In 1990, Patrick Osborne was working as an apprentice horticulturist in St Anne’s Park when a co-worker handed him a copy of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.
“I was just blown away by it,” Osborne says.“It was all written in Dublin slang. It was with people that spoke like me.”
Osborne has worked as a horticulturist in Killarney for 18 years now but his Dublin accent – or to be exact, his Dorset Street accent – is still intact.
Soon after that loan, he began to write short stories drawing on his own experiences growing up in the inner-city.
More recently, he’s dusted off an old screenplay and reworked it into his first novel, Baxter’s Boys, a tale centered on a trio of inner-city lads and their trials on and off the football pitch.
Not enough young men read these days because there’s not enough published that they can relate to, says Osborne. “I think that as a society we can only benefit from more men reading.”
Getting Into Writing
Osborne, 49, began writing short stories when he was in his twenties.
His mother writes short stories and poems too, he says. “She’s a real working-class woman. There would have been great support from her.”
Osborne’s short stories are about life in inner-city Dublin. “You write about what you know.”
One was inspired by Osborne’s first job at 10 years old hawking newspapers on a local street corner.
“You would run home after school, do your bit of homework, then get your bundle of papers and start selling them,” he says. “It’s like something from a Dickens novel.”
Writing these memories down is like preserving history so it isn’t lost, he says. His kids think that it sounds like something from another world, says Osborne.
On Baxter’s Boys
Baxter’s Boys was first a screenplay, he says. He wrote it 17 years ago but shelved it when he had kids.
The story played on his mind. “You think that if I don’t write this, somebody else is going to write your idea or nobody will write it at all which is a loss,” he says.
Three years ago, he picked the project back up and shaped it into a book.
“The story is about a football team of misfits. It’s based in Dublin and it follows their lives on and off the field,” Osborne says.
In this dark comedy, Pa Baxter manages a Sunday league team during its unprecedented cup run.
“We forget that they have lives off the pitch and then that, of course, affects how they play on the pitch,” Baxter says.
The story follows three main characters. Davie Byrne, Fran Reilly, and Mick Young, who all play on the same team but face different challenges at home.
Byrne struggles with the law while he looks after his mother suffering from cancer.
Reilly fights for custody of his child after his partner dies of a drug overdose.
Young’s biggest concern is women.
“Football is an escape for them,” Osborne says. “It’s a tale of hope.”
“My dad and his friends formed a football team called the Dorset Boys in the seventies,” Osborne says.
This was an inspiration for the book.
His father set up the team to help kids in the Dorset Street community, Osborne says.
“There was mass unemployment in the seventies and eighties,” he says. And the heroin epidemic, too.
Many of the kids were vulnerable to bad influences, Osborne says.
Many parents in the area ran stalls in the fruit and vegetable markets in Moore Street and Smithfield, he says.
“The kids were left to their own devices because the parents were out working night and day,” Osborne says.
If you weren’t involved with sports, you could have been hanging around the streets, says Osborne. “You were more susceptible to lads selling drugs.”
“Sport was the glue that held the community together,” says Osborne.
People often got jobs by word of mouth from sports clubs, Osborne says.
Managers would hear of work, he says. “They could say, ‘Johnny’s great. He never missed a training session and he has a good temperament. We’ll try get him that job.’”
Osborne’s dad is still involved in sport.
At 82, he’s the vice president of the Amateur Boxing Association, Osborne says. “We do be joking that he is like the little aul fella in Rocky.”
The Importance of Reading
Osborne read when he was a child but that stopped when he reached young adulthood, he says. “There wasn’t a lot of material that was relevant to me.”
Until he read The Commitments.
“But I have a lot of friends who won’t read. They would watch a film or go to a concert but they won’t read,” he says.
In Britain, women are more likely to buy fiction than men, according to a survey on reading commissioned by the Arts Council England..
“Every problem that is ever in the world, it’s in a book,” Osborne says.
Their solutions too, he says. “Even if it is in fiction. There is still true themes.”
One character in Baxter’s Boys gets testicular cancer. “This is a very serious issue,” he says.
The character doesn’t deal with the issue in a conventional way, Osborne says. “But you are still putting these things out in the open to be discussed.”
“If we are talking then you can find compromises in places once you are talking,” Osborne says.
For young men looking to get into reading Osbourne recommends books by Roddy Doyle such as The Snapper, The Van and The Commitments or A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines.
“Try to find a book about people that you know or circumstances that you can relate to,” he says.
Osborne drew upon memories and real-life encounters for Baxter’s Boys, he says.
I grew up with some lads that did fall by the wayside over the years, he says. “Some of them ended up in Mountjoy Prison or some of them died of a drug overdose.”
Working as a soccer referee is another source of inspiration for the novel, Osborne says.
Often Osborne carries around a notebook. “Sometimes you’d hear something and you’d think, ‘That’s dynamite’ so you’re all the time jotting stuff down,” he says.
Osborne has had access to some great humour living in both Dublin and Kerry, he says. “Both humours are very different.”
“Dublin is very quick-witted humour,” Osborne says.
Osborne knew a Kerry man who got involved with the Ringsend rowing club.
A Ringsend local saw that the Kerryman had a lot of body hair in the changing room, Osborne says. “He said ‘Jaysus, did your ma knit you?”
On the other hand, the Kerry sense of humour is a lot slower, he says.
“They’re brilliant storytellers. It might take them five minutes to get to the joke but they are great storytellers,” he says.
Baxters Boys was launched in Kerry last February, he says.
“We had planned to have a launch in Dublin soon after but of course that was scuppered,” he says.
Osborne would still like the book to be made into a TV series someday, he says.