It was not enough to have written a very brilliant short story (I was 18); I had to find a reader worthy of it. But I knew nobody. Dublin was said to be full of writers, but the ones I’d heard of were all notorious, and since it seemed that notoriety was a fulltime job, I doubted they would have time for a young pretender. But I read on the back of a book by a writer called Francis MacManus that he liked to help young writers (I still have that paperback). So I mailed him my masterpiece.

He was as good as his word, although it was difficult at the time to get beyond the excitement of seeing the envelope with his reply. Of course, it was not help I’d wanted but congratulations, so most of what he wrote annoyed me. There was one especially weird idea—“You must take a jump in the canal!” I already knew that making a splash was what writing was all about, thank you very much. Still, whether it was the phrase’s homeliness, or unexpectedness, or throwaway use, it somehow stuck with me. I’d seen lads, pale as paper, jump from the bridge near the flats at Rialto into the Grand Canal. Something there of remembering and letting go.

That was the writer I was, as it turned out, unforgetting and valedictory. An amphibian in time. The waters were murky, I discovered. But I could look at them in a different light.


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George O’Brien is professor emeritus of English at Georgetown University.


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