As the Christmas celebrations come to an end, Balbriggan Author Patrick Bentley struggles with serious pain in his right knee, a severe pain that requires a surgical operation. But he is adamant that he won’t let anyone do the surgery except a particular surgeon.
Patrick takes up the story.
‘About a year ago I was supposed to have the operation done. I had met this nice young doctor, we got on great and all arrangements were made to proceed with the operation. Then, unexpectedly, the pain disappeared so I put it off for the moment. Some months later I made contact with his surgery, only to be told that he, the doctor, had been diagnosed with cancer. I told his secretary over the phone that I’d pray for him and assured her he’d be ok. Turns out some weeks later that he made a huge improvement and was doing very well and got the all clear.
‘In the meantime I was sent to another surgeon and plans were made to have him do the knee just before Christmas. But I felt something wasn’t quite right and deep down I just had no peace about going ahead with it. Basically, I told the other surgeon, I wanted Dr Mulhall to do it and that I’d wait and brave the pain till he returns in early January.
‘I was in a lot of discomfort all over the Christmas, and not just with my knee. Only last Wednesday I had two cortisone injections in my neck and shoulder, 8 in total in as many months, which will eventually end with a full shoulder replacement operation.
‘The pain in the last year has been very bad,’ continued Patrick, ‘and it’s definitely slowed me down a lot. But it’s the shoulder that is the real concern. The doctors thought it was just a disc hitting a nerve in my neck till they did a scan of the whole shoulder and found bones detached and floating around in their own little universe. The pain has been ongoing for up to five years and is a result of an operation that went badly wrong when I was only 9 years old.’
Patrick went on to outline how the pain affected his door-to-door selling of all three of the books he has penned so far – The Jagged Halo, Darkline and A Nation Out of Time.
‘I think it’s no small miracle that in that time span I’ve been able to drag books all over the city in my condition. There’s no doubt that all the work I did across Dublin (from Balbriggan and as far south as Bray, Co. Wicklow) didn’t help the injuries. That, coupled with some of the strange encounters at the doors, has certainly taken a huge toll on me.
‘Back in the summer I was up around the Santry area and as I stood talking to a lady at the doors I became light-headed from the pain. The reality only hit me then that I was in trouble and couldn’t keep this up.
‘I went to see a specialist and was told the news that my injuries were pretty bad. He started me straightaway on painkilling injections to help with the discomfort. But the relief was only temporary. I had a plan to stop doing the doors for a few months and give my body time to rest up, and just concentrate on penning my new book, so I applied for funding from the Arts. I had every reason to believe it would be approved. But the bottom mysteriously fell out of that, so it was back to the drawing board and strapping up the knee and taking stronger anti-inflammatories and trying to keep going at the doors.
‘But then my other knee started to go. I know – I’m falling apart,’ laughs Patrick. ‘I couldn’t stick the pain anymore. You have to be very strong anyway to cold call to doors at the best of times, but something as painful as this makes it much harder. In my mind and heart I wanted to continue to talk to as many teenagers and young people as possible when I go out, but I’m no good to anyone in this condition, am I?’
On a brighter note, Patrick is making steady progress writing his new book (yes, his fourth). With a working title of Girl on the Edge, it’s far removed in content from the autobiographical The Jagged Halo and the two novels Darkline and A Nation Out of Time. When asked what exactly the theme of the book is, or even the background, he smiles then just winks.
‘I think I just wanted to write something with no big message this time around. So I dropped the original idea to pen something about the issue of depression. It just wasn’t for me to write about any more big issues in life. So this is an entirely new idea that will hopefully draw a wider audience to my writing. I love coming up with humorous ideas. It’s an Irish thing, isn’t it? Like any of the other books I wrote I find myself getting inside the characters to the point of feeling what they feel. It’s essential to me that I feel what I write; discharging waves of creativity and imagination gives off what you require to make a book. But even with that you need raw emotions or it’s still just words from your mind and can be completely soulless. If I don’t feel it, I won’t pen it. That’s my number one rule.’
How easy is he finding the writing process now after years of putting pen to paper?
‘Well, it varies. Sometimes the ideas just flow so naturally and my fingers can barely keep up on the keyboard. But then I remember one particular passage I wrote recently. It was less than half a page long but it felt like a whole chapter. I was drained after it.’
Does talking to people at the doors give you writing ideas for your books?
‘Everything I hear at the doors is very private. People open up and tell you stuff that I’d never repeat and certainly wouldn’t write about. The only time I took an idea and wrote about it was when I was in the Artane area three years ago and dozens of families began to tell me stories about the horrible abuse that had gone on in Artane School. Nothing you wouldn’t have heard and read about in the papers. But it was awful to hear it in such a raw way from relatives devastated by what had gone on there. So from there I went on to use elements of the Artane School scandal in A Nation Out of Time.’
And do you find yourself asking questions on this painful subject at the doors?
‘I do, yes, from time to time, if appropriate. I might ask, “Are you angry at God for allowing all this to happen to your family member?”
‘As time went by I realised no one had ever written about Artane from that particular angle, so I incorporated it into A Nation Out of Time. In it the brother and sister David and Carol come to terms and try to comprehend the horrific truth that their own father had been abused in Artane. It was hard to write, that’s for sure. And very raw and real. But hopefully it helped families in some way deal with their spiritual issues and bring some closure to deep-felt, bitter memories. I’d never write about it again, sighs Patrick as he nervously attempts to smile and continue. As with writing about drugs (Darkline). But it’s been worth it.’
In what way?
‘Well, apart from the satisfaction any writer gets from seeing his book in print, I’ve seen so many people helped by the simple yet profound messages in the books. The best story of late was when a father stopped me on the street and told me I had been to his door a year previously and had talked to a member of his family who was going down the road of drugs. A chat with the person turned the young individual from that road to ruin. “He’s doing great now,” the father said, shaking my hand. “Thanks very much.”
‘Whatever happens in 2017 I’ll have the Lord which is central everything I do daily. And of course I’ll have the memory of that teenager whose life was saved, to inspire me. And I’ll have the brave Dr Mulhall to motivate and encourage me along my own health recovery plan.’
We look forward to the launch of his fourth book, hopefully later next year. Still no hints as to the subject matter?
Another wink. ‘I’ll be back!’ smiles Patrick.
For those who seek counselling for family member, teenagers or themselves, a service that isn’t too expensive: Northside Counselling (tel. 01 848 4780) offers a great affordable service to all.