Nicholas Mackey

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I write. I take photos. Go figure.

A quick pic from my place of birth

Four Courts Dublin, November 2009

There was I wandering about on the Quays in Dublin by the River Liffey. It was sodden brass-monkey weather as I had to keep dodging the rain, like effing April showers that creep up on you and drench you with cold injustice. My camera was with me and I was holding a banjaxed umbrella in my left hand while attempting to snap away. I must have looked a sight in the dampened surroundings. All of a tic, I was resting against a wall on Merchant’s Quay opposite this well-known grand yoke of a building, you know, old and fancy-looking like them big places over the water in England. I was staring at this Georgian edifice when a well-dressed woman approached me saying “I think you need this more than I”. She thrust something into my hand and with that she was gone this fancy one with her confident Anglo-Irish tone to match her sensible, old-fashioned outfit. I glanced at my unexpected gift, a creased bit of paper that looked like it had been torn from a notebook with the date, 1937 inscribed on it. It read:

“To many an Irish person looking at this image of the Four Courts, it is redolent of ‘home’, of Ireland’s capital city, with the River Liffey flowing nearby. And yet the Four Courts (Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas) based on a classical Palladian blueprint of James Gandon, a London-born architect who went to live in Dublin and designed a number of important public buildings in one of Europe’s largest and thriving cities at the zenith of British (colonial) rule there in the late 18th century.

“The benign aesthetic appeal of this landmark belies a turbulent past where colonial domination, religious and political marginalisation, historical loss and national resurgence are part of Ireland’s cultural texture.

"After the disastrous fire in 1922 during the Civil War, the newly-installed Free State government of the time had neither the inclination nor the money to restore the Four Courts to its former glory imbued with the influence of a foreign power in occupation of Ireland for over 700 years. To this day you can still see evidence of Ireland's recent bloody past in the form of bullet holes in the fabric of the building." 

My mind was on other things so I stuffed the paper into my coat pocket and decided to take advantage of a dry spell as I stood there on the Quays. I took a photo of the reflection of the Four Courts in the slow-moving River Liffey. But instead of being satisfied with an upside-down image, I flipped the thing round to come up with a (right-way up) picture which was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, in 2010 -  as attached to this article.

But as it happens, I've kept this weird, A5-sized battered manuscript gifted to me from this chance encounter with an unknown lady by the River Liffey and despite its air of stilted officialdom, this snapshot of history resonates with me as I lost something of great value - as did many other Irish people - in the catastrophic fire of nearly a century ago at the Four Courts. We Irish lost much of our (official) history. You see, the inferno took with it many of the nation's government records prior to 1922 and delving into our past is now made that bit more difficult because of the actions of some warring Irishmen fighting amongst themselves - not that of a foreign power, mind you.

The quirks of Irish history that make us, er, Irish, I suppose.




© Nicholas Mackey

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Very interesting, Nicholas.
Monday, 25 July 2016 11:10
Nicholas Mackey
Thank you, Katia for reading and your comments are always appreciated. By the way, 1937 (the date written on the document mentio... Read More
Tuesday, 26 July 2016 09:49
Rosy Cole
A powerful story of how a chance encounter can bring so much revelation into the lens and crystallise it . I think the spirit of W... Read More
Monday, 25 July 2016 13:30
714 Hits

A Secret Book and Record Store

I was in Dublin, Ireland recently and paid a regular visit to one of my favourite haunts, the Secret Book and Record Store.

It's a treasure trove of books and vinyl records and every time I visit, I always leave with something of interest. The owner, Dermot Caroll is a mine of information related to the field of books. It is fondly reminiscent of bookshops from childhood where you can easily lose yourself as you come across a wide variety of fascinating material. Located in the heart of Dublin at 15A Wicklow Street, it is well worth a visit. For further information, please see






510 Hits

Discovery Day

Discovery Day

Foyle’s Bookshop, London

Meeting Curtis Brown


Conville and Walsh

Saturday 27 February 2016

It was an eagerly-awaited email from a certain auspicious institution called Foyles that stopped me in my tracks late that Monday afternoon in January. I ripped it open with suitable theatrical disdain – if you can say that about an email. In a detached but informative tone, I was told that “Discovery Day 2016 – Confirmation of allocated time. Please find below your allocated time for your one-to-one pitch session with a member of the Curtis Brown team …….” the rest of the missive faded away momentarily from view as I tried to take in the magic of what had been written. Zero hour was 12.45 – 13.15 with the cryptic reference akin to an Enigma code, DDA5. 

I felt as if I had been granted an opportunity to meet an agent that I had only dreamt of previously but was determined to derive maximum value from this experience and my wife reassured me that it was not a job interview or even a first day at school. But something exhilarating from deep inside had been unleashed. A recurring ditty established itself in my waking brain as Discovery Day got closer and it all revolved around those ‘six golden minutes’ of displaying one’s wares as an aspiring writer to best advantage during the one-to-one session. Set within the edifying setting of an iconic bookshop, way up on the 5th floor, six minutes, one tenth of an hour or 360 seconds that could spell ‘death or glory’ about one’s storytelling. No pressure then. 

The big day arrived and thankfully a dry, fresh winter’s day beckoned. It added to the frisson generated from within as I began mentally rehearsing those six minutes. I journeyed across town on the tube turning up a little too early at the exalted address in Charing Cross Road with the unholy zeal of someone who is a reformed latecomer. In Foyles, following the signs I drift upwards rising beyond the floors of books devoted to art, languages, philosophy and even fiction where I become tail-end Charlie of a long queue of other budding authors, I presume. People bearing all manner of manuscripts talking in examination-type hushed tones with an aura of restrained anxiety are the giveaways. A young woman appears with a friendly smile and a clipboard and my presence is checked off. My forthcoming six minutes of literary performance, my so-called pitch, dances into my head again. Adrenalin flows and excitement laced with terror rises to the surface of my consciousness. 

I am vaguely comforted but not sure why as the thin line of hopeful writers grows behind me skirting a busy restaurant as we gradually edge aloft to the top floor. Under a giant skylight revealing a sunless afternoon, I see many tables in action in this large penthouse space (the gallery, perhaps), where a dozen agents are locked in earnest conversation with authors seeking an outlet of reward for their creative labours. People are being guided back and forth and all of a sudden it’s my turn. Now, where’s that carefully-prepared spiel? 

With ease, I am ushered towards an agent by the name of Abbey and as a nifty device to gather my racing thoughts, I proffer some hardcopy: a CV, an ‘elevator pitch’ for my novel, “How Life In Two Squares Inspired Bo Wilkinson” and the first page.

Our conversation starts and I try to convey what makes my story worth reading. Abbey is very reassuring and gently coaxes me to what I should do to ensure the ‘hook’ or unique quality of my book is revealed early on to capture the reader’s imagination. I feel that my pitch strikes a chord and when reading my first page, Abbey remarks on the mention of Stockwell, a south London neighbourhood familiar to her and which is also where my main character lives: an unexpected connection is forged with a smile. All of a sudden my six minutes are history but I am made feel welcome as a writer. This is something to be treasured. 

Next, a group of seven or eight of us are grouped in a tight circle under the benign tutelage of Matt Marland from the Conville and Walsh agency, who invites our questions and he carefully dispenses sage words about covering letters, synopses and other relevant guidelines around the topic of submitting one’s manuscript; such wisdom is readily lapped up by this gathering of willing disciples.

This initial part of the Discovery Day concludes and I feel that I have learnt so much in these exchanges from those close to the reality of the publishing world. I have been given a decent glimpse as to the importance of the next part of the process where agents act as the lynchpin between the writer and the publisher. 

Because of the crush of writers vying for attention, we are given to understand that 700 of us have shown up for Discovery Day and the next element of the timetable, the panel event slated for 4pm actually starts half an hour behind schedule so that everyone can be accommodated. While waiting I fall into easy conversation with a woman specialising in the genres of memoir and erotica, as you do. But I digress. The large room at the top of the building which had been previously used for the pitching sessions has now been skilfully yet discreetly adapted for the next event. The venue fills up but the wait has been worthwhile as Emma Healey, renowned debut author of ‘Elizabeth Is Missing’; Karolina Sutton, agent at Curtis Brown; Venetia Butterfield, publisher at Viking and Anna Davis, agent at Curtis Brown treat us to a fascinating discussion on how a story progresses through the various stages of production from writer to agent and on to publication with various areas of interest explored. A tale of literary success that inspires. 

As a novice to such an exciting universe, this magical day was drawing to a close and I savoured it to the last knowing that for a very brief moment I had been privileged to have brushed up against some leading figures in this rarefied world where creativity dwells at the core. My six-minute pitch had been an eye-opener to future fulfilment as a novelist and now that that the lotus flower of the publishing world has been tasted …… 

Many thanks to Foyles, Curtis and Brown and Conville and Walsh for putting together such a memorable, instructive and motivating experience.




Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Glad you enjoyed the experience. I went to the Discovery Day about four years ago. I was told my opening page "has that sweep". ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 14:31
Nicholas Mackey
Thanks Katia for commenting. I found the experience a very positive one and will persevere. In light of your experience, have you ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 22:07
Rosy Cole
Thanks for sharing, Nicholas. Whatever is inspiring to writers has to be good news!
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 16:00
859 Hits

The Magic of 33

I think back to when I was aged 9 – about 1964 in Dublin, Ireland. It would have been late June that year and we were all thrilled as it was going to be our first summer holiday as a family together. Despite being an under-salaried academic at a well-known institution, my father (as I learned years later) had somehow managed to find the money to pay for a fortnight’s break by the sea in the Fingal region of north County Dublin. He had rented a ramshackle bungalow tucked in behind the sand dunes on the South Strand of Rush beach and there we spent a memorable vacation by the sea.

But although my parents’ frugality had ensured we could enjoy such a rare treat as a holiday and all was going well in terms of preparation and packing our cases for the trip, we had a problem. We did not possess a car and a taxi was out of the question as it would have been far too expensive. There was however public transportation in the form of one bus to take us from where we lived in the Fitzwilliam area on the south side of Dublin to the city centre and then another second bus - a number 33 - to go from there to Rush but it would have been quite an ordeal carrying our heavy cases, buckets and spades plus other belongings for our summer vacation by means of 2 buses on this planned expedition of ours. There was a train service but the route served was not a convenient one.

At the last moment, the French wife of an old university friend of my father’s generously offered to drive us to Rush in her car – I remember it well, a large Fiat saloon.

On the day in question, we set off from home in great excitement and in no time we were navigating the city centre via Grafton Street and preparing to cross the Liffey. But disaster struck. As we neared O’Connell Bridge, the car began to sputter alarmingly and then conked out on the Bridge itself. We were holding up traffic and in a panic trying to work out what to do next. The car could not be restarted and an irate queue of motorists was building up behind us. A quickly-convened war conference in the marooned Fiat decided that the only course of action for the Mackey family was to take the 33 bus which at this stage was not far off from where we were broken-down on O’Connell Bridge to the bus terminus on Eden Quay – a mere 300 yards away. But there was another wee problem: our baggage. In the end we had no choice. My parents, sister and myself had to haul all our belongings from the boot of the stricken vehicle and somehow we managed to cart it all along the quays by the River Liffey and then onto the next bus for Rush. In those days, a double decker bus in Dublin was run by CIE/Corus Iompar Eireann/Irish Transport Company between the city quays and Skerries, a seaside town located just a few miles north of Rush. Fortunately, there was ample storage space at the base of the stairwell of the double-decker to take all our cases and other possessions - this was where the conductor normally stood 'at rest' while travelling on the moving bus. And don't forget, double decker buses were 'open' in those days in the sense that there was no (automatic) door to permit the entrance and exit of passengers as in modern means of transportation.

Whether planned or not, we were now on a bus scheduled to take us very close to our destination, the seaside village of Rush. Rush, with its vast North and South Strands where the sandy beach stretched for ever and ever to the distant sea. And then wasn't there the Smuggler's Cave, the ruined church built by shipwrecked French sailors in the 13th century with a haunted graveyard, those weird rocks near the seashore with their eye-catching zigzag lines brought about by some ancient geological forces that bent the earth, those stark Martello Towers still standing guard against the invading force of Napoleon, the windmills, the endless areas under cultivation where tomatoes seemed to be the most popular of produce grown, the ruined Knight's Templar headquarters of Baldungan Castle, the majestic island of Lambay lying just a few miles offshore, the Roman settlement on the Drumanagh headland, the old copper mine near the fishing village of Loughshinny and the cultivated estate and private residence of renown called the Kenure Demesne. 

But what I have always remembered from that time nearly 50 years ago is that a bus, the number 33 was our life-saver on that June afternoon as it transported us to take us on holiday filled with happiness for our family and into a magical universe of adventure and discovery that my brain continues to feast upon even as I approach my dotage. 

Recent Comments
Former Member
I had already read and responded to your comment on my piece before I saw this. I will have to say it brings back memories. Althou... Read More
Saturday, 14 February 2015 02:03
Nicholas Mackey
Charlie, Not only are your posts a feast for the imagination but your comments are thought-provoking mini essays in themselves an... Read More
Monday, 16 February 2015 21:19
Virginia M Macasaet
I was born in 1964. It's always nice to look back and remember the moments that impacted our lives with happiness. The mind neve... Read More
Saturday, 14 February 2015 08:12
1453 Hits

Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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