Michael Collins


Life

1964- ; b. Limerick 4 June; dropped out of school before the Leaving Cert.; became a competitive long-distance runner [100km]; attended Notre Dame on sports scholarship; studied creative writing; moved completed a PhD at Illinois Univ. [var. Oxford Univ.]; recommenced running-training in New York; travelled through America with other runners, camping in vans and living on prizes; took work on mainframe analysis for Merrill-Lynch, NY; travelled in Europe for a year, writing on trains; purchased Matavia, a defunct Isle of Man company, to publish The Meat-Eaters - stories about the contrast between Irish hopes and reality in contemporary situations including the Troubles and migration - privately using Adobe PageMaker; his novel was then circulated for review by his sister in London and came to the attention of Jonathan Cape; faked a Matavia catalogue and a dispute with that publisher; moved to a computer lab at Northwestern University (Chicago), teaching creative writing on the side; narrowly escaped death with knife-wounds in a mugging; issued The Meat Eaters with Jonathan Cape, 1992 named Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times in 1993 - his story “The End of the World” (Antioch Review) being awarded the Pushcart Prize for Best American Short Story;

 
issued a first novel, The Life and Times of a Teaboy (1994), about Ambrose Feeney, his disappointments, family life, and descent into madness and asylum in Limerick; followed by The Feminists Go Swimming (1996), a satire on feminist, anti-clericism and alcoholism in modern Ireland; panned by Hugo Hamilton; issued The Emerald Underground (1998), concerning an Irish ‘illegal’ alone in New York in the 1980s, hiding from the consequences of a ‘dreadful act’ into which he was forced by others; the novel was not accepted by a literary agent in NY - and no subsequent novel ws published there; Lost Souls (2003) is about a suspected hit-and-run involving a child and a small-town cover-up; moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft, 1998 (‘That’s when I made a complete break about saying anything to anyone about my writing.’];
 
issued The Keepers of Truth (Feb. 2000), a novel set in rust-belt America and the soured American dream, centres on the murder of old man Lawton and the suspicions that settle on his son, was shortlisted for Booker and IMPAC and winner of the Book of the Year at Listowel - presented by Mary McAleese; issued The Resurrectionists (2001), set in frozen north America; issued Lost Souls (2003); issued The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleston (2006), concerning a suicidal teacher-writer whose mansucript becomes a best-seller but raises real-life questions about the child-murder it describes - long-listed for IMPAC; issued Midnight in a Perfect Life (2010), concerning a middle-aged man embarking on fertility treatment who faces the demons of his own childhood while ghost books for Fennimore, a man who seems to be planning a snuff-novel;Collins has contrib. to QC; teaches in a community college nr. Notre Dame Univ.; professes to be interested in writing politically-motivated thrillers; he has four children with his wife Nora, who runs his website.
 
OCIL

The following information is supplied on the author’s Wikipedia entry - online []26.06.2020]:

Collins ran for the Irish National Team and holds national record for the distance; won Bronze for Ireland in Gibraltar, 2010; also won Himalayan, Everest, Antartica and N. Pole Marathons and the 2019 USATF 15km National Age-Group Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma; PhD from the [sic] Oxford University. The Michael Collins personal website reiterates the information same with further details of the novels, as cited here in paraphrase - online; accessed 29.06.2020.

 
The following information have been removed from the entry as lacking corroboration—

Also wrote a debut play, The Hackney Office (2000), dir. Gary Hynes at Druid [see infra]; lived in an new apartment block at Hamilton St., nr. St. Catherine’s, Dublin.

The Hackney Office, by Michael Collins: Three men joined together by criminal actions and devious plans are doing business with each other singularly without telling each other what the do. It is a play full of confusion and secrets even outside business as Danny is afraid Jude maybe seeing Tracey who may or may not be Danny’s daughter but equally may or may not be Jude’s girlfriend. Review: ‘This is a young playwright to look out for’ (Magpie, Dec. 2000).

See Druid website - online; accessed 29.06.2020

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Works
Fiction
  • The Meat Eaters (London: Jonathan Cape 1992; Phoenix House 1993), 279/288pp.; US edn. as The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters (NY: Random House 1993) [NY Times Notable Book of the Year, 1993]
  • The Life and Times of a Teaboy (London: Phoenix House 1994; rep. 1995), 242pp.
  • The Feminists Go Swimming (London: Orion/Phoenix House 1996), 200pp.
  • The Emerald Underground (London: Phoenix House 1998), 256pp. [Best First Novel of the Year, France].
  • The Keepers of Truth (London: Phoenix House 2000), 297pp.; [short-listed for the Booker, 2000; short-listed for IMPAC, 2002; Irish Novel of the Year, 2000; NY Times Notable Book of the Year.
  • The Resurrectionists (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2001; Phoenix House 2002), 360pp. [PBNA Book of the Year; NY Times Notable Book of the Year].
  • Lost Souls (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2003), 384pp. [US Today, Editors Choice; Finalist for Irish Novel of the Year; Finalist for Great Lakes Novel of the Year].
  • The Secret Life of E. Robert Pendleton (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2006); US edn. as The Death of a Writer (NY: Bloomsbury USA 2006), 320pp. [Winner of The Breakout Novel of the Year in France 2008; long-listed for IMPAC, 2008; Seattle Top Pick, 2006]
  • Midnight in a Perfect Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2010), 272pp. [won Lucien Barrière Award for best American fiction published in France].
Query: Anna Dillon [pseud. of Michael Collins], Another Season (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 2003), 502pp., listed in Books Ireland (Sept. 2003), p.214.
Drama
  • The Hackney Office ([Galway:] Druid 2020), dir. Gary Hynes [unpub.]

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Criticism
Interview in Books Ireland, Sept. 1998, pp.195-96; Martin Doyle, interview with Collins, in The Irish Times (28 March 2017) - available online [29.06.2020]. See other reviews in Commentary - as infra.

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Commentary
Jonathan Dyson, review of Life and Times of a Teaboy, in Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1994, writing that ’the schizophrenia of Ambrose Feeney, not surprisingly, is also that of his country [in the 1960s], torn between the heritage of British imperialism and the search for an indigenous culture, permanently at war with itself; at fifteen, takes job in hotel, where his uniform makes him look like ‘an English admiral’; job in Irish civil service repeats patter; reviewer criticises patness of madness metaphor, comparing it to similar failing in earlier Meat-Eaters (1992)’.

C. L. Dallat, ‘Modern Ireland’, review of The Feminists Go Swimming, in TLS (9 Feb., p.24); ‘Michael Collins’s collection catches the confusion of a still submerged population of hill-farms and tower-blacks facing the ills of the contemporary society while burdened with stifling traditions’; cites ‘The end of the World’, set at a period when the Pope is due to open secrets of Fatima, while a butt of abuse, Patsy, is punished for irreverence when he draws Jesus as Superman; ‘The Sunday Races’ concerns blackmail; an outsider returns for a funeral in ‘The Inheritance’; ‘In Hiding’ is set in wartime London and testifies to barbarism arising from lack of familial support; ‘The Walking Saint’ involves a gas employee who secures near canonisation for his aunt, an ageing nun; ‘’The Football Field’ is a story of urban deprivation; in ‘The Rain in Kilrush’ a violent husband goes too far; title story based on true incident, featuring robust priest, retired sergeant, and anti-clerical businessman, who congregate for bathing and are join by two young men who ‘don’t know any girls’ and are view with suspicion; the prevailing instinct is to avoid scandal as upsetting the Catholic status quo (a theme approved by Dallat).

Hugo Hamilton review of The Feminists Go Swimming (Phoenix 1995), in Irish Times, 17 Feb., 1996, p.9: ‘[Collins writes with compelling inaccuracy about this country ... like an Ed Wood remake of Ryan’s Daughter’); gives a different account of the title-piece, in which women arrive at the Sandycove forty-foot and two of the male swimmers drown, leading the priest and others to beg to women to allow them of the water; in ‘The Fornicator’, Murphy departs from home for an affair and ends up murdering a raving farmer with his girlfriend; ‘The End of the World’ concerns the Church of Ireland and the Church of Rome, with a suspicion on the reviewer’s part that the author doesn’t know the difference; berates Phoenix, who publish Colm McCann, for their apparent ignorance of Ireland.

David Ervine, review of The Emerald Underground (1998), in Times Literary Supplement (27 Nov., 1998, p.22: quotes, ‘that dark Emerald underground of Irish immigrant slvery in the margin of the American mainstream’; ‘new York was a great machine that ingested and digested matter’; Liam recalls, “I saw Jesus on the cross, and said, ‘morning, bollocks!’ How’re those nails in your hands and feet?” I said, “Hail the King of all Cat Killers!”; the will to survive takes precedence over religion or morality; Liam’s persistence “was part of the evolutionary process of survival, the mould on cheese and bread growing in the cold of the cupboardd back home, the microbes that live in the arse of animals, the cancer cells tthatfed inside my mother. Ask them the meaning of life. Survival!”; characters include Liam; Angel, a pregnant 16 year-old prostitute and her drug-addict boyfriend Sandy; all three leave New York; Liam resumes running; reviewer remarks, ‘Collins is undoubtedly an exciting talent, capable of writing razor-sharp prose … gripping, stylish novel [...] not a book for the faint-hearted.’

John Kenny, review of Emerald Underground [with Hugo Hamiton, Sad Bastard], in The Irish Times, 3 Oct. 1998: notes metamorphosis via rash: “My new skin had a hard roughness, more scar than skin, the armour of prehistoric survival”; sells “clean piss” and works in abbatoir; sets of for Pennsylvania with 16-year old prostitute Angel and her pimp Sandy; trailer park sequence; five mile race serves as climactic scene after he revives his athletic skills; ‘the best attempt yet in Irish fiction to deal with the sub-species of Irish illegals in the Eighties [...] considerably damaged by the aggressive hipness of the sordidness [and] imprecations’; notes frequency of word “shite”.

John Kenny, review of Michael Collins, The Resurrectionists (London: Phoenix House), 360pp.: The Keepers of Truth was shortlisted for Booker and IMPAC prizes; the novel concerns twenty-something narrator Frank who returns to Michigan to investigate death of stepfather-uncle and revisit the scenes of a traumatic childhood. Kenny questions the authenticity of the American world recreated from the 1950s to the 1970s: ‘The inconsistencies in the narrator’s characterisation are distracting, even if these are meant to reflect his damaged psyche; but some of Collins’s secondary characters more consistently abet his primarily emphasis on full-blooded story development’; ‘Despite headlong inattention to self-editing, Collins is commendably pursuing here something still rare in Irish fiction: a diversified, idiosyncratic, sequential plot.’ Kenny speaks at the outset of Collins as an author who writes ‘on the run’, a not-dismissive reference to his admission that he makes up his plots to stave off boredom while long-distance running. Notes also that Emerald Underground was written in two to three months. (Irish Times, 13 April, Weekend, p.10.)

John Kenny, reviewing of Michael Collins, The Keepers of Truth (Phoenix House), 297pp., summarises a plot in which a father in a mid-west American town comes to suspect that his steroid-popping son murdered and dismembered his victim, and remarks: ‘This kind of literary crime/thriller framework has been widely employed by Irish male authors in recent years, usually to moribund effect. […] there has been insufficient acknowledgement of the fact that this subgenre, withits established plot elements, is inherently formulaic and requires considerable stylistic dexterity and formal nuance’; remarks that Collins’s ‘brand of macho, streetwise and often vicious prose … nascent in The Meat Eaters (1992) and significantly, though imperfectly, developed in his last novel, The Emerald Underground (1998) here achieves a new tautness which helps maintain a frenetic pace and a genuine suspense’, and concludes: ‘Michael Collins has bridled the voice of the malcontent and has produced something that is rare enough in contemporary Irish fiction: a well-written and scoially conscientious novel.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 5 Feb. 2000.)

Eve Patten, reviewing The Keepers of Truth (Phoenix), in The Irish Times [Weekend] (26 Feb. 2000), compares the new novel with its predecessor (Emerald Underground): ‘That novel’s success lay partly in its narrative voice - a breezy, Irish-American vernacu!ar which pulled the reader along at a cracking pace - so the very different style adopted in The Keepers Truth is surprising. Gone is the quick-fire colloquialism, and in its place comes a slow, lugubrious prose, weighted with dark imagery and building into an intense and moody thriller’, and remarks: ‘[G]enerally the balance between story and social diagnosis is well mastered. Collins is a clever writer, but not an alienating one. His style is appropriately allusive; the de rigueur Chandlerese (“It was one of those storms that lets men breathe easy …”) combines with a gesture to Steinbeck and perhaps a hint of Annie Proulx to lay the right foundations for his own distinctive voice, which comes through in some terrific writing, particularly the superb setpieces [sic] on the torpor of the, American Rust-Belt. Thoroughly edgy, thoroughly enjoyable, The Keepers of Truth is an impressive performance from a rich and unpredictable talent. [...; for fuller version, see infra.]’

Belinda McKeon, paperback notice, in The Irish Times ([18] Oct 2004): ‘Collins’s portrait of a man, and a society, uncertain whether morals count for anything at all is, masterful, but his novel strains under the-demands of thecrime thriller genre; too many threads remain trailing, too many questions unanswered, by its close.’ [See summary, in Notes, infra.]

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Quotations
The Keepers of Truth (2000): ‘We have made nothing of this town in over a decade. It’s as though a plague befell out men, as horrible as any of the plagues that fell on Egypt. Our men use to manufacture cars, sheet metal, mobile homes, washers and dryers, frame doors, steel girders for bridges and skyscrapers. Our town had contracts from Sears and Fod and General Motors. Everybody worked in the factories, bending metal into the shape of car fenders, gaskets, engine blocks, distributor caps, sewing vinyl seats for Cadillacs and Continentals. We had hands throbbing to make things. Factories were our cathedrals, pushed up out of the Great Plains. [1] Ronny Lawton’s estranged wife was beautiful in a trashy way, dirty blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She was the sort of vision most men dream of rescuing, what’s referred to as a diamond in the rough. She was squatting by a small plastic pool beside the trailer. A small kid was splashing about. She reached in for her gkid, Ronny Lawton’s kid, tha tis. She had her back to me, the tight denim shoorts riding the crak of her aqs, showing the crease of each crescent cheek. I hesitated and just stared at her. She seemed to hold that pose for just a second too long to make me understand her own self-awareness. She turned, put the kind on her hip, curled her hair behind her ear and said, “You got the beer with you .. What’s your name again?” […/] She wore a red gignham shirt tied above her waist, showing the soft distended nub of her belly button like the tie on a balloon. Her skin was brown from the days oin the sun out here. [96]

Interview with Susan Keating, in PIF Magazine (Nov. 2000)

Susan Keating: How did you get started in writing?

Michael Collins: I would first have to credit my mother with sparking an interest in literature. She always had books around the house: Camus, Thomas Mann and others. So there was a canon of literature. And she told stories. As for myself, though, I had no aspirations to be a writer. I was always interested in computers. But all the years that I ran cross-country, where I was running for miles at a stretch, I often told myself stories to amuse myself, to help pass the time. Then, in my last year of college [on a running scholarship to Notre Dame], I was behind in my credits. I took what I heard was an easy writing course. From the first day I was very interested in the course and very diligent about doing the assignments unlike in my other classes (except computers). For the writing assignments, I wrote those stories that I had told myself when I was running.
 At the time, I really didn’t consider writing as a career. It wasn’t presented as an option, but I thought of it as something I would pursue as a passion. A few months after graduation, I went to work as a computer mainframe analyst for Merril Lynch. I decided I would rather eat cold beans from a can and be able to write than earn a lot of money and be tied to the job. I left Merril Lynch. Later on, I traveled around Europe for about a year and a half, and started writing on trains. Finally I got ten or so stories together, and I had a book.

SK: How quickly did you find a publisher?

MC: I couldn’t even get an agent. At the time, Pagemaker had just come out, so I produced my own book, a collection of short stories called The Meat Eaters. I used scanners and produced a nice glossy cover. Then I bought an off-the shelf company in the Isle of Man. I got the idea from an ad in the back of an airline magazine. They were selling companies. I bought one called Matavia. It had an address on Bond Street in London and had an answering service with a British-voiced girl answering the phone and taking messages. I got my sister to go around to newspapers in England asking them to review the book. Some of the people called back and asked about it. Then they wanted a Matavia catalogue! So I sat down one night with my wife and made up some cheesy titles and some ISBN numbers, and I typed out these ridiculous summaries. So now Matavia had a catalogue.

SK: What was the response?

MC: Some journalists did review the book. The English publisher Jonathan Cape called and asked for a second book. They thought this was legitimate, that I was with a small publishing company. I wanted them to publish this book I had already produced, so I had to go through this whole wrangling where I pretended to be unhappy with Matavia. I came up with a phony back-and-forth way to disassociate myself from my own company. I wrote a fake contract, and phonied up an argument with Matavia. Jonathan Cape published The Meat Eaters in 1992 - it came out as The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters, with Random House in America, in 1993. I published another novel (The Life and Times of a Teaboy) and a collection of short stories (The Feminists Go Swimming), both in London. But nothing again in America since 1993.

[...]

—PIF Magazine (Nov. 2002) - see full-text copy as attached; available online; accessed 29.06.2020.

Reaganomics

‘It seemed the dismantling of America and the death of industrialisation was for each American a personal guilt trip and not an occasion for workers to band together in unions to try and preserve their jobs [...] The notion of taking responsibility for your own economic and spiritual salvation was the single most important thing I learned about how America works.’

Collins speaks of his novels ‘which look at the devastation of poverty, the dignity of the individuals who are oppressed by economic circumstances. In terms of writing political novels about disenfranchised groups of people this is a kind of haunt for me.’
—Quoted in Martin Doyle, interview, in The Irish Times (28 March 2017) - available online [29.06.2020]

On the election of Donald Trump

It’s not xenophobic to want to renegotiate injurious trade deals, to care about your country! It’s not xenophobic to talk about border security, to identify a subclass of illegal immigration that has gone unchecked and undermined working class jobs for decades!  It’s not xenophobic to speak openly of an Islamic-inspired revolution that actively wants to destroy the West!
 Of course, the above issues cannot be discussed openly in America’s so-called “liberal media” where political correctness has gone awry, where freedom of speech has been undermined by a hyper-sensitive political correctness that disallows any discourse on the aforementioned issues of immigration, religious war and trade deals.
 In this subversive political correctness, “openness” is defined by celebrating diversity which ultimately allows minority influences to control the national dialogue.
 The Trump movement operated outside the legitimized, sanctioned narrative. It is a triumph of a populist revolution that ultimately organized without the apparatus of the political machines of both the Democratic and Republican Parties and proved that the underlying voice and national sentiment of over half the people in the country galvanized around a leader who had the brashness and financial resources to work outside the system.
 This is why I live in America – Its descendants celebrate and cherish freedom. They hold certain inalienable rights, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, for example the right to bear arms. From an outsider’s perspective, or from a politically correct posture, this might seem extreme, but for the majority of the South and up through the Rust Belt states, there’s a suspicion of government, and the struggle to wrest guns from ordinary citizens has galvanized in a movement that has quietly assembled in a meeting of the hearts that registered resoundingly at the ballot box.

This is not a movement of hate – it is the beginning of an articulation of a subverted voice that seeks to enter the national dialogue, that seeks to energize America, not at the expense of others, but through the “Art of the Deal!”
 I took on this struggle in my Booker-shortlisted novel, The Keepers of Truth,which begins with the lines:

 I call this one “Ode to a Trainee Manager.”
 When you enter this town of ours, I would want you to read the following, to enlighten you as to how it is here with us at this time in history. It seems only right. Even in medieval times they used to put up signs that said, “Plague! Keep out!”
 This is what I’d say ....

 No New York publisher wanted to hear this “Ode to America”. The book went unpublished until it found an audience in Europe. This eulogy to the Rust Belt was disallowed, but, in the collapse of the Blue firewall of the Midwest, the truth is self-evident!

Irish Writers Have Their Say [on the Election], comp. Martin Doyle, The Irish Times (10 Nov. 2016) - available online.

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Notes
The Life and Times of a Teaboy (1994) - Publisher’s note calls it a novel set in Limerick; family life and descent into madness; Ambrose Feeney, by his own account ‘certifiably committed’, sees his hopes dashed by others’ influence and his own inertia; starkly sane portrait of family life without mist of legend.

The Hackney Coach (Druid 2000), dir. Gary Hynes, concerns two likely lads, owner Christy Quinn (played by Brian F. O’Byrne) and ’driver’ Jude (Andrew Lovern) who set up a non-functioning taxi company into which the sinister intruder Danny (Sean McGinley ) intrudes. (See Irish Emigrant Arts Review, Dec. 2000.)

Lost Souls (2003): Lawrence, a policeman, discovers the body of a small girl is discovered by a roadside in small town America, and is dismissed officially as hit and run; but Lawrence is driven to find out the truth involving an unseen mother, a mayor, a football star and a violent father, and comes up against his own sense of loss and sorrow in the process.

Namesake: Michael Collins shares his name with the Irish historical figure and national hero who served Dail Eireann Head of Intelligence, negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London, and died of gunshot wound ot the head at Beal na Blath, Co. Cork, in 1922. Another Michael Collins is the pirmary pseudonym of Deniis Lynds (1924-2005) an the American detective writer, credited with bringing the genre into the modern age with his first novel in the long-runing Dan Fortune, Acts of Fear (1967). He was the of 80 novels and 400 stories chiefly under that pseudonyms with various such as William Arden, John Crowe, et al. Wikipedia lists more than 30 Michael Collins under its disambiguation column including a Bishop of Cloyne and Ross (1771-1832) a Limerick politician (b.1940- ), a Cork politician (b.1958), a Lord Mayor of Dublin (1977-79), the Irish Olympic athlete (1879-1959), the Irish hurler (1940-2009), the Irish football player (b.1986) and the American astronaut (b.1930) who crewed the Apollo 11 and Gemini 10 missions. Another Michael Collins is an Irish actor who received a lifetime achievement award in 2011 for his contribution and work around Travellers’ rights.

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