‘I packed up my dream, put it in a box in a corner of my mind. And there it stayed gathering dust’
Mark Haysom’s debut novel is published today – the realisation of a 40-year ambition
I believe reading is contagious and that I caught it from my mother. She was always the one who had her nose buried in this book or that as she juggled a baby on a hip, a full-time job and a pan on the hob.
Or perhaps it was from the poet teacher of my schooldays, Vernon Scannell, who taught English with his fists but threw books and words at us dimwitted boys with a deadly aim.
Or maybe it was from my grandmother, with her stories of home, of another life in the fantastical tumbledown villages of her youth around Macroom in Co Cork.
Whoever it was, whatever it was, something lit a fire in me and by the age of 12, I was reading Hemingway, Forster, Forrester, Faulkner, The Beano, The Eagle, Agatha Christie, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, Austen, Dickens – anything that stayed still long enough to be read. When I wasn’t playing football or cricket, I was reading. That was my young life.
And it was then that the dream began. That this is what I would do, this is how I would live, who I would be: I would be a writer, a teller of tales, a spinner of yarns, I would weave dazzling stories out of threads of silken words.
I left university with my head still stuffed full of that dream – but it was then that cruel reality slowly dawned. Apart from the stacked boxes of secondhand books I’d accumulated since childhood, all I had in the world were the clothes I stood up in and a new blue Burton’s suit bought for my graduation by my parents. I needed a roof over my head, food on the table. In short, I needed a job.
So I packed up my dream, put it in a box in a corner of my mind. And there it stayed gathering dust for almost 40 years while I went away and did other things.
I became a journalist, an editor, a newspaper executive. I ran regional newspapers, national newspapers. I moved into education, led a giant government agency, worked in Westminster; I went regularly to Downing Street and once to Buckingham Palace. I met extraordinary people, travelled the world. I had the most fortunate and fabulous of times.
Yet somehow, in that dusty corner, the dream survived intact and, a few years ago, I tentatively tried my hand at writing again. Then, one restless night, there was a story of a single day that sparked in my mind.
Later, in subsequent nights of little sleep, five characters emerged, and they had voices that I couldn’t ignore. So I sat down and began to write the book that eventually was to become Love, Love Me Do.
And it started – as these things so often do – with a memory of childhood.
One day, in the summer of 1961, when I was seven years old, my family fled our home. There was no warning given, no explanation offered; there was certainly no discussion. We just drove away.
My older sister and I would have been in the back seat of the car, my younger sister was with my heavily pregnant mother in the front, and my father was behind the wheel, smoking furiously.