Austin Duffy, Oncologist And Author On His New Book "Ten Days"Highlights from The Pat Kenny Show
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- 1 Mar 2021
Austin Duffy, Oncologist and Author joined Pat this morning to chat his new novel “Ten Days”.
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Now, my next guest has just published his second novel, which follows the journey of the central character, Wolf, as he travels with his daughter to New York in order to fulfil his recently estranged wife, Miriam's last wish, before her passing while in New York, Wolf must make amends with his daughter Ruth and connect with Miriam, strict Orthodox family who do not approve of their disease daughter's wishes for cremation.
Well, I'm delighted to say I'm joined on the line by the book's author, Austin Duffy Austin.
Good morning. Good morning. And thank you for having me. It's a very interesting plot and we'll talk about that in a moment. But first of all, oncologist and author side by side to to pretty demanding activities.
Yeah, you can say that again for sure. And I guess everyone asked me where I get the time and stuff like that. I mean, I guess might my trick has been to sort of get up a little bit earlier in the morning and just to work on the writing in very, very small increments every day. And after a few years, you end up with a book.
Well, that's one way to put it. But tell me how you got the writing bug in the first place, because, you know, when you're in college, you have an awful lot of writing to do. But it's technical writing, if you like. And, you know, where did the literary bent come from?
Well, here, I would very much like to pay homage to my English teacher, a in the Christian Brothers School in Dundalk. He was a Canadian gentleman who kind of came in, I think, when we were in second grade and shook us all up and showed us the possibilities of raising and literature. And and I remember the whole class got energised by that. And I really, honestly can say that if it wasn't firmly for him and I don't think I would have written a word, you know, and so I think that was for sure an inspiration.
And I fell away from it. Then as the years went by and then you mentioned college. I went to college and had a great time, made some great friends there writing, did sort of fall off there. And I didn't think I'd ever get back to us. But I moved to New York in 2006 and found myself living in a studio apartment with no television or Internet. So I figured, well, if I was ever going to get in, get get into it.
And this was the time. And I joined the wonderful creative writing skill, totally part time know one evening a week called the Writers Studio in New York. And I find that really, really terrific, you know, in getting into the habit of writing every day and and keeping it going at us. And that's that's what it's that's what it's all about, really, is just keep keeping plodding away, you know.
Now, your debut novel was back in 2016. So that gives us a sense of, you know, when you're a busy man, how long it takes to to write a second one five years between publications and this living on immortal thing. It was shortlisted for the Kerry group, Irish Novel of the Year and runner up for the McKitrick prise and highly commended for the BMA Medical Book Awards.
So obviously, you know, your promise was there and recognised by your early readers.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, it was just it was just great when the book came out and whatever attention came along as a result of it was just so much fun. And it was because I was kind of working away on the writing for, I don't know, maybe 10 years and in the sort of wilderness. And I mean, I'm I'm still in the wilderness. So but but it's it was it was just a fabulous experience when that when the book came out and you mentioned the Kerry Group Award, it's such a great time going down to list.
All that year I met some wonderful writers that before that I would have just known their names and it was just a great experience. And all of these things are just a shot in the arm to get you to continue to work at it. And because, as I said, I am a slow worker and these books are kind of infrequent when they come along.
You know, the day job does get in the way a bit.
I'm sure the question, Austin, of the plot, which involves knowing a lot about Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, where did your insight into Jewishness come from?
Good question from my wife. Basically, they when I moved to New York in 2006, I met Neomi, my wife, in a painting class in the arts, in a building called the Art Students League. And and then on fifty seven street there just in Manhattan. And, you know, once we we got together, I find myself going to Naomi's family religious holidays, of which there seemed to be one every couple of weeks. And then Naomi's background is Jewish, but not not Orthodox or modern orthodox I guess would be the sort of technical term and quite secular.
But that was an entry point for me into into Judaism as a culture and as a religion, because I wouldn't really have had any familiarity with that. And so I find myself so myself. And the only way we met in New York, we subsequently got married and moved to Washington, where we were very happy, spent almost a decade. And when I found myself working on this this book and then I found the novel, even though the book sort of started with a very simple scene on an aeroplane, and then it starts going off in this direction of religious identity, identity and cultural memory and themes such as that which I was kind of obviously primed for true meaning, the army and then living away from Ireland.
So the plot, obviously, we don't want to give too much away, but basically Naomi has given or sorry, not the Hilmi, Miriam has her last wishes and you want to fulfil those, but her family has other ideas because and these are principled religious ideas.
I mean, they're they're what I was trying to get out there was detention, you know, because I supposed to make the thing compelling and to have people entertained. There has to be a bit of tension in there, which I'm very thankful to say it wasn't true, wasn't autobiographical, you know, with myself and my own wife didn't face these sort of issues. But, yes, I mean, there is a clash of culture there, and it's really brought to a head by the fact that, you know, and Wolf, who the main character who was this kind of errant husband down the years, he's now back on the scene.
And it's really about his relationship with their teenage daughter, you know, from him. He's kind of estranged and he's trying to link back in with his deceased wife, with his own in-laws. The deceased wife's family from him is also kind of estranged. And the centre point of the central illustrative point here is the mode of burial, which what she wanted to be cremated and which would have been really not not consistent with with her practise. And so that's kind of one focal point of her to illustrate the tension between them.
And the novel goes off in that direction of exploring these kind of, you know, the tension of cultural and identity and how it relates especially to the daughter, because she is making her own way in the world and trying to figure out her own identity.
When you finally finish the manuscript and it goes to your publisher, how do you feel? I mean, are you nervous about it? Do you have self-doubt or were you pretty sure that this was a good one?
Oh, never. Sure. And plenty of stuff. That's kind of your friend at the end of the day, you know, if I find that if the moment you start getting too overconfident about how good something might be, then you're just going to be disappointed. And so, you know, it's been a real writing for me is a is a lesson in these repetitive know, just just the whole process of writing is a constant daily rejection of your own work where you say, well, this isn't good enough, it needs to be better.
And, you know, until you eventually get get it to a place where people can read it and appreciate it. And when I send it to the publisher, you know, you're obviously nervous that they're like, yes, I'm very lucky to have some first readers, such as my wife, Naomi, which is great editorial guidance, and my agent, Faith O'Grady as well, who had a major impulse early on in this book when it really wasn't who was a bit of a mess.
And thanks to Faith and Naomi, we really got it into a bit of shape before we could get it to to the publisher.
But once it what I was reading, you know, we start a conversation by referring to your profession as an oncologist, your other profession, shall we say, but you're not alone.
I was reading that Anton Chekhov was a doctor turned writer, good company. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Crichton. And I'm sure there are many more.
That's right. Yeah. It's quite a list, isn't this? And, you know, I'm at the moment as well, you probably noticed in that there's a lot it's a bit of a thing that Dr Ricer thing and most of the doctors at the moment, they're working. There's a lot of really good non-fiction memoir ish stuff out there. And I think I really applaud the whole that whole direction that people are going going in because they can kind of open up the profession a little bit to to people, you know.
And and we've learnt over the past few years how important, particularly during the pandemic, how important it is to communicate with the with the public about science and medicine and all of these things to build up trust. So I regard all of those those sort of, you know, that sort of trend and openness that is being communicated in the writing as a really important thing. And I guess I'm doing something slightly different, which is working in pure fiction.
So I have to be honest, I don't set out to with any great goal like that in mind. But if it does deal with these themes, so much the better, I suppose.
Well, the book is called Ten Days and. Its author is Austin Duffy, practising oncologists in the Mater Hospital and the book Ten Days is available from all good bookshops by local, by online. But get the book.
It is absolutely terrific as a read. Austin, thank you very much for joining us.