By Ken Bruen

As a child, I was guilty of the worst crime in the Irish calendar, I was quiet.

In fact, I never spoke and those who know me now, wonder if maybe, I wasn’t

a better gig then.

Moving on

Sitting beside me was a lad named Gerry, full of vim and vigour and as they

say, even then

most likely to succeed

Right behind us was a lad named Sean, from the poorest area of the town

and to be poor then, meant watching for the rent man on a Friday night and

alerting your mother to turn off the lights so he might believe you were out

As if there was anyplace to go

And lights out didn’t convince the rent man of anything, save you hadn’t

paid the light bill

Fast forward

Gerry, two years ago, hadn’t quite become the success they’d planned and

the circus was in town and,

a few pints to the worst, he went down at 4 in the morning to pet the tigers,

as he felt they might be lonely

They took both his arms off

It was indeed, dare I say, Tabloid fodder

He was front page for all of a day

Got over thirty large in compensation

With the help of new friends, he blew the money in five weeks

I ran into him last year when my French translators were in town

See, see the casual way I inserted that, like I have whole realm of translators

and last year, it was the turn of The French.

I was in the bathroom and Gerry came in, asked me to am…………….help him

to relieve himself, he had refused any artificial limbs, telling me

“Them yokes never fecking work.”

I’m thus engaged, when the translator walks in and not only am

I……….manhandling……….but with a person who is obviously physically


My dark rep in France was………………….SOLID

Gerry asks me to light him and I put a cigarette between his lips, fire him up

and he goes

“How are them books doing for you?”

And my heart is scalded, torn in a thousand ribbons, and I know the sheer

decency he was raised in, I say

“Doing ok now, thanks."

And armless, he moves off, ensconced in a cloud of nicotine, says

“You were always a hoor for them books.”

I met Sean last week, he has just been named as the third richest man in


ahead of Bono and trust me, that is serious bucks or Euros or

whatever you measure in

and he is just about the coldest person I’ve met in many an era

and believe me, I’ve met some cold ones,

most of them I’m related to, more’s the Irishe-d pity, mainly through

alcohol and

he says

“I don’t read fiction.”

Right off the bat, like I’d asked him

“Do you read fiction?”

Subtext here………………….do you read me?

None of that false bonhomie,

“Gee, haven’t seen you in twenty years, how the devil are you?’

No wonder he’s rich

Reminded me of the old adage, if you want to know what god thinks of

money, look who

he gave it to……………………Madonna?

I muttered something along the lines of

“Hasn’t Ireland changed so much?”

Piss poor, you think I don’t know?

And then the moment, he gives me the full on eye fuck, says

“But I’ve read your most recent offering.”

Don’t you love him?

I wait cos waiting is what, not so much what I’m best at, but I’m most

accustomed to and

he’s used to making pronouncements and then, he adds

“You need to write a bestseller.”

Got it

Memo to self

Wake up, say yer prayers, have a shower,

ring your child before she goes to school and

am………………write bestseller

I have it

When I was young, the old people, they’d see some poor afflicted soul,

they’d bless themselves, utter

“There but for the grace of god…………………”

I think about that and guess what, when I utter that, who do you think I see

as the afflicted soul?

Hint……………when I had to go to hospital

after I got me jaw broken at a book launch,

who came to see me, said

“I’d have brought a book but I couldn’t carry it.”

25 thoughts on “A TALE OF TWO CHILDHOODS

  1. Ali

    Hell Ken,

    That nearly brought me to tears – you have a way with words, very moving, very moving.


    PS – Have read Richard Bachman’s [aka Stephen King’s] BLAZE – made me bloody cry too. Words have power, and in the right hands they can change the way you look at the world – Thank you

  2. Jim Winter

    Jay-sus, Ken, they sound like two of your characters. I can see Jack going off and getting majorly blitzed after talking to those two.

    “At least I had…

    An endless supply of JamesonA room at BaileysMy arms”

    OTOH, the people you came up with always seem amazed you’re a writer. It’s like we’re doing a magic trick. Some days, I wish we were.

  3. Patrick Shawn Bagley

    “You need to write a bestseller.”

    I’d be as rich as good ol’ Sean if I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that. Right. ‘Cause anyone can do it. You just take a month off work and start typing. Poof! The ignorant fucks.

  4. Evil Kev


    I really enjoyed this outstanding post. Few can capture this kind of experience is such a honest, heartfelt and stylish way as you have.

    As far as bestsellers go, you have already done something more important than being a bestseller. You write books that are memorable for the reader. So many bestsellers are like fast food, something you consume quickly but are quickly forgotten. Your books are like a fine ethnic meal. It may not be everyone’s taste, but the memory of the rich flavours stay with you for months.

    How many bestsellers can say that?

  5. pari

    My heart broke a little with this, Ken. You never can tell about kids and where they’re headed.

    Too long ago, in adolescence, I had horrid acne. I hated it and myself. One day, at the swimming pool, I met a woman who I could just tell I needed to talk with.

    The conversation meandered, but then, in the middle of all of it, she said: “If you’re sixteen and you’re not beautiful, it’s not your fault. If you’re sixty and you’re not beautiful, it IS your fault.”

    Poor, pitiful Sean.

  6. Tom, T.O.

    I’m damn proud to be an Irishman; you make me even prouder. Such a subtle, yet powerful story. Where HAVE all the flowers gone?

    And poor Sean who doesn’t read fiction (probably made up enough of it in his head to get through his childhood)–he read YOU, though. . . .

    Tom, T.O.

  7. JT Ellison

    Ken, thank you. I like Gerry. And I agree with Pari, poor, pitiful Sean. Imagine how staid his rich life must be without some fiction in it? People with no imagination…

  8. Mike MacLean

    Christ. This was good. Makes me want to quit writing good. Makes me want to writer better good.

    I’ve searched my memory, but I can’t think of anyone in my past that has gotten his arms ripped off by a tiger. I’m feeling a bit boring about now.

  9. Steven

    Just imagine if you’d kept up with the rest of your grammar school classmates. There are novels to be mined out of that rock.

  10. JLW

    “Behove this sound of Irish sense. Really? Here English might be seen. Royally? One sovereign punned to petery pence. Regally? The silence speaks the scene.” — James Joyce, FINNEGAN’S WAKE

  11. ken Bruen

    I’m delighted with the amazing response, on a real sad note, they took Gerry out of the canal 2 weeks ago, LIGHTS OUT INDEED

    Sean continues to empire build

    I’m working on the bestseller

    above me desk, the quote from Bossuet

    One must know oneself to the point of being horrified

    The tigers are currently in Paris


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