I personally found turning 40 difficult.
t was 2007 – and while everything seemed to be going well on the surface, deep down I was feeling anxious and a little lost, and I certainly relied a little too heavily on alcohol for comfort.
I didn’t have any major trauma in my life, but I lacked the confidence to really take my place in the world – and that led to feelings of emptiness.
So one Monday morning I made the big decision to see a counselor. I got it from the Yellow Pages and went every Wednesday for six weeks. It got me talking about myself to a complete stranger and it helped. I managed to break a cycle in my life.
These were the feelings I wanted to tap into when writing my new novel, go back. And I wanted to revisit Scobie Donoghue, the character I created for the TV show I wrote all those years ago, Pure mule.
Pure mule was an RTÉ drama filmed in Banagher, Co. Offaly. Six episodes aired in September 2005, and a two-part follow-up special Pure Mule: The Last Weekend aired in 2009.
In drama you often have to say the unspeakable
And Scobie seems to have really caught on with people over the years. Garrett Lombard, the actor who played him so brilliantly, says he still gets people yelling, “How’s Scobie?” to him on the street.
The series started when I was approached by producer Ed Guiney after he read Eden, a play I had written. The plan was to create a show around the weekend nights in a fictional midland town.
It was tentatively nicknamed “Sex in the Country” and an early idea was to place it around a meat factory and follow a different worker each week. Over many heads, the show gradually evolved into what it became.
Then one Friday night in my hometown, I saw two guys speeding down Main Street in a souped-up car and shouting, “Pure Mule! We don’t work until bloody Monday!”
And that was it. That was the moment Scobie Donoghue and his older brother Shamie were born.
We wanted to capture what rural life was really like back when most people worked and had money in their pockets. But that didn’t necessarily make her happy.
Unlike the great and very important rural dramas that preceded it, The Riordans and brackenthere was no priest or church presence in Pure mule. This was modern secular Ireland, where people ventured out on weekends to find oblivion and sex, or indeed to be desperate for love.
The audience grew steadily. We knew it hit us when TD Tom Parlon stood up in the Dáil to comment on the use of ecstasy in our small towns as it came to light Pure mule.
He’s run out of road so he’s back to seek refuge in Offaly
Nowadays the drugs are much harder and absolutely prevalent in most cities. The crash and subsequent austerity definitely increased social problems in provincial towns and I have tried to reflect that in the new book.
When Pure mule First airing, Scobie was 25, Shamie’s younger brother – two brothers joined at the hip, working on the buildings and living with the mother. He was the mad merchant, the hard-drinking lady’s man. The king of the weekends who lived for the Holy Trinity of Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. After the collapse of the construction industry, like many other young men of his generation, he followed his brother to Australia.
When I picked up his story again go back, it’s been a decade. Scobie has returned home from Oz after a three-year relationship ended. He’s run out of roads, so he’s back to seek refuge in Offaly – the land of swamps and bifos.
But what’s stopping him from settling down?
In many ways I have nothing in common with Scobie. He lost his father in his early 20s. He works as a bricklayer. He didn’t go to college. But deep down, there’s always a little bit of myself in every character I write.
When you write, you often take an experience of your own and then amplify it so that it has far more consequence and drama than in real life. And so Scobie shares those lost feelings of anxiety I felt turning 40 — but he’s going through a much worse time than I’ve ever been. He’s caught in a cycle, stuck in a rut. A deep seated emotional stasis that can only get worse before it can get better.
I wanted go back to be a very human story full of energy and humor that would be very appealing to fans of the TV series, but also to people coming to Scobie and his supporting cast for the first time.
The book takes on the lives of others in the city. Especially the women in his life. His mother, Angela, who is a central character in the book, and his ex-lover, Deirdre, who is still married to the local sergeant but is now stuck with an online gambling problem.
Everyone needs something to calm down in Ireland today.
What was once normal banter about women is now taboo
Because we lost something? Is our everyday life missing a connection to something deeper? I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about something spiritual within ourselves. Something more than just the material and the aspiration/drive culture? Are we looking for drinks, pills, consumer culture to fill the vacuum?
Angela, Deirdre, and the other characters orbit Scobie, and he’s drawn into their lives – perhaps as an excuse not to deal with his own.
To top it off, there’s a virus thing that started making headlines in China…
The lockdown was a good tool in the book for Scobie and his mother to spend more time together. So that they can really face each other and see what’s behind Scobie’s problems.
What was special about writing a book, rather than a screenplay for television, was accessing Scobie’s inner thoughts and imagination. It allowed me to tap into his deepest desires and fears.
Scobie now feels like a ghost in town. He’s not the star player anymore, not as defined as he once was. This makes him feel very lost. He still has the fun with the guys on the side, but it’s not like it used to be.
What was once normal banter about women is now taboo and unacceptable. That confuses him. He no longer knows where he stands. Other men call it out. Funny sexist comments in the pub are not so acceptable.
In the original show, the two brothers used a casual one-liner about women and their vaginas. Nobody commented on this. Nowadays it’s not acceptable – which is a good thing in the real world, but in drama or fiction sometimes you have to say the unspeakable to get the truth of the scene. It’s getting harder and harder. Scobie feels monitored. Sometimes the author feels it too!
The broader question of what is expected of men is also addressed in the book. By and large, men adapt and the world is a better place for that — but it can still be confusing for us at times.
The doctor suggests a consultation. But Scobie wants pills
We’re expected to be masculine, assertive, and tough—but at the same time, any display of anger or frustration is viewed as toxic and discouraged. It seems to me that anger in the world right now is seen as a very negative emotion that needs to be suppressed.
Sometimes anger is necessary. Pushing it down only gives it more power and then it can explode in a really damaging way.
Scobie has pushed many things down over the years. He never really mourned his father’s death. He kept partying and living for the moment. But now he feels empty and doesn’t know where to go next.
Like many men in towns across Ireland, the only way to move on is to admit something is wrong and overcome the shame to ask for help. Shame is a powerful force in Ireland and always has been.
The doctor suggests a consultation. Scobie wants pills. No way, José, would he ever consider counseling. I wanted to go beyond the bravery and romp of the hard drinking Irish male archetype to reveal the young lad underneath looking for help.
go back it’s not just about Scobie going home. It’s about coming back to yourself. This journey is surprising and takes him out of his normal experience.
As with any of us who have ever sought or stopped for help, it can feel really strange. Is Scobie up to it? Can he hold on and find out?
Eugene O’Brien’s Going Back is published by Gil Books, €13.99 and available now
https://www.independent.ie/life/pure-mule-what-if-ireland-changed-utterly-while-you-were-sat-in-the-pub-41995588.html Pure Mule: What if Ireland changed completely while you were in the pub?