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New age thrillseeker

TIMING, they say, is everything and Tom Galvin has it in spades. His debut novel Gabriel's Gate has just been published and its subject matter is nothing if not apt, touching on the consequences of the economic downturn.

Set in 2010, the intriguing premise sees the recession in full swing in Ireland. A group of college pals decide to buck the emigration trend, despite opportunities which are being denied to them. Instead, they want to find a patch of land that hasn't been contaminated and live off it.

As you might expect, however, the hippy-commune ideal starts out well enough, but things soon go wrong. Badly wrong.

Funny then that Dubliner Galvin had the idea for the book back in the days when the boom was in full swing and paying €500k for a shoe-box apartment seemed like a perfectly wonderful idea.

"Actually, I wrote the book before the boom but was never happy with the notion," he says. "So when the bust came, it presented the perfect opportunity to turn the story around with a recession-era Ireland and all the ghosts therein as the backdrop. Patience is a virtue in the writing game."


Galvin, a journalist and keen photographer, spent most of his 20s living in Poland and has travelled extensively in Eastern Europe, experiences which, he says, have influenced both his world view and his sparse writing style.

"Alternative societies and ideologies have always been keen areas of interest," he says. "I visited the likes of Christiania in Denmark and wasn't too impressed.

"I went to live and travel in Eastern Europe and saw what communism and fascism did. I suppose I've always wondered where the perfect place would be and under what form of government, and imagined starting from scratch with a small group of people."


Indeed. Closer to home, with job cuts and rising unemployment a daily feature for many of us on these shores -- are these times conducive to creativity?

"I think Bono said something similar. You could argue that some of the greatest literature came out of the great wars and periods of persecution.

"Presumably fiction in times of hardship comes from the basic need to escape and create an alternative. Which is what I tried to do with the book," he says.

The concept of people striking out on their own to find a utopian ideal has been breached before in the likes of Alex Garland's The Beach but Galvin's direct, uncompromising style sets him apart. The book's unconventional style has been memorably described as like "reading a film".

"I went at it with a six blade to ensure it moves . . . cutting out all the 'he said/she said' business and I wanted to keep scenes vivid and short.

"As for my influences, they are always there working away in the background. What you chose to read, listen to musically, defines your personality and will guide your hand one way or another."

He's refreshingly honest when he says that his primary function is to entertain rather than adding a dash of social commentary.

"Writers have a duty to entertain to some degree, or risk not being read at all. Even Beckett was entertaining. Personally, I like to ensure other themes are introduced while you entertain the reader, but in a way that is never forceful -- here it's good vs evil, man's struggle with nature and his supposed place at the top of the food chain, death and the afterlife."

All the good stuff, so . . .

Tom Galvin's novel Gabriel's Gate (Book Republic, €19.99) is available from all good book shops now