Thank you, Tom Paulin

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

A little while ago, a friend of mine passed a copy of The Butterfly Cabinet to Tom Paulin. Tom Paulin is one of my favourite writers and critics. I was lucky enough to meet him years ago as a student at the John Hewitt Summer School which was then held at Garron Tower in County Antrim. I hazily recall a surreal moment when he was distracted by a squirrel running across the green outside and he stopped what he was saying and went off on a different topic entirely. I used to sit up to watch The Late Review on a Friday night just to hear him. The dream team in those days, as far as I was concerned, was any three of Tom, Germaine Greer, Tony Parsons and Allison Pearson. You could always be sure of a good set-to. They hardly ever agreed and if it looked like consensus was in the offing, you could rely on Tom to put the cat among the pigeons. He famously ‘lost the bap’ with Germaine Greer in 2002 when reviewing two feature films based on the Bloody Sunday shootings when the host Kirsty Wark failed to mediate, but one of my favourite moments is the night he described something (and to my shame I can’t remember if it was a book or a play or a film he was reviewing) as ‘a bag of boke’! His fellow critics stared at him uncomprehending, while every Irish viewer must have been rolling around their sofas laughing at his choice of the vernacular. Classic!

Anyway, Tom read The Butterfly Cabinet and wrote a comment on the flyleaf and gave it back to my friend and she returned it to me and since then, it’s been the copy that I use at every public reading because it’s become my good luck charm. I told my publishers about it and they tried to track Tom down before the paperback release in the UK to ask if they could quote him on the cover, but we couldn’t get a hold of him in time. Then a few days ago, my friend rang to say that she’d met him again and she’d mentioned it to him and he’d said, ‘Absolutely, quote away,’ so here it is. The Butterfly Cabinet is released today in paperback in the US and I’m relieved to say that, according to Tom Paulin, it’s not a bag of boke. Here’s what he wrote: ‘This is a remarkable novel – lively, beautifully written, with a host of powerful, eloquent characters. It is steeped in Irish history, folklore and landscape. It has great humanity and enduring authority. I wish Bernie McGill every success.’ Thank you, Tom, thank you, thank you, thank you!


Thank you, Patsy. He's a bit of a hero of mine. I'm really hoping to bump into him again so I can thank him in person some day. I wonder if we were at the JHSS at the same time? I think I was there in 1990. I don't remember much about it, except that it was sunny, and there was drinking, and paddling in the sea, and that Tony Harrison asked if he could borrow my hairdryer (and he didn't have a lot of hair, even then).
Wed, 02/05/2012 - 3:40pm
Patsy Horton

Congratulations on the US paperback. And you could have no finer man than TP wishing you well. I just want to add my name to TP's fan club. I used to go the John Hewitt in Garron Tower and met Tom there through a friend of mine. At the time I was a Ph.D student and on the lower rungs of the academic ladder. Tom was extremely kind and helpful and a terrific encourager. Lovely to hear your story about him and congrats again.

Wed, 02/05/2012 - 2:17pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • You can use BBCode tags in the text. URLs will automatically be converted to links.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.