It’s no wonder that Patrick Freyne’s debut book, essay collection OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea, is so eagerly anticipated. For years, Freyne has been an essayist, critic and journalist for The Irish Times, where his sharply insightful features and reviews have been touted for their immersive, humanist quality – and their irrepressible sense of humour.
In his new essay collection, the three-time Critic of the Year at the NewsBrands Ireland Journalism Awards opens up about his own ‘stupid ideas’ in a series of life stories that are as deeply human as they are hilarious. With its release just weeks away, we asked Freyne questions about life and literature, and he told us about the day-to-day of being a writer and the importance of Magnum ice creams.
As a television presenter, Clive James had a huge effect on me when I was a terrible teenage debater. After I became a television reviewer in a newspaper, I picked up his collected Observer columns and realised he’d never be bettered. You could get lost in the man’s sentences, but they were beautiful things to get lost in. His Unreliable Memoirs are hilarious and his book of biographical essays, Cultural Amnesia, is like a humanist bible, filled with wit, wisdom and insight. He was very important to me as someone who showed you could transform journalism into something like art.
I was a dishwasher on the set of Braveheart, which was filmed in the Curragh Camp military base near where I grew up. I moved into an old army barracks with the other dishwashers. We all had nicknames scrawled in marker on our paper hats. Mel Gibson was the boss and he built trust with the cast and crew by showing us his arse (he did this before a scene in which Scottish clansmen mooned the English). Yes, I know he’s a conspiracy-theorising racist nowadays, but people don’t talk enough about his arse. It was magnificent, so it was.
When I was younger I reread all my favourite books countless times. Those books were: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and The Stand by Stephen King. As I get older I don’t reread books that much, but I reread comics all the time. I just reread Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets X, his weirdly prescient, strangely uplifting graphic novel about race and class fault lines in Los Angeles. The Hernandez Brothers do things with character and plot that are impossible to imagine in another format.
“You don’t really have to do this, you know? If it’s really that difficult you should consider stopping.” The lesson I learned from this was that nobody wants to hear writers complaining about writing. “Difficulty” is very relative. We’re not nurses or care workers.
Oh actually, the best advice I’ve ever been given, full stop, was, “Make an effort to talk to the person in the room who looks the most uncomfortable or left out.” This was given to me by my friend and bandmate Daragh, and is generally good advice that I’m pretty sure has also helped my writing.
Being with the people I love after a very nice day being all by myself. Also: no internet and eating unhealthy Magnum ice creams while on a healthy walk.
My regrets kind of change as I get older, so I don’t know what to tell you. I once regretted not being a successful musician, but that stopped being a regret when I realised I would have hated being a touring musician as a middle-aged man. A lot of the other things I regret, I could only have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. I suppose I regret that things are never as simple at the time as they seem when you look back at them.
If you could arrange for a large crowd to applaud for me every time I finished a page, I would find that very motivating. Alternatively, my ideal writing scenario is to be seated in a large manor house overlooking a lake that I own, ten minutes before lunch. Sadly, as a journalist, a more common writing scenario is typing frantically against a deadline beside a fruit machine in a regional Wetherspoons or by the draughty door in a Costa Coffee or crouched by a power outlet in the corner of a large conference room.
Sitting outside in sunshine, but not too much sunshine, with a view I can rest my eyes on and a nice cup of coffee in a big mug (the mug has to be pale in colour, to best bring out the colour of the coffee).
I read a lot of books that I loved this year. Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat is a beautiful original work blending her own experience of life and motherhood with the life of 18th century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. I read all three of Deborah Levy’s most recent books, and they each blew my mind. And I read The Boldness of Betty, a very sad, funny and warm book for young adults about collective action in early 20th century Ireland, written by my wife Anna Carey. It will radicalise any young person you give it to.
I always wanted to write something funny like Clive James, Sue Townsend or Douglas Adams because I like making people laugh. In recent years I’ve modified that desire a bit. I’ve been inspired by the essay as a more exploratory form in the work of writers like Emilie Pine, Sinéad Gleeson and Rosita Boland. Their work encouraged me to delve a lot deeper and go to some painful places. I still included lots of stupid jokes, though. I want every essay to be helpful or/and entertaining.
OK, Let's Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Freyne is out 17 September.
Jack the Ripper is famous for brutally murdering five women in East London. But what about the women themselves? Time and time again women have taken a backseat in their own narratives, but historian Hallie Rubenhold wants to set the record straight and give the female victims back their voices.