N.Y. teens explore island’s secrets

Prize-winning writer Brian Ó Broin with his wife Jo Schuster and their children Ána and Fiona.

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

The protagonists of “An Eachtra ar Oileán na Rún” (“The Island of Secrets”), like the book’s author, have their feet in two worlds. They are New York-based teenagers on vacation in Ireland; he is a Galway-raised academic who lives and works in New Jersey.

More specifically, Brian Ó Broin is the associate professor of Linguistics and Medieval Literature at William Paterson University, Wayne, N.J. But he is also a writer who has twice been honored by An t-Oireachtas, an Irish literary award that has held annually since 1897.

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His play, “Na hEorpaigh,” set in a time of civil war in Ireland, garnered a prize in 2002. The play was produced the following year at An Taibhdhearc, Galway.

Now Professor Ó Broin has won 1st prize with “An Eachtra ar Oileán na Rún,” which is directed at teenage readers and is set both in a mysterious house on Dublin’s north side and on an archaeological dig at an island monastery in Lough Derg.

Brian Ó Broin

Date of birth: 1967

Place of birth: An Longfort.

Spouse: Jo Schuster

Children: Ána, 9; Fiona, 7.

Residence: Bloomfield, N.J.

Published works: “Thógamar le Gaeilge Iad” (published by Coiscéim, 2012). It's also available as an e-Book on Amazon. The Oireachtas-winning “An Eachtra ar Oileán na Rún” will be published later this year. The author also writes for academic journals, magazines and news outlets.

Education: Scoil Fhursa, Coláiste Iognáid and NUIG before going on to graduate studies in Cork, Germany, and the United States.

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Writing is difficult during the semester, as my university teaching duties make it difficult to concentrate on longer projects. Ideal conditions prevail during summer and winter breaks, particularly when the house is empty. My routine varies, depending on what I'm writing. If the project is academic I spend a lot of time researching and cataloguing, and the writing comes after that. If it's journalism I lock myself away, start writing immediately, and work through the pain, keeping the word count and the article's information goals firmly in mind. If it's creative writing I set myself a daily word goal every night for the next day and then try not to stop writing until I've met that goal. Once I'm over the goal I try to finish on a high point so that I'm looking forward to continuing my writing the next day.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read. And read some more.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s “Cré na Cille.” This is the Gaelic “Ulysses.” It's deep, dark, hilarious, weird, and unforgettable. Liam Mac Cóil’s “Fontenoy.” Liam Mac Cóil is the best Irish writer alive. This book is a dizzying work, recalling but also (unashamedly) creating the history of the Gaelic Irish abroad. John McGahern’s “The Dark.” A dark, dark novel. Explains the strangeness of Irish males better than any psychoanalyst could.

What book are you currently reading?

Jon Stallworthy’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth: Twelve Soldier Poets of the First World War” (Imperial War Museum/Constable Books, 2002). Francis Ledwidge, a Meath man killed at Passchendaele, first inspired me to write poetry, and through him I discovered Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (Vintage, 2004). I had been thinking of writing a "flawed narrator" book of this sort for some time, but then this came out. It's better than anything that I could have written.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“Peig.” I'm not joking. I managed to avoid “Peig” while at school, so I picked up a copy many years later. To my surprise it was easy to read, gripping in places, and had a lovely turn of phrase.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

John le Carré. I love a good spy novel, and I like to travel around continental Europe. Le Carré's novels evoke a cold-war Europe that I'd love to see again.

What book changed your life?

Tough one. Three, perhaps: Richard Bach's “Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's “The Little Prince” and James Joyce's “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

St. Stephen's Green on a sunny day, or the Crane Bar, Galway, on a wet one.

You're Irish . . .

má tá Gaeilge agat.