I nearly started crying listening back to my interview with Patrick Freyne. There was just something in his voice that I didn’t catch first time round on the phone, when he was talking about not having kids.
“It just didn’t happen,” he said. “I wrote about it because I was reckoning with it, and mourned it a little bit. When you get to a certain age, you look around and everyone around has kids, and it looks like a default. Apart from anything else, there is a sense of you dropping out of sync. I had a really strange dream, a post-apocalyptic landscape and I was minding my nephew and I felt really happy when I woke up from the dream and it was a dream about parenthood, you know.”
It was the matter-of-fact sadness in his voice that grabbed me, listening back. The writing he refers to is an essay called ‘Something Else’ in his newly released memoir, OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea. It’s an exquisite essay, beautiful and raw, as he examines the effect of not having kids with his wife, Anna Carey. It also comes as a surprise, which might explain why I was caught unawares, on the edge of tears.
Patrick Freyne, in case you don’t know, is one of the funniest writers in Ireland. His TV reviews in The Irish Times are good enough to make the rest of us feel like giving up. The articles are sharp, full of giggly surprises and cultural references that work for both hipsters and grannies. What they aren’t very full of is Patrick Freyne — he’s always felt at a slight remove either in his funny reviews or straight reporting on issues such as homelessness and Brexit.
His new memoir opens him up like, well, a book. In among romping essays about parachute jumps, touring in an indie band, and running around a German lake in the nip, there are stories about mental health issues, loss, and the parenthood dream mentioned above.
So, why open up now?
“About two years ago someone I know said ‘you’re such a calm person’ and I remember going, Oh my god, I’m not, but I can see why they think that,” he replied.
“But I have had mental health issues over the years, sometimes quite seriously, and I didn’t like the idea that people might look at me from the outside and think I was a really together person all the time. I think a lot of people aren’t together all the time and I think it’s a bad message to send.
“When I started writing essays first, I veered towards the more comic stuff. Humour is really useful for certain things; it really hinders other things. I think being funny is a really good way of thinking about things. But sometimes comedy and humour can stop you from processing things.”
Freyne’s mental health issues, described in an essay called ‘Brain Fever’, include hypochondria. I suggest that now isn’t a great time for a condition like that. “Or OCD! I’ve had a relay race, where I move on from one neurotic obsession to another,” he replied, laughing at himself.
“Generalised anxiety is my problem, I’m relatively OK at the moment. The mental health one was the first essay I wrote, it was the hardest to get the balance right. I was probably too raw, in the middle of a bad patch, I kind of realised that, reading other essayists, when you’re reading a piece you want to feel in safe hands, you want to feel the person writing it has an overview rather than being in the thick of it. You’re better off writing it when you’re out of the problem. I rewrote it with a bit more humour, and in that case I think the humour was useful. My editor let me keep all my jokes, except where the joke completely deflated the serious point I was trying to make.”
I tell Freyne I tend to do the same thing myself. “I think it’s an Irish thing,” he replied.
“We don’t want anyone thinking we’re taking ourselves too seriously. If you’re writing something serious, the joke should illustrate that, or it shouldn’t be there.”
Freyne’s memoir is rich with detail, even from early parts of his life. Is it all true? “Everything is true. When you start writing memoir stuff, you start fact-checking yourself, sending stuff to friends and family, and you realise you remember things completely different from the way they remember it.”
How did Freyne jog his memory? “Once you start the act of remembering, you start remembering more things that are deeper down in the memory, I was surprised how I could flesh stuff out. You remember, Oh yeah, that was the day that other thing happened, that was why we were there in the first place. I was surprised by how much I could remember and then I sent it to people involved.”
Did anyone object? “I had one friend who asked me to cut one thing, which I cut.”
Some of the most engaging essays in the book are about Freyne’s time in an indie band with his two friends, called National Prayer Breakfast. (They ran a pirate radio station as well.) Does he miss that time, looking back at it now as a 44-year-old? “I loved gigging in my 20s, I’d hate it now.
“I realised in my 30s that it was a dream of a man in your 20s; you go out on the road with your friends and stay up late and you drink. And now I really like being home on a Friday evening. I think we often plan our lives based on the dreams of someone 10 years younger. We were touring with some great older Americana bands and it looked hard. They were in their late 30s, early 40s, and it didn’t look as much fun to be still doing it.”
An army brat whose father was head of the elite Rangers unit, Freyne moved around a bit at a younger age. But, if you ask him, he’s from Cork. “I am from Cork, but whenever I say that I feel like an Irish-American. I left when I was six, so I feel like I’m boasting. I’m very proud of Cork and whenever I’m down there with non-Cork people, I want to show them things. I know that’s a very Cork thing. Cork always felt like the whole town was partying on a Saturday night in the ‘90s, unlike in Dublin.”
Just the kind of thing we like to hear in the Irish Examiner!
The last essay in the book is ‘Dreams about Paul’, recalling how Freyne dealt with the death of Paul Clancy, his friend and fellow member of National Prayer Breakfast. It’s alarmingly vivid and sad and happy, after a fashion, in the end.
As I was reading it, Freyne sent me a link to a YouTube playlist, featuring songs from his band that inspired some of the essays in the book. One is a video for a song called ‘Feeding Frenzy’. I’m not really sure what it’s about, but that’s indie music for you.
Freyne is the frontman: Cool, measured, just a little bit dangerous, nothing like the guy I just talked to on the phone. He would have made a really good rock star.
But that might have stopped him from writing, and that would have been a shame.
- OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Freyne is published by Sandycove and is available nationwide now.