The sixth entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is The Irish Poet by Brigid O'Connor.
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Over to Brigid O'Connor…
THE IRISH POET (BLURB)
Jack O'Brien was the toast of the Irish writing scene back in the eighties when he graduated from university and produced a pamphlet of poetry called 'Black Magic' . Since then, his star has waned. He spends most of his time in a Dublin pub with a group of would-be writers. His Johnny Depp looks are fading and he has yet to produce a second book of poetry. Magenta Driscoll has been assigned as his new agent. She is determined to re-brand Jack O' Brien. Her goal is to make him more famous than Bono. She is totally immune to Jack's legendary charms.
Jack and Magenta are polar opposites. Jack represents the old world of Irish literary camaraderie. Magenta belongs firmly in the 21st century. She is more interested in spreadsheets and press releases than the actual content of Jack's poems. Jack is under pressure to produce a book of poetry under Magenta's not so gentle guidance.
Can they work together and produce a new book of poetry? . Can Jack find his muse again?
Will Magenta make him more famous than Bono? And can she remain immune to Jack's charm?
READ THE FIRST 3000 WORDS OF THE IRISH POET OVER THE CUT
The Irish Poet by Brigid O'Connor
The Irish Poet seduced with his words. Two minutes in a dusky pub in Dublin and your average female exchange student would have forgotten every warning her parents had ever given her about not talking to strangers.
The Irish Poet had a loose-limbed, fast-talking way about him and there was a certain Johnny Depp look around his eyes that most women felt drawn to like a magic spell, or voodoo.
He held court in his office – the pub – with his cronies, an assortment of other writers. Like fishermen, they were so close to landing the BIG ONE, a publishing deal. Unlike fishermen, their net never yielded much, not even a minnow or a stray piece of weed.
The Irish Poet had been the toast of the publishing world back in the eighties when he graduated from university with a first class degree in bullshit and a pamphlet of poetry that he had written in his own blood.
He was of course, showered with gold dust.
The pamphlet was called 'Black Magic' and it went straight to number one in the Irish bookstores.
He blew all his money on drink and trips to the South of France and became allergic to fame.
Now, occasionally, he would treat the literary world to a few of his words at a reading in a downmarket venue. This was mainly done to supplement his new career as a freelance journalist, a career move he despised so much he wrote in a pen name and waxed lyrical in the newpaper each day about life, the universe and nothing.
His chief crony, Jimmy and himself would have a great laugh afterwards, as the literary groupies devoured the Irish Poet with their eyes. For effect, he sometimes read his poems off the back of a cigarette packet or a betting slip.
Certain well-to-do ladies would slip their phone numbers into his pocket and ask for a literary meet-up with their languid idol.
-Jimmy would say,
“literary meet-up, me arse, someone's husband spends too long at the office”.
However, the Irish Poet wasn't interested in the diamond-encrusted ladies with a window between golf and evening cocktails.
He had a fondness for the lost students who would arrive a bit rumpled into his pub looking for a coffee or a water.
“You've picked the wrong town for a drink of water, sweetheart”, Jimmy would say.
Then the Irish Poet would do his magic thing and before you knew it, Marie-Claire from Paris or Agnetha from Stockholm or Suzy from Texas, would be spirited to his room in the attic to spend a night.
If she was lucky, he would treat her to an extra night and spin her tales of
'walking barefoot through violets in meadows at dawn'.
These girls would always have slightly tarnished relationships with the future men in their lives.
Years later, when in mid-conversation at a dinner party or at their child's birthday party, they would remember the Irish Poet with such a strong, almost physical reaction, that you would wonder if he did actually use black magic to get them into his bed.
The Irish Poet with black eyes, tousled hair and a pencil ready to capture a poem, was a hard act to follow.
Chapter One: 'Satan's Bride'
The Irish Poet didn't do winter. He was more interested in raising body temperatures than lowering them.
With one word, he could raise a woman’s pulse.
With a second one, her eyebrows would arch.
A full husky- toned phrase could remove an entire item of female clothing.
Unfortunately, the Irish Poet lived in Ireland, where the removal of an item of clothing generally only yielded a hat or a winter coat.
The Irish Poet had rehearsed a whole seduction speech to remove clothes at great speed.
He definitely preferred summer.
'He's got Johnny Depp eyes….' , Jimmy and his cronies sang to the tune of 'She's got Bette Davis eyes', in the pub, when The Irish Poet launched his female catching strategies.
However, the slightly tarnished charm of the Irish Poet's life was about to change. An ill wind was blowing in Dublin on a cold January night.
The ill wind was female shaped.
Magenta Driscoll walked into the Dublin pub one evening seeking Jack O'Brien. Unbeknownst to the Irish Poet, Magenta was his new agent. Lulled into an almost coma by the kindly but rather academic management of Lynam and Associates since his dazzling brief spell of fame, Jack was about to be re-branded by Magenta Driscoll, a ruthlessly ambitious female.
Magenta was somewhere in her forties and unhappy with it. She was attractive in a very polished way. She was a woman who constantly asked people what age they thought she was. She did so in absolute confidence that they would get it wrong and predict her age at a good ten years younger. On a good day, they would shave fifteen years off, mainly as they knew it was expected of them.
What Magenta didn't realise was that people actually thought she was older. Her colleagues lived in absolute fear of her. In her office, just off Saint Stephens Green, in a Georgian building, she terrorised her staff. She was rumoured to have a loft, a Porsche and a cat with an Egyptian name that translated to 'feline of the goddess'.
When a junior colleague asked her what the cat's name meant, Magenta moved her to accounts for what she called 'culture deficiency'.
Magenta was like a sweet from an old fashioned sweet shop. At first impressions she looked good but a closer look found her to be hard-boiled and a little out of date.
The night she arrived at 'The Viking Arms' pub just off D'Olier Street in Dublin, she was wearing a sartorial homage to Jackie Collins circa 1980 and her feet were shod in stilettos with four inch heels.
Before she even entered the pub, the clientele inside could hear her muttering some choice four letter words and something about cobblestones.
Magenta crashed through the door of the pub, the scent of 'Poison' perfume rising like a bad spell through the pub. As the usual fragrance in there was Guinness mixed with B.O, it should have been an improvement.
Strangely, it wasn't.
Magenta's 'Poison' invaded the male space like a premonition.
She removed a sign from the door that lead into the bar. It said, 'No women allowed' unless there Betsey Byrne scrawled on as an afterthought.
“Who the hell is Betsey Byrne and why does she have the right to enter a pub in central Dublin renowned for literary genius and she can't spell the word 'they're' ?. I tell you Dublin is not the town it used to be.
Right, I'm looking for Jack O'Brien.
Show your face, Jack!", she screeched.
All eyes looked at The Irish Poet, recognising his writing name.
The crowd became feverish at the thought of a bit of drama on a Monday evening. Maybe this screeching female newcomer was pregnant or had been jilted at the altar or was a bunny boiler like 'yer wan' in Fatal Attraction.
Jack held his cool and started into his routine, husky voice at maximum seduction level.
“Sweetheart, you are a sight for sore eyes on such a miserable January night…you are …” Jack started, to be rudely interrupted by Magenta.
“Here, I have a lozenge for that throat virus, it's been doing the rounds”.
Magenta threw a packet of throat pastilles at Jack.
Jack inspected Magenta, a slightly dazed looks in his eyes. He noticed that everything about her was false – nails, hair, tan – the only real thing about her appeared to be her cold-hearted ruthless ambition.
“Jack, first of all, ditch the routine, it's so eighties and if you want to survive to your next pint, never and I'm saying this only once, NEVER SWEETHEART me…
Right, get me a vodka and coke someone”, she shouted in the direction of the bar. She gestured for one of the drinkers to evacuate his seat. He obliged.
She picked up a black leather laptop bag and opened up her notebook.
Jack and his cronies shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They had a natural suspicion of electronic equipment, preferring to write their words with 'lucky' pens on moleskine notebooks. Electronic equipment reminded them of bank managers, a difficult relationship for the half-solvent writers.
Magenta's vodka and tonic arrived.
She drank half of it down in one go.
“I've had a bitch of a day”, she announced.
She clicked on a file. Jack looked nervous, his habitual laconic demeanour fractured slightly.
“Right, what have I here?
Jack O'Brien, forty-eight, single,
freelance hack, man about town, playboy of the eastern world, I wrote that, clever huh?”, Magenta looked at the assorted poets and writers, their expressions clearly said they disagreed.
She continued on, oblivious to their scathing looks.
“Jack, author of 'Black Magic', a collection of poetry written at Trinity College when he was twenty one, darling of the literary circle.
Since then, Jack has written a total of about ten new poems, but not enough material to put together a collection.
Jack O'Brien is now a freelance journalist and offers his philosophy of life to the readers of Ireland. According to his editor, he misses deadlines, can sometimes disappear for weeks on end and his star is waning. Jack lives in a remodelled cottage in Smithfield and is regularly photographed with celebrity lovelies and television presenters. He has no children.
Jack spends most of his time in 'The Viking Arms' with Jimmy Byrne, a former administrator at Trinity College and the author of 'Banjaxed' a lighthearted novel about his attitude to life. It sold approximately 352 copies.”
Magenta laughed, Jimmy looked murderous.
Magenta clicked the file closed. Jack and Jimmy examined the beer mats on their table as if they were the most fascinating objects in the world.
“Right, who am I?”, she said.
Magenta opened up a black leopardskin handbag and removed a batch of business cards.
“Magenta Driscoll, Literary Agent” was typed on the cream business cards. Even her font choice was aggressive.
“You see, Jack, Mr. Lynam hired me last year to jizz up Lynam and Associates. He is a gentleman, Mr. Lynam, but unfortunately although he knows his Yeats from his Keats, he knows nada about the publishing world. As you continually ignore his requests to meet him, I have had to hunt you down, Jack”.
Magenta looked scathingly around the pub.
“I am your twenty first century agent, Jack, I'm about brand, sales figures and raising your profile. I am your personal Louis Walsh, I am going to take you on a journey and change your life.
That book of poetry that you have been promising Mr. Lynam, and which he has already paid you quite a large advance for, is well overdue. I want it written, published and launched by Christmas this year”.
Jack tried to speak but Magenta continued.
“I have a list of engagements for you, Jack O'Brien. You will make them and you will get that book written. Nobody disappoints Magenta Driscoll”.
There was a dead silence in the pub. Magenta removed a thick ivory invitation from her bag. She presented it to Jack.
“Right, Jack, I want you cleaned up, sober and at the Charity Awards Ball tomorrow evening. I'm re- branding you.”
“Can I bring a date?”, Jack meekly asked, sensing an opportunity to impress some woman who would be grateful for a luxury meal in a five star venue.
“You're looking at her”, Magenta barked.
Magenta departed the pub, her 'Poison' fumes wafting around the mournful writers. Jack sat quietly studying the invitation.
Jimmy put his arm around him.
“How much of an advance did Lynam give you?”, Jimmy asked.
“Ten grand”, Jack answered in a very small voice.
“Just give it back to her and she is out of your hair”.
“Not that easy, Jimmy, it's more or less spent already”.
“Jesus, Jack, you couldn't have spent that so quickly, he only gave it to you last September”, Jimmy said, alarmed.
“Let's just say I have expenses, Jimmy”, Jack replied.
“Crap', Jimmy said. 'Right, a round to support Jack and then off you go home early. Jack, you'll need all your energy for that mad woman”.
Jack drank his pint in the manner of a man about to be led to the guillotine.
The next evening, Jack did as he was told and arrived with his Satan's bride of a 'date' at the ball. He was wearing a suit that he normally reserved for first dates and funerals. He definitely felt like he was heading to the latter occasion. He had taken his time for a change and was already attracting quite a lot of female attention. Magenta was determined to ruin his fun and monitored his every move.
She was dressed entirely in black and every time a waiter passed, she slapped Jack's hand hard as he reached for champagne.
Her nails were painted black like her lips and Jack held her wrist briefly studying the 'midnight black' varnish.
“Good to see you accessorising your entire look with your heart”, he said, hoping to wound.
Magenta didn't even blink. Instead, she reached inside her Chanel handbag and passed Jack a pencil and notepad.
“Write it down, I'm going to make you famous again, Jack. This time famous and RICH”.
The evening progressed in a sea of sparkling water for Jack. Magenta expertly worked the room, marching Jack around like he was a prize heifer at a cattle market.
Soon, it was time to announce the prizes for the night.
The first prize was the last one to be announced.
Magenta reached for the microphone and announced that the 'prize de nuit' was a sleigh ride around St. Stephens Green the following morning, with none other than the talented and super-charming poet, Jack O'Brien, the shining light of the eighties.
Magenta stood on the stage, a feverish light in her eyes and commenced her sales pitch.
“Jack O'Brien is that rarity in our times. He is an artist with a capital 'A'. He is brilliant, talented, some may say slightly tortured. The ladies would describe him as sexy, a bad boy. I would say he is all of those things and some.”
The ladies in the room laughed politely. Magenta smiled and continued.
“Jack O'Brien is about to rival Bono on the world's stage. He is indeed brilliant, talented, sexy and ….he cares about world hunger. I am very excited to announce that Jack is working on a new collection of poetry to be published this Christmas. I am so delighted to be giving the honour and privilege of assisting this talented writer to achieve a place on the world stage of literature.”, she preached to the already converted women in the room.
Magenta reached for the hat full of pledges from the affluent society ladies and as she picked the winning ticket she smiled, a real one, Jack thought.
“The winner is……..Magenta Driscoll……me….well, amn't I the lucky girl?”…she whispered.
The ladies in the room tore up their tickets.
As they were too polite to complain publicly and were in the company of their partners, they just settled for whispering violently to each other and cursed the obvious calculating Magenta.
Magenta joined Jack at their table and arranged their meeting time for the next morning.
Jack said goodnight to her and laughed off their next date.
“Sure, it never snows in Dublin, Magenta”.
Magenta smiled, chillingly.
“See you tomorrow Jack, I'll bring the photographer and some press, dress smart and stay …”
“Sober, I know the new drill, Magenta”, Jack sighed, even his famous black curls had begun to wilt.
He went home and slept twelve hours of the best sleep he had in years, the mineral water was having an effect. He opened his curtains gently the next morning, praying for a grey, Dublin day.
He prised open the window, stuck his head out and felt something cold touch his black, tousled hair.
“Snow!”, he shouted, 'Magenta really is Satan's bride'.
A voice reached him from the little knot of people in the road outside his upgraded workman's cottage.
“I heard that, Jack O'Brien”, Magenta shouted from the group of what Jack could now see were photographers.
“Write it down, that's a great line”, she shrieked.
Jack wrote the line down.
He got into a sleigh with Magenta, a reporter and photographer and travelled through St. Stephens Green. People smiled at the strange sight and waved at them. Magenta kept her arm firmly around Jack. He grimaced occasionally, but each time he did, he had to endure Magenta screaming in a horrifying whisper,
“Smile, babe, smile”, so he played along.
After ten minutes in the sleigh with Magenta talking machine-gun style to the reporters who travelled with them, she finally clicked her fingers and said:
“That's a wrap, lads, I'm off for a spray tan”.
She departed with the photographer and left Jack marooned on St Stephen's Green in the sleigh. The snow had started to melt.
Magenta blew a kiss mockingly at Jack and shouted:
'Buy the papers tomorrow, we'll be in The Culture section'.
And to Jack's surprise, lo and behold they were.
Jack O'Brien was back