Blog Tour – Q&A with Dan Mooney
Welcome to the first stop on Legend Press’ The Great Unexpected Blog Tour. I really enjoyed this book as it was heart-warming as much as it was moody and frustrated. It is a great balance of humanity and looks in on a usually forgotten generation. I had the great job of asking Dan a few questions about how he came up with this novel and what its influences are. Dan was more than happy to elaborate and has answered these questions with honesty and gusto. Please enjoy the Q&A and make sure you visit the other stops on this tour for plenty of information about The Great Unexpected.
15.08.2018 / Legend Press / Contemporary-Drama / Paperback / 288pp / 978-1787198852
About Dan Mooney
Author of ME, MYSELF AND THEM (June 2017) and THE GREAT UNEXPECTED (2018)
Dan Mooney is a writer, air traffic controller and amateur filmmaker, with one of his short films broadcast on national TV. Dan is also a fan of amateur dramatics, rugby and is a friend to many cats. He wrote his first piece of fiction for a child-operated local newspaper at age ten and has been writing ever since.
About The Great Unexpected
“If you’re going to end it, you better make it big. No slipping off bridges, it’s undignified for men of our vintage. Go big or don’t bother.”
Joel lives in a nursing home and he’s not one bit happy about it. He doesn’t like being told when to eat, when to sleep, when to take his pills. In fact, he doesn’t like living at all, and he’s decided he’s going to end his life on his terms.
When he tells retired soap-actor Frank about his dark plan, Frank urges him to go out with a bang. Together, they embark on a mission to find the perfect suicide, and along the way, discover the strength of friendship when you really feel alone.
Thank you Dan for taking some time to answer a few questions about your brilliant new novel to The Great Unexpected. Could you give us your own personal overview of what we should expect within your new book?
As well as a good few laughs I think you should expect a sense of warmth and a touch of sadness. It’s a story about two elderly gents coming to the end of their respective roads and finding a lack of agency there that sort of forces them into adventure which in turn prompts friendship and laughs and a few poignant moments.
What was the initial inspiration for The Great Unexpected?
Both of my grandfathers were big inspirations. One of them died in a nursing home just like the book’s Hilltop, the other thought he might be losing his legs shortly before he died and that would have been a death sentence to him. I think about them a lot, and their independence and strength of mind. Trying to put myself in their shoes became the genesis for the story. After that I found myself just watching the various older men I know and I think they all lent a little to Joel and Frank.
Can you give us a few details about how you approached writing from the perspective of a man in his 70s?
I laughed out loud at this question. My friends have been accusing me of being a cranky old man since my late teens, so I think most of them would have a different answer than the one I’m going to give.
Between the theatre group Torch Players and Young Munsters Rugby Club I know a lot of men in their 70’s. I’ve learned a lot from talking to them about their own comings and goings. They’re all very independent men, and very proud of that. During the course of writing the book I often found myself wondering how they’d react to having that independence undermined. What freedoms are most important to them, what things would they perhaps like help with but won’t risk asking for fear of losing that control they have in their own lives. Between those men who I know personally and the memory of both my granddads who died in their 70’s I think there was a lot to work with in terms of trying to get that perspective right.
Is Frank’s character based on someone you know or did you bring him to life yourself?
Frank’s an amalgamation. I know men like him, and they’ve each offered a little something to him but he’s none of them and somehow all of them at once if that makes any sense? He was tremendous fun to write for that reason. All the freedom of going wherever I want him to go but with just enough of those friends of mine to help inform me if I ever managed to lose him somewhere I didn’t want to lose him. My involvement with local theatre here in Limerick has brought a variety of Franks into my orbit here and there and they’ve all given a little something to that version in the book.
What sort of challenges did you face when deciding how to explore a man’s journey to suicide?
The main challenge was having Frank tell Joel that some suicides were beneath him, as though trivialising them. In a city where suicide is still a major issue and a country where we’re still paying lip-service only to mental health treatment I don’t want to make a joking matter about something that’s effected thousands of people. It was a difficult road to walk to make sure that while Frank is trivialising these things, he’s got a profoundly important reason to do so. I want the book to look at that suicide, especially suicide among the elderly which is on the rise through a comedic story that ultimately points the other way. It was tough. Hope I got it right.
Had you always wanted to become an author/writer?
Since I was a very small child. I shared a room with my brother and I used to make up stories to tell him from about age 8. Making up these stories and telling tales was something I was doing from an early age and the dream was always to write a book. I had a piece of writing “published” in a kids-operated local newspaper in Parteen (where I mostly grew up) when I was about ten and that was me hooked. It took me way too long to get off my ass and do something about it, but I guess that’s life.
Are there any authors that you look up to as a writer that has helped shape your work?
Hundreds of them. I know I’m not alone in thinking it’s not possible to be a great writer and not read books so I read all the time and I find myself sort of blown away all the time. Ten years ago I’d have said JK Rowling, Chuck Palahniuk and Steven King, but I’ve barely touched them recently. In the last year it’s been Donal Ryan, Kit de Wal, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, John Boyne and my all-time hero Ursula Le Guin. Growing up the big ones were David Gemmell and Robert Jordan as well as David and Leigh Eddings, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. I think it’s really important not just to read but to spread out your reading interests. Get a taste for everything that’s going on. Basically just always be reading.
How does it feel to have released your second book compared to your first?
It’s a different animal altogether to be honest. There was a bizarre amount of trepidation with Me Myself and Them. I worried about it being released constantly. I worried what people would think of it and me. I think the themes for both of the books are similar – mental health and social isolation, but where Denis in Me Myself and Them is a difficult character to like and respond to, Joel and Frank just made this one an easier book to write and to feel good about. So this time around I’m much more relaxed. While there was so much nervousness attached to the excitement for the first one I feel like I’m just excited for this one, no nerves, just happy and excited.
How long did it take you to plan and write The Great Unexpected?
I think this is a cool story. I wrote the first chapter back in 2012, but I stopped because Me Myself and Them wasn’t done and I couldn’t get it to leave me alone so I shelved this one (which I was calling Nobody Plans to Die) for a while. In 2014 when the City of Culture came to Limerick I pitched the idea of the novel to one of my closest friends, Pete Moles, as a short film. He liked it so we wrote it. It got shortlisted for a major bursary but didn’t win. So the first iteration of Frank and Joel, really was in a short film script that never got made. The neat thing was all the work we did on that script really helped me to flesh out the two boys and get a sense of who they are. When I eventually came back to start again I had all this groundwork done. So I restarted in March 2017 (now I was calling it A Rock and a High Place) and finished the first draft in July. I loved writing it so much I just sort of tore through it.
Can you tell us in five words what writing means to you?
It’s food for my soul.
Are you going to celebrate the release of The Great Unexpected in any way?
I expect I’ll do so in the usual way. We’re having a launch party in O’Mahony’s Bookshop in Limerick and then heading to my local, which has its fair share of inspirational old men by the way, and we’ll have a few pints there. More than a few I would think.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the work and writing?
I have too many hobbies. I need to cut some loose. I love rugby and soccer and try to get as many games as I can. I like to cook and that’s sort of my job in my house. I read a lot. I play a lot of tabletop games, board games, RPGs and the like. I’m a theatre nut. Until this year I was doing two to three shows a year as an amateur in Limerick. I like quizzes and since I usually do the fundraiser for Young Munsters I like putting them together as much as I like taking part. I also watch a lot of movies. I don’t sleep very much.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
Difficult question. What are you all in the mood for? I think the last three books I’ve read are all excellent and worth anyone’s time: Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea, Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and Liz Nugent’s Skin Deep.
Thank you to Dan Mooney for taking the time to tell us all about his latest novel The Great Unexpected. I read this in almost a day because it was so catchy. I enjoyed my time with Joel and Frank; the story of liberation and rediscovering family was poignant and hilarious. Joel is probably the grumpiest protagonist I have ever met but I was captivated by his story. I am at the start of my marriage and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything. This is a novel that will warm your heart and feed your thoughts. I hope you enjoyed the Q&A!