‘I’m grateful I grew up in a small town where nothing seemed to happen’
Pádraig Kenny on boredom as inspiration and Pog, his new novel
Pádraig Kenny:“I started writing my own stories to relieve the boredom”
“Why did you become a writer?”
I get asked this question at every event, and I always give the same answer. “It’s simple,” I reply, “I was bored.”
We had a cinema in Newbridge, Co Kildare in the 1970s. It had one screen. I remember queueing for a mundane film called the When the North Wind Blows, about a man who befriended tigers in the Siberian wilderness. The queue was long. Very very long. It was longer than any queue for a mundane film about a man befriending tigers in the Siberian wilderness had a right to be. We were turned away on our first attempt to see it. On our second successful trip people piled into the cinema and everyone lapped it up because it was the 1970s and we were bored and there was nothing else to do.
We never had a permanent playground in Newbridge when I was a child. There was nothing like the fancy ones we have these days with their multiple slides and their climbing frames. Nothing to relieve the boredom for children. No monkey bars on which harried parents could rest their fevered brows while praying for the sweet release of death.
She was in America! A magical mythical place. It had the advantage of not being Newbridge, and I was besotted
No real celebrities came to visit Newbridge, unless you counted Johnny Logan playing a charity football match, or Aonghus McAnally doing a charity parachute jump on the Curragh.
So, yes, no real celebrities.
Unless Shergar counts, which of course he does, and probably more so in a county where giving a portrait of a race horse as a house warming gift is regarded as normal.
I don’t want to sound like a Monty Python sketch. We didn’t eat coal, and we didn’t live in shoeboxes, but there was a certain paucity of anything resembling proper cultural sustenance that could provide an escape from the everyday banality of a small Irish town. To me it felt like a great pall of boredom had settled over everything.
I dealt with the boredom by reading comics and books and watching television. I couldn’t get enough of American TV imports. Things like The Incredible Hulk, The Six Million Dollar Man, or Gemini Man in which the main character pressed a button on his digital watch and become invisible for a maximum of 15 minutes a day. There was also the unique joy of Patrick Duffy as The Man From Atlantis with his webbed hands and his ability to breathe underwater. If he stayed out of water for too long he became weak and dehydrated, but if you threw a bucket of water over him he became supernaturally strong. To my five-year-old self this seemed impossibly cool. Then there was Mary Tyler Moore, throwing her hat in the air in the opening credits of her own show. She was in America! A magical mythical place. It had the advantage of not being Newbridge, and I was besotted.
I devoured 2000AD and Marvel comics with a light side order of Buster and Whoopee. The most sought after book in our local library was a Batman annual, its frayed spine a testament to its popularity. One day, while reading in my room, I heard a shriek from the hairdressers directly across from our house. “The pope’s been shot!” Soon there was a gabble of increasingly hysterical voices outside the window. I shrugged, The Fantastic Four were fighting Dragon Man. The pope and reality could wait.
I started writing my own stories to relieve the boredom. When I was nine I wrote a story about a giant slime monster that came from beneath the sea to terrorise a small American town. It bore an uncanny resemblance to a story about a giant slime monster that came from beneath the sea to terrorise a small American town which I’d read the week before. More stories followed, unfinished scraps of things with monsters and aliens and hints of originality. I was asked to read an essay out in class about a school tour which ended in a cave containing a bear. I threw in a jibe about one guy who was the first to run out of the cave. Everyone laughed. “What is this strange new power?” I asked myself. I was one step short of doing a Doctor Doom cackle.
I wrote a story for a competition in secondary school to mark the school’s 25th anniversary. It involved a hideous experiment gone awry, the removal of teacher’s faces by an unseen spectral entity, and the melting of the memorial gold medallions which had been specially commissioned to mark the anniversary. Maybe I was sublimating something. Perhaps we’ll never know. I came second. First prize went to someone whose essay was about what a wonderful anniversary week it was, and how teachers and pupils were united in a spirit of great fellowship. My pain at losing was relieved slightly by the flood of well-wishers who patted me consolingly on the back and said my story was way better. I knew my true audience, and I appreciated their good taste.
The years passed. Reality still seemed to me to be a tawdry imposition. I wrote more stories. One night I had a dream about a creature made of wood and a forest filled with monstrous creatures. I filed the creature away, wondering if I could use him some day.
More years passed. More reality, with more stories to keep it at bay. The stories were less of the melty faced teacher kind and became, dare I say it, actually good. One day I had a vison of a bereaved family moving to a house in a forest. There was a story here, but I couldn’t find its heart.
The creature made of wood reappeared. Now he had a name.
I wrestled with the story, grappled with it. It was that or deal with reality, but the story refused to reveal itself.
Then Pog Lumpkin arrived. A small furry creature stuck in an attic, waiting. I knew all about waiting, because waiting is horrible and boring, and I knew how to fill it up with interesting stuff that was definitely not part of reality. And Pog was the beating heart of it. Lost, broken, alone, and yet also loyal, fierce, and courageous.
I often wonder what would have happened if I had never been bored, but I’m oddly grateful I grew up in a small town where nothing seemed to happen. Grateful especially now because Pog is here.