Psychotic Episodes – the writings of Longford author Alan McMonagle

by Patrick Conboy 

Alan McMonagleAlan McMonagle has received widespread praise for his writing, both here in Ireland and internationally, and the writer from Longford has been recognised with awards from the Professional Artists Retreat, the Fundacion Valparaiso, the Banff Centre for Creativity, and the Arts Council of Ireland.

“I started to write when I was only about seven years-old,” the author reveals. “One of the first stories I wrote was called ‘The Ants Who Grew Into Gi-Ants’ – I thought the title was so clever! But then I started secondary school and there was a 20-year gap before I started to write again.”

His early enthusiasm may have been tempered by an overwhelming desire to break out into the world beyond Longford. “I couldn’t wait to get out of Longford as a teenager,” he declares. “I felt very claustrophobic here.” He’s grown to love his hometown again, however, and these days he even draws inspiration from it: “After all that time I still had all these places, streets and alleys and lanes, and people’s names – nicknames in particular – which is why a lot of my stories have been inspired by Longford. Early memories, which is why a lot of the stories, also have a youthful voice to them.”

Alan’s latest tome, a book of short stories called ‘Psychotic Episodes’, was launched in May. It’s a collection full of humour and anxiousness, with the characters grappling for their place in the scheme of things. Portions of it may already be familiar to some readers, especially the title story, which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2011. “It’s a rush, it’s really why you put your head on a plate,” he says of awards nominations. “It’s lovely, too, especially if you have one of your peers – one of your heroes – on the adjudicating panel.”

Commenting on his stories, he says: “You get so many ideas, and if you can just coalesce one into a story, that’s one idea dealt with and you can move onto the next one. It’s so satisfying to begin something and then to finally nudge it over the finish line. Then there’s the inevitable muddle which takes it from the beginning to the end. I think it was the brilliant British poet Philip Larkin who said ‘every good short story has a beginning, a muddle, and an end’, so I find myself muddling quite a lot of the time! But that’s what I enjoy.”

His work isn’t limited to the short story format either, as he explains: I’ve had a couple of forays into a novel which is still resting in my drawer somewhere. I dabble in poetry, I dabble in radio plays – I still love writing drama – and this is all fallout in the best possible way from the MA in Writing I completed at NUI Galway in 2007. That gave me a foothold to tackle all these different genres. The short stories are what I will always return to, though.”