A KILLER stalking the world famous Camino de Santiago, and picking off pilgrims for who-knows-what gruesome purposes, is the central character in a new novel penned by Ennis man Anthony Galvin.
An author, actor and children’s entertainer, Anthony has a rich and varied life experience to drawn on for a series of crime novels set in far-flung and glamorous locations. Already well-known for his appearances, which bring joy to children across the country, the Cork resident has also clocked up more than 20 winters in Arctic Finland, working closely with none other than Santa Claus. While crime writing might seem to be something of a departure from his ‘day job,’ Anthony sees it as an exploration of other aspects of his creative impulses. And, it is certainly not his first foray into publishing. The gregarious Banner man has clocked up a string of factual books, many of which focus on crime and history.
“Around eight to ten years ago, I published a book that got me an agent,” he explained. “I have written a number of factual books and I really enjoy the writing.” So much so that he is currently undertaking a writer’s challenge that involves clocking up a massive 50,000 words over the month of November. “It’s a national novel-writing challenging and I have a friend who has already clocked up 30,000,” he said. “I haven’t reached my 50,000 yet, but I will.”
A rich imagination as well as a love of travel seem to be some of the key ingredients in The Camion Killer. The novel is part of the Eliot Locke series in which Anthony’s unlikely hero – a trained assassin – finds himself on the right side of the law in hunting down a serial killer. The only condition is that he must bring the fearsome Camino Killer back alive.
Like Eliot, Anthony describes himself as “a committed atheist,” but the allure of one of Europe’s oldest pilgrim paths is one that captivates him nonetheless. “Myself and my pal Dermot Crosby take a walking holiday every so often and have done the French and Portuguese parts of the camino. I love the food, the company, the art, the scenery and the architecture. Whenever I travel now, I’m on the lookout for a setting for my novels. Because of my knowledge of the Arctic in winter, I’ve been able to use that in my writing. My work has helped me to mix with all kinds of different people and I suppose that is something I bring to my books.”
One of his forthcoming novels – which is yet to be named – will be set in Moscow, a place that is particularly close to his heart. “I was travelling in Moscow in the autumn of 2019, met a wonderful Dublin woman and we’re now an item,” he said.
A stint in journalism also sharpened Anthony’s eye for plots and characters. His account of notorious Limerick killings, Blood on the Streets: A Murderous History of Limerick, is not just a best-seller, but said to be one of the most shop-lifted Irish books of all time.
“I got to meet a number of criminals in my time and I suppose I got to see varied sides to their personalities,” he explained. “I am fascinated by what drives people to do what they do. My parents’ bookshelf would have had tales which included true murders from the 1800s. I found those intriguing because when people kill, they’re at their most extreme. I suppose that’s why I write crime novels and not romance. When I’m writing about crooks, I definitely aim to make them more rounded characters and not just one-dimensional ones.”
The drive to write is certainly a strong one for Anthony. The first book in his latest series is just out. Entitled Dead or Alive, it also explores the motives of life-long criminals and those who pursue them. “Certainly, in my early teens, I knew what whatever else I did in life, I would write,” he said. “At one stage I thought about becoming an astronaut. I was a science nerd and did a degree in Physics.”
Anthony credits his late English teacher with inspiring a love of English. “At St Flannan’s College, Hugh O’Dowd was a great influence,” he said. “I would love to have thanked him for that in person. He realised that I could write. After the Inter Cert, I took all the science subjects and dropped back to pass English. Hugh came into the pass class, lifted me out and propelled me back into his honours English class. He actually gave me an exemption from homework and got me to write a weekly essay instead. He really was a special man and made English exciting. We were probably the only school to study Paradise Lost. It wasn’t because it was on the curriculum, but because it was beautiful, he said. His focus was on educating us, and not just what was on the syllabus. He made me a writer.”
Another much-loved and influential teacher at St Flannan’s, in that era, was a man who was to become Bishop of Killaloe, Willie Walsh. “He taught Maths and had an absolute passion for it,” said Anthony. “The man loved Maths, and I had no capacity at all for the subject, but I got to love it.”
This year has given Anthony more time to focus on his novels, as restrictions associated with the pandemic have impacted many of the schools and venues where he would normally perform. “It used to be the case that being an entertainer was my job and writing was a hobby,” he remarked. “Now, the writing is my job and entertaining is a hobby.”
To keep up with a fairly hectic publication schedule which will see Anthony bring out a new title every two months for the current series, a certain amount of discipline is clearly essential. “I tend to start writing around 9pm and my first drafts are always done on a paperless electric typewriter,” he explained. “There are no distractions that way and I don’t fall down the rabbit hole of Google.”
With such extensive travel experience, which includes an Artic expedition undertaken two years ago, it is likely that Bill Bryson could have a new rival one of these fine days. “Travel writing is definitely on the agenda,” he affirmed. “An awful lot of writing in that genre is very serious. I like what Bill Bryson does, because he makes it fun. I would like to bring in the lighter side.”
A fascination with history continue to inspire Anthony’s creative side and, on the day of our interview, he is not only writing a play, but hand-stitching a costume for the forthcoming project.
This time, his inspiration is the march of Dónal Cam O’Sullivan Beare, who on New Year’s Eve 1602 led 1000 women, men and children from the Beara Penninsula in Cork to the north of Leitrim in a bid to join the clans of the North and survive the onslaught of English forces.
“That was after the Battle of Kinsale,” Anthony explained, “and of the 1000 people, only 35 survived.” Anthony has captured the epic journey in a one-man play, entitled Chasing the Last Prince. “He was the only Gaelic chieftain that didn’t bow to the English. He was never pardoned and never forgiven. On New Year’s Eve next, subject to the restrictions, I’m hoping to walk from Glengarriff to Leitrim and perform the play at venues along the route.”
The Camino Killer is due for launch on December 5.