout of cancer.

His illness inspired him to create the fictional heroine Heidi, who must grapple with knowing the date she is destined to die.

Doctors have advised the new novelist his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma will return at some time in the future.

"My cancer is a repeating son of a bitch," he said.

"I am told it is follicular. My oncologist says it could come back in two weeks or two years, so it could come back at any time," he said.

"Next time it returns I'm told my chance of surviving is two out of three," he said.

Out of all this uncertainty about life and death and his future came the character Heidi Wells. His first novel is named You Haven't Got All The Time In The World…Heidi Wells.

He said he gave the story a 'Stephen King'-type of plot in which a man informs his daughter Heidi that either she, or her twin sister Gracie, will drown on a particular date six-and-a-half years in the future.

The drowning death will happen to whichever twin was born first. But hospital records fail to reveal which of the twins was born first.

The plot for the novel came to him over a long period as he sat on hard plastic chairs in St James's Hospital in Dublin waiting for sessions of chemotherapy. The oncology/haematology department has special waiting areas which are very suitable for quiet contemplation and also for making notes for plot twists, he said.

"I was sitting on these chairs wondering where is this going to take me? Wondering that if I knew when exactly I am going to die, what day and what year, I asked myself how beneficial that would be for me?" he said.

"So that's when I built the character Heidi Wells, who must decide how she will meet her fate.

"The point is how does she use her time? She makes a lot of good decisions. Heidi is a Michelin-star chef and there's a lot of magnificent food described in the book," he added.

There is also a murder as part of the plot.

"But the lesson for me in the book is she lets four years slip by before she takes control of her life. So it makes me think about what I really want to do with my life.

"We are all role playing, whether you are a solicitor or a journalist or a waiter. Not just in our work life, we role play in our whole lives. We build ourselves into characters and we don't break out of those characters.

"Really, the lesson from the character of Heidi Wells is to try to slip out of the role that you have inherited, or the role you have decided to take on in life," he said.

Hayes (56) was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010. It coincided with business misfortunes which had left him "absolutely broke". He underwent lengthy treatment and it went into remission. The cancer returned in 2015.

Following further chemotherapy, he is again in remission but he has been told that when the cancer returns a third time, he will need a bone marrow or stem-cell transplant.

He was treated as a public patient and the doctors, nurses and staff at St James's were "magnificent".

"I have found that when you get a critical illness, the public health system in Ireland stands up strong," he said.

The father-of-four grew up in Skryne, Co Meath, and lives in Lucan in Dublin with his wife Anne and their two youngest children, Billy (21) and Stephen (19).

He won All-Ireland senior football medals with Meath in 1987 and 1988. In 1992, he wrote Out of Our Skins, the first major memoir written by a GAA player.

Praised as a tour-de-force on the reality of top-level competition, it was reissued on the 20th anniversary of its launch. He went on to write several more acclaimed books on sporting topics.

A career journalist, he was chief sports writer for The Sunday Press until the company closed down in 1995. He went on to forge a career as a newspaper publisher and a book publisher.

"I've ghost written or published 30 to 40 memoirs of people over the last 20 to 30 years," he said.

All factual books he has written were published with his name Liam Hayes - but he uses William Hayes for his first fictional work.

'You Haven't Got All The Time In The World…Heidi Wells' (Hero Books, only available online from Amazon). Liam Hayes is head of sports at DMG Media, publishers of 'The Daily Mail' and 'The Mail On Sunday'

Sunday Independent

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