“It’s a quirky kind of a novel.”
So says Callan man Tomás Céitinn intriguingly by way of introduction to his second novel, The Jazzer, which is being launched next month. “It’s unusual in that it’s about a subject matter that is slightly off-centre.”
Set in the 1960s in rural Tipperary, the novel centres on a man named “The Jazzer” and is set in the fictional village of Finchestown, which in many ways is based on the author’s native Mullinahone. (Incidentally, the name for the village came to him while watching a Munster hurling final between Tipperary and Limerick a few years back and seeing the Finches sponsor on the Tipp team’s jerseys. It sounded, he said, like an authentic name for a village.)
“Finchestown is kind of a Brigadoon-type place, full of quirky characters. Everybody had a nickname; there was no such thing as being called your real name,” he says.
The book, Mr Céitinn says, “is about a fellow who is a yokel but who is very clever. He’s a self-made scholar, and he’s always reading because he’s a very smart bloke, but he is still a country mug just the same.”
“The one big thing” in The Jazzer’s life is that he fancies Asian women.
“In that time in Ireland, Asian women were very exotic and very scarce,” the author says. “The thing going around is they are on this Earth for one thing: to please their man. So he always wanted one all to himself, and eventually he kidnaps one and takes her to Finchestown; but then he loses her, and the real story is trying to get her back again.”
The book is, first and foremost, a love story between a man and a woman, the author says, but it’s also a remembrance of a vibrant era in the life of rural Ireland.
“The reason I chose that time was – obviously I knew a bit about that time – but also there was something special about the ’60s – the swingin’ ’60s,” he says.
It was “a golden time” of liberation, of social movements that were evolving into a more modern era. It was about the music, “flower power,” women’s liberation, romance – and the arrival of the mini-skirt.
So while the book’s cover image – which the author took himself, a photo of Slievenamon’s rocky western slope that’s reminiscent of the Burren – calls to mind the rural landscape, it’s also a place where colourful life flourishes.
For the author himself, the past few years have been a particular time of personal growth. Although he says he’s been writing “practically all my life,” his first book, Inglebrook, was only published in July 2011.
Born and raised in Mullinahone, he settled outside Callan when he got married in 1981. But he had left school at 15 and ended up working at Carroll Joinery for 42 years.
Three years ago, he was made redundant. And as is frequently the case, although the sudden change was difficult to handle, he says that it’s turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to him.
“For those 42 years I was reading, reading, reading and I was also writing poetry and a bit of prose,” he says. “But something happened when I was unemployed.”
Not even knowing how to turn on a computer, he signed up for an ECDL course through FÁS. And when that course was over, he says, “I became aware that I could go back into education and finish what I had missed out on.”
He enrolled in the BA Honours degree in English and History at St Patrick’s College in Carlow, and he’s now about to start his third year there in September.
Also a member of the Kilkenny Writers’ Group, he says this novel has been “years in the making.”
“The Jazzer didn’t leave me alone – he kept coming back like Banquo’s ghost,” the author says. And, fortunately, the author kept coming back to him as well.
The launch of Tomás Céitinn’s ‘The Jazzer’ will take place on September 11 at 8pm in Butler House, Kilkenny.