Collins' latest novel Midnight in a Perfect Life wins The 2011 International Lucien Barriere Literary Prize
a riveting stage play concerning the conflict in Northern Ireland adapted from the work of Michael Collins and Colum McCann debuts
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The Red Bulletin, the flagship publication of Red Bull features Collins in its latest edition.
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Collins captains Irish National Team and claims individual Bronze Medal at World 100k Championships in Gibraltar
Academy Award winning actress, Tilda Swinton wins Best Actress at London Evening Standard Film Awards for Julia, a movie Collins adapted for the Screen
Collins is honored as The University of Notre Dame Graduate School Alumni of the Year
Born in Limerick Ireland, Michael Collins is a relation of the Irish Nationalist hero, Michael Collins. He prides himself on the political and social legacy for which Collins fought and died for on behalf of creating the Irish Republic.
Collins is the acclaimed author of nine books, including novels and short stories which have been translated into twenty-two languages that have garnered international acclaim and awards including Irish Novel of the Year, French Novel of the Year, a Booker shortlisted nomination and an IMPAC shortlist nomination.
His interest also include computer programming and Collins has worked as a programmer/writer at Microsoft
and also headed up Northwestern University's Medical School Computer Laboratory.
An international class ultra-runner, Collins has captained the Irish National Team
and in 2010 won a bronze medal at the World 100K Championships.
Other running accomplishments include winning The Everest Marathon, The North Pole Marathon, The Antarctic Marathon and The Sahara Marathon.
Collins holds a BA & MA from The University of Notre Dame (87' 91') and a doctorate from The University of Illinois (1997).
His varied academic interests include literature, but also encompass computer programming. He has written many computer-based application in the medical and educational fields and has presented at major academic and professional conferences.
While studying for his doctorate in English, Collins worked on ground-breaking research in digital imaging as head of Northwestern University's Medical School Computer Facility. While employed as a programmer at Microsoft, Collins continued to moonlight as a novelist and penned his Booker shortlisted novel, The Keepers of Truth which became an international bestseller.
Collins' work has garnered much praise and numerous awards.
His novel, The Keepers of Truth, won The Kerry Ingredients Irish Novel of the Year. The novel was short-listed for The Booker Prize
and also short-listed for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Click to listen to an extract from The Keepers of Truth Podcast
Other notable awards include two New York Times Notable Books
and a USA TODAY Editor's Choice Pick, along with a Pushcart Prize for Best American Short Story. His novel The Resurrectionists won The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award.
His latest novel, Midnight in a Perfect Life won the prestigious 2011 Lucien Barriere Literary Prize
at the Deauville American Film Festival in France.
Movies & Adaptations
The film rights to The Keepers of Truth are owned by Gorgeous Productions. Lauded commercials director Chris Palmer is set to direct a forthcoming film adaptation.
Collins' novel, The Resurrectionists, is currently being adapted for film by Contagious Films in conjunction with acclaimed director John Madden, the Oscar winning director of Shakespeare in Love.
Collins adaptation credits include working alongside famed French Director Erick Zonca on the movie, Julia, which featured acclaimed Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton.
The movie was nominated for numerous European Film Awards and Swinton won Best Actress at the London Evening Standard Awards.
An adaptation of Collins' latest novel, Midnight in a Perfect Life is currently under development.
Collins's short story, The Butcher's Daughter, released in his collection of short stories, "The Meat Eaters" will be included in a play concerning The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The play will open in early 2012.
A famed French theater group has adapted the work of Michael Collins and fellow Irish author Colum McCann for a play titled Belfast.
The play charts the harrowing struggle between the Irish and the British over the six counties that constitute Northern Ireland.
Collins' work was adapted from his short story, The Butcher's Daughter, which recounts the story of a pregnant young Irish girl sitting in a pub with a bomb concealed in the belly of a childhood doll she has placed in a stroller.
Distraught over the death of her boyfriend, the young narrator carries on a stream of conscious monologue as she wills herself to carry out a suicide bombing. The intensity of the personal and societal drama of life in Northern Ireland unfolds as precious time ticks away for all those within the pub.
Will the young narrator follow through on her plan of revenge and desire to find her boyfriend on the other side of life?
With the recent cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, Belfast is a sobering look back at the sectarian landscape of what Yeats once described "as a terrible beauty."
For audiences around the world, this timeless story of religious and political violence holds bloodstained lessons regarding the tenuous sense of national identity and allegiances in times of crisis.
Click for link to The Troubles program brochure
Trinity College Dublin Acquires Collins' Manuscripts
The famed College recently acquired Collins' manuscripts which were featured in its historic old library which houses The Book of Kells.
The manuscripts and correspondences are available to researchers.
Collins will continue to supply the college with his future works and is delighted that his work has been acquired by The Keeper of Manuscripts at Trinity, Dr. Bernard Meehan.
Collins is also working on a computer-based application that tracks the development of a novel through its various stages of development and hopes to make the application available to researchers in 2012.
Dr. Meehan has been a great source of inspiration and support to Collins over the last few years and in helping him organize and collate his materials.
Collins as Athlete - Captain of Irish Nation 100K Team
Collins' career as a runner has been filled with numerous highlights.
Highlights in his early years include -
- Winning The New York State X-Country Championship
- Winning The Eastern States Two-Mile Championship
- A fifth-place finish at The Fifth Avenue Mile
- A fourth-place finish at The American National Championships X-Country Championship
- A third-place finish at Irish Nationals over 5,000 meters
Collins attended The University of Notre Dame, Indiana on an Athletic Scholarship from 1983-86, whereafter he quit running for almost a decade.
Collins' return to long distance running came after a near-mortal stabbing attack in Chicago in the early 90's. Since this life-altering incident Collins has invested his life with personal and spiritual meaning and used his running exploits to raise money and awareness for numerous humanitarian causes. He mentors various school programs, has started an annual scholarship for high school students, and works with prison inmates and war veterans.
These days, Collins has abandoned the roads due to chronic leg injuries and now competes in extreme marathons and ultra-marathons over mountainous terrain and in arctic and desert climates.
His extreme running exploits have been featured in Runner's World, The Red Bulletin (Red Bull's Magazine), Sports Illustrated, GQ, The Sunday Times, The Irish and Forbes.
Most notably, his Fire and Ice Challenge saw him run races in both the Sahara and at the North Pole in the space of six weeks, pitting him against two time marathon world champion, Anton Abel.
Collins won both the North Pole Marathon and The Sahara Marathon.
In 2010 Collins captained the Irish National Team at the World 100K Championships in Gibraltar and earned a bronze medal.
Extreme Adventure Marathon Wins Include
- The Last Marathon (Antarctica, 1997).
- Redwoods Marathon. (Northern California 1997).
- The Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race (India/Nepal Border 1999).
- Everest Challenge Marathon, considered one of the most grueling extreme runs in the world. (India/Nepal 1999).
- The Sub-Sahara Marathon (Saharawi Refugee Camps, Algeria. 2006)
- The North Pole Marathon (North Pole, 2006)
- Silver Medalist at The USA National 50 Mile Championships)
- Bronze medalist at World 100k Championships held in Gibraltar, 2010
Fire and Ice Challenge
In mid-2005, Collins found his form again after years of chronic injuries related to competing in the Everest Marathon and 100 Mile Stage Race. He suffered numerous stress fractures which eventually required surgery and with the aid of his wife (a rehab doctor) he set about reviving his running career. He set his sights on a challenge he has dubbed the Fire and Ice Challenge which saw him, in just over the space of a month in 2006, compete in both The Sahara Marathon and The North Pole Marathon.
The temperature difference between the two events was 90F+ in the Sahara, to -35F at the North Pole, a difference of 125 degrees.
Training for such extremes was a major challenge, though part of the extreme sports credo is simply to arrive and deal with conditions. At The Everest Marathon, Collins arrived with no altitude acclimatization and ascended the marathon distance, rising to over 14,000 feet, something the medical literature strictly warns against.
Fire - The Sub-Sahara Marathon
Collins completed the first half of the Fire and Ice Challenge, The Sahara Half Marathon
on Feb 28th. The race began in the desert and ended in Smara, the second-largest of the three refugee camps, where cheering refugees awaited the runners. Collins opted for the shorter distance half-marathon due to the extreme heat, and the fact that last year a fierce sandstorm picked up during the event. Most of the other top athletes, representing seventeen countries, also opted to race the shorter distance, guaranteeing a fast and competitive race.
Representing his native Ireland, and wearing the Irish Team tricolours, the race was not only an emotional personal experience, but also had political overtones, as the race was run in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the creation of Saharawi Refugee Camps in Algeria.
Also, only a few days earlier, the Saharawi camps had been stricken by heavy rains, unusual for the desert region, and creating vast devastation. Water destroyed houses, tents and many of the public buildings, hospitals and schools. Almost 50,000 Saharawis were left homeless.
U.N. relief, in the way of tents and water, had been shipped in to aid in the disaster relief efforts by the time the marathon contingent arrived. The marathoners brought with them their own modest relief supplies, especially much needed school supplies for the schools.
Despite the hardships, the Saharawi put on a great race. Collins won The Half Marathon, outpacing a trio of Spanish frontrunners that included Abel Anton, the former two-time Marathon World Champion and London Marathon Winner.
It was a tough-fought race, over rolling dunes, with rising temperatures and gusting headwinds carrying sand at upwards of 30mph. Collins' off-road conditioning paid off, and he pulled away with three miles to go, eventually gaining a two minute victory margin.
Said Collins, "The race was unlike anything I've ever competed in before, from an emotional standpoint. The political backdrop and plight of The Saharawi People, now enduring a 30th year in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, deeply affected all who participated in the event. Compounding the situation was the recent destruction of homes and tents during heavy rains. I'd never experienced a people surviving on such little means, and bearing so well under the ordeal."
A deep solidarity developed between athletes and refugees, and the goal of the race organizers was realized, as numerous returning athletes brought much-needed aid and helped highlight the plight of the people through articles published in newspapers around the world. Also, numerous first time participants committed themselves to returning again next year with donated aid packages.
Unlike so many extreme events, the nature of The Sahara Marathon is centered on solidarity and deep commitment to the cause of the refugees. This is a race and experience that is life-altering. You cannot just walk away after a week living amidst these people.
The North Pole Marathon
On April 8th, 2006, Collins completed the second leg of his Fire and Ice Challenge, winning The North Pole Marathon,recognised by Guinness World Records as northernmost marathon on earth.
The race is run entirely on Arctic ice floes, with a mere 6 to 12 feet separating competitors from 12,000 feet of Arctic Ocean. Ice rifts are known to occur in the ice, even at the pole, adding an element of danger to the run.
The certified 26.2-mile (42km) event, dubbed the world's coolest marathon, took place at a temporary Russian North Pole camp in the high Arctic Ocean at the Geographic North Pole.
In the extremely challenging underfoot conditions, runners were forced to wear snow shoes to navigate the soft snow and hillocks of ice.
Temperatures dipped to -23C throughout the race, while visibility was hampered by a swirling snow causing some runners to experience temporary snow blindness. However, all competitors finished the marathon distance.
Carsten Kolle (Germany) forced the pace at the outset, crunching through the hushed indomitable surroundings with Collins matching Kolle stride for stride over the initial 10km.
Collins finally pulled away and went on to win by a 30 minute margin on what race director, Richard Donovan called, "The toughest ever terrain for the race."
Collins had nothing but praise for Donovan, stating, "Richard pulled off simply the most amazing extreme marathon race I've run, and that's saying something since I've done the Mount Everest and Antarctic marathons. This race took runners to the limit of their endurance and lived up to its billing, affording athletes a chance to run on top of the world."
Equally impressive was the mix of top athletes and those making the journey to raise money for charity. Some runners were out in the elements for upward of 10 hours, finishing encrusted in ice.
The lightheartedness of many of those running for charity added to the close fraternity that developed at the camp. One of the most hilarious memories was that of three runners who dressed in costume for the first lap, one dressed as a polar bear, another as Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and another as Santa.
Numerous athletes were their nation's first to the North Pole, so the entire proceedings in the days after the race took on a really special aura as racers relaxed. A Queenslander, Brendan Smith, Australia, exemplified the spirit of total craziness as he guzzled a bottle of Australian beer in a Hawaiian shirt at the Pole.
Tempering the humour were also poignant moments where charity runners placed Christmas wish-lists they'd received from sick children at the North Pole. One can only suspect the dreams and wishes enclosed in the cards.
In this, the third running of the event, over a MILLION POUNDS has been raised so far, making this a uniquely humanitarian event.
On Being Stabbed - Running for My Life
This article appeared in The Irish Times so forgive the preamble....
The marathon distance, legend has it, goes back to Athens, 490 B.C., when a messenger soldier named Pheidippides was sent by foot from a battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens, some 24 miles away, to herald news of Greek victory over the Persians. As legend goes, after Pheidippides delivered the message "Niki!" ("Victory!"), he collapsed and died.
Two millennia later, the same sense of urgency that drove Pheidippides has been resurrected in a sub-culture of extreme marathon racing which pits athletes against distances far in excess of the traditional 26.2 mile distance and in some of the most inhospitable places around the globe. There are extreme marathons in the searing heat of the Sahara and Gobi Deserts, in the drenching rainforest of the Amazon Jungle, to the heights of Mount Everest, and in the polar deep freeze of the South and North Poles. In this sub-culture of athlete/humanitarian, each marathoner is driven by personal and often philanthropic goals, championing personal triumphs over adversity, raising awareness and money for charities, each running with a message of "Victory". It is, without a doubt, one of the noblest sub-cultures of sporting masochism into which athletes can be initiated.
My own personal journey into this sub-culture happened years after I'd burned out on a college track scholarship. I was living in Chicago, doing my doctorate at a university set near one of the city's most notorious slums. The urban makeup of Chicago was typical of the abrupt American divide between rich and poor, the slum area on one side of a no-man's land park which served as a divide from a row of re-gentrified turn of the century homes. It reminded me of a 19th century battlefield, where opposing armies lined up against one another, then charged.
In the spring of '95, in this strange and incongruous world I'd called home for almost four years without personal incident, I became a victim of a vicious attack by a crazed drug addict, who, without even asking for money, just exploded into a frenzy as I walked past him, stabbing me in the back and slashing my arms before I fell to the ground, flaying my legs against what turned out to be a ten-inch serrated make-shift blade. In the end, I managed to get my wallet from my back pocket and throw it to the side. The perpetrator grabbed it and disappeared down a Church alley, known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, leading back to the slums.
I had known the clear and present dangers of living on the frontlines of poverty. Two years earlier, a medical student had been dragged down this same trail, raped and murdered, but somehow I'd always felt the unwarranted invincibility of youth. I remember my first reaction was a sense of shame. I felt diminished. In fact, I was furious at me! In the hours that followed, as I came out of shock, I asked myself, rhetorically, "How had I let myself become prey, me the scholarship athlete? How had I let myself be taken down like some creature out on a savanna?" My gut reaction became a sort of mantra of survival, as I repeated over and over, "I've got to get fast!" I heard a cop who'd come to interview me say candidly to a nurse, "What can you expect when you live in niggersville?" I was, in his eyes, the problem.
In the coming weeks, I had to fight the urge to see myself as the victim and not lash out at everything around me. The easy way out was to become racist, to lump an entire population with the action of one individual.
My landlord suggested I get a gun, while duly informing me, for the umpteenth time, I wasn't getting out of the lease unless I found another tenant. I couldn't afford to gamble on paying two rents while waiting for someone to sublet, so I stayed, hemmed in by my own poverty, as my heart hardened against inner city poor. I hated the sight of them, found myself racing down streets, cursing - the running man.
During that time, the O.J. trial had taken on a vast cultural significance, the anticipated verdict predicted to be another flashpoint in race relations. White America was hunkered down, black America waiting to spill out onto the streets. It seems like such ancient history now, in the retelling of it, but back then cops poured into my neighborhood in force, and trapped, all I could do was run and run.
In early October, '95, O.J. got his "get out of jail free" card, and, if America breathed easier in the wake of the verdict, I didn't, still psychologically scarred. A few months after being stabbed, I lined up at The Chicago Marathon and, on pure adrenaline, finished in 28th place. Out of fear and desperation I'd run myself back to the cusp of a national class time, a mere five minutes off the Olympic Trial Qualifying Time. I still had this latent running talent, though the motivation was different, not dreams of Olympic glory, but mere survival.
That spring, I chanced to see a posting for a local 10K race, thought nothing of it, other than there was a $250 check for first place. It was a race that ended up being sponsored by the parents of the murdered medical student, the memorial run to raise money for a scholarship in her name. The father spoke briefly at the starting line about his daughter, how she'd worked in low-income clinics, her career choice a life serving the poor. She had been a runner - the 10k race, a natural choice to celebrate her life. The field included friends and relatives, medical students and faculty, along with local church groups of teenagers. I remember listening to her father, and feeling a humbling sense of remorse immediately for the reactionary hate I'd let get hold of me.
The race course took us past the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail where a wreath of flowers had been laid where the girl had been murdered and where, but for fate, I, too, might have been numbered among the dead, though, in the heat of the race, I didn't stop to reflect, just dug deep and pushed hard. The healing had begun deep down, without words.
I saw the dignity in individual lives, saw that day the inquisitive smiles in the youth group black kids who hung around after the race as medical staff volunteers showed them how a blood pressure cuff worked, let them handle stethoscopes and listen to one another's hearts. The post-race fraternity eclipsed the race which had been merely a pretext to reach across the socio-economic divide.
In the ensuing years, I left behind road racing for an emerging sub-culture of extreme marathon racing where athletes with life-altering experiences gather to share the vastness and mystery of our world, where we travel as fellow-pilgrims to pit ourselves against nature. We are mindful of our secrets. This is not a sub-culture of braggarts or proselytizers. In this cult I have found the perfect balance of my boyhood need to run, coupled with doing good. Each marathon has had its own profound effect on me.
In 1997, after my first year of gainful employment, I quit my job, mindful that I had been given a second chance in life. I swore off the nine-to-five job track, then, headed south, where I tangoed at midnight in Buenos Aires in the failing days of Argentina's economic collapse. Four days later I read The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner aboard a Russian Ice Breaker while crossing the Drake Passage, and on through to the Antarctic Circle where I ran The Last Marathon on the Antarctic continent.
In October, 1999, to celebrate the end of the millennium, I traveled to the border of India/Nepal to run the Everest Challenge Marathon, an arduous 100 mile stage race. En-route to India, I stopped to experience the robotic efficiency of South Korea, a country like a giant video game, traveled through the smog and abject poverty of Old Delhi, before departing for the hillside spirituality of Darjeeling, snaking my way toward Everest, where monks in saffron robes blessed our passage, indulging the personal quests of us western runners.
In 2006, I continued what has become part of a tried and tested methodology: six months writing a book, then six months extreme training, then escaping the modern world for some distant and exotic marathon. I came up with a self-titled Challenge, Fire & Ice, pitting myself in two marathons run five weeks apart, where the temperature difference could potentially be 130 degrees. In February, 2006 I lived for six days in the Sahara Desert in a refugee camp preparing to compete in The Sahara Sub Marathon. I saw the extreme poverty of the stateless Saharawi people, felt the tragedy of a lost generation awaiting a return to their homeland. It was an experience so humbling I plan on returning next year to lead a marathon group committed to raising funds for the camp's schools. Almost incidental to the socio-political impact of the experience was the fact that I outran the former two time world marathon champion and London Marathon winner in the actual event.
Five weeks later, in April 2006, I headed north to compete in The North Pole Marathon where the noblest of deeds were silently accomplished alongside the sheer madness of running a marathon on the frozen sea at the top of the world. The event wasn't merely about the vain glory of reaching a geographical landmark.
After a grueling marathon saw some athletes out for almost 10 hours in -30 Celsius, I watched the next day these same runners, huddled and tired, leave the comfort of the heated tents and go silently about their dual mission here at the pole, their humanitarian mission. I watched them move toward a hillock of pressure ridge and place letters in a makeshift grotto. A runner confided in me later what had gone on, the letters for Santa, given by children in hospitals, their last abiding wishes that Santa read them. Sadly, almost a third of these children had died before their letters were placed at the Pole. It is the most indelible memory I have of the North Pole.
I give you this glimpse into our secret lives, into what goes on in our sub-culture of extreme marathon running, but, if by chance we meet in some distant land on the starting line, don't expect such noble sentiment in my eyes, but the atavistic stare of a predator high on adrenaline, for we are a breed, equal part competitor and humanitarian. It's what sees us through these marathon distances over unforgiving terrains, what gets us to the finish line. There will be time enough to talk honestly in the days after, in the journey home.
How an Irish Immigrant came to write American Novels!
This article appeared in the London Sunday Times after my Booker shortlist nomination... At the time nobody at Microsoft knew I was a writer or runner.
My conscious life begins not in Ireland, but as an immigrant in America. It is through America that I have understood my own Irish background, and come to terms with what America IS
I can trace my life as a writer to a series of diary entries I sketched while traveling across America in the early eighties. "The edge of Oklahoma City is a dome of light. It looks like a space colony. Tonight a storm prowls the sky overhead. The AM radio tracks the night's tornados. It is best to take shelter, so I have stopped at a rest area. Outside, the sky flashes, the afterglow like an x-ray. Thunder rumbles, then claps and explodes in a concussion of sound. It feels like the loneliness of war, alone at this late hour." At a payphone, I call Ireland to tell them where I am. It is one of those moments when I want to talk, to tell somebody about what I am experiencing. I feel the distance in the static of the line, like a form of time travel. It is hard to explain this America, so I don't try. I just hold the phone to the night and let it speak for itself.
That was how I was, an Irish immigrant, a distant relative of the national hero, Michael Collins, living out of car in the summer of 84. It was an exile of my own choosing. I didn't want to go home. I was on an athletic scholarship at an American university, but unable to work in America legally during the summer. So I decided to travel in an old station wagon, see America, and keep training. It was a journey without an agenda other than curiosity. I was nineteen years old. But it was a trip that would change my life. Over the course of three summers I visited almost all of the states in the continental USA, drifting from cities along the East coast, through the Rust Belt of the Midwest, and further west into badlands of baking heat and sand.
I witnessed the death of an old America. I drove into, and ran through, a chain of run-down towns along the Great Lakes, ran through the great dynasties of Cadillac and Pontiac, the industrial towns of America. People told me it was insane to go into these cities and sleep in parking lots, and especially to run through the burned-out shells of the old industrial parts of these cities. But I ran fast, faster than any human being occupying those places, and I felt a strange sense of invincibility. Of course, that belied the reality of how fast a bullet could travel, or the fact that I could be attacked while sleeping in car lots. But I took the chances. I moved at a pace and speed natural to a human being, roaming into alleys, climbing chain link fences, foraging through the remains of old buildings. I felt the sense loss and deprivation in these dying cities. It was something communed without words mostly, just experienced through a sense of sight and smell, and tinged with a contagion of fear. I stared into the faces of people who had been left homeless, ran by prostitutes and drug dealers. I was chased more times than I can count, and that added to the adrenaline, to the euphoria of this intimate and dangerous proximity. It heightened in me the predatory instinct of an animal, quick-paced and alert, taking in the range of its domain. At a human level, I processed everything. I felt like I had come upon a hidden disaster, some terrible secret.
By the next summer, I returned to the Rust Belt, sleeping in my station wagon in parking lots, or at rest areas and camp grounds. I began to immerse myself in the hardship of peoples' lives, and began to understand Americans' fears and hopes, feel the cadence of how they said what they had to say. It seemed the dismantling of America and the death of Industrialization was for each American a personal guilt trip and not an occasion for workers to band together in unions to try and preserve their jobs, as happened in the United Kingdom throughout the Thatcher years. The notion of taking responsibility for your own economic and spiritual salvation was the single most important thing I learned about how America works. In 1981, there were over 2000 murders in Chicago alone. That was more than all the people who had been killed in the Troubles from 69-80, and, yet, America was not at war, or at least it wasn't calling it war, and neither were those doing the killing, or those being killed. But I felt on the front lines of a war.
In my final year at college, after years of winning races and gaining All-Ireland and All-American status in running, my legs were ruined and injured from over-racing, I faced a major problem graduating, since I was behind in credits. Without any literary aspirations, and wanting to gain some easy marks, I enrolled in a writing course. I assumed I would write stories about America, about what I had seen on my travels over the summers. Often after running I took a bit of paper and pencil and wrote down sentences or fragments of thoughts about what I saw. These had piled up over the years. However, what I'd seen just wasn't accessible to me. Fiction is a ruminative process, and, though I knew what I wanted to say, somehow it needed an American language to describe itself, and I wasn't yet capable of capturing the tone and cadence of what I'd seen.
Instead, I found myself creating a set of stories about life in Ireland, setting it in contrast to the America around me. I think it was a reflexive immigrant trait, since some of the most haunting and sad visions of Ireland have been set down by its immigrants in both song and story. Before I could describe America, I needed to first define what it was to be Irish. Most of what I wrote in that creative writing course were bits and pieces of stories I'd heard from people when I was growing up. In truth, the collection of stories entitled "The Meat Eaters" had a forties trenchant bleakness and seemed like they had been written by a man in his seventies. But that was the intention, since the Ireland of my youth had the feeling of an island adrift of Europe, a place that had more in common with the nineteenth century.
Although I continued to be interested in writing and literature, and I began a doctorate in Creative Writing, my life was to change radically. While teaching an introductory literature class to immigrant computer programmers, I heard there was an opening to work within the computer science department. This was before the ubiquity of the Web was to infiltrate our lives. I began by merely documenting early interfaces but soon became proficient in the first generation of Web programming languages and began working with these languages to create Web pages and network applications for interactive learning. It was mere serendipity, but soon, I was at the forefront of what was to become the World Wide Web.
I began working with 3D images of a surreal project called The Visible Human. It was a project in which a death row inmate from, where else, Texas, was executed and his body frozen, then imaged, using all available imaging techniques. The body was eventually sliced into 10,000 slices and digitized. One of the goals of my job was to help replace cadaver study within universities with a sophisticated interactive 3D image library. Of course, the idea that the first man reincarnated in the virtual world, dubbed the "Digital Adam," but with mortal sin on his soul, did not escape my own philosophical and literary sensibilities. It was yet again one of those moments when I said, here lies another novel, but I was not quite ready to grapple with the issue of the Information Age, even though I had stumbled upon both a real and symbolic character around which to write such a book.
It was during this time, while programming, and after being stabbed one late night waiting for a subway, that I decided to abandon the commuter system and returned to my old ways, running 10 miles back and forth to work. I took pen and paper and began looking for that one sentence that would be the latchkey to writing more books. Beginning a book or a story on a run has always been for me the most natural process. I could not imagine sitting before a blank piece of paper.
I managed to write three more books centered around Ireland while working and doing my doctorate. The most significant was Emerald Underground, in which I finally began writing about my experiences traveling in America in novel form. It was a story about an illegal immigrant, partly based on some of my experiences, and also dealing with my subsequent journey into America's heartland. I wrote Emerald Underground as two distinct parts. One part was an indictment of Ireland's practice of forcing young men into emigration. In New York city alone in the early eighties, there were over 40,000 Irish illegal immigrants trying to survive in off-the-books jobs that paid little. The interminable purgatory of that illegal world was something I wanted to capture. It was part of the Irish experience. The other part of Emerald Underground was a road novel that let me begin to experiment with describing America and the American experience. The book was an unlikely success in translation in, of all places, France, and the critical success and rave reviews rubberstamped that my descriptions of America were authentic, and that I had captured the American voice.
In 1998, after completing a doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, Chicago, I left for Seattle. I worked for Microsoft. After a long business meeting one morning, I headed off in the hills around Microsoft. It's an absolute wilderness not 5 miles from the main campus, where there's a legitimate chance of getting mauled by bears or mountain lions. On a run in the hills, I began creating what I considered a eulogy to old America. I stopped and scribbled down the opening words, "Ode to a Trainee Manager," and so The Keepers of Truth took form. To recapture the old feeling of euphoria in which I had first experienced America, I began training hard again, upwards of 80 miles a week, stopping as usual here and there, writing down expressions that became the touchstones for what I would write about later that night after work. I gave myself three months to exorcise what I had carried with me for close on twenty years.
And so, late at night, I turned from my computer screen, and, in the midst of the Microsoft empire, I wrote with pen and paper, "The Keepers of Truth". I kept off the network, resisted the urge to save time and type everything, since it would have been found, I assumed, by automatic sweeps of the computers on the network. At times I felt like a Neanderthal aboard a space ship, but I think it was that heightened sense of the great cultural shift taking place that made me so desperately want to write. There were days when I slept less than four hours and still managed to write, run, and work.
When the book was finished, I had whipped myself into shape, regaining some of my former status as a national class runner. I had approached this level of fitness a few years previously, after I was stabbed and took to running again. After I got my doctorate, to celebrate, I ran and co-won the Antarctic Marathon, a marathon on the extreme sporting circuit. Again, after finishing The Keepers of Truth, I longed for another experience outside of trappings of modern living. I entered and won what is considered one of the world's most grueling ultra-marathons, the Himalayan 100 Mile Race and Everest Challenge Marathon, run at some 14,000 feet altitude, setting a record for the Everest Marathon.
These days, I have left Microsoft though still consult many companies on Internet viruses and detection and quarantine strategies. I've adopted the murder genre or crime genre since the success of The Keepers of Truth and enjoy combining a suspense element along with the sociological underpinning of my writing. The Keepers of Truth, and The Resurrectionists have been optioned for film and hopefully will appear in the near future.
Air Hunger appeared in GQ
Manaybhanjang, high above the colonial tea plantations of West Bengal, I can see far into the distance. Tibetan prayer flags sail against a blue sky. It is a serene image of former centuries, a beautiful backdrop against the beginning of the new millennium, a tangible point of reference at the start of the five-day Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race - the spiritual and physical pilgrimage I've chosen to end the 20th century. The ungodly altitude profile for this initial twenty-four mile stage is a vertical mile into the sky, a rises from six thousand feet to beyond twelve thousand feet, on a deeply rutted and cobbled path along the border between India and easternmost Nepal.
The Everest Challenge Marathon is one of the most grueling feats in ultra-marathoning, a journey that takes us rapidly into the heart of an oxygen-scarce danger zone, where the unacclimatized and even the acclimatized can succumb to potentially fatal High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). All but a handful of the runners have arrived from near sea level just days prior to the start of the race. Slow, gradual ascent over weeks is the key to trying to avoid altitude-related illnesses, but as the morning sun burns off the night's mist in this thin mountain air, we are already lightheaded, beginning to grasp the full import of the hundred miles ahead.
Under normal circumstances, that is, in most countries, this race would not be let run given the altitude, but here amidst the poor of India, we are a source of welcome income - our existential crisis will be let play out. We have signed waivers feeing the organizers of all responsibility for what may happen to us, and in return, the reward at the end of this day's brutal ascent is an awe-inspiring vantage from a ridge affording the world's only simultaneous view of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Kanchenjunga - four of the five tallest mountains in the world.
Such was my pilgrimage at the end of the 20th century. I signed up the race the event via the Internet in the bowels of my windowless office at Microsoft, stuck in the virtual world of code, so far removed from my life on a farm in Ireland. In a lifetime of thirty-seven years, I had gone from milking cows in the morning on a rainy Atlantic isle to this high tech bunker. At the time of this journey at the end of the last millennium, I was looking for symbolism, for quest and meaning - Everest - the tallest place on Earth seemed fitting vantage point from which to see where we'd been and where we were heading.
I was a foot soldier in 1999 of the new digital economy, a Microsoft employee working a 60 plus workweek, in the bowels of a windowless office. It was a pinnacle achievement, working for the richest man in the world, in the Jerusalem of Software, or so I was told. We were, as the story went then in the late nineties, shaping the interface of the future, creating a virtual world, ushering in the synergy of man and machine. Those were the heady days of the Internet revolution, of the Dot.com explosion. Stories abounded about startups raising hundreds of millions, shares rising from mere cents, to over a hundred dollars a share. Millionaires were literally being created overnight with Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) and stock splits.
But for us within the coding machine of Microsoft, the outside world had become non-existent - the demands for onsite presence non-negotiable, which seemed bizarre since we were touting remote commuting, and the virtual workspace. What lay inside was something utterly insidious, a sub-species of programmer that sat all day before a computer, either programming or playing games. The 17' inch monitor became the entire universe. I was witnessing the first sub-culture creating and embracing a virtual world — the on-line chat rooms, the on-line-catalogs, the real-time network games of Dungeons and Dragons, the on-line porn. We had screensavers on our computers that followed the rotation of the Earth. By entering our geographical location, we could watch a virtual sunrise and sunset - a shadow moving across the orb of Earth. So much for biorhythms, for an innate genetic processes dictating sleep cycles. It felt like being aboard a spaceship, a slow acculturation to a new work environment, what they euphemistically called at Microsoft - the campus, that association with eternal youthfulness and vigor.
In reaction to this new order, to this centering on the machine, I literally started running - running on a treadmill in the quiet of two and three AM, pounding out the miles in a gym, upwards of 17 miles, speeding up the treadmill to its max speed, feeling that need to sweat, to breath hard, to reaffirm my physical self, a feeble animal protest against the banks of computer processors humming in the offing. And on some days, I did leave the mother ship, went off into the mountains surrounding Microsoft, but faced the surreal reality of being attacked by either, bears or mountain lions. I ended up getting more comfortable with the security of the treadmill. It added to my overall sense of anxiety. I was now a slave to a treadmill. Eventually, I had to ask myself would this be my post-modern act on the eve of the new millennium, running like that dog on the beginning of the space-aged Jetson's cartoon on a treadmill. In the end, I decided for something more authentic, something reminiscent of my own past - an act of nature within nature.
The tension and fear is stifling down in the narrow street of Manaybhanjang. Some are shouting, "Let's start! Come on!" We are pitiless competitors, and with due formal ceremony of no less than six politicians thanking one another, the race does begin at the foothills of the Himalayas. Two miles into the race, we pass a monastery, and in robes of garnet and saffron, Tibetan monks watch our penitent procession, blessing us as we venture into their venerated mountains, anointing even the steering wheels of Land Rovers trundling into the heavens. We are a spectacle in their world, but they seem to understand our modern dilemma - we westerns - with our money and our lifestyles, even we succumb to doubt, to questions of transcendence, and with the smell of incense filling my head and I feel like a pilgrim for those few moments at least.
By the time I arrive eight miles into the ascent, things change. The spiritual is replaced by fear. There is one seasoned competitor with me, and the psychological games begin. He tells me to walk the steepest gradients, and to run the plateaus, and I regard him with suspicion, but he reminds me there are five days of racing and one hundred miles to cover. The race is the steady, not the reckless. It's advice you don't want to take, especially from a competitor, but given the rises we now encounter, I succumb psychologically, and we walk a hundred meter ascent, then on the occasional decline into valleys, my competition, strides out, his bowed legs strong and somehow able to take the downhill pounding. In a matter of thirty seconds he gains fifty meters on me.
So comes the time to realign my goals, to become reckless. I will live or die on this ascent. I sense he doesn't have the ability to run each ascent, and so catching him on the next rise, I just turn and without saying anything, I lay the gauntlet at his feet — Stay with me if you can - It is the most primitive of emotions I feel, not hatred, but a survival instinct. I don't look around, but gauge his presence in my peripheral vision. To turn is to show weakness. Now begins the metronome of my legs, my eyes watching the rutted trail. The beauty of this mountain is lost to me. Through a corkscrew rise of trail, I sense I'm gaining distance, and the euphoria is intense. I keep telling myself to relax. I am but a third of the way into the day's race. I know all to well the horror of the wall, of that sudden physical and emotional meltdown that can sudden descend, especially in the wake of euphoria.
My heart rate monitor's LCD blinks 187 beats per minute, well beyond a threshold pace I can sustain for a hundred miles. I told myself not to push beyond 165 beats. The physiology literature warns that the body cannot sustain rates above this for hours at a time. The altitude is also a compounding factor. But I am in the heat of a struggle with this phantom somewhere beneath me in this corkscrew rise of switchback trails. I try to take a deep breath, slack-jawed, and feel the sudden sense of panic beginning to take hold. And again, I wish I'd not read the literature of air starvation, read the accounts of climbers passing out, of the intense nausea that can suddenly descend. Am I projecting this feeling onto myself, because now the euphoria is gone, and I feel cold, and I'm only two hours and forty-five minutes into an ascent that will take nearly five hours? Should I have waited like the runner behind me said?
I fight off the feeling for another half hour, then a sense of suffocation takes hold, a vice grip around my throat as I rise higher. When I try to take deep breaths there is nothing there, and I intuitively feel what is coming. I am about to understand what it is to suffocate, to drown in the sky. My mind has turned in on itself, my eyes hypnotized already dazed from staring at the rutted track, again that metronome of my feet forever moving, forever climbing, but now the distance between what I see becomes blurred. The world is moving too fast beneath my feet. It brings on a sense of nausea, a feeling of being disembodied from myself, dazed. I am cold, despite the day's warmth. Things are beginning to unravel. My body has moved through different fuel burning mechanisms, ready sources of energy in the blood, depleted. It's an excruciating metabolic and psychologic meltdown known simply to endurance athletes as The Wall.
I feel my heart contract, then, lurch within my chest. I check my heart rate monitor, and my pulse has spiked to a dangerous 216 beats per minute, and with it comes an impinging sense of panic as the world closes in around me. I take one backward look down behind me, and this indeterminacy, this submission, this fear, he is gaining again, intensifies my fear. I focus on breathing. I tell myself there are only three miles to go. I feel a surge of adrenaline. Three miles - don't I do that in the morning just to stretch my legs? What you do in this sport is segment the race, break it down into small races - visualize the manageable distances. I will not succumb, but as I round a bend, ahead lies an ascent more suited for crampons than trail shoes.
For the first time in my life, it's not the sense of fatigue in my legs that slows me. The bellows of my heart and lungs is exhausted. My diaphragm hesitates, and suddenly I can neither exhale nor inhale. Air hunger has taken hold of me. I grab at my throat and buckle on the trail. The proverbial plastic bag is over my face. This thin air holds no oxygen. It is an experience outside of time, this momentary dying. My body is rigid. I try to inhale, turn once more down the trail, still fighting for air. I turn and start again, get a few feet before I blank out - for how long I don't know. I am alone on the hillside when I come through. I am breathing again, but my windpipe burns, my chest hurts. There is that hallow otherworldly feeling inside my head, a tunnel vision and nausea. I get to one knee and like some penitent breathe long and hard. I have just passed out. It takes a few seconds to process that. I stay that way for a time, just feeding on air, the sky sailing overhead. These are the foothills in the highest place on planet Earth and I am alone and don't know if I should submit to defeat or continue.
It is anti-climatic that there is no revelation. As I come round, I take my water bottle and drink and assess things around me, and the competitive instinct comes alive again. I am thinking like an animal, survival has replaced fear. Sandakphu is within reach. I stand and feel weak in my legs. My head pounds, but I am slowly adjusting, focusing, taking stock of things. I've arrived on the other side of The Wall, on the other side of panic. I feel I can measure the moments before I will pass out, that I can live at that edge. I take a backward look down the side of the mountain. Far below, I think I catch a glimpse of a bent figure on a turn in the trail, and instinctively I turn and begin running again, toward the top of the world.
The outpost of Sandakphu is nothing more than three dilapidated dorms and a dining hall above the clouds. It serves as our first night's resting place. I arrive, after four and a half hours and twenty-four miles, without any sense of elation, just cold and exhausted. I barely register the peaks of the great mountains. I have one overriding need - sleep. A guide puts a blanket over my shoulders, offers me a cup of tea and bread and takes me to my dorm. A fire burns, illuminating a cold gray corridor and I sit close to the fire and feel the ebb of exhaustion, like a drug. The tea is strong and hot. It fills my chest with a sense of warmth. I finish it, and then crawl away to my sleeping bag, draw my legs to my chest in fetal submission and fall into a fitful sleep. Hours later, I surface into dying evening light. There is noise outside my window. Others are arriving. I go outside again. With descending evening comes an obliterating mountain darkness and a biting cold. In the distance are the lights of the colonial tea plantation Hill Station of Darjeeling. To the North is the mysterious kingdom of Sikkim, and in the East, Bhutan. We gather in solidarity, awaiting the last runners. An Iranian man, Kio Vejdani, emerges from the darkness, his nose smashed and broken from a fall on the gnarled track. He is covered in blood. The medical team surrounds him, and the day is unceremoniously over.
The dining hall is hot, the air suffused with the smell of food. The dark outside is absolute, the wind howls and rattles the hut. Runners shuffle toward steaming tureens of soup, taking bits of bread and rice and returning to a line of chairs against the damp walls. A stunned silence prevails through most of the meal. We are subsumed into the dull, muted world of our own communal grunts, brief exchanges that touch on what had been collectively experienced. As yet, we cannot say in words, what we have learned, but it burns in the sinews of our muscles, in the dull headaches we experience. Some eat, others can't, or just stare at their food, knowing they should eat, but are unable to. Altitude sickness suppresses the appetite. We have the look of pitiless refugees, or the infirm.
Two doctors quietly take blood pressure and pulse readings, listening to our chests for a fine crackling sound called rales - the first telltale sign of potentially fatal HAPE. Some runners are guarded against this intrusion. Throughout the meal, runners rise and leave. They are here to compete and don't want to be singled out as sick. Others are here simply to finish. They are battered and worn out, bruised, with swollen limbs. Many are not endurance athletes but have come representing charities, to raise money for causes ranging from Cancer Research to the Abolition of Child Labor in Asia. They define something noble in this race, taking it beyond the sheer madness of endurance athletes, or our modern feeling of angst. A runner from the World T.E.A.M. sports team that includes athletes with disabilities says frankly to himself as much as to anybody else, "I met my demons out there today, and I lost. I know more about myself than I ever wanted to know." And he finally creates a communal moment of frankness that exposes the humanity and frailty in all of us. There are still seventy-six miles ahead of us, and four more days at altitude. The pervasive fumes from the naphthalene burners heating the soup vats eventually drive us from the dining hut.
Sleep holds no sanctuary at altitude. In fact, sleep is when many people die at altitude. The automatic breathing response is governed, more strongly by the need to exhale excess carbon dioxide, than to inhale oxygen. At altitude, carbon dioxide levels in the blood decrease dramatically as the breathing rate increases in an effort to provide the body with adequate amounts of oxygen while awake. In effect, our automatic breathing mechanism is blunted. Throughout the night, the level of oxygen in our blood drops precipitously low, causing hypoxia, and runners jerk awake at the onset of suffocation. Several times during the night, I have to sit up and focus on breathing, then, I feel the stiffness in my legs, and get up into the freezing cold and walk the corridor. There are other somnambulists haunting the dark. Somebody struggles from a sleeping bag and vomits in the hallway. Tomorrow looms just hours off.
We will have to do this all again, for four more days, and with each passing day comes the physical toll, the blisters and aching muscles, the dull persistent headaches. We have learned to back off, to not reach that threshold where we will faint. We have been humbled. On each day we begin as a group, the time difference between the days, is logged, and each day my adversary pushes me over those first miles, hoping that I will physically succumb, and each day I detach myself from him eventually. On some of these days, the trail edges along narrow, goat-trodden precipices, where the drop-off is more than a thousand feet. If you become disoriented and fall you may never be found. We face the prospect of death in our waking and sleeping hours. We face mortality, and somehow we endure and press on over the hundred miles.
I personally get by, thinking of the windowless domain of Microsoft, of the twenty-hour days coding in the incessant buzz of florescent light that has become my life. I have somehow extricated myself from that world, if only for a short time, and the more I run, the more I feel I must change my life when I return to America. There is nothing more authentic than the struggle each day against this mountain. There are no stock splits, no sudden rise of fall in the market, rather each day, the mountain and I are the same, and the same level of endurance and commitment is required. It is a simple relationship. I am Sisyphus, but I am a happy Sisyphus.
This feeling of infirmity I carry with me over these days, is a harbinger of what the future will eventually bring - that fated moment when I will not be able to draw that last breath - and how will I account then for my days and what I did on Earth. But for now, I am content in the physical pain of this literal and symbolic journey. I feel in some small way I am reaching back to some migratory legacy deep in our human genes, that despite all the modern conveniences of twenty first century life, I have found a way back into some subconscious collective, some time when we roamed and foraged the land. What I feel is a primal sense of my surrounding, a nervous and competitive instinct to those sleeping around me, a consciousness more concerned with survival than higher philosophical or analytical way of thinking, and it feels like life, a more authentic feeling than I've ever felt writing code or novels. I feel infused with a stream of adrenaline, a predatory sneer on my face.
Survival is my sole goal.
Write to Work - Composition Textbook with Web-based Interactivity
For several years now, I have been troubled by how much our training and education in the humanities has failed to help us assist non-traditional students as well as unemployed workers displaced by the current economic slowdown.
I believe the practical approach of Write to Work can change the atmosphere in the college classroom and the lives of students because its writing tasks address actual needs faced by traditional and non-traditional student populations. The pedagogic focus radically differs from traditional composition courses that emphasize an analysis of literature in that Write to Work provides students with the necessary skills to secure a position in a competitive economy.
Write to Work's assignments reflect this shift in focus with advice on how to take a personal inventory, how to write cover letters and resumes, and how to apply for financial assistance, among others.
Write to Work also integrates with Moodle (an online Learning Management System), giving faculty unprecedented ability to extend their pedagogical reach through an array of online resources, such as extensive online grammar reviews, quiz modules, file management, and a customizable online grade book. These online features dovetail with state and federal mandates imposing greater accountability norms, linking funding to evidence of student success. Rather than relying on anecdotal evidence, Write to Work enables administrators to generate objective data to produce valid outcomes assessments of student performance.
Write to Work has been presented at major academic conferences and garnered acclaim as a unique approach to reaching at-risk and non-traditional student populations.
Advantage for Faculty:
- Create, implement and manage Student Outcomes Assessment
- Provide feedback on a per-student basis, facilitating individualized instruction and targeted remediation
- Online snap-shot of student progress establishing student accountability and ideal for directing student conferences
- Online customizable grade book
- Post lecture notes and assignments to a central website
- Create quiz modules for self-directed learning
- Broadcast to an entire class via e-mail
Advantage for Students:
- Online snap-shot of class progress enabling students to clearly identify learning strengths and weaknesses
- Series of online grammar review modules and quizzes facilitate self-learning and self-assessment
- Array of online learning resources helps students master MLA and APA guidelines
- Viewable online grade book
Advantages for Administrators:
- Learning Management Module allows administers to centrally manage Student Outcomes Assessment in compliance with state or federal mandates and accreditation guidelines.
- Allows administrators to assess learning objectives on a program level and implement changes based on statistical data.
- A standardized course website design enables administrators to easily navigate, monitor and assess faculty instruction in real-time
Visit us on the web @ www.writetowork.net
Audio Outreach Projects
As part of an ongoing mission to facilitate reaching at-risk, displace and underserved populations, Collins started Extraordinary Voices of the Ordinary - An Audio Outreach Project that captures the authentic experience of real people in their own words.
The collaborative nature of the podcasts has enabled communities with shared experience to come together, find a common voice and hopefully a greater sense of self. As an artist and teacher, Collins seeks to help people find the story that lies within them.
This unique approach to sharing stories has been a gateway project for many of the participants who have gone on to write novel, collections of short stories and memoirs.
The audio podcast span a range of issues including, Returning Veterans Struggle to Readjust, Domestic Violence Victims' Stories, Voices from The Economy, Faith & the Media, Search for Identity to name but a few recent broadcasts.
The project was started as a collaborative effort with Beth-LeBaron Root and Enid Goldstein.
The following podcasts are available for listening:
Domestic Violence Podcast
The Economy Podcast
Midnight in a Perfect Life - How I came to Write the novel - A foreword
Midnight in a Perfect Life is a novel I have wanted to write for some time. It defies convention in many ways and deviates from the comfortable formulaic crime genre writing I had mastered to survive as a writer in the late nineties, a move which had garnered me some of the top international literary awards. The crime genre suddenly didn't seem to have the breadth, scope or gravitas to deal with what had transpired in my life.
In a dazed 3 a.m. walk through the labyrinthine corridors of a cancer ward, I still remember coming upon a skeletal female patient in a wheelchair. Bald, in a dressing gown, and cradling a cell phone, she was hunched toward a wall, crying and talking intermittently. The starkness of the light and the lateness of the hour stopped me. All was dark outside, existence stripped bare.
Here before me was a premonition of a future I did not want to contemplate. My six year old daughter had suffered a series of massive seizures only a few days previously. A subsequent CAT scan revealed a brain tumor. We were anticipating a nightmare journey toward treatment.
Back in my daughter's room I crawled into bed beside her and cradled her small, sedated body. She was in a medically induced coma to protect her, hooked up to wires and monitors for a brain study. Her tumor was still being studied to see if it was malignant and growing, or if it had lurked as a benign medical time bomb since birth. Her doctor described the tumor as Of Uncertain Significance. It might have caused her seizures, but then again it might not have. Medical science would provide the answers eventually.
In those grim early days I found myself repeating that cold medical term, Of Uncertain Significance. It had a metaphysical underpinning to it. It spoke to larger issues. Nothing held significance anymore. I kept wondering what our existence and our time on earth actually means. It was a question that would define the prevailing theme of the novel I started on during my daughter's recovery, a rigorously disquieting questioning novel seeking answers.
Midnight in a Perfect Life takes us to the heart of conception, asks questions of the soul. What will be our legacy? How do we want to live and be remembered? Within these pages are the atomized particles of relationships laid bare, a vivisection of modern aloneness; an uncertain journey toward meaning in a seemingly Godless world.
In the end, reacting to my daughter's illness, I found a way to explore what I wanted to say about the human condition.
I had intended for the novel to be called, Of Uncertain Significance, but an earlier working title, Midnight in a Perfect Life was used instead at the behest of my publisher.
|Midnight in a Perfect Life
Released April 2010
Winner - The Lucien Barrier Award Best Novel, France 2011
Karl is a troubled writer standing on the precipice of forty. After a degree of success in his early career he is now battling with what he terms his 'opus', his legacy to the world. But his partner Lori, the main breadwinner, is also thinking about her destiny and wants a child.
As they embark on fertility treatment, Karl is forced to confront his deepest fear - that he will turn out to be like his father, a travelling salesman who was found dead after apparently committing murder when Karl was just thirteen.
Unbeknown to Lori, Karl has already taken loans out against their house to pay for his mother's care home, and his freelance work, ghosting for a crime writer called Perry Fennimore, has dried up.
As the treatment progresses, Karl feels increasingly distanced from his relationship and the safety of home, and attracted to the shadowlands of Chicago's backstreets. When Fennimore re-emerges with a proposal, Karl begins to tap this new source of creativity - but just how far will he go in his pursuit of the ultimate story?
The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton
Released April 2006 UK
Released in US as Death of a Writer in September 2006
Winner of The Breakout Novel of the Year in France 2008
Longlisted for IMPAC Award 2008
Seattle PI Top Pick 2006
People 4 Star Review
Death of a Writer begins as once literary prodigy and now a virtual unknown, Professor E. Robert Pendleton clings hopelessly to his tenured position at a Midwestern college. Now, when a campus visit from a rival author, now a superstar, tips his malaise into desperation, death seems the only remaining option. But Pendleton's suicide attempt is thwarted by a young graduate student, leaving Pendleton relegated to a wheelchair, surviving in a barely-conscious state. It is then that an unpublished novel is discovered in his basement: a brilliant, semi-autobiographical story with a gruesome child murder at its core.
The publication of Scream causes a storm of publicity, conferring on Pendleton the success he has always sought, when, ironically, he is no longer in a condition to appreciate it. Soon questions begin to be asked about the novel's content: in particular about the uncanny resemblance between Pendleton's fictional crime and a real-life, unresolved local murder. How did Pendleton know the case so well? And why did he bury Scream in his basement? Enter Jon Ryder, a world-weary detective, and the hunt for the murderer is on.
A profound, darkly funny novel anchored by a gripping thriller, Death of a Writer explores the price of fame, the turmoil of academic life, and the precarious position of literature in American society.
USA Today Editors Choice
Finalist for Irish Novel of the Year
Finalist for Great Lakes Novel of the Year
Lost Souls begins with a tragedy on Halloween night. Among the petty vandalism and teenagers' pranks, a local police officer discovers the gruesome evidence of what appears to be a hit-and-run accident: a three-year-old child lying dead in a pile of leaves. But as the investigation proceeds and the media's spotlight intensifies, a much more ominous story unfolds. While the mayor and chief of police conspire to divert attention from the primary suspect - a local high school football hero whom they hope will take the town all the way to the state championship - it is left to the man who discovered the child's body to find the truth beneath the cover-up.
PNBA Novel of The Year
NY Times Notable Book of the Year
The solitude of the Upper Michigan Peninsula is Michael Collins's heart of darkness in this compelling story of the unquiet dead. Almost thirty years ago, when Frank Cassidy was five, his parents burned to death in a remote Michigan town. Now Frank's uncle is dead too, shot by a mysterious stranger who lies in a coma in the local hospital. Frank, working menial jobs to support his unfaithful wife and two children, takes his family north in a series of stolen cars to dispute his cousin's claim on the family farm. Once there, however, Frank also wants answers to questions about his own past: Who really set the fire that burned the family home and killed his parents? Will the stranger, who hangs between life and death, be able to shed light on long-buried secrets?
As the television blares the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, news of Jim Jones, and endless sitcom reruns, simple answers -- and the promise of the American dream -- seem to recede from Frank's grasp. Brilliant and unsettling, The Resurrectionists is an ironic yet chilling indictment of American culture in the seventies and a compassionate novel about a man struggling to overcome the crimes and burdens of his past.
The Keepers of Truth
Booker Prize 2000 shortlist
Impac Prize 2002 shortlist
Irish Novel of the Year 2000
New York Times Notable Book of the Year
The last of a manufacturing dynasty in a dying industrial town, Bill lives alone in the family mansion and works for the Truth, the moribund local paper. He yearns to write long philosophical pieces about the American dream gone sour, not the flaccid write-ups of bake-off contests demanded by the Truth. Then, old man Lawton goes missing, and suspicion fixes on his son, Ronny. Paradoxically, the specter of violent death breathes new life into the town. For Bill, a deeper and more disturbing involvement with the Lawtons ensues. The Lawton murder and the obsessions it awakes in the town come to symbolize the mood of a nation on the edge. Compulsively readable, The Keepers of Truth startles both with its insights and with Collins's powerful, incisive writing.
Best First Novel of the Year France
April 1981. New York. A young Irishman, Liam is in hiding, waiting until the dreadful act in which he has had to participate becomes public knowledge, forced to keep it a secret because he is an illegal immigrant. In this, his second novel. Michael Collins writes with his Characteristic rawness and anger about the Irish in 80s America, as he gives the lie to the notion that were that country's favourite sons, but also, in a novel of maturity and rare beauty, he brings a new poignancy to our understanding of the emigrant experience, and of the loneliness of not belonging.
|The Feminists Go Swimming
The Feminists Go Swimming explores different aspects of the Irish character, and neatly satirises his country's current preoccupations. Feminism, alcohol, emigration and the Church - none escape the author's caustic and unforgiving eye. As always with Collins, there is humour and horror in equal measure, love and betrayal mingled with defiance and laughter. 'Michael Collins's vision is breathtakingly black and his writing so sharp you could cut yourself on it'.
|The Life and Times of a Teaboy
Ambrose Feeney has seen his hopes and ambitions dashed by others' influence and his own inertia. His Limerick is an old siege city of walls, both real and psychological. As Ambrose descends into lunacy he paints a starkly sane portrait of one family's life in an Ireland unsoftened by the mists of legend. The Life and Times of a Teaboy begins with the recollection of a Christmas past and ends with the entrance of the principal character into a lunatic asylum; a crisis in personal growth that mirrors the nation's.
|The Meat Eaters
New York Times Notable Book of the Year 1993
Short Stories spanning the latter half of the Twentieth Century in Ireland. Stories range from Irish rural life, to the troubles in the North, to emigration.
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