Interview with Self-Published Author Kevin Keely

I “met” Kevin on, a site where writers support or compete with each other. (Sometimes both.) Kevin has a big personality behind that tiny avatar. He pulls no punches and takes no nonsense. He has the kind of blunt, unapologetic style that makes him a great writer and, I figured, a great interview. So I made him agree to sit down with me (virtually, I assume we were both sitting) and talk about the release of his new book, A Fistful of Salt, and his thoughts about the publishing industry.

Where are you from? Are the characters in your novel from the same place and does it factor into the story? Is place important?

I’m originally from Dublin, but I got away from there fifteen or more years ago when people started to go nuts on the Economic boom in the Noughties and my home town became inhabited by yuppy space aliens. Now I live in a rural cottage in the North West of Ireland. When I wrote the book I imagined Sligo Town, a small regional town and it’s environs, as being the setting. People who read the start might just recognise the initial descriptions, but I specifically didn’t want to get too parochial in the telling and exclude other people from being able to relate to it. But the characters are Townies through and through. Sligo was always a traditionally hard hit town, overlooked in many ways for a long time and the people have a humble yet proud resilience about them that I absolutely love. I drew from my own experiences driving taxis around here at night. The accents and the dryness of the humour, it was critical for me to include this in the story to give them an identity that I could paint in conversation and attitude. Most of the action takes place in France and I visited every location in the book and documented it in thousands of photos so as to ensure my executions of place are spot on. So you have these hard-necked Irish Townies against a backdrop of cosmopolitan France and the contrast was so much fun to write. People and place, definitely two of the most important facets of my story.

Okay, so tell me about your book. What is it about? What kind of audience is it for? Why should people read it?

Well they should read it because its an excellent story, why else? I specifically wanted to write a book with broad appeal across age and gender. I wanted the book to be the kind of thing you can read then pass to your husband and he can tell his mates down at the pub and they can tell their wives and mothers etc. It’s literally for anyone who just likes a good yarn about regular people getting themselves into a whole heap of trouble in a very short time. It’s a love story between an introverted cabbie and his childhood crush, who happens to be off the rails. But as they rapidly get themselves into hot water with some very evil villains their humanity inevitably begins to prevail over their societal roles and they become first friends and then lovers. It’s ultimately a story about human frailty and the fight played out in all out hearts between good an evil and how we sometimes fail but sometimes we succeed. It’s a feel good story with a lot of bad stuff in it. Pretty much the same as life.

How long did you spend writing this novel? When you began writing it, did you have a goal to publish? Did traditional publishing ever appeal to you and, if so, how many queries did you send and what made you stop?

I suppose It has taken me two years to get this far with it. I wrote it thinking if it was good enough surely someone will publish it. I structured it with the commercial market in mind, word count, chapter size and appeal so I thought I was writing a book that publishers would want. But I was naive about the state of play in the commercial market. So many “rules” for what the market wants. So after sending it to over twenty literary agents with no success I learned that I needed to take this book to the market myself with my own rules in mind. My main rule is that good writing makes good reading. I intend to see that one through regardless of what the experts preach.

What do you think about genre? Is it a helpful guide or a straight-jacket?
I think of it like sex. Some people like it one way, others like it another way, and most people just like it with a lot of action and a healthy amount of humour. So If you bring a straight jacket to your lover’s house then you’re going to get tied up and the best of luck to you. Me? I like to think passion and vigour are the greatest components to writing and sex. So that’s what I bring.
Give me an excerpt of your book that captures something meaningful about it.
The main character, Thomas Brody, remembers the conversation he had with his mother the night he found out Shelley, the object of his lifelong desire, was planning to marry another man.

     ‘Love won’t make you happy, Thomas, nobody else can fill in the missing piece for you.’ She put her hand on his chest. ‘You have to do that yourself.’
     ‘Okay then, I’ll do that over a pint—while I see can I figure out a way to break up this wedding. Shouldn’t be too hard if all she is is a liar and a thief.’ He winked at her as he slipped his jacket on. At the door she called to him and he stopped, looking back into the darkness of their home as she came from the kitchen.
     ‘Put out your hands, Thomas,’ she commanded.
     She tipped a drum of salt and filled them while she spoke. A science and history teacher for forty years in the tiny Protestant school, she had a lesson for even the most arbitrary of things.
     ‘After water and air, salt is the most precious necessity of life,’ she said.
     ‘Yeh?’ He looked in her stony white face and wished she would smile more. ‘Who said that then?’
     ‘A very wise Indian man.’ She stopped pouring and snapped the drum shut.
     ‘Sitting Bull.’ He smirked and watched her expression for any hint of weakness.
     ‘If you’re worth half of that by the time you die, you’ll have made me proud.’
     He went to walk away then stopped. ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’
     ‘Earn it,’ she said, and closed the door in his face.