AUTHOR Frank M Flanagan has penned several books on education, but he has just published his first work of fiction.
Covey childhood an inspiration behind Frank M Flanagan’s first novel
WHEN you ask Westport native, Frank Flanagan how long he had been planning to write his first book of fiction, he half jokingly tells you ‘75 years’. A former teacher teacher and later a lecturer in Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Frank decided after his retirement it was a good time to pen some memoirs of his childhood.
As he scribbled, his memoirs were put one side when, in his own words, a ‘story took over’. Eventually, this tale would become his first novel, ‘Here and Now’.
“The story took control. I have no idea where the story came from because there is very little in the story of my experience,” he explained to The Mayo News. “The central story itself hasn’t a word of truth in it… It is completely made up.”
The novel follows the experience of one Francie Gallagher and his rather thoughtless but conventional upbringing in the west of Ireland of the ’50s and ’60s. When his friendships become complicated he makes a discovery that will have consequences right into his adult life.
Freedom of Westport
While the Limerick-based author says the storyline is pure fiction, he readily admits that much of the descriptive elements in ‘Here and Now’ are based on his childhood growing up in Westport.
Born in 1946, he grew up in the house now known as Ozanam House on James Street, before his family moved to Peter Street when he was eight years old.
His maternal grandfather, John Gibbons, and later his uncle, John Joe Gibbons, had a carpentry/joinery workshop and an undertaker business. His father’s family owned a drapery business at the top of Bridge Street, in the building now occupied by O’Reilly Turpin.
Growing up in the heart of Westport, he recalls nothing but happy memories of his childhood. He says he is not one bit envious of the children of today.
“You could go wherever you like as long as you were home for the tea. That was it basically. Nobody was watching or minding you, and everyone presumed kids could go around the place and get into mischief and get into scraps. They could fall off trees and fall into rivers and do all sorts of things and nobody bothered too much. Children in towns and cites now don’t have a fraction of the freedom we had.”
Born and reared in the middle of Westport, Frank considers himself a Covey at heart but laughs, saying that having been away so long his ‘Coviness’ may have worn off. The Westport of his youth is very different from the thriving, bustling town of today, and for that reason he is not a regular visitor.
“I was talking to an old established Covey [about the book] and he or she said to me this is such a person and this is such a place. I said only an old Covey would be able to point out things like that. One of the things I find about Westport, it is a thriving town and I’m happy to see that. When I was growing up in Westport there was nothing thriving about it. But it has changed completely. I don’t go back to Westport anymore because I really and truly don’t know anybody there anymore.
“The last time I was in Westport I was out at Aughaval to visit my parents grave. I met two Covies I knew growing up and we were chatting. They said ‘We know more people out here [cemetery] than we do in town’.
“It is a totally changed town and for the better. It is prosperous, its bright and lively and attractive, all the things the old Westport wasn’t… but to be honest I would prefer the old Westport.”
Leap to fiction
Frank left Westport to train as a teacher in St Pat’s in Drumcondra, and so began a lifelong vocation to education. He was the first principal in St Dympna’s Special School in Ballina in the early ’70s, and has also worked in France and the US.
He has lived in Limerick since 1977. There, he and his wife Moira reared a family of two sons and two daughters. He was the Senior Lecturer in Education at Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College until his retirement in 2010.
While ‘Here and Now’ is Frank’s first published novel, it is not his first book. In 2005, he published, ‘The Greatest Educators Ever’, which delves into the development of education through the years and gives an insight into the world’s greatest educators. He followed that up with a book on the Chinese philosopher Confucius, called ‘Confucius, the Analects and Western Education’.
Having published two non-fiction books on a subject he’d been passionate about all his life, was the process of turning to fiction difficult?
“In fiction you can say whatever you like whereas the others you have to be careful about sources and research and evidence and that sort of thing. You can’t do it off the cuff whereas with fiction, I think, I’m not saying you can do it off the cuff but as long as it sounds credible then its fine.”
However, writing ‘Here and Now’ was not an easy task, and it took time. “The process was up and down. Somedays you would be going well and others you will be tearing your hair out.
“You get to a point when you say, ‘That is it’. You have done as much as you can. I am going to have to go give it to a couple of people to read and advise me about it, and they will get back to me and say you have to do this, that or whatever,” he said.
Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, Frank is not sure he would have finished the novel by now. “I had been tipping away at it for a while, but I suppose the isolation of the pandemic gave me the opportunity to concentrate on getting it structured and sorted and finished.
“If it wasn’t for the pandemic it would be still up in the drawer, and I would take it out every so often and put a line through it and put it back again. It was the pandemic really which gave me the incentive to get it finished.”
At the age of 74 and a grandfather, Frank has cause to be proud of ‘Here and Now’. Having got the first novel out of the way, he remains coy on whether he will be bringing out a second.
“At the moment I am only tipping away and have nothing specific in mind… I’ll tell you when it is done!”
Here and Now is published by Carrowmore Press and is available to buy locally in McLoughlin’s, Westport; Castle Bookshop, Castlebar; Tertulia bookshop, Westport Quay; Books at One, Louisburgh; Liber Bookshop, Sligo; Kenny’s, Galway; and Amazon.