82% Dead

by Karl MacDermott


I decided to make the appointment with Julie the prospective literary agent in the seated area of the Maxol service station off the M12 near Balgaddy. She wondered why I wanted to meet in such an unlikely place. I told her I lived nearby. That was a lie. The real reason, and it is something I’ve learned from experience, is never ever have an appointment where you are pitching your work, or yourself, in a location which is on your route to or from town. Because when nothing comes of the appointment – as seems always the case- every time you pass by that coffee shop or bar you will be reminded of another failed artistic venture. Whereas if you pick a place you will never return to and I can categorically say I will never ever return to this Maxol service station near Balgaddy, at least if things don’t pan out you will not re-live your disappointment over and over again.

Welcome to my world. I am Sisyphus O’Shea – Emerging Writer.


Wonder where Julie is? Maybe she resents me dragging her out to Balgaddy. Some Woman’s magazine from last February is lying on the seat opposite me. Late-nineties weather-girl Vicki Adams has survived breast cancer. I always find that breast cancer is a good career move for women in the public eye, actresses, TV presenters, entertainers. By the time they get it their careers have probably taken a dip – sadly there is that dreadful ageism women still suffer – so lo and behold a lump turns up and before you can say ‘career renaissance’ there they are in some magazine answering the money question – did you have the one breast removed or both – and signing a how- I -survived cancer- book- deal  (Vicki’s title goes for the in-your-face shock approach, ‘Tits Are So Overrated! How I Beat Breast Cancer and Discovered a New Stronger Me’) for an undisclosed six-figure sum.

For men it is depression. The successful sportsman, actor, comedian has been out of the spotlight for a while. He announces the reason why on his Facebook page. He is suffering from depression. The frenzied world of Twitter demands he does a high profile follow up interview on television. He becomes the depressed former celebrity for that month and dons the mantle of spokesperson for an entire gender. Repeating the same mantra that we have read in every Health magazine for the last fifty years. Men. It is ok to be depressed. Talk to someone. He is then asked his money question. How depressed were you? How bad did it get? Did you ever consider…. dramatic intake of breath from concerned interviewer as he or she computes a potential peak in ratings… taking your own life? If depressed former celebrity of the month responds in the positive his own undisclosed six-figure sum book deal is assured.

I guess I’m depressed – trouble is I’m not a celebrity so I won’t be able to exploit my depression and get that all-important undisclosed six-figure sum book deal. Given my level of anonymity it would probably be an undisclosed two-figure sum. Even if   Julie takes me on.  Is this my fate? I’m not even a has-been but a permanent never was. I am forty-seven years old and still considered ‘an emerging writer’.


They say you are never more than three feet away from a rat at any given time. Well, since the beginning of this century I’d say the same applies to emerging writers. I also take offense with the actual word ‘emerging’ used in this context. Emerging implies you will emerge. No question you will not emerge. Which is actually what happens with most emerging writers. They don’t emerge. They just disappear. Well, they don’t disappear totally. Not anymore. The internet sees to that. In this era of ceaseless social media self-promotion, what the emerging writer does is they set up their website with an initial ejaculation of enthusiasm, but over time cold-light-of-day-reality intervenes, updates become less frequent (wonder how that lunchtime reading did go in that library in the midlands 14 months ago?), they harangue their 54 followers on twitter to buy their latest e-book, and give interviews on the blogs of other emerging writers.

The term itself must have originated Stateside. Only America could invent a term fused with such innate positivity and complete dishonesty. Probably had a money angle to it, initially. Coined by some once fashionable writer – unputdownable first novel, unreadable second novel – teaching creative writing somewhere in Oregon and realizing there is no life after potential, seeking participants for his classes to pay his alimony and Jim Beam bills – he thinks, “How can I attract all these people who have never been published but still delude themselves? What do I call all these wannabes with dreams and no talent? How do I appeal to their sense of self-worth and manifest destiny? I know, I will state my course is geared towards the emerging writer!”


I had a life before ‘emerging’. Firstly I was lead singer in a synthesizer band, The Sinister Mannequins – Glasnevin’s answer to The Human League. We did achieve much airplay but sadly no chart placing with our only single – ‘She’s a Tennis Star Groupie’. I take secret pride in being the only songwriter in the history of rock to rhyme Gerulaitis with cystitis. When the pop career didn’t work out I moved into music journalism. I did that for ten years.  Then I woke up one morning and realized I was getting old. You realize you are getting old when you can no longer read graffiti on toilet walls. What I was doing in that toilet that particular morning I can’t remember. I’d rather not dwell on my own substance abuse and personality disorder issues – thankfully much of those problems are behind me now.


A text from Julie. Who’d have known back in the mid-seventies that all those hit singles from Slade would become the template for text-speak.

I have a prospective literary agent whose texts read like a dyslexic security code.



Gore Vidal once said “Every time a friend succeeds I die a little.” I’ve seen so many friends succeed I must be decomposing within. It’s official. I’m 61% dead. Let me see, there was Ronnie Wall, who became lead singer of The Vibrator of Doom, a top goth act in the UK in the mid-nineties, Adrian Crosby got his break acting in that post 9/11 HBO drama, ‘Altitude’, another mate Anthony Kirwan went to MIT in Boston and popped up three years ago with a best- selling self-help and how to make loads of money book,  ‘Tap-Dancing in Flip-Flops – How To Overcome Obstacles, Locate Your Inner Awesomeness and Become a Key Influencer!’ Think I prefer ‘Tits Are So Overrated!’. When it isn’t my friends’, it’s the kids of my friends’ – that counts double Gore! – one of them, Dominic became a start-up sensation at some top conference in London by introducing an app called Skip App. If you are too mean to pay to dispose of your old chairs, 501’s, David Lodge novels or Scritti Politti LP’s, you can download Skip App and it will tell you where all the household skips in your surrounding area are located. Then in the darkest of night you can drive around the corner, open your car boot and offload your past. Such a great idea. How come I never think up stuff like that?

What about domestic pets, Gore? That counts triple! My next – door neighbour Ursula’s distinctly odd-looking poodle Brezhnev, became the face of Poodle Power, an all-purpose eco-friendly detergent which has become the biggest selling cleaning agent in Europe over the last two years. This thing just keeps getting worse and worse. Must re-calculate the figure. Yes. 70% dead at this stage.


The truth is Julie is meeting me as a favour. Ok, she is mildly enthusiastic about a children’s book idea I sent her called ‘Finbar -The Wonder Rabbit’, which I’m even less enthusiastic about. It concerns, Finbar, this large rabbit with enormous ears that can double up as wings and his lonely six- year old companion, Samantha, who he takes with him on his flying adventures. These involve mainly his on-going conflict with his nemesis, the evil Professor Kerfuffle Pfifferlinger.


It is my friend and her client, crime writer Bertram McManus, who has badgered Julie for the last five years to meet me. Bertram is a primary exponent of bog noir – Irish crime fiction – and created a mini-splash, it’s ok Gore, not a big splash, strictly minor, no lasting potentially fatal damage done this time – with his Cosmo Kafka P.I. Trilogy,  ‘A Dick called Cosmo’, ‘Winter in Killeshandra’ and ‘Wheelbarrow to Hell’.

He is my only writer friend. Quick edit. He is my only friend. There are reasons. He is not that successful either and he makes me feel good because he is even more depressed than I am.  

He once said to me “Failure is like the cold. It gets in under your bones.”

According to Bertram even having a book out is no fun.

“The problem living authors of extremely modest profile face every day when their novel is picked up by prospective buyer in a bookshop – predicated on the novel being allowed shelf space in a bookshop, in the first place, is the whole ‘who-in –the- name –of-God- -is-this-nobody -if-he-was-any-good-I’d-have-heard-of-him’  problem. Now if the author is dead sixty years that changes things. It becomes ‘a who-in-the-name –of- God-is-this-obscure-long-dead-nobody -could-be-an-interesting-discovery’ scenario.”

“You mean, obscurity + present = a living hell. Obscurity + time = a possible sale.”




Have checked my emails again. Nothing from Julie. Only one more pointless message from LinkedIn. Signed up with LinkedIn four years ago – a day doesn’t go by when I think I’m going to have to quit it. But I never do. I’d love if there were something called Anti-LinkedIn. I’d join that in a jiffy. I’d get things in my in-box like – Congratulations Sisyphus, three years since you got laid! Congratulations Sisyphus, seven years since you lost your job at Arts FM! Congratulations Sisyphus, twenty-five years since you started suffering from depression!

A woman has just walked in. Flashy with pointy boots. It must be her.

“Finally got here.”


“Are you Julie?”




“Hello? Oh, hi Julie, what? Sorry, the line’s not great, oh, you can’t make it, no, no it’s ok. Heard what? Bertram? What award? The Kasper Gutman Crime Fiction Award. What? Bertram won an award. Is it a big award? Third largest in North America, Canada’s primary crime writing award. Uh-huh. No, no, that’s great. That’s great for him. He must be thrilled. Flying out to Toronto first thing in the morning, have to organize press, I completely understand. We can do this some other time. Finbar can wait. Finbar. My Wonder Rabbit. Finbar – The Wonder Rabbit! No, no, of course, I understand, your mind is on other matters. No problem. Look, send my best to Bertram. Bye, Julie, bye.”


The last three weeks have been absolute hell. Bertram’s success has knocked the stuffing out of me. I mean I feel cheated. No matter who succeeded, myself and Bertram were always destined to fail. It was written in stone. We were in this together. Our own failure ghetto. Our non-achievement zone. Our ‘emerging writer’ limbo. And now this! I’m completely devastated. 82% dead, Gore. At least.

I’m waiting for Julie again. This time, in town. My favourite coffee shop, Bruno’s on Camden Street. Might as well meet her in a place I always go to. And always pass on my route to and from town. I mean, things can’t get any worse, can they?  



Photo on 2014-03-13 at 13.50

A purveyor of purposeful purposelessness, Karl MacDermott, spends his days at home curating his memories and re-checking best before dates on items of food. He has one hobby – collecting thimbles. Being of a rather lugubrious nature this makes him a miserablist digitablist.

Despite his busy schedule he does find time to write and over the years has had the odd thing produced (radio sit-coms on Irish radio and BBC Radio 4 and a comedy-drama series on Irish television, RTE) and published (satirical articles in The Irish Times and a comic novel ‘The Creative Lower Being’ in 2007). Over the last few years he has also had various articles appearing in such online magazines as Literary Orphans, The Big Jewel, Every Day Fiction and Pure Slush. A second novel ‘Ireland’s Favourite Failure’ was released as an e-book in 2014.


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