I wanted to be the next Bono. When I realised that wasn’t going to happen, I chose a career in child protection and social care. Although music is still a big part of my life.
I met my wife Deirdre at work and we got married when I was 21. We have two children and a grandchild.
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face was a car accident in 2001. I ended up in a wheelchair and, for the following years, my main job was to get myself physically fit again. It was life changing and put things into perspective. Deirdre stayed home as long as she could but eventually had to go back to work so I was left at home with our two-year-old daughter. Our son was 14 at the time. I was in the public health care system so I was released out of hospital with just a couple of elastic bands to do my own rehab. It took dogged determination to get back on my feet. But I did it.
I do believe in a certain type of fate. I began writing in earnest when I was doing my PhD about continuity of care in social work. I’d write a chapter of theory, followed by a chapter of case study. My supervisor remarked that there might be a book in the case studies. So I cobbled them together and pitched it as a novel, without success. Later, completely by chance, I rang the offices of Gill and Macmillan in Dublin one bank holiday Monday and a woman picked up the phone. It turned out she’d worked as a social worker in the UK and she suggested I pitch it to her as a non-fiction book. Her name was Alison Walsh and she became my editor. That book became Wednesday’s Child and topped the non-fiction best seller list and began my career as a writer.
Now, my working life is spent between writing and being head of the Social Care Department at Waterford College of Further Education.
I’ve three pieces of advice if you want to write. One, write the book you feel you need to write. My first book was about one of the cases in which I felt I had failed — I just had to get the story out and own that failure. Two, write. So many people tell me ‘I don’t know how to begin.’ Just sit down and start writing. And three, you must read. I am astounded by the number of people who tell me they want to write, yet they never read books.
My biggest fault is having tunnel vision. I get totally caught up in what I’m doing and am not a good multi-tasker.
My idea of misery is having to do something I’m useless at. Like carpentry or construction.
My idea of bliss is the process of creating. I imagine heaven will be like a traditional music session with all my friends and family around.
I’d like to think there is an afterlife. Religion is a difficult topic for me. My mother was incredibly religious as she’d been a nun in an enclosed order for 10 years until she was kicked out for having an affair with a chaplain. I grew up loving the ceremony and ritual of religion. But, I grew up in Ferns in the 80s, centre of a massive clerical abuse scandal. And later, as a social worker, I was involved in the investigation of that abuse so that coloured my view of the Church. God and I were not on talking terms for quite a long time.
If I could be reborn as someone for a day I’d be Bruce Springsteen. He’s an outstanding performer and story teller.
To keep mentally strong, I go walking in the fields close to our home in Wexford. You are never lonely when you are in nature. It’s my form of meditation. And music is still very important to me. I still do the odd gig.
The lesson in life so far is that no matter how tough it gets, we can always find the strength and resources to get through it, there is always something better coming around the corner.
- Why She Ran by SA Dunphy is published by Hachette Ireland in Trade Paperback and eBook / £13.99