Friday, 19 September 2014

David J. O'Brien: Five Days on Ballyboy Beach

It's our pleasure to welcome back David J. O'Brien to Heart of Fiction. David was with us in May for the release of his debut novel, Leaving the Pack, book one in the Silver Nights Trilogy, the story of a young man in a world similar to ours -- werewolves. Man yet not fully, beast but not fully. When he meets his mate, leaving the pack isn't as easy at it sounds.

Today, David introduces us to another, and gentler, romance -- Five Days on Ballyboy Beach.

This is Derek's story. The quiet one within his social circle, but he has his eye on one of his friends. Usually quiet and reserved, Derek must take the leap if he wants this woman. Best laid plans often go awry. When tragedy strikes, this close knit group of friends is thrown into turmoil. What does that mean for Derek and his chances with the one he thinks is 'the one'?

Five Days on Ballyboy Beach a sensitive view of one man's bid to find a mate. How many times have we ever regretted not stepping up when we should have and regretted 'the one who got away'? Readers are brought into Derek's world and what it's like being a shy man in Ireland, surrounded by outgoing women and an active social group who, in a way, are all looking for the same thing he is. One wanting the brass ring can't just keep riding the carousel and hope one falls in his lap. You have to reach for it. This is Derek's reach story. Emotions run high, especially as the plot progresses. David draws readers in through Derek's point of view and lets us experience these five active and tumultuous days. Tensions run high as David pulls out all the emotional stops. Get your tissues handy for this one! This isn't just a great summer read, but a great year round read.

David took a few moments out of his busy schedule to have a chat with us.

Welcome back to Heart of Fiction, David.

You told us before that your writing spaces are many and varied. Where have you currently been writing?

Well, this summer I've spent over a month living in the country in my wife's family's village. I normally write in an upstairs office before a balcony doors with great views. However, I've had to exchange this for a blank white wall in front of my desk in my bedroom - for two reasons. One is that I was too distracted by the views - in some cases of the horses and cows, but also a little group of lizards that skittered up and down the walls in the sun. The other was that the upstairs office space was taken over by my daughter and her cousins: I call it an office space, and it has a desk and book shelves, but really it's a play room, with the floor strewn with toys! What with piano practice and squabbles added to the general noise, it was best to beat a retreat into the bedroom to get any work done. I can't complain, though, because there is a view of a hillside and the blue sky out my window when I needed to rest my eyes for a while!

Bundoran Strand, Co. Donegal
by Osioni - Own work.
Licensed under public domain
via Wikimedia Commons
Five Days on Ballyboy Beach is set in a place with lots of wonderful views. Is it based on a real place or does it only exist in your imagination?
Well, the basic plan of the beach - bounded on one side by cliffs along which you could walk to town and backed by dunes, was based on Tullan Strand in Donegal, where some friends and I stayed for a long weekend many years ago. I had to find a photo on the internet because that was back in the days before digital cameras and I haven't been back since. My old photos are packed away in a box in Ireland! Of course, the town of Bundoran is much bigger than Ballyboy, and in the book Ballyboy is situated in either Mayo or Galway - and has a large mountain overlooking it, similar to Mweelrea north of Killary Harbour. The actual village is all imagined, and since the surfing in Donegal is world famous, I'm not actually giving away anyone's secret surf break!
I've been to Bundorran and I know the area around Tullan. Really stunning views, and a very walkable beach.

What inspired you to write Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, besides the scenery of places you'd seen while "out west"?
I wrote this novel kind of using the Seat of Pants method. I started with a short story called Around a Campfire, which is the guts of Chapter One. The idea was just to contrast the idea of being able to name the people with whom you've been intimate with the fact that oftentimes the faces and names (if we even asked them) are lost to memory. I showed the story to a friend, who said he'd expected more. That made me think about what would have happened next in the story. I had five characters on a beach and could do anything with them I wanted, so I just kept writing the rest of their short holiday, adding some other characters as I needed them. I started writing in first person and it seemed a good fit, so I kept going, even naming the main character after myself and played with creating a fake memoir where it would be hard to know (if you didn't know me and my friends) exactly whether it wasn't true or not. I promise that it's not - bar a few basic truths that are common to us all!
It's really amazing what one comment can drive us to produce. We can thank your friend for giving us the novel we have today!

Thanks for taking time to chat with us, David.

Before we get to the excerpt for this story, don't forget that your comment could net you a free copy of this book. Be sure to leave your contact email.

Also, Tirgearr Publishing is offering a promotional price on David's previous book, Leaving the Pack, at just 99c/77p for the next month.

10% of the author's royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.

• • •

A startling revelation - the long-time friend you never viewed romantically is actually the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.

But what do you do about it?

For Derek, a laid-back graduate camping with college friends on Ireland's west coast in the summer of 1996, the answer is … absolutely nothing.

Never the proactive one of the group - he's more than happy to watch his friends surf, canoe and scuba-dive from the shore - Derek adopts a wait and see attitude. Acting on his emotional discovery is further hindered by the fact he's currently seeing someone else - and she's coming to join him for the weekend.

As their five days on the beach pass, and there are more revelations, Derek soon realises that to get what he desires, he'll have to take it. Events conspire to push him to the forefront of the group, and, as unexpected sorrow begins to surround him and his friends, Derek grasps his chance at happiness. After all, isn’t life too short to just wait and see?

“Do you remember everyone you’ve ever kissed?”

We were sitting around the fire, which sent its flames up from the dry driftwood to spread light past us to the tents behind. It illuminated the hazel copse a little way off, but was beaten by the darkness before reaching the waves that softly washed up on the shore, thirty yards away.

Just the two of us, Sinéad and I, sat beside the fire. Sarah was in the dunes, and John and Bill had gone to the town to get more drink. We’d all thought that we’d have been drunk already, but we weren’t yet. We nearly were—at least I was—but not quite enough. The two lads had decided to walk the mile to the pub and get a dozen more cans of beer and a bottle of Jameson, and some lemonade for the two girls. Us men were fairly sure that by the time we’d finished the beers we’d be ready for the whiskey straight, or with just a little fresh, cool water from the stream beside the copse. It gurgled in the silence behind me, down a few rocks into a wide brackish pool that drained slowly down the beach at low tides, meandering through the sand.

I watched Sinéad looking back at me as she thought about the question. She was beautiful. I could see that in the firelight. Why couldn’t I see that during the day? Was it the night? Don’t be stupid, Derek, I told myself. It’s the booze! And the knowledge that you’re sharing your tent with two lads.

Still, she was beautiful. But she was better than just attractive— she was smart and funny and all those adjectives that people throw around when describing the people they fancy. She was one of my best friends—definitely my best female friends. That's why she was there, of course, because she was not just a pretty face. Yet that was a pity right now, when all I wanted was someone sexy.

“Yes," she answered. “I remember everyone. But then, I haven’t kissed very many people. Only twelve.”

I looked back at her eyes, my own betraying my surprise. “Really? You have only ever kissed twelve people?”

Sinéad laughed softly and nodded. “Yes! And I knew them all before I kissed them. Does that surprise you so much? Why do you ask anyway? Can you remember all those thousands of girls that you have kissed?” She asked this in a gently mocking way, and I blushed a little, though probably not enough for her to notice in the light from the fire.

I looked into the flames for a moment, then met her eyes again. “I haven’t kissed thousands of girls! And I am not that surprised about you only kissing twelve guys, though I am curious as to how that is,” I smiled, wondering how the hell it was possible. “But, I have to admit that I don’t remember every girl I’ve kissed. I don’t remember kissing some of them that I know I have kissed. It depends on the circumstances of the kiss. Sometimes I was fairly drunk.”

She laughed, and I laughed with her. I took a swig of beer and she did the same, then I looked at the fire again, not really wanting to look straight at her as I continued. “Sometimes though, I see a girl, and she looks so familiar, and yet I’m sure that I don’t know her, and she gives no indication that she knows me, or that I seem familiar to her. Or sometimes I see a girl who I don’t recognise or think I have met before, but who looks at me like she knows me or should know me, and I just wonder, if maybe a few years ago, I wasn’t holding her on a dance floor and kissing her. It’s really strange.”

When I raised my can again she was still looking intently at me. “Everybody forgets people. People don’t stay looking the same all their lives, so you are going to not recognise people, eventually, and if you didn’t know them all that well in the beginning, you're going to forget them sooner. I’ve forgotten lots of people I used to see around. I haven’t forgotten the people I have kissed because I knew them quite well, and I still know some of them very well. Why I haven’t kissed people I didn’t know is none of your business, really. But to be honest, it just happened that way: I was never not going out with someone for very long. But anyway, there have been lots of men I knew well and didn’t kiss, and I still remember them. Kissing doesn’t have that much to do with your memory—even if you think that you should remember the ones you kissed more than the ones you didn’t.”

I said nothing, but nodded and took another swig of beer, raising it high and draining the last of its contents into my mouth. She again took my cue and drank.

“What if the people you think you know are girls that you would have liked to kiss, but never did?”

• • •

David J O'Brien was born and raised in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. He studied environmental biology and later studied deer biology for his PhD, at University College Dublin. Instead of pursuing his life-long interest in wolves and predator-prey interactions, after completing his doctorate, he taught English in Madrid, Spain, for four years while his girlfriend finished her doctorate in molecular biology. They married and moved to Boston, where they both worked for a time. A short time before their daughter was born, they moved to Pamplona, his wife's hometown, so she could set up her new research group.

David has loved writing since his teens. He began with poetry and had one of his first poems published in Cadenza, a small Dublin poetry magazine at the age of fourteen, and others followed. He began writing fiction in his late teens. While living in Madrid, he wrote some non-fiction articles for the magazine Hot English, and while in Boston for the newspaper, Dig. There, too, he took a feature-writing class in Emmanuel College. Though his academic writing has taken precedence, David continues writing fiction in his spare time.

An avid wildlife enthusiast and ecologist, much of David's non-academic writing, especially poetry, is inspired by wildlife and science, and he sometimes seeks to describe the science behind the supernatural. He has written a little bit of everything: to date a four-act play, a six-episode sit-com, various short stories and four more novels.

David is currently working on a long novel set in the pre-Columbian Caribbean, and a non-fiction book about the sociology of hunting. At the same time he is looking for outlets for his other works: two contemporary adult novels -- one set in the west of Ireland and the other set in Madrid -- as well as a young adult ghost story set in a town outside London, and a children's novel about a boy who can see leprechauns.

Find David online --

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Tirgearr Publishing -

Don't forget that your comment could net you a free copy of this book.
Be sure to leave your contact email.


  1. Welcome back to Heart of Fiction, David, and congrats on your newest release.

    Tell us, what was your favorite scene to write in this story, and why?

  2. Hi Kem! (third time trying to reply here - still not used to my mobile phone!)
    It's great to be back at Heart of Fiction.
    That's a hard question! There are so many short scenes in this book that I love. I don't want to give away anything from later in the book, though. One of the reasons I really love the cover is because it gives the idea of not being sure where the path will end up apart form at some beach - you just have to go along it and see what happens.
    One scene I did like writing from the start of the book is when Derek and Sinéad and Sarah have climbed Tonoc Mountain and are thinking about all the eejits who are working away up in Dublin. It reminded me of many days on mountain tops before mobile phones proliferated, when you really did feel like you were far from the madding crowd.

  3. Wonderful interview, Kemberlee. David, congratulations on your latest release, which sounds like a fabulous fireside read. Those basic truths you mentioned make the best stories!

  4. Thanks Pat. I suppose you could read it by the fire and think of summer - it's a rare book set in Ireland in that it rains only on the last day of the holiday!

  5. Oh, you mean the good old days! ;-) I used to, and still do, wish the power would go out for a few days. On the rare times that's happened, it was great for the creativity. Pencil, pad of paper, sit by the window and write . . . great stuff. Or read of course. Back then I would have also been painting. I've never been one for hiking anyway, but I do love being out in the Irish countryside, with no one around but the little bleeters, on a glorious day and just take in the scenery. And think of all the people stuck inside offices all day. Much like I am now ;-) Irony is a killer.

    You got it in one about the rain and holidays. Usually starts just as you're leaving and doesn't let up until you're home.

  6. God be with the good old days!
    By little bleaters do you mean woolly maggots?
    Once the ideas come, it's time get back indoors and face that blank wall and get it down on paper, though!
    Speaking about drudge work, and Irony, is it wrong of me to put in the wrong number every time google asks me to type in the digits I see on their photos when they ask me to prove I'm not a robot when I post on blogspot?

  7. As your favorite student I should get a free book lol

    1. well, you've certainly got a good chance now, Leon! Let see if other students prove you wrong, though...:-)

  8. Andria Bhagwandeen19 September 2014 at 20:48

    DOB! Congrats on your new book, I will give it a read as soon as I pass in my thesis in Nov. One of my friends moved to Ireland, so I may be going out there soon!

  9. Thanks very much Andria! Good luck with your thesis - I can't believe you are at the handing up thesis stage already! You should definitely go to Ireland - it's only a skip across from Boston.

    1. Thanks very much Andria! Good luck with your thesis - I can't believe you are at the handing up thesis stage already! You should definitely go to Ireland - it's only a skip across from Boston.

  10. Andria Bhagwandeen21 September 2014 at 02:13

    1. Hi David, nice to meet you here on Heart of Fiction. Congratulations on your new release,
      'Five Days on Ballyboy Beach' A lovely interview with Kemberlee. You've certainly had a very interesting life, David. I love the picture of Bundoran beach, Donegal. All the way from Dun-Laoghaire to Boston. Good luck

    2. Thanks for dropping by, Cathy. I suppose it's an interesting enough life! I would love to do a lot more traveling, though - not just live in distant places!