Paul Murray, who, he stated, always wanted to be an author, was introduced by Ms Duggan before he began to read an extract from his most recent book, Skippy Dies. The book tells the tale of a group of students at Seabrook College which is based on the real secondary boarding school, Blackrock College, which Murray attended as a child. The reading piqued the interest of the audience who learned of hormonal schoolgirls from next door, a grumpy History teacher, Carl the school psychopath, Nipper the dog and so on. Murray also told the audience of the opening scene where Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster enters a doughnut eating contest in which he chokes on a doughnut and almost dies. Note - almost. The rest of the novel is essentially a flashback of the events leading up to this day. Murray was vague as to the actual death, if any, of Skippy. Yes, someone did try and ask what actually happened to Skippy!
Once the reading was over, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. Murray was subject to questions involving both the book and his personal life as an author. We discovered that Skippy Dies actually took seven years to write and was, at its longest, over 1200 pages long. Murray had to cull about half of his work to create the novel it is today. We also learned of this routine as an author - that he forces himself to get to the desk every day as ‘80% of success is showing up’.
Murray studied English and Philosophy in college. He initially became interested in Philosophy, he said, when he came upon a Woody Allen film in which a philosopher killed himself. He believed Philosophy would help him answer questions like ‘what is love?’ and ‘why do we live?’ However, he was very wrong. Philosophy in Trinity focused more on Mathematics. Thus, he was quite disappointed. Nevertheless, he continued studying English. He started writing short stories. Years later, he told us, he went into a small bookshop where he met a man who convinced him to send off one of his novels to a publisher. He completed a course and officially became an author. The man he met later became the famous author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
The evening ended up with Murray talking about how his novels brought him to different places in order to do readings. Ireland, Boston, Germany, London, New York, Paris and Beijing were among those cities which he visited due to the publication of Skippy Dies. Going off on another interesting tangent, he mentioned how taxi drivers were the best at ‘suggesting’ stories while he sat innocently in the back of the cab. He referred to James Joyce’s quote and also agreed that ‘I’ve never met a boring person’. Some people he has met throughout his life have found themselves somehow integrated into Skippy Dies and make ‘cameo appearances’ in his novel (although not officially, he didn’t want lawyers involved). All we know is that Father Green, a character in Skippy Dies, is based on one of Murray’s old French teachers who was ‘terrifying, tall and constantly enraged, who hated all boys’.
Overall the evening was a mixture of funny and informative, to say the least. It was far more interesting than Claire Keegan’s reading and question-answering of Foster last year (am I allowed to say that?) and it actually did manage to encourage me to read Skippy Dies. Paul Murray is currently writing a third novel which has thus far taken five years to write. However the question remains, how did Skippy die? Paul Murray answered “Hopefully you’ll buy and read the novel to find out.”