Omicron cases are surging here and I’m utterly fed up with this situation where I feel hesitant even to go out to shop for dinner, but reading about the letters you received from the children was so funny that it brightened my mood. ‘I hope you are alive’ is just brilliant. I guess for the kids writing those letters, you’re an unthinkably senior being. I remember that when I was a child, even people of 25 or so seemed to have lived for an extraordinarily long time. I think if I were to tell my younger self that I’d live to the grand old age of 44, she’d fall off her chair in shock.
I’m a big fan of cream crackers—the same cream crackers that appear in your book The Giggler Treatment—and I’m actually munching on some now as I write this letter. I find it hilarious the way the crackers deem all of these supremely ordinary things so interesting—‘Babies are smaller than adults. Isn’t that interesting?’ and ‘A car has four wheels but a bike has only two. Isn’t that interesting?’ I actually try applying this way of observing things to the niggles that crop up in my daily life: ‘The dryness of the air in my flat makes my back itchy, but my legs don’t get itchy. Isn’t that interesting?’ and ‘The air conditioner blows air diagonally down but not to the spot directly beneath it. Isn’t that interesting?’ It’s a good way to make such worries and preoccupations seem pretty insignificant.
Thank you for sharing with me your memories of the time when you were sending out your manuscripts to publishers, and of finding a publisher for The Commitments. What a relief you managed to pick up that first phone call from Dan Franklin! I wonder what would have happened if the man from downstairs had got there first…. Of course, I guess the most likely outcome is that he’d have just passed it to you, but what if he hadn’t? What if he’d been dead drunk or something—there’s no telling how things might have gone.
When I first started sending my manuscripts out to places I didn’t have an answerphone, and I remember going out to buy a new phone especially for that. This was back in 2004. I had a mobile at that point, but there was a convention that the phone call to inform you that you’d made it through to the shortlist for a particular new writers’ award would be made to a landline, not a mobile. In the end, that call indeed came to my home phone, although the one after it, telling me I was the winner, came to my mobile. I imagine that now, both would be made to people’s mobiles. I soon swapped the phone that I had bought to hear about the shortlist for a fax machine, at the recommendation of my editor.
I know what you mean about good old-fashioned phone calls. Until I got a mobile, I loved speaking on the phone, and in the evenings I’d call up university friends I’d seen during the day to talk with them more. I don’t know now what we had to say to fill up all that time, but I guess we were probably talking about bands. These days I sometimes speak with my editor on the phone, and though I don’t love phone conversations as much as I used to, I don’t dislike them, either. Around April 2020, back in the first wave of the virus outbreak, there was a time when I spoke with my friends online every weekend, maybe because it seemed so new and exciting, but I got tired of it after a couple of months. Nowadays, if I manage one video call a month that’s on the talkative side for me. For a whole decade from the age of 12 I enjoyed talking to my friends on the phone, but talking through video software bored me pretty quickly.
Reading what you wrote about sitting there with ‘just the phone to the side of my head’ and how you ‘loved the sound of [your friends’] voices and the rhythm of their sentences,’ it made me realize how landlines have a kind of pleasant corporeality about them that the alternatives don’t. When I speak on a smartphone my ear immediately gets hot or starts hurting, and I wonder about the effects of electromagnetic waves, too. Phones with receivers are a bit nicer on the ears, aren’t they? And while talking online means you don’t have to touch any electronic equipment, the tension that comes from having your face being seen by the other person makes it altogether different to talking on the phone.
I’m writing this in February, when the J-League is on break. Last season, Kyoto Sanga FC, whose games I’ve been going to see, were promoted from J2, so from next season they’ll be playing in the top league, the J1. Apparently it’s the first time in 12 years they’ve been in J1. I’ve been learning about the supporters in the Kyoto Sanga stands for several years now, but this is unknown territory for me. Also the fact that I can talk about a Kyoto team to you in Dublin and have the sense that you’ll understand what I’m trying to say is proof that football really does have an Esperanto-like quality to it.
As I mentioned before, it was finding football as a topic of conversation in my mid-twenties that finally allowed me to talk without fear to all kinds of people, and as a result, I feel genuine gratitude towards football culture. To me it’s like, if you can feel something about the outcome of a match, have some kind of perceptions about the players’ movements and the way that time is passing in the league, then you can understand the emotions of the fans of any sport. In Japan, baseball is the most major sport, and although I don’t understand the game, I feel I can understand people who talk about it by comparing their feelings with my own about football. In essence, it’s enabled me to enjoy listening to any sports fans who are asked how their team is doing and then go off about it. I mean, when your heart is so completely aligned with the wins and losses of another group, whatever you have to say about it is going to be rich and, to me, fascinating.
The thing with your FAI cup defeat is a real pity. I actually watched a similar kind of match recently, but I was supporting the team that ended up winning (it was the Olympics women’s football final between Canada and Sweden), and so I feel really bad for both the Swedish players and for you. Losing on penalties is always really painful. But I also think it’s a set-up that strengthens your bond with the team. That’s very possibly a poor consolation, though. Sad as it was, your plaint—‘But the referee didn’t ask for my advice’—really lingered with me.
The Bohemians FC logo with three castles against a black background is really great. Without ever really intending to do so, I found myself browsing the merchandise on the official Bohemians site, studying all the T-shirts and thinking how cool they are.
I loved hearing about how, when your brother came back from his appendix surgery and the colour TV had made its appearance in the house, he took a fancy to the box and started rolling around in it. It made me remember the part in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha when Paddy puts his younger brother Sinbad into the suitcase. It sounds like your brother was very happy about being in the box, though!
I agree with you that if a woman was loving and fun when she was alive then she shouldn’t have to become frightening as a ghost. I feel like ghosts have a strong sense of resentment or frustration, but at the same time, they also retain the things they liked and the hobbies they had before death. It makes sense that they might be around because they’re drawn back to those things they loved. It was really interesting to me that you mentioned the entrance gate to the Accrington Stanley stadium in connection to the ghost in a stadium story. One of the reasons for me deciding to write my book about second league football fans is that in Japan, the person who was taking care of bookshop sales for There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job was a former supporter of a team that had been dissolved: the Yokohama Flügels. He was really knowledgeable about football and would talk about it with great enthusiasm, but for a long while, he didn’t tell me whom he supported. When I asked him for the umpteenth time, he finally said, ‘Actually the team I supported no longer exists,’ and told me about the Flügels. He liked watching matches, supported the Japanese national players, and was keeping an eye on all the former Flügels players, but told me he felt it was unlikely he’d start supporting another team now. It’s a really sad story, but it also struck me as fascinating and quite beautiful.
Every time I hear football lovers talk, I’m overwhelmed by the intensity of their countless tales, and feel a sense of powerlessness in what I do: thinking up stories in my head and writing them down. But then those fans don’t go on to write novels and short stories about all of their experiences, so I guess I’ll keep on writing.
It’s such a shame about you missing out on those concerts because of Omicron. When I wrote my book about the second-league fans, I based an imaginary football chant on Madness’s ‘One Step Beyond.’
I feel really wistful that I’m coming to the end of my final letter to you. Thanks to this correspondence of ours, you’ve now become not just an author I deeply respect, but also a friendly soccer-loving acquaintance. It’s been so much fun. I’d love to visit Ireland again someday. I’m currently in the middle of reading Bleak House, and I’m planning to start on David Copperfield next.
Thank you so much, Roddy. I wish you all the very best with your writing, and that you keep well and keep on enjoying football.