Friday, 6 April 2018

THE GARAGE SAILOR

Keith Gallaher 2003-2018

My third novel The Garage Sailor will be available before the end of the month. I’ve parted ways with my publisher and have decided to go full indie on this one. What could possibly go wrong with this fictional experiment? My instinct tells me too that my recurring anti-hero Keith Gallaher has reached the end of his literary life. The Garage Sailor is a story involving a broken-hearted record collector saddled with obligations to a diabetic tabby cat. Keith is a minor character who plays an integral role in the plot.

My three books were never conceived as a trilogy. Each one was written to stand or fall by itself, sell or stiff. Keith Gallaher emerged fully formed from the pages of an orange Hilroy exercise book before the turn of the century. He is the protagonist and narrator of Murder Incorporated. He is a wistful ex-pat Montrealer who works out west in the advertising industry. He loves the Canadiens, spy thrillers and the Who, and is overly fond of beer and cigarettes. He’s not me: write what you know.

My existence had been a see-saw of duality. If my personal life was great, my professional life was misery and vice versa. Neither went well at the same time, always a cigarette smoke dream of mine. Then I began to wonder what would happen if both anchors went overboard simultaneously. I needed a name for a drowning man being pulled only in one direction, down.

I wanted a short, tough, rock ‘n’ roll given name. They don’t come any better than Keith Moon, Keith Relf and Keith Richards. Ignatius Gallaher is a passing character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, I believe he turns up in a pub – forgive me, I haven’t re-reread the novel in two decades. Saint Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order and that resonated with me because I was fortunate enough to attend Montreal’s Loyola High School. The surname of Joyce’s character intrigued me; readers might inadvertently add a second g to create the more common Gallagher. My own given name of Geoffrey has been butchered by bureaucrats and by people who know me – so much so that it’s even wrong in my 1977 high school graduation yearbook. My ad man would get as prickly and rankled over perceived slights as I do.

The original title of Murder Incorporated was Taking Stock, suggesting ruminations on a life and an oblique reference to the usage of stock photography in print advertising. My publisher thought it boring so I used the name of the boutique ad agency depicted in the novel, one which I’d lifted from a Bruce Springsteen rarity. Sticking with the Boss theme, I called my second novel The Last of the Duke Street Kings, a line I stole from Springsteen’s ‘Backstreets,’ a song about loyalty and friendship. My publisher thought it was too long and so we settled on Duke Street Kings.

It’s fair to say that my first genuine experience of grief was the Beatles’ break up. Life got real in a hurry once my parents divorced and relatives on either side of the split began to die off. The Fab Four was the first shock though, after all, they were best friends. I have been blessed with a few lifelong friendships that I treasure. I may have angered or embarrassed (or both) my closest friends over the course of 45 or even 50 years, but we’re still a gang because I’ve been forgiven or plain laughed at. “When you’re a Jet…” Naturally, I began to speculate on how bonds could be broken.

If Keith Gallaher hooked up with a few ex-Montrealers around his age in Calgary, I thought it likely that some of those old musketeers would’ve grown up in the same neighbourhood, perhaps on the same street. Loyola dominated my life from 1973 through 1977. I spent a lot of time in the west end. The Catholic girls I lost my high school heart to and head over all lived in the vicinity. The streets and the avenues were archly named, very British: Oxford, Regent, Royal, Coronation, Mayfair, King Edward… The urban geography would handle the insertion of an imagined Duke of Windsor Street which the locals would contract to Duke Street.

If Keith was to be an equal member of a larger cast, he would have to interact with the other characters on a regular basis. A pub seemed like an apt setting for that to happen. These fellows would need a reason to get together frequently and I’d no interest in researching the nuances of pool or darts. There was a period in my life when I spent too much time in bars because the alternative was going home. That field research paid off double at the window. Many local establishments engaged shuttle buses for their patrons’ convenience, transport to sporting events, pre- and post-game drinking assured. Others sponsored pick-up slo-pitch or midnight shinny teams. I had a hook. And dear me - the conversational topics when unhappy guys sit around bending unfiltered elbows – I couldn’t make them up.

Spencer Graham is the hero of The Garage Sailor. He’s a burnt-out social worker, something of a well-meaning milquetoast. In his role as a counsellor it was conceivable to me that he could encounter a troubled Keith Gallaher, a man whose marriage has been a whitewater ride through the tunnel of love. Can either one of these stunted, hardcore music fans recognize a kindred soul? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ultimately Spencer and Keith find themselves together in a hotel room, menaced at gunpoint. One of them will talk, attempting to dial the tension knob down. For the other, the needle drops: rash actions twist and shout volumes.

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