Category Archives: Ken Bruen

Ghosts Must Do Again

By Ken Bruen


Those lines by Auden continue with


What brings those lines to the forefront of my mind are the posts by Dusty and Alex about sometimes hating writing. Oh horror, heresy etc. A writer not always loving their craft. Arthur Miller, well into his 70’s, said every morning he sits in front of the blank page and

Feels … terror.

I don’t think any of the writers I respect ever said it was easy.

There are mornings, when I see a ton of email, I give a sigh of relief as it means I can defer actual writing for a bit. If I skip a day, for whatever reason, and don’t actually write, I feel guilty and no rationale will eradicate it.

There’s no real mystery, pardon the bad pun, to writing. You just sit down and do it.


How hard can that be?

And writers block … they say, think of your bank manager, and you’ll be back on track.

The days of blankness, when I really don’t have a single thought in my head, I just barge and blitz through it.

Blood from a stone.

Above my desk is a quote from Somerset Maugham. Now I don’t think he meant it as a curse but that’s how I interpret it, it goes

The compulsion to write and no talent.”

Jesus wept.

I had always believed that if you wanted to write, you must have some talent, however vague or latent.

One of the finest books on writing is, Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande and a passage in there goes

an inclination to reverie, a love of books, the early discovery that it is
not too difficult to turn a phrase – to find any or all of these things in one’s first adolescent consciousness is to believe that one has found the inevitable, and not too formidable, vocation.

Wow, is that ever the road to ruin

As in … I want to, therefore I can.


Malcolm Bradbury makes a wonderful point

Good writers are generally, first and foremost, good readers.


In my experience, the best writing comes at a personal cost, when the words have to be gouged from your very soul and for that reason, they ring true.

There are the bleak dark days when you write and think

“Christ, this sucks.”

You do it anyway.

Then sometimes, not too often, you hit on magic, the words jell, the writing sings and you don’t need a critic or another person to tell you it’s good.

You know and there is no better feeling on the whole planet.

In its very rarity, lies its conviction.

Recently, finishing up a new book, it was the usual slog, the uphill battle and then, voila, I hit paydirt, a whole page of dark alchemy. I didn’t stop to wonder where it came from, or what put it into play, I just went with it.

Then the acid test, how did it read the next day.

God almighty, it was even better than I thought.

After more than twenty books, I’ve had that feeling maybe three times.

The edit came back a few weeks later with that whole passage deleted and the comment

“This doesn’t work at all and is not up to your usual standard.”


Take a wild guess.

And then you have to shrug, mutter, however darkly

“The hell do I know?”

The end question

“When is a writer done?’

Like, retiring?

For me, it’s when they prise my cold dead fingers from the keyboard.

My wife used to say, on being asked what it was like to live with a writer

“It’s not a problem as long as you know you’re only part of the plot.”

Is there anything else I’d rather be doing?


January has come in cold and wet, no surprise, it’s expected. But on Jan 4th, I was up at the crack as usual, had me first cup of coffee, got stuck into my writing and didn’t actually raise the blinds till nearly 7.15 and went

“Holy hell.”


And heavy snow.

We don’t do snow in Galway, unless you mean one of the many terms for cocaine.

My daughter is 15 and she has never seen snow, apart from movies, Christmas cards and her Geography books.

But the real deal, never.

We went out into the yard and her eyes, lit up in wonder, truly enchanted at it.

She was lit up for the whole day.

Next day, it was gone and her face, like she’d lost something truly precious, and she asked me

“Will it come back?’

I didn’t know

I said

“It might.”

Like the snow, you never quite know what any day will bring.

Lou Boxer, undefeatable organizer of Noir Con sent me a beautiful card with the greeting

Leaves tremble

Roots remain still

Blessed be.

Later in the day, I meet with an ex –nun, who used to work at The Magdalen and after she left the convent, she wrote a superb play on the laundries. She is a fine poet and we went for coffee to celebrate her new book of poems. They are quite extraordinary, and later, I’m still so taken with them, that I write her a long email , extolling them. She phones me and asks would I be willing to write an introduction to the collection.

I would.

And did.

Because of the nature of my books, I am perceived here as anti-clerical, despite the fact that I taught my daughter her prayers in Irish and one of my closest friends is a priest. It seems incredible now that when I attended Trinity, Catholics had to secure permission from the bishop.

I went to meet with him and he was a notorious bully. I asked if I might have permission to attend and he snapped

“What’s wrong with our own Universities?”

I tried to explain that the course I wished to follow was only available at Trinity.

He refused me permission.

I went anyway and I remember a friend commenting

“You’re like … excommunicated.’

Woe is me.

On the outside, which is a place I think writers thrive.

Least I do.

The final word I’ll leave to my Rabbi, David, who shared with me, from The Talmud

Learning is more important than action-

When the learning leads to action.”

And lest I got too deep, he added

Logic is neat

Life is messy

This morning, I was up earlier than usual and you guessed it

Praying for snow.

A line of Bruce from Thunder Road uncoiling in my head, jelling with Auden

The ghosts of all the girls you sent away."


Forlorn Angels

By Ken Bruen

It’s lashing down with rain, sleet, wanna be-snow, and I’ve just left my daughter to school. She was laughing as I left her.

No better sound in the whole world.

I get home and the builders are here, knocking a wall that the local authorities have informed me has to go.

I make them coffee and Fintan, the leader of the crew, both hands wrapped around the steaming mug, wanders in to my study and goes

“Jesus wept, how many fookin books have you?’

A lot.

He asks

“Have you read them all?”

Jig time.

I want to tell the truth

“Some of them twice.”

But I go with

“Naw, they’re for show.”

He looks at the open laptop and is fascinated, says

“Is that the new book?"

I nod and he drains the coffee, comments

“You seem too ordinary to be a writer!”

I take this as the height of praise.

Fintan got me the very first dog I had in the new house, a collie, named Houston. And no, Charlie, this is not a shot at you, it’s in fact, admiration.

William James wrote that if you want to see spirituality, look into the eyes of a dog.

Houston was a pure bundle of affection.

I loved him to bits.

He caught that virus we had last year and it killed him.

Broke me heart in smithereens.

Even now, I put me key in the door, I expect to hear him come bounding to meet me.

I’ll never get another.

Their loss is too hard.

I’m listening to The Cowboy Junkies, the track, Misguided Angel, now there is a song to make you yearn, but for what?

It’s that time of year for Tax Returns, artists don’t pay tax in Ireland, and like an Irish joke, Def Leppard have lived here for 20 years purely because of that. I was granted the exemption after submitting my first novel, titled Funeral. But you still have to fill out the forms, see if you are liable for PRSI.

This goes towards your eventual pension.

I’m going through the various papers, singing along to The Junkies and out falls an old poem, the writing is barely legible.

I can hear the builder in the kitchen, making more coffee and he has expressed amazement that one cup is my limit. I’d easily drink a pot but my heart rebels.

The last few lines of this old poem go

… You breathe

The very content here

Towards where

Each future lilt

Will move me

Most of all

Will see you


… as yet

And then I remember vividly when I wrote it, I was living in Japan, smitten with a Japanese girl and dreaming impossible shite. I was top of my game with the teaching gig and truly enjoying it and of course, TEFL, depends completely on results and at that time, by all that’s Holy, I was on a streak, batting them out of the ballpark.

Time too when I believed that the world was not as it was, but as I saw it.

Mika, the Japanese girl was always giving me presents, it’s what they do and I had given her a Celtic Cross to wear around her neck. I was already preparing to leave, Saudi Arabia was paying top dollar for teachers and I had the years of experience they wanted.

Mika know I was catholic and was trying to understand the intricacies of it, I had told her, it’s simple

Shitload of guilt


Anything that is fun … is a sin

The night before I left, we were drinking hot Sake, and those babes go down smoother than a priest’s promise.

She gave me my going away present, beautifully wrapped.

I’d a nice buzz building and opened the package, an exquisite carved Dark Angel.

And she said

“Dark like you.”

She knew me better than I’d figured.

Later, in some rough times, I was standing on a bridge, and the dark angel held tight in my hands, I unclasped my fingers and the angel slowly fell into the torrent below, bubbled on the surface for a moment and then was swept away.

Rilke wrote

                   Each angel is terrible

I forgot about angels and yeah, alas, Mika too, and was packing me battered bag to move yet again, from India at that stage, and my mind was, if not cluttered, at least full of schemes. The bus to the airport was jammed and I was squeezed beside a very robust woman.

She got off first at the terminal and I saw on her seat, a black angel. I called after her, said

“You left this behind.”

She looked at it, shook her head.

I’m not saying the angel was returned to me …

Two years ago, I placed the black angel on the grave of my beloved Aine and a woman kneeling at the next grave, looked at it, said

“What a forlorn angel.”

I said nothing.

Back to now and the builder messing round in my kitchen, turned on the radio, it was an Abba tribute show and yup, here they came with

“I believe in angels.”

I went out to hear the words more clearly and asked the builder,

“You believe in angels?’

He gave me the look, scoffed

“Are you fookin codding me?’

A priest once told me, that angels walk among us.

I thought he was full of it.

Now, I see ordinary decent people with the most horrendous lives and yes, they are the one’s who walk among us.

Burdened, hurting, and in every kind of bad situation, the one thing you could never say is

“They are forlorn.”

I won’t be listening to the Junkies for a while again.

Fintan is preparing to leave and I’m reading the lines of Eramus

“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.”

Fintan’s picked up a book on my desk, The Devil’s Right Hand by our own Dusty Rhoades

and he asks

“Any good?’

I say it’s just mighty and he goes

“I don’t read fiction.”

I dunno about Dusty but I feel that is a crying shame.


Footsteps Darkly Past

By Ken Bruen

And with new days
You slip
Another faded trace
Of joy, they deem as yours
And in the dying envy
They grasp so near
You’ll catch a fleeting glimpse
To conjure back
A clear but solemn day
That sees you thread, an
All too known path
Through words that
Never mean again
To veil
Your fitful pride
That leads to my but softer curse
Of being forever damned
In troubled fate

I hope you had a wondrous peaceful holiday

And the New Year brings everything you would wish for those you love

The above poem was written in extremis.

Meaning, I was in bits.

And my agent fired me, telling me, the best you can hope for is cult status, translate as

No reviews

Discouragement hits me two ways

One … initial depression



The voice in me head that asks

“Are you going to quit?”

The answer that thankfully comes

“Like fook.”

I’ve been reading Tom Piccirilli … he has a whole shelf on my bookcase

And one of his titles could sum up my agents/publishers theme song

Fucking Lie Down Already.

Tom has wondrous stories about the publisher’s reaction to that title.

Such writers as Tom are the true grit of our calling.

In Irish there is a saying

“Is maith an t-alannan an ochras.”

Hunger is the best sauce.

No truer words.

I hope you had a wondrous Christmas and you received everything you could wish for and then some.

Our Lotto was the 2nd largest in it’s history, 13 million Euros and a farmer in the West of Ireland scooped it, no need to ask how his Christmas went.

One of Ireland’s top models, aged 24, died from cocaine and two days later, three young men, none of them yet 20, died the same way. They were just ordinary guys and what this showed that coke was no longer the drug of the rich or the privileged. The papers and Goverment went into panic mode and a survey showed that  all the public toilets in the country tested positive for cocaine usage. Used to be the working stiff’s form of coke was Vodka and Red bull but now they had the, excuse the pun, access to the Real Thing.

The Irish Times proclaimed

‘Country awash in cocaine.’

A few days before Christmas, I was asked to speak at the Public Libraries party. Sweet irony this as for years they refused to stock my books, citing, “Crime writers are not our brief!”

Any notion I had that librarians were conservative and staid went right out the Christmas window. They party … like devoted banshees and when I tried to take my leave at 1:00 in the morning, they said they were only warming up.

The Head Librarian saw me to the door, asked

‘Did you know your books are the most stolen ones?”

Long as she didn’t think I was the thief.

I dunno if the title of most stolen author is a compliment or a lash.

Christmas Eve, I had a jar with The King of The Tinkers, I gave him a bottle of Black Bushmills and he gave me one of their hand-carved crosses with the inscription, in charcoal, NA BAC LEAT.

Literal translation … ‘don’t mind them’ or ‘don’t give them a second thought.’

He was referring to a recent onslaught of personal attacks and I told him, I was well accustomed to that. He took a long swallow of his Guinness, looked at me, said

“In the final analysis, it is between you and God”


added, with a froth mustache from the pint, giving him the appearance of a sage

“It was never between you and them anyway.”

Which by one of those wondrous coincidences, happens to be one of my favourite lines from the prayer of Mother Theresa.

David, my Rabbi, in his newsletter had written about dreams and how we should treat the dreams of others.

I imagine getting The King of the Tinkers, David and Tom Piccirilli together for a pint and you know, I think it would be near as perfect a trinity as I can envisage.

I had told the King about Tom’s two dogs, named Lord Byron and Edgar A. Poe and even showed him a picture of them. He said

“You have to love a man who loves dogs.”

Shane Mc Gowan was 50 on Christmas Day and he gets my comment of the season vote, when asked what he thought of the Spice Girls, he said

“That’s what happens when you allow free speech.”

It’s this time of year my Mum and Dad died and it ties in with my drink with the King.

Day of my Dad’s funeral, the tinkers came to the funeral and gave me a horse as a mark of respect … Jesus, of all the times I wish I had a field.

Christmas Day, the main crib on Eyre Square was torched by persons unknown and all that remained was a smouldering misshapen manger.

The locals blamed coke.

Me, I’ll try to think he needed the heat, rather than ‘What Burns Within’

Warm mighty welcome to Zoe Sharp and Brett Battles to the crew of Murderati.

As this is Jan 1st, may I borrow from Tony Black, Donna Moore, Al Guthrie … and wish you Happy Hogmany.

We believe here that whatever you do on New Year’s day is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year. Guess I’ll be blogging then.

To paraphrase Yeats, may I wish you all that whoever treads on your dreams … treads very lightly and that what you wish for the ones you love most, you receive your own self.

The final line I’ll leave to Tom P.

“He always stressed the truth of love, but never understood what that meant. The truth of love is that you accept what’s wrong and ugly and tainted in your lover.”

( From The Fever Kill)


Bronach Agus Bringlodi

By Ken Bruen

We’ve been having storms like you wouldn’t believe. On the seafront, the waves have reached heights of near 45 feet, that’s 13.4 m. I’ve stood transfixed at the ferocity and sheer magnificence of them. And of course, two surfers went out there and the Coast Guard had to risk their lives to rescue them. Down at the docks, another fishing boat was lost and the wives keep a lonely vigil. The fisherman don’t learn to swim, believing if the sea wants you, it will indeed claim you.


All I know is that the sight of those women devastates me.

The title of this piece translates as




Bronach, pronounced … Bro-knock, is so much more than sadness though. In Irish, it’s like a soul sickness, a melancholia that reaches down over hundreds of years and Bringlodi, pronounced Bring-load-e, is simply dreams.

In so far as dreams are ever simple.

I was telling Elaine Flinn about these words recently and she loves them as much as I do, they have a resonance that is beyond articulation.

Which led me onto me gig of lighting candles.

As I do for friends who are undergoing pain, stress or trauma. Alas, there is only one church remaining in the city where you can light the candles in the old style. The rest have gone, if not digital, certainly electronic. You put your Euros in and press a button and a light comes on. Reminds me too much of a celestial slot machine, Vegas without the noise.

I need the traditional route, the long taper, you light it then put it to the wax candle and the whole ritual is strangely comforting. They say a candle is a prayer in action.

No debate from me.

If it’s a really special case, I light a green candle, no, not because I’m Irish but the green candle has deep significance in Irish history.

I did that recently for a friend who said

“I don’t believe in all that crap.”

I said

“I believe for you.”

I’m thinking of Sandra’s novel, What Burns Within.

Didn’t fly.

She scoffed, said

“You’re the last person I ever expected to be religious!”

I tried to explain that I believe religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell and spirituality is for  those who’ve been there.

Said so

And she countered

“How do you know if someone is spiritual?’

Usually, if they firmly believe they are spiritual, they’re anything but.

And heaven knows, I seem to be a constant target for the spiritual muggers, they figure I need saving and they’re right, I do.

From them.

Like humility

You claim to be humble, you ain’t.

There are three simple questions to determine if you’re spiritual:

1.    Are you wanted
2.    Are you needed
3.    Are you loved

It’s quite astonishing the number of people who will deny one or all of those.

But lest I get too deep here, there is a wonderful song by Amy Winehouse with Mark Ronson titled, Valerie. Sent to me by my close friend Tony Black. His novel, PAYING FOR IT, has a line of true Bronach, a dying father saying to his son

“I thought I could win you round by being hard on you … it was all I knew. I got what I wanted by being hard, a hard player I was … I thought you needed the same.”

My daughter and I jive to Valerie.

You guys call jive, swing.

Her sheer gurgles of delight as I swing her round the kitchen is as spiritual as ever I need to know.

One of my close friends here, said

“Jaysus, I can’t picture you dancing.”

I want to ask

“And why should you?”

Plus, it’s a given that Irish guys don’t dance, way too macho for that shite.

Few things give me more joy than watching people dance. Time back, when line dancing was hot here, I was in me element.

Few years ago, in Mexico, I was with some friends who asked me how I’d like to spend the evening?

I said

“Line dancing.”

They told me it was passé.

I said there must be someplace that still had it and they finally admitted that a biker joint, just outside Cancun did but it was a risky venue.

Just what I wanted to hear.

It was certainly atmospheric, the Harleys outside, one particularly beautiful Soft Tail custom, gleaming in the lights from the bar, and inside, a motley crew. We found a table and got the Tequila with the worm in the bottom of the glass.

We didn’t order it, they brought it over, plonked it down and gave you the look.

There were actually two types of drink available.

You could have it with or without the worm.

There was a heavy vibe in the air, I felt like I’d wandered onto the set of “Dusk till Dawn” and asked my friend if there was ever any trouble?

He said no as everyone was packing.

I said

“Except me.”

He shrugged it off, said

“Act like you are, swagger when you go for a leak.”


And knowing my history, someone would surely call my bluff.

I skipped the swagger.

The band were terrific, a blend of Cajun, Tex Mex and Country.

If I could have just got an Irish lilt to it, it would have been awesome.

Just recently, I’ve had a recurring dream. I’m walking with a lady and Ye Gods, I’m happy. I wake and I can’t recall her face, her name, just the feeling.

Craig Mc Donald in his debut novel quotes a line,

“You’ve got to find what you love and let it kill you.”

Head Games indeed.


My wondrous Rabbi in Beverly Hills emails me about the nature of love and the true spirit of the human condition.

I think of that as I re-read Louise’s blog about her amazing gesture for her dying brother.

All of this drags up some lines from a poem I never finished

In distance- once

Your face, I might
From complications
Have gentle
            Almost touched

My wish for 2008 is that Bill Crider’s wife is healed and well.

You guys say, Happy Holidays

We still say, Happy Christmas.

It’s so much more resonant in Irish and so, to you all

La Nollaig leat go lear

Thing is, I truly mean it.

Sin an sceal


Credited on Clapham North

By Ken Bruen

The very first short story I had published was about a young man returning to his home town for the funeral of his father

Cheerful eh?

And as you no doubt have realized, I’ve come a long way since

In the joy stakes

It’s a very Irish story — funeral, hypocrisy, priests and loss

How far I’ve traveled from such preoccupations

The narrator’s sister is one of the main loves of his life

Tess, she’s called

And he is convinced she loves Club Milk

A chocolate bar, popular back then

Now we have HERSHEY’S … as we have


Mc Donald’s



The story was based on my own childhood, titled

Releasing The Jackdaw

The father is a tyrant, for example, a framed Home Sweet Home is cracked from his fist

Not exactly your Waltons

There is of course the wake and the neighbors gathered around the bed, leaking homilies

Rosary beads are wrapped round the corpse like celestial cuffs

All speak highly of him, no disrespect for the dead and all that good horseshite. You want to be praised in Ireland?

It’s real simple


Ireland back then was shite poor, you had no choice, you emigrated, that was it, and if you were lucky, you got to America

The Promised Land

If you were bad fooked and truly skint, you got the cattle boat to the UK

Jesus, did they love us


The Bed and Breakfast kips had the sign

No colored

No dogs


No Irish

Gary Phillips never tires of me recounting that story, especially when we were in London honoring Richard Widmark and trying to re-write Mannix!

He’ll kill me for saying, but when they finally wheeled Mr. Widmark out

Gary whispered to me

“When they gonna plug the dude in?”

But all in the past

We can travel to the UK now without suspicion … almost

I did one of those charity gigs recently, they asked a whole bunch of people and were delighted to get me, as I don’t ask a fee and to be honest, I was number fifteen on their wish list

I know, the lady calling told me … twice

She knows I have a sense of humor and by fook, times like that, I need it

So I did the spiel and for some odd reason, probably Halloween in the air and poison in the water … yeah … still, though they re-assure us that half the city is safe!

Which half?

I spoke about my time living in the UK

Some of the best writers I know live in the UK

Zoe Sharp

Margaret Murphy

Cathi Unsworth

Nick Stone

Martyn Waites

Bill James

Ray Banks

Charlie Williams

I’m afraid to mention Al, Tony Black, or Donna, as the Scots they have that Celtic take on stuff, like meself

And I regard them as close and cherished friends

So after me rap, a woman comes up and goes

“Why are you so angry?”

Am …

As opening lines go, I like it, say

"I only spoke about what it was like to be an Irish teacher, teaching English in London.”

She’s seriously angry now, says

“But you made sarcastic remarks about Hampstead.”


I had made one brief reference to Kingsley Amis’s wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, entering the fray/fracas about Martin Amis’s comments on Islam, so asked her

“Have you read any of the above three?”

Suspecting a trap, she said

“I read Irish writers …  but I haven’t read you, they say you’re very dark.”

I said

“No dogs or … ”

She was about to go when I said

“I wrote a poem about the UK, won me a hundred pounds back in the 80’s, when that was serious money”

She was openly antagonistic now, asked


Yeah, exactly in that tone

I said

“Credited on Clapham North.”

She was delighted, finally, victory!

and times such, I wonder why the fook I bother,

I’d given way too much time to this crap already but as my dear Dad used to say, in for a penny, and she pounced as I knew she would, asked in a voice, laced with vitriol, I’ve always wanted to use that  … vitriol … makes you sound learned with a trace of decency and proves how shallow words really are, she went

“And what would you know about Clapham?”

I finally got the chance to smile, not something my ex-wife says I did much of … so I grab the  opportunity, said, sans-vitriol

“About as much as you do about Hampstead.”

She took one last fling, tried

“You’re not even a poet.”

Gee, that really hurt

Like the time in boarding school when the superior told me I wasn’t being considered as one of  the candidates to be a priest

God, the trauma

Sometimes, you just gotta … Get fookin over it

I did

I said to her

“Thank you for sharing.”

See, manners never let you down

She didn’t give me her phone number

Which brings me back to the beginning, that poem I wrote, when I won the hundred quid,

I sent the money to my Dad and he wrote back, asking

“When are you going to get a real job?”

And in the that first published story, the father does one really nice thing, almost noble

And the question I wanted to ask was … does one decent gesture wipe out the all the other acts of senseless cruelty?

Go figure

The end of the story, the narrator, his heart shrived (and I’ve learnt the true meaning of that word from Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi of the synagogue in Beverley Hills,  my dad would say, "at least that man has a decent job!")

He is getting on the train, back to the UK, and no, not to Hampstead, he gives Tess what he thinks she most loves, he gives her a Club Milk and she goes

“I always hated them.”


Of Books and Gyno’s

By Ken Bruen

Last year, I had an email from my New York editor, informing me that one of his friends was coming to Galway to study for a year and would I look out for her


I met her on arrival and we got her a place to stay and enrolled in the college

The Clifden Arts Festival was due and I Iwas invited to read at it

Clifden is a beautiful small village about 50 miles from the city centre and it perched on the Atlantic, it still has all the old flavor of Ireland as it used to be, horses on the street, tinkers selling their wares, one bookshop and fifty pubs ……….. oh and one church

I thought this would be the best first introduction to the country

I asked Pat Mullan, the thiller writer and great friend to come along

Megan, the girl, I was to look after brought along another American friend and they asked me

“What does ‘Jesus wept’ mean?”

I said

“You’ll see”

Before my reading, Pat stood us a round of Guinness and Megan asked

“You have a pint before?”

Pat laughed, said

“Before, during and after.”

I had warned Megan to bring rain wear and she said

“How do you know it will rain?”

I said

“It always does.”

It did


I told her the shite we pedal to visitors

“It’s soft Irish rain, doesn’t mean anything.”

Save you get drenched

She’s a New Yorker and gave me the look, said

“I’m beginning to think you’re full of it.”

Rumbled already

The reading went ……….. mediocre

But as most of the audience had been having hot toddys they were happy enough, a woman asked me

“Did you ever think of writing a happy book?”


After, we dashed to a great old pub with a roaring fire and three musicians with



Uileann Pipes


And they did a haunting version of Raglan Road followed by The Sky Road

This road runs alongside Clifden and leads to the most spectacular view of the wild sea

We’d just sat down and a man approached, asked if I was K. Bruen

I agreed and he said

I went to Trinity with you

So I did what you do

Invited him to join us

He was, he said

“A gynecologist”


Then for the next 30 minutes lectured us on all items ………. am ……….. related to his work

When he went to buy a round

We legged it

Megan got a job in Charly Byrnes Bookshop, just about one of the finest independents in the country and reminiscent of Sylvia Beachs in those fabled legendary days

There was a book launch on the Friday and I took Megan, first person we meet is Roger, a friend of mine for over 20 years and I kept distracting him everytime Megan asked him what he did

Finally, he told her

“A gynecologist.”

She stared at me, asked

“Hello, what’s with you and gynos?”

I had to travel shortly after and Megan was busy with her studies and the bookshop

Must have been two months later, I was out for a quiet drink with a childhood friend and Megan appeared

She looked great, had an Irish boyfriend, a job as a columnist on a local paper, the bookstore and her studies

She hit it off with my friend and asked her what she did

My friend said

“I’m a doctor.”

Megan rolled her eyes, said

“Don’t tell me, a gyno?’

My friend gave her that Irish look, said

“Why on earth would you think that, I’m a psychologist.”

When we were leaving, it was lashing down and Megan looked at me, she was wearing a T-shirt, said

“Jesus Wept.”


On Break The 12th Lament

By Ken Bruen

First lament

October made
No Autumn resolutions
Praying for
No single promise made
Success and blundered aspirations
Beat me blind

Time was, I was writing the lamentations

I was a teacher, doing good and heading for dizzy heights

Then a clusterfook of stuff happened and I literally dropped off the face of the planet

Months later, seemed like years, I resurfaced in Brixton

They used to say it was the UK version of Watts

It was certainly simmering

A real good place to hide

I’d written me first crime novel and sent it to the outlaw press, the then cutting edge of mystery, Serpents Tail

They’d published Derek Raymond

That’s all I needed to know

I was in bad shape

My mind was seriously fooked

You could buy anything in Brixton, long as you had the cash

I’d bought a Sig Sauer, the basic Model 220, 9 mm, carried nine rounds in the magazine

It was far from new and had black tape wound tight on the grip

Most nights, I’d sit in the one room kip I rented on Coldharbour Lane, not a spit away from Electric Avenue, made infamous by Eddie Grant’s hit.

Coldharbour Lane, that I’d washed up in such a place, the irony of the name was not lost on me

Most nights, I’d play The Pogues and The Clash and drink two tumblers of Jameson, never more, and then I’d play Russian Roulette

Sounds melodramatic but I just didn’t care

One of the graces of my life is I’ve always been blessed with remarkable friends

They came to me one damp wet Saturday, ignored the Jay on the table, told me of marginalized kids who nobody could or would teach


What an ugly word

But that’s what they used

Kids who’d been abused in every which way evil bastards can devise

Bottom line, would I take … pun intended … a shot at teaching them

Like I had so many offers

My novel was with Serpents Tail for a year … before they accepted it

I said OK, mainly to get am … rid of them

First day, I felt the old tremor of excitement of teaching, only a faint echo, barely able to recall the days when I loved it

There were 13 kids before me, all black and surly

They stared at me, not with hatred but complete indifference, another white fooking liberal asshole

2nd Lament

Blown Irish-ed Print
… broken by the London flat
Lone living cuts the style bleaker
To make one call
Fear carves the simplest tasks

My years of teaching had given me the ability to face most any class and just go into auto pilot and do the biz

Wasn’t going to cut it here

The usual clichés, the usual horseshite just wasn’t going to fly


The very essence of teaching, least for me, I’d once played The Clash for a group of Japanese students

Gangsta rap or a sawn off was about all that was going to gel now

Or …

The truth

I went with that


"I’m fooked."

A moment

Then they laughed

Laughing was as strange to them as to me

One kid, gap toothed, with the eyes of wounded angel, put up his hand and when I nodded

He asked

"What did they do to you?"

I told them

And so began my return to humanity

Those damaged kids healed a damaged adult

If you mentioned a book to them, they’d knife you

I re-wrote my crime novel to suit them, their streets, their jive, their melody

And snuck in a poet by the back door

When the book appeared, it was one of those moments, when the clouds part and you the see the light is nigh flowing in, those lost children running along the corridors, asking in delight

"Who’s this dude Rilke?"

My best review


3rd Lament

To score revitalized
The 100 points
In others’ condescension
A damn … they give
On sixpence turn

Six months later, the riots came

Cars, shops, homes burning, armed cops in riot gear making baton charges on Coldharbour Lane

It was not a real good time to be white

I was coming home around 10:30 in the evening, treading careful, watching the alleys and my back when on Railton Road I walked smack into a mob carrying baseball bats, knives and one guy even had a golf stick

No. 9 iron if I remember correctly

They moved on me and then one of the leaders said

"It’s the fucking Irish guy, the teacher dude."

And they split in half, allowing me to walk between them

I got back to my tiny flat, sweat cascading down my body and knew I had to write the 12th Lament

It didn’t work, the music was gone and even now, I know the lines, I even know the tone, but the magic, the magic had broken

Last year, I was in London for a launch and one evening went to Brixton, like everywhere, it was unrecognizable from the area I’d known

On a street corner, I thought I recognized the wounded angel, those eyes I’d never forget, grown now of course and nearly a man, I approached and before I could ask, he went

"Wanna score?"

I shook my head and he near spat

"Then get the fuck outa my space."

Tom Troubadours Blues, the very first line unreeled like a cobra in my head

… wasted and wounded …

Odd, I’ve lost my zest for Rilke

Go figure


Sand and Water

By Ken Bruen

Greg came into my life late. I’ve known his girlfriend Julie since she was a child and regarded her as family, she baby sat my daughter and I was there when she graduated from college. Her father, like so many of our generation back then, had to take the boat to England, there was no work here. And, more’s the Irish-ed pity, like so many, he disappeared, maybe he met someone, or died from drink, which was common, or who knows. She never heard from him again and it’s unlikely he’ll show now. I’m not suggesting I was a father figure, but I was there during the important events in her life.

First Communion

First Dance

First heartbreak

Four years ago, she met Greg.

She was working in a small coastal village near Dingle. Like me, she had a fascination with the sea and was never happier than when she was within hearing distance of the waves. Joyce was buried near the zoo because Nora Barnacle said

“He liked to hear the lions roar.”

Same gig, sorta.

Greg was a national school teacher which meant he taught Irish and that certainly endeared him to me, for openers. Anyone who helps with the revival

of our language gets my vote

and that part of the country, even the road signs are in Irish, confusing to tourists but joy to me

Claiming our heritage back in all the ways that matter, inch by slow inch.

Greg also worked as a diver for the Coast Guard Sea and Rescue.

When Julie introduced me to him, I could tell she was smitten.

She was so damn proud of him.

Is there anything better than to see a person take pride in their partner?

She gazed at him with such tenderness.

I once saw Bruce Springsteen in concert, the Barcelona one, he did all the brilliant songs from The Rising, but what struck me most and still does, was the way Patti gazed at him, pure love and delight and I said to my friend

“God, to have a woman look at you like that, Jesus Wept, that is true grace.”

He was singing along to “You’re Missing.” And didn’t answer me.

Not that there is one, an answer that is.

Julie had that look for Greg.

She headed off for some, as she said, retail therapy.

That was to wind me up, she knows I’m an American devotee but that I hate Irish kids aping the language.

Greg said

“I was a bit nervous meeting you.”


“Cos Julie thinks so highly of you and if you don’t like me, I’m fooked.”

I said

“I don’t know you yet but that’s a real good start.”

I used to sail, I know, doesn’t fit me image, and once we got talking about boats, we were signed sealed and delivered.

He read a few of me books

Well, two ……….. which is 2 more than any of my family and he said

“If you don’t mind me saying ……………..”

In Ireland, this is the intro to a very subtle put down and god knows, I’m accustomed but still, I gritted me teeth, smiled, asked


He considered, then

“Lot of rage in there.”

And before I could respond, he added

“And you seem very mellow, not angry at all.”

I said

“You fook with Julie, you’ll see.”

He laughed, said

“Are you codding, if I did, she’d kill me.”


He knew I’d been a teacher and said

“I hear you were pretty good, what do you think made you good?’

“Patience and encouragement.”

He mulled that over, then

“I’ll remember that.”

We didn’t become bosom mates or hang out a lot but we had a few brews together whenever he came to Galway and I liked his company.

He found a rare bootleg of The Clash and I gave him a copy of Yeats’ letters.

He said

“Even steven.”

Just before B’con in Alaska, he was part of a team searching for a lost fisherman, the weather was fierce and Greg never surfaced.

They found his body a few miles down the coast.

Julie was devastated.

Last week, she came to me home, weeping most of the time and that evening, I made some hot Toddies, heavy on the Jay and let her come to it in her own time.

She asked

“Will you play some David Gray?’

I did.

First track, This Years Love

Fookin killer

She had the heavy tumbler in her hand, I’d added cloves, brown sugar, and she was stirring the mix then began

“Greg was cremated, there’s a wondrous crematorium built into the cliff and then we went out on his boat with the urn, we had a 25 year old bottle of Black Bush, his favourite, and up on the cliff were his extended family and they sang Amazing Grace

Her eyes were huge as she added

“The song carried right across the bay and Greg’s sister opened The Bush, poured one for us all and we drank to him, then we poured the rest on the water, just before we scattered his ashes.”

I knew there was more and waited

Said not one bloody word

She gave a deep sigh then looked right at me

Those brown eyes, full of pain and wonder, she said

“When we scattered the ashes, there was a blue tinge, like a mist just above the surface and then it  floated upwards, like a beautiful feather, the sun came out and bounced off the water, giving that mist a sheen and ………. Oh Mother of god, a radiance."

She wiped at her eyes, then asked

“What do you think that was?’

I had no idea, tried

“Maybe a hint of a miracle.”

She smiled for the first time in ages and asked

“Do you really think so?’

“Yes. Yes I do.”

There is a haunting song by Tommy Fleming titled Sand and Water

There’s a line in there that goes

“I will see you, when my time is done, Sand and Water, and a million miles from home.”

Julie has gone back to the small village and me, I’m listening to The Clash, but I’m thinking

Sand and water ………………….



By Ken Bruen

"AWAIT THE OLDEST CURSE OF ALL"                                                 

-Charles Bukowski


"One Night Stand" from Poems Written Before Jumping Out of a Six Story Window


A recent interview I did, they asked me about the blog on Murderati

“How could you expose yourself so openly?”

Never my plan

When Alex invited me to join the crew, I thought

“No way, not even for Alex.”

And then I thought, maybe you can write a different kind of blog, where writers are not


Then life took over and I wrote about how things are on a daily basis

James Taylor …. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain ………….

Something Louise wrote in her last blog triggered a memory, my first time in America, I was 17 and oh so damn scared

Of everything

I got a job as busboy in Central Park

And learned what it’s like to be truly bottom of the food chain, Led Zepplin had their first album out and people were murmuring about a coming event at some place

called ……. Woodstock

Yeah, right, how long have I been around

Too long

The chef, I dunno why, took a shine to me and taught me how to ride a Harley and introduced me to heroin

I was flying

On all cylinders

I met a woman named Nancy, she was 25 ………… and that was so Mrs. Robinson for me

She thought my accent was cute and my naiveté even cuter

My visa ran out after five months and my last night in New York, before I went home to

attend Trinity in Dublin, I told her I loved her

Her laugh resonates even now

She said

“You crack me up.”

I gave her a ring I’d saved for and she looked at it, said

“It’s fake.”

My late brother came over for a weekend, he was a high flyer then, money to am …. burn ………..  and women just adored him, honest to god, we’d go in a bar, two seconds, he’d have a woman chatting him up and he’d say to me

“You need to lighten up, women don’t like that serious look you always have?”

They’d agree in Arizona

He thought life was just one massive joke and me, I never got the punchline, still don’t

I took him to Times Square, back then it was dangerous and not Disneyfied and went to see a movie that had just opened called The Wild Bunch

When I left him at the airport, he said

“Why do you always look on the dark side?’

He was already on his second bourbon, eyeing up a gorgeous lady and said

“Them books will be the death of you.”

His flight was called and he was already chatting up the lady, shouted

“Learn how to smile for fooksake.”

I did


Smiling is easy

He looked like David Cassidy, if anyone remembers him ……… and everything came easy to him, and that was his curse

I loved him to bits, still do

He never read a book in his short un-encumbered life, he saw his existence as …………… party on

I don’t regret for one moment not being invited to that party

And it’s unlikely at this stage I’ll ever get an invite

For a real smart guy, he was wrong about one thing

Books were my salvation

And remain so

I so deeply regret he never got to see either of my daughters, they saw his photo and asked

“Gee dad, were you jealous?’

Not one moment

He was my brother, gold and burning

Years later, I remember so much of my life that appeared gold, was indeed ………. fake

Nancy married a doctor, god bless her, no doubt he gave her real stuff

I don’t look back on that summer when I grew up, with bitterness, I do regret the three awful days, locked in a room going cold turkey from heroin

Rehab, like the internet, was unheard of

My next stint in New York, I was a security guard at The Twin Towers and gee, I’d really grown up, not tough cos I hate that shite, but as they say able to mind me own self and

Thank god, not one bit cynical

I swear on all that’s holy, I hadn’t learned how to be bitter or cynical then, I did later, but then I still, if not outwardly, at least lived in hope

How dumb was that

I still believed ….  in basic human goodness, all the shite that Oprah makes a friggin

Fortune upon

I got me Doctorate and was good to go


Am …………?

Stuff happened, ugly, violent and dark

I continue go to New York, I just love that city ………..  but live there ……….  I wish………… I

Lost something along the way, I know, not so much spirit as commitment

Jason Starr was asked in Arizona last weekend what I was like……….. that I sounded controlling, intense and dark

Nailed right there

A guru I heard recently said  …………..  go with the flow


I do the only thing I know

I write

Get in fights

And recently had a woman tell me

“I think you’re not quite what I’d been led to expect”

Fake perhaps?

Nancy would agree with her

I read my daily dose of philosophy and today it’s Jorge

“If only morning meant oblivion”

But God forbid I end on a dark note, I had an email from a lieutenant in Iraq, saying

American Skin is getting us through this horror.”

That is all I need to know

It’s been worth it for that

In Galway they say, the old people,

“He meant well.”

I didn’t  ……………  not a lot of the time but now and again  …………….

You know ……………

Fire and ……………………… the damn rain

Mostly I remember my brother loved James Taylor, I’m glad he didn’t get to see James lose his hair

He loved James’s hair, not unlike his own

Go figure

And when I played him Led Zepplin’s first, he said

“That shite will never sell.”

He was Bukowski, without the poetry



By Ken Bruen

You don’t want to hear about me daughter, stop now……

I grew up in a neighborhood where being tough was the ideal

I never…………….not once, wanted to be a tough guy

All that macho posing and worse, kicking the living daylights out some poor unfortunate,

I couldn’t

And carrying a knife

I hated that

Still do

A knife to me is the ultimate symbol of yellow

And I’ve been stabbed twice, not always with a knife

So OK, maybe I’m prejudiced

The past few months, I’ve had to spend a lot of time in hospitals and had





The doctor said to me

“Those scars on your body, what were you doing?”

I told the truth


His face………….like he believed that?

He looked at me, my physique obviously not built for street fighting, he said

“Tough guy…………..right"

The sarcasm wasn’t wasted

I was going to try and say

“I’m interested in strength not macho bullshit.”

And then I thought


The short version of ‘The Serenity Prayer’

I had an email 2 days ago , taking me to task……………quelle surprise!…………for not only my frequent obscenities but how I was so uneducated I couldn’t even spell the f-word

And yesterday, let’s call them Dick and June

wrote to me to say my work was


I was a disgrace to my country

Most times, I don’t respond

I used to turn anger inwards

The classical definition of depression

Lately, the number of ………….am………shall we say………….remarks………..had

me thinking…………..fook this…………sorry, fuck this and I replied

Dick answered, telling me he was a very sensitive person and a gentle spirit


I’m the aggressive one

My daughter, entered a tennis tournament last week and it was pissing down here, rain

like you wouldn’t believe

Because of her Down Syndrome, the organizers looked at me, asked

“You sure you want to do this?”

No, I’m not

But she does……………alright

First 2 days, she is so bad, I want to weep, she can’t get the co-ordination and they’re

laughing at her.

Through the rain, I see her crying but she’s still on the court

I used to play………….to semi level so I know some moves

I ask her

“Hon, you want to quit?”

Gives me the look, she is so hurt, humiliated, and crestfallen and now…….. her Dad

doesn’t believe

in her?

She gears herself up, wipes her eyes, asks

“Would you quit dad?

I want to say that there are lots of things I can’t do, like spell


That evening, we go out the yard and I show her some sneaky moves I learned and

Next day…………..she gets past the knock out stage, not easily but barely

And we do the same gig next evening and she asks me after as I’m handing her a Diet


“Dad, am I a retard like they say?”

I say

“Watch this.”

Pick up the fooking racket and show her all the bad moves I learned and she’s kinda

stunned, goes

“Dad, did you lose your temper?”

And she’s laughing then…………says

“You look so different when you get angry.”

The blogger recently who said I need Anger Management classes………..I’ve got them,

thank you…………one is writing and the other is a hurly

The day of the Final, Grace is so nervous, she gets sick after her breakfast

Her mother is in hospital and she asks

“Can I call Mum?’

Like I’m going to say no?

I dunno what they talked about but she is better

In the car, she is so quiet and I want to tell her

“Alanna, quiet is my gig, you have a mouth like your Mum, like a fishwife.”

The rain hasn’t abated and I’m not trying to write some mini-Rocky style tale here so cut

to the chase, in the torrents of rain,

She won

This tiny wee thing, with what they tell me is mental handicap and other stuff, she turns


find me on the stand, can hardly see me through the rain and gives me the thumbs up,

then does as she’s reared, shakes her opponent’s hand

She asks me later

Will this make Mum better?

I lie


“You betcha.”

I never wanted to be a father for the simple reason I thought………….Jaysus wept, I

can’t mind me own self………..How would I mind a child and god forbid……..a


When I was told I had a daughter with Down Syndrome, I thought

“I’m fooked.”

I write about her because she is the one pure joy of me life

I remember a time ago, I was stressed out, lots of bad shite no matter where I turned and

I was thinking

“Bollocks to all this strength stuff, I’m gonna get fookin medieval on all this crap.”

Looking at the Louisville Slugger given to me by my great friend and mystery writer and

if I mention his name, they’ll say

“Promo yer friends as usual.”

And Grace was standing behind me, I asked her

“Were you and……………Aine…………you know ever ………..afraid of me?’

I lived in terror of me own Dad

She was still laughing as she went to watch The Simpsons, shouted

“Of you Dad?”

Tough guys don’t dance