‘Pretty Ugly,’ suspense-filled medical novel set on Donegal’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’

Over the last 40 years or so in media I’ve covered police, education, city hall, the rise, and fall, of Mayors, Prime Ministers and Presidents, I’ve been a medical writer, a war correspondent, a columnist, a travel writer, a publisher, a creative writing teacher…

…I’ve written about heart transplants, airplane crashes, wars (Iraq, former Yugoslavia and Romania, not to mention my very own native northern Ireland), I’ve survived earthquakes and tropical storms and a few other catastrophes (some of my very own making)… but completing my first novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ recently linking Ireland (Belfast and Donegal) and the US (Kansas City, Boston, New York and Washington) beats them all for sheer challenge.

Pretty Ugly novel, Sean Hillen author

Pretty Ugly’ has been a few years in the writing, and I wish I could say it was all plain sailing, but as probably most first-time novelists will tell you, “It wasn’t.”

I crashed into some plot rocks, found myself diverted by a few wayward literary waves and was even capsized mid-story and tossed into the opaque waters of writers’ block without a literary lifebelt. And if that wasn’t enough, I then had to throw a lot of ballast overboard in a desperate attempt to save the whole kit and caboodle from going under (100,000 words in total), with only myself on the poop deck waving a sad farewell.

The GOOD news, however, is that it’s DONE! And boy, am I PROUD – not about ‘Pretty Ugly’ being a success. That decision I leave to others more astute and objective than I, which includes you. But about finishing it, just the way I wanted.

Christmas gifts, new booksNow all I need is appreciative book-lovers to read what I’ve written. In fact, as many such readers as I can possibly muster. More than that, some of those fine people to kindly, generously, selflessly, write a short comment on the Amazon page below. Around 50 words is enough. I’ll even settle for 10. Even one, preferably ‘Great.’

I know it’s a lot to ask. In today’s fast-moving world, there seems barely enough time for even the ‘must-do’ things in daily life than to pen a few words to help an aspiring author. But following the timeworn advice, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get,’ I’m asking. Not quite with cap in hand, but with one knee slightly bent (lopsided, probably from playing too much football as a young man).

So, here goes…

PRETTY UGLY in print

PRETTY UGLY in kindle

Far be it from me to say, ‘Pretty Ugly’ would make an excellent Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year or birthday gift for book-reading friends and family, but think of it this way. It has a pretty cover, it’s a pretty good read and it’s a pretty size so it’s bound to look extremely pretty wrapped up with nice colorful paper or inside a seasonal red stocking. What about the ugly bit, you ask? Always keep in mind, ‘Beauty is in the mind of the beholder.’

Who knows, maybe the land and seascape descriptions and dramatic action in ‘Pretty Ugly’ that take place in west Donegal including Gola and Tory Islands, Dunlewey, the Poisoned Glen, Gaoth Dobhair, Cnoc Fola (Bloody Foreland), Bunbeg, Teac Jack, Teac Hiudái Beag’s and many other places, will kick-start literary tourism here in the northwest.

new medical novels, wild atlantic way novelsIf it could but emulate a fraction of what Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ and ‘The Crucible’ by Arthur Miller did for Salem, Massachusetts; Anne Rice’s ‘Interview With A Vampire’ did for New Orleans, Lousiana; John Berendt’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ for Savannah, Georgia; an even George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ more popularly known as ‘Game of Thrones,’ did for northern Irish tourism, then the rewards would be rich. A flood of international visitors would come to the area creating stronger business for local cafes, restaurants, pubs, B&Bs’ and hotels, as well as greater support for community and cultural activities.

Why, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ even contains words and phrases as Gaeilge, therefore supporting development of the Irish language and scenes involving traditional Irish music seisiún and that most ancient of skin rejuvenation treatments – bog turf.

Anyway, please take a look and see what you think. Then leave a one-word or ten-word review on Amazon. I’d be much obliged.

Go raibh maith agat. Is mise le meas mor.

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Irish postman delivers valuable information about weather and health

He’s known by many as the ‘all-weather man,’ not because he can control climate but because he possesses the talent to do the next best thing – predict its many mercurial moods.

A postman for most of his working life, Michael Gallagher has used his many hours of cycling throughout rural Donegal, Ireland’s picturesque northwest corner, particularly the townlands on both sides of the Reelin River and around the Bluestack Mountains, to study the idiosyncrasies of Irish weather. Not to mention watching how creatures, both of earth and sky – the birds in the trees, sheep and cattle in the fields – react to imminent changes.

“Close observation of Nature in its many forms, basically everything that’s around us, grants us invaluable insights, giving us many clues as to how the weather might be over the coming days and weeks,” said the sprightly man. “The secret is to learn how to best observe and to know what those key signs are.”

Michael has now parlayed his knowledge into a slim volume entitled “Traditional Weather Signs’ (‘Tuar na hAimsire’ as Gaeilge). Within 36 pages of easy reading, you will find golden nuggets of information, including how hens picking themselves is a sign of rain and how crows fly low and caw loudly just before a storm. He informs readers that if a cat sits with its back to the fire it means frost is on its way while a dog eating grass means a change of weather will happen. Meanwhile, if a horse heads up a hill in late evening, good weather is not far off and if worms crawl on your doorstep beware of floods.

weather man Donegal, Michael Gallagher Donegal

Michael Gallagher (second left) enjoys concert of Goats Don’t Shave together with his daughter and guests

Of course, the sky itself holds the strongest clues as to weather changes ahead. A faraway ring on the moon, according to Michael, means a storm is near while stars ‘shining like diamonds in a clear sky in late autumn, winter or spring’ means a hard night’s frost. Also, ‘a red sunset bodes good weather, a red sun at night is the farmer’s delight,’ a phrase we’ve all heard spoken. A rainbow at night, however, is a sailor’s delight whereas one in the morning is a sailor’s warning. Signs of an approaching storm, he writes, include seagulls flying inland and bees humming around the garden or outhouses in winter.

But it is not just about the weather that Michael has become somewhat of an expert. Forty years of delivering letters and parcels has meant innumerable conversations with rural people. From them he has learned much about homemade, natural health remedies. Such knowledge is contained within the pages of a second book he has penned entitled ‘Remedies and Cures of Bygone Era.’

Remedies and Cures of Bygone Era, Donegal books

Organised in alphabetical order, Michael offers health tips that have been handed down from generation to generation. Apples, for example, ‘eaten at night, preferably baked, are excellent for all who are inclined to constipation,’ he writes. Goat’s milk, he believes, is therapeutic for asthma in children. Apricots taken before a meal help digestion. Beans, like peas, contain sulfur and are rich in potassium and lime, ‘to eat them is very beneficial for young people who suffer from any form of rickets.’  Parsley is beneficial for the kidneys while celery can be a cure for rheumatism. A raw onion dipped in salt eases chilblains. And if you suffer from stomach disorders such as flatulence, Michael considers a tea made from cloves to be an excellent remedy.

Both books combine text and photographs and grant insights into the complex world of weather and health. With a better appreciation about how Man and universal elements are inextricably linked and a rising trend among people of all nations towards living in greater harmony with nature, Michael’s two books are a valuable contribution to our increasing knowledge.