Kill Your Darlings – Bob Quinn

Bob Quinn is perhaps the most famous resident of Connemara, the rough, scraggy and culture-infused area hugging the blustery Atlantic coast, west of Galway City in Ireland. His documentaries and films have reached a global audience to much critical acclaim over the last 40 years. It can be argued that his epic Atlantean series of documentaries inspired a new wave of Celtic-fusion music in the 80’s and 90’s, and at least certainly led to a revival of enthusiasm for old Irish forms of song and dance. His vision of the real rural Ireland was presented in his films Poitin and Budawanny and captivated audiences with their harsh, unyielding honesty. The legacy of his contribution to the region’s culture will still be felt long after he is gone, yet he continues to explore new ways of creative expression by venturing into literary fiction. A softer approach, perhaps, for a later stage in a hugely prolific career.

His fiction, however, has been sadly overlooked. An earlier fictional memoir, Smokey Hollow, was glowingly received upon publication in 1991, but did not travel as far as his films, and was merely marketed as a work of nostalgia. Loosely based on his own childhood in Dublin in the 40’s and 50’s, the book deserved, and still deserves, more attention for its wit and honesty, and notable setting of a less violent and more liberal Irish childhood. These wild tales should be a brick in the bridge of modern Irish writing between Frank O’Connor and Kevin Barry, by my reckoning, but were lost by a lack of vision on the part of the publisher.

His latest ebook publication, Kill Your Darlings, had an earlier unsuccessful incarnation as The Accompanist (by Robert L. Quinn), released by my own Ogma Press imprint in 2006 to a depressingly underwhelming response. Quinn has always been a proponent of independent and democratic methods of cultural staging, and has supported and encouraged numerous grass-roots schemes, some of which would go on to become valuable cultural institutions in Ireland, such as Teilifis na Gealtachta (TG4). His disdain for the hierarchy of media establishments is highly noted in Ireland and he has been historically outspoken on the matter, with a very public resignation from the Irish national broadcaster (RTE) in 1969 which developed into a full blown manifesto and a published broadside against that establishment in Maverick (2001). His criticism of the mainstream media may have led to an ostracization, but his exile from the machinations of big-business media (and Dublin) was as much gladly self-imposed. His venture into micropublishing with Ogma Press was keeping with form, and Quinn saw in this a feasible way to put forward his writings independently, as an alternative to the limitations of the marketing interests of conventional publishers.

The new title may be a reference to the author’s own despondence at the state of affairs with publishing and the intellectual chaos of the literary scene, one in which Celia Ahern is translated into forty languages but the author can barely move a hundred copies of his own labour-of-love. I concur with the author and regret that I had not been able to do more to find an audience for the initial publication. The Accompanist was lost in a deluge of information, with thousands of new books debuting each day, many not even written by humans, but compiled by computer programs using rehashed material from the public domain. A cynicism also prevailed about micropublishing in that it is akin to vanity-press, undermining the advantages of opening a direct channel to the artist, but this attitude is quickly changing as the merits of the DIY ethos gain respectability. I’ll express my conviction at this point that the cream will rise above the sea of shit, eventually, and artists and authors must hold steady, and simply produce, until there are systems in place to recognize, preserve and promote real art and bring it to the attention of those who will appreciate it.

Now reworked and renamed, Quinn has refined the storyline of his novel and forged ahead to search for an audience among discerning ebook readers. In Kill Your Darlings, the sentimentality (or not) of his previous foray into fiction are gone, and we are confronted with a bitter and pointed tale of an aspiring young pianist, his pretentious and dangerous mentor, and the loves of his life. Following the hero to meet his destiny in the glum and defeated atmosphere of the recently collapsed GDR, we traipse through European capitals on a musical tour of rivalry and emotional turmoil. The elements of seeker-versus-hubris spark an almost Hermann-Hessian tone, reminiscent of Steppenwolf, with its high-strung emotional dramas and esoteric dilemmas between the impresario and the apprentice. There is something timeless about the story, in that one could as easily imagine these scenes taking place between foppish 18th Century libertine virtuosos, or for that matter touring jazz musicians of the 1930’s. It’s a personal journey of disenchantment through the pretensions of high-art in an ever-changing world.

I would call Kill Your Darlings a true European novel, an emerging genre that takes in the sentiments of the continent and shuns provincialism. This is storytelling of the highest order from one of the most eccentric and influential individuals of modern Ireland. Quinn’s is a unique voice and this is a privileged insight into the workings of his highly creative and experienced mind. He has always been a hard man to pin down. Some would accuse him of being a contrarian. Perhaps he is, and good for him, and for us, for he has filled one of the hardest but most important roles in a society, and made a successful and meaningful life of it. Now that the book is available in digital form, perhaps we should try to encourage Mr. Quinn to find a way to bring this to hardcopy again for the sake of posterity. It’s a worthy read, from a worthy man.

Kill Your Darlings is in the Kindle Store either at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Bob Quinn’s official website is Cinegael.

Note: With the new Kindle edition it was possible to include some words of praise for the book by Pat McCabe and Kurt Vonnegut, among others. Vonnegut’s feedback unfortunately came too late to include in the first print edition of The Accompanist, but is included in this new edition posthumously.