To Baldly Go . . .

So we did it. Actually, the ten barbers led by John McGuire did it, the rest of us just sat in the chairs and stayed still long enough for them to lay our heads bare.

The Ray D’Arcy Show’s attempt at breaking the record for the number of heads ten barbers could shave in an hour, was an odd mix of charity fund-raising party and sheep-shearing contest.

Each participant had been asked to send in a photo to show they had full head of hair. We were asked to turn up at the Dakota Bar in Dublin at 7am, which is an unholy hour of the morning if you’re coming from anywhere outside Dublin. Which people did. They came from all over – Tipperary, Galway . . . everywhere. Just to have their heads shaved.

I joined the queue when I got there, put on the t-shirt, the number sticker and got my picture taken. Then I did my best to pass by the table laid with buns and cakes, and took a tea instead of queuing for the drip-fed filter coffee (Filter coffee for over three hundred people? Now that would be a record). My brother-in-law, Joe, arrived about 45 minutes after me, and we just sat round with everyone else, enjoying buzz, listening to the Ian Dempsey Show and getting told what we were going to be doing.

For probably the first time in my life, I looked at every other head of hair around me, and wondered what it meant to the person beneath it, and what their story was. Joe is forging a new career as a photographer, and there were rich pickings for shots in this scene.

Ray and gang showed up just before 9am, the Today FM sound guys having already set up their gear. He did his MC thing, and then went next door to the Style Club, where the sheep-shearing was to take place.

I had let myself go a little extra woolly on top in honour of the occasion, but it was nothing to the sacrifice some other people were making. There were guys there who hadn’t had their hair cut in ten or even twenty years. There were girls who were giving up their long locks to take part. Call me old-fashioned, but I joined most of the other lads in giving the girls the biggest cheer in the place, when Ray called for thanks.

There was a lot of waiting and queuing involved. We waited in a queue to get our t-shirts, our numbers, to be registered and photographed. We waited to be called into the barbers. We queued out the door, waiting to get into the Style Club. Once the first lot of chairs were filled, we waited for our turn to take a seat. Each barber had three seats in front of them, so there’d be no faffing around when they finished one head and moved on to another one. There were always two more waiting.

There were two floors – I was upstairs. People were milling around: there were the barbers, each of whom was accompanied by an independent observer who would check each head was shaved properly. Then there the shavees, the Today FM staff, and the extra salon staff. It was barely organized chaos. A big digital clock against one wall was set up to mark the time. This was where the real tension started to set in, waiting for the whole thing to kick off.

The one thing that most people were worried about was the blood. It was one of the rules for breaking the record. If blood was drawn more than once in the whole operation, the record wouldn’t count. If you had any skin tags, moles, spots, anything, you had to declare it. I have that birthmark on the back of my head, and I was praying it wouldn’t trip up the clippers. ‘Please don’t let my head screw this whole thing up. Please, please, please . . .

Then we were off . . . And immediately we could see just how fast it was possible to give someone a skinhead (the guy in the picture here was in the first round). And yet, things were surprisingly calm. I was in the first round of refills, called to a chair just a couple of minutes after the start. As instructed, I stuck the tip of my finger on my birthmark, and the guy shaved all around it until he had cleared most of my head, then carefully went to work on the dodgy area. Even so, I think my scalp was bare in about a minute and a half. I’m still not sure if it was a zero or one blade, but it’s the most light my scalp has seen in over fifteen years. Like everyone else, I came out rubbing my head, experiencing that strange sensation of having stubble where a thick head of hair used to be – we were applauded as we walked back downstairs past the queue of people waiting to take their turn.

Once we were done, we were sent back to the bar. The previous record of 229 heads was set in Alberta, Canada in 2006.  There have been six unsuccessful attempts to break this record, but on Friday 18th February,  The Ray D’Arcy Show managed to gather together shavers and shavees who smashed that record by making  315 people bald in one hour.

The record was adjudicated by Patricia Magill from the Guinness Book of Records, and at midday on Friday in The Style Club, Dublin 2, Magill confirmed the record had officially been broken.

We were ushered out into the street, so that all the photographers could get a shot of our communal baldness (and so that we could scare some old lady witless, the old dear caught in the middle of the crowd and no doubt thinking she’d just walked straight into some neo-Nazi rally). If you look very carefully at the pictures published the following day in ‘The Irish Times’, ‘The Star’ and ‘The Mirror’, you can just make me out (although I was really looking). In the Times photo, it’s just the backs of our heads, but I’m the one to the right holding the little black camera. Honestly, that’s me.

It was a real buzz to take part in this huge operation. I had great craic, and a huge thanks to all the generous people who sponsored my baldness.

A Lesson in Making Stuff Up

I’m taking part in a day of workshops for the Big Smoke Writing Factory, organized by Claire Hennessy. It’s entitled ‘Speculative Fiction Workshop: Writing Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror’. It’ll take place in the Writing Factory’s regular venue at 7 Lower Hatch Street, Dublin 2. Here’s the info:

Speculative fiction, encompassing the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, among others, requires its writers to consider questions many writers never even think about. How do you create a realistic future or other world – and explain it to the reader without boring them with every minute detail? How do you portray characters in these worlds as authentically different and yet relatable? How do you create new versions of mythological creatures without straying too far from what makes these creatures so compelling? This one-day workshop will be presented by a panel of writers, editors and critics and be of interest to anyone who’s ever wanted to try writing speculative fiction, or those who are currently working on such projects. It will also include a session on publishing in this field.

Places are limited to maximise individual attention.

Coffee/tea/biscuits etc will be provided by Big Smoke during the day. There will also be a lunch break, where students can avail of one of the caf€s in the area.

Length: 1 full day
Fee: €95

Guest Teachers:
Writer Oisin McGann on Story and Fantasy
Writer A.J. Healy on World-Building
Writer Sarah Rees Brennan on Urban Fantasy
Critic Sorcha Ni Fhlainn on Horror and the Gothic
Writer and editor John Kenny on The Business of Getting Published

Spring 2011
Full day. 10am-6pm.

It should be a really interesting, stimulating day; hope some of you can make it.

A Natural Resource

Ireland is famously proud of the number of high profile writers it produces. But given the ease with which a web resource can be set up, there is a shortage of professional-level sites offering down-to-earth, practical information for people in Ireland who hope to write for a living. I helped to develop one aimed at people who want to write for children (though it’d be useful to any writer), in the form of cb info, on CBI’s website.

Now there’s a new one, founded by Vanessa O’Loughlin, who runs the highly successful Inkwell Writing Workshops. It’s called, and even though it’s only starting out, it already contains a large amount of useful info for beginners and experienced writers. Vanessa has drawn together a whole host of successful, professional authors to create a real hub of information, with contributions from people like Roddy Doyle, Sarah Webb, Martina Devlin, Claire Hennessy and Joseph O’Connor. If you’re into writing, or even if you’d like to be, or if you run courses you want to promote, or if you’re an established writer who wants to contribute, or if you’re just curious, you should check it out.

I Want to Be Shaved

I’ve volunteered to have my head shaved as part of the World Record attempt taking place on the Ray D’Arcy Show, on Today FM. It’s for their Shave or Dye campaign, in aid of the Irish Cancer Society.

Basically, they’re going to line up ten clipper-happy barbers and run a conveyor belt of heads under their blades, in an attempt to set a new world record shaving three hundred heads in one hour.

And one of those heads will be mine.

I have to admit, I’m a little bit nervous. Not of having my head shaved – I’ve had it done before – but more at the reaction of my kids when they see me, particularly our toddler. She might well freak. There’s also the thought of the kids I’m going to see in my school and library sessions over the following few weeks. I know most won’t have seen me before, so they won’t be used to seeing me with hair, but I’ve been told I can look a bit scary with a bald head.

Add to that, the fact that I’ve got a birthmark on the back of my head that’s normally covered by my hair, which looks like a freshly-healed wound. Last time I got my head shaved, I had people for weeks afterwards saying: ‘My God! What happened to your head?! Were you attacked?’

The big shave is happening in Dublin on the morning of Friday the 18th of February, and will be broadcast live on the Ray D’Arcy Show. You can see the details of the whole Shave or Dye campaign, and find out how to take part here.

The Phoenix Convention

The run-up to the P-Con VIII – the eighth Phoenix Sci-Fi Convention – is now on. I’ve been going for a number of years and it always throws up some interesting talks and some great craic. Fans of all shapes and sizes will be descending on the Central Hotel in Dublin in March to talk, argue, heckle, laugh, buy strange stuff and consume the odd drink.

These cons tend to be a more informal affair than many book festivals, where creators and fans mix a bit more and the emphasis is (weirdly) not on the authors’ work itself (except for the Guest of Honour talk), but rather the guests’ take on various genre-related subjects that get thrown at them over the course of the weekend. I recommend it to anyone who’s into sci-fi, fantasy, horror, historical fiction, mystery or just out for some quirky conversations and a bit of a laugh.

Here are the details:

Phoenix Convention VIII

Start: 8pm  Friday, 4th March, 2011

End: 6pm Sunday, 6th March, 2011

Venue: The Central Hotel, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2


Guest of Honour:  Award winning author, Ian McDonald

On a related note, my thanks to John Vaughan, film-maker and professional Genre fan, for sending me the complete collected issues of ‘The New Statesmen’ by John Smith and Jim Baikie. It’s a brilliant, twisted cross between political thriller and superhero series, and I wish they’d release it again. I had lamented that the book couldn’t be got for love nor money, and John Vaughan, faster than a speeding bucket, able to leap tall grass in a single bound, volunteered to save the day. John, I know you won’t accept money, and I can’t offer love, but I’m grateful nonetheless.

To anyone who intends to make it to P-Con, it should be a great event. See you there.

Hating Them Doesn’t Work

Politicians. I have to admit, the very thought of them calling to my door to ask for my vote makes me grit my teeth. Not just the Fianna Fail ones, but all of the others who let them have their way for more than two decades, by offering too weak, too unimaginative and too divided an opposition.

But it’s the Fianna Fail ones I want to stab in the head with a pencil when I see their grinning posters up, see them on television promising ‘reform’ – as if they hadn’t had a chance to manage that over more than two decades of being in charge. It’s easy to hate them all. And I know I’m not alone.

But the Irish are a passive lot. And while we might grumble and moan among ourselves, you still hear of people letting the canvassers off when they call to the door – of promising to vote for the same corrupt, complacent git who mucked up the nation, simply because he helped a few locals get planning permission, or got the potholes fixed. ‘Ah, the party’s no good, but sure he’s a decent oul shkin.’ That’s not good enough. They’re supposed to be running a country, not a county.

I’ve never been to a TD’s constituency office. I’ve never needed anything specific from my local TD, and I’ve never lined up with those who want to gripe. I consider myself lucky I haven’t had too much to gripe about. Even now though, in my fury, I won’t be leading a lynch mob outside the constituency offices – though part of me would like to. But I could have done more.

Just hating them doesn’t work. Despite what we often like to think, politicians are not all corrupt, or complacent, or evasive, or wafflers. Many go into what is an incredibly tough and insecure occupation and work their arses off with the firm intention of doing a good job for their people. Like the opposition who failed to stop the country going down the tubes, this mess is my responsibility too. We all did our bit to screw things up. We elected the clowns to office. And it’s up to us to take an interest, to exercise our right to take part, to enforce our will, to help make decisions, and to vote.

And the people who we most need to run for office, and to vote, are young people. The country’s not going to change without them. If you’re young, and you have the vote, please, please, please use it. If you know someone who has it but isn’t planning to use it, please convince them that it’s important, it’s vital that they take part. We need them.

Politicians. Hating them doesn’t work. But if democracy has one great feature, it’s that we can fire the ones who screw up – and make the rest behave themselves. And it’s up to me and everyone else in this country with the power to vote to keep an eye on them, but also to take part in the process. If we don’t play our part, we can’t claim to have a democracy. If you have a vote – even if you’ve been too bored, or frustrated or pissed off to use it before – please use it this time. Our country needs us.


Here’s a first look at the cover of the French edition of ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’. It’s going to be entitled ‘Féroces’, (‘Ferocious’), and I’m really pleased with the design. They’ve captured that ‘dark-gothic-mystery-and-violence-tempered-by-a-need-for-civilized-decorum’ feel very well indeed.

You can see more versions of my book covers in my Cover Gallery.

As I’ve mentioned before with the French version of ‘Ancient Appetites’, when your book is sold into another country, the level of input you get into how it looks can vary. With a publisher in the Irish or UK markets, I’d expect a lot of say in the cover.

In foreign markets, I have to trust the publisher there to know their business; the audience in every country is different. Mango, my French publisher, make a point of showing me the cover and asking my opinion, as they’ve done here, but the cover image is pretty much done and dusted before I see it, and I can only really get it tweaked at this stage.

Contrast that with my very first foray into a new market – when Tor published ‘The Gods and Their Machines’ in the States. The first time I saw that cover was on Amazon.

Thanks for the cover, Mango. Can’t wait to see it in print.

A Baleful Glance

I was contacted recently by researcher Milagros Torrado, from the University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, who has been looking into the myth of the evil eye in different cultures. He’d found my book and was interested in getting an Irish viewpoint, particularly as the book was aimed at younger readers.

Balor of the Evil Eye is, of course, Ireland’s most famous wielder of that fearsome weapon, but the idea of being able to curse someone with a look would still have been believed by some in my parent’s generation – it might still be around even now. The interview prompted me to have a look around and see what other cultures had similar myths, and the answer seems to be just about everybody.

You can cast your baleful eye over the full interview here.

I forgot to mention a while ago, that I was also interviewed – in the midst of the chaos of house renovation – by a French sci-fi website called Actus SF, about the release of the Wildenstern Saga in France. You can see that interview (in English) here.