In person, associate professor and librarian Seamus Scanlon is a mild mannered, soft-spoken human being who, you suspect, wouldn’t harm a fly. He is a vegan after all. But put his MacBook Air in front of him and let him loose on writing fiction – then a different Seamus emerges.
Originally from Old Mervue in Galway city, but is now based in New York, Seamus is the author of As Close As You’ll Ever Be, a collection of short stories firmly located in the crime fiction genre.
The stories, which have been highly praised since As Close As You’ll Ever Be was published in the US last year, are lyrical, frequently funny and often stomach-churningly violent. What’s really clever about the way Seamus writes is that the violence suddenly sneaks up on you. If you are squeamish, read with care! But do read, especially if you are from Galway, because he writes wonderfully about the city and has fictionalised many colourful events from the recent past.
Reading and education were always highly valued in the Scanlon home in Emmett Avenue. Seamus remembers that his father used to buy a newspaper every day, laying it out on the kitchen floor, where Seamus, his two sisters and brother would crawl on it, while learning new words and looking at cartoons.
But it was his English teacher at St Joseph’s, ‘The Bish’, who really developed Seamus’s love of literature. Donal Taheny – also a highly regarded local historian – used to recite poetry for the class, as well as excerpts from works of fiction, he recalls.
“I was transfixed. I had never had exposure to that kind of stuff before.”
Although Seamus developed a love of reading back then, he never imagined he would write. His brother, who was five years younger, was regarded by teachers as brilliant, and his work was regularly shown to other pupils as an example of good writing. Seamus wasn’t jealous – that was just the way it was, he says.
“I decided not to compete, so after my Leaving Cert I opted for science – something practical. I was good at it but I didn’t like it that much.”
After graduating from UCG he moved to the UK, working in universities in Cambridge and Southampton and studying to become a librarian while in Cambridge.
Seamus remained an avid reader, whose particular passion was crime fiction, but it was after moving to Belfast to work that he began to get the urge to write.
“There was such deep enmity there, I felt I had to express it,” he explains. However, he didn’t know how to.
Eventually, he returned to Galway and took a writing workshop.
“I wrote a paragraph . . . and it was so difficult,” he says with a laugh. But his tutor told him to press on and write a short story, having completed his paragraph. He did and that paragraph became the final paragraph of the story. Seamus was on his way.
For more on this story see this week’s Tribune.