Joseph Éamon Cummins: Long Bio
Unlike many writers, Irish author Joseph Éamon Cummins has carved out a life of diversity and adventure, living in three continents and earning qualifications in different fields.
He was first published at seventeen and the writing bug never left. In his early twenties he travelled extensively ‘on the road’ in America, living and working where he stopped while also documenting his adventures. During long spells with a touring carnival he developed a love of photography, bought a Nikon camera, and captured thousands of images of a continent that fascinated him.
This ‘real world’ education provided him significant advantage, he believes, when he returned to academic study, and subsequently in the business world and in teaching.
An award-wining non-fiction author, Joe (as he’s known to most people) taught creative writing and psychology for ten years, earning multiple Best Professor citations. Today he leads workshops internationally in the area of organisational psychology, personal achievement and resilience, and occasionally speaks on psychology in fiction writing. He lives in Ireland with his wife, Kathy, a noted stained glass artist and teacher. This is his first novel.
Joseph Éamon Cummins: Short Bio
Award-wining author Joseph Éamon Cummins taught creative writing and psychology for ten years, earning multiple Best Professor citations. He now leads workshops internationally in the area of organisational psychology, human achievement and resilience, and occasionally speaks on psychology in fiction writing. He lives in Ireland with his wife, Kathy, and serves clients in the US and Europe.
Author contact details: Joseph Éamon Cummins
Email: JEamon1998@gmail.com (best contact)
A fleeing man, a woman trapped in long-gone love, a covenant demanding irrational courage . . .
Ten years ago, 17-year-old Tony MacNeill went to the penitentiary for a crime he denied; Lenny Quin was queen of Manhattan art circles, soon to succumb to a mind that stopped working.
They meet in a tiny seafaring village in Ireland.
Both are obsessive, both exceptional.
Tony’s oath is sworn: become who he was meant to be, belong again to a place, maybe to someone. For Lenny, the future lies entombed in the past; she’s elegant and odd, some say dangerous.
Together, their fire is intimate . . .
But unnerving events force them apart, and secrets and silence fog what’s true. A strange disappearance and spine-chilling drama draw out old woundings: his taking to the streets at fourteen, soul-deep scarring, compulsive courage; Lenny’s walkout on celebrity in NY, heroic zeal in wartime Iraq, her reclusiveness.
Against all that divides them . . . for all they together might be,
Tony MacNeill will be unstoppable . . . once again.
From Ireland to America to the underbelly of Baghdad, this deeply moving story spins with surprises as it unveils two impassioned people, the extremes they’ll go to, and the frailty and resilience of the human heart.
‘Solemn, resplendent, cinematic . . .’ James Rutherford, Author
‘A journey of heart-stopping moments . . .’ Emma Feix Alberts, Author
Interview with Joseph Éamon Cummins
Why did you write On the Edge of the Loch?
Sometimes a story, or an article or piece of music, demands to be written. It bangs the walls and won’t stop. That’s what this book did.
What is the significance of the title?
In Gaeilge, Ireland’s native language, the word ‘loch’ means lake. And when someone is ‘on the edge’ it usually spells danger. So it is with the two main protagonists; they’ve been on the edge of disaster for way too long. As the story begins they’re strangers, they meet by accident, in circumstances that could lead to new lives, but life is seldom that simple. And here it certainly isn’t.
Is the story entirely fictional?
No story is fabricated entirely. What a writer creates originates in ‘events’ that happen within the mind and in the outside world. These mental and actual events are the seed of all art. An abstract painting, for example, is born of real experience. The sequential events in On the Edge of the Loch are not factual; neither are the characters. But then true and factual are not the same. A well-told story is always ‘true’, as the old Irish storytellers would claim, and as did Ernest Hemingway.
Are you saying that actual events sparked the story?
One event. In a remote train station, I noticed an attractive woman who seemed to be waiting for someone to arrive. Over the next week I revisited the station many times to photograph it. I was an avid photographer then, always searching for the perfect shot, the best light. Each time I went to the station, the woman was there – still just waiting.
On the day I was leaving she smiled at me. I smiled back. Our eyes held in a sort of silent conversation, just for moments. Then she gestured like she was about to talk to me, but suddenly her head dropped, she turned away.
I left on that train, never saw her again. I sensed that she was waiting for a dream that would never show up. But what if, I thought. What if that dream could come true. And what if that changed her whole life, and other lives. I built the story from that idea.
Tony’s singularity and complexity make him seem like a real person. Is he based on someone you might have known?
He’s a composite character, with traits borrowed from real experience.
Unlike in popular fiction, there are no traditional hero types in your story. What’s your thinking on this?
The hero has a place in folklore and in certain fiction genres. The story I’m telling here is about ‘real’ people, how low they can sink, how high they can rise. Each of the main characters is flawed, yet each might be capable of greatness, which they don’t see until circumstances turn dramatic.
Emerson said: Circumstances don’t make the man, but reveal him. Interesting, but misunderstanding this idea can lead to harmful self-limiting. A person is never wholly revealed in any particular moment in time. Failing precedes winning, invariably, people change and grow, become more than they were, discover their potential. The past is not a prison, nor is it destiny. Too many fail to grasp this fact; they surrender to circumstance, don’t honour their potential. Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, believed that most people sell themselves short for an entire lifetime. I agree, but it doesn’t have to be so. This is at the core of my work with clients.
For a long time I’ve been guiding students and business professionals on achievement. Ironically, some opt out out of fear of how good they might be – the Jonah Complex. Tony MacNeill, the protagonist in the story, damaged as he is, refuses to surrender to circumstance, or let circumstance limit him or define him, and all is changed by this mindset.
What are other major themes in the story?
There is always the overt story, what happens on the surface. But in literary fiction this is never as important as subtext, what’s going on inside the characters, what they really think or mean, which the writer can hint at, imply, or conceal. This means the reader is asked to work, to rise above being an observer.
To answer your question, there are many themes in the story: identity, obsession, mental illness, home, family, justice, belonging, the nature of love, the sacredness of childhood, to name just some. And at the core of the story, there’s that resilience that leads to growth and achievement.
Is there a lesson the reader can learn from the novel?
Most authors hope the reader will feel enriched. On the Edge of the Loch contains a multiplicity of themes, any one of which might carry a catalytic message for a particular reader.
I wanted the reader to understand mental illness better, and to contemplate the futility of war; these are big messages. I wanted the concept of justice to stand out. And the vulnerability of humans in relation to childhood trauma. Other themes relate to the preeminence of family and the enabling power of friendship.
Also, as I mentioned, running through the entire story is the learnable quality of resilience, the ‘not giving up’ response when no light is visible at the end of the tunnel. I’d like to think too that the book elucidates the supreme quality of love, not just intimate love but the love of any one person for another: parent for child, sister for sister, friend for friend – the key to everything.
Some reviewers said they see Ireland as a character in the work. Is this what you intended?
I understand what they mean, but I don’t see it like that. Ireland is a critical plot element. The environments depicted and their associated atmospherics (storm, sea, fog, heat, sky, wind, rain) facilitate the story’s development.
But my characters are all psychologically complex individuals, even secondary characters like Leo and Emer; it’s from this mix of personalities, from their minds and interactions, that the story takes its life. Environment is always important in fiction, but I see it as quite distinct from character.
Nonetheless, the use of personification, metaphor, and motif can imbue inanimate objects – a mountain, an island, countryside – with human-like qualities that make them seem like characters. We routinely say ‘the sun won’t shine’ or ‘that mountain steals lives’ or ‘that devil whirlpool’ as though the sun or mountain or whirlpool possesses intention, a human mind. This attribution of ‘character qualities’ to non-human elements is part of the richness and colour of our language, especially in writing.
Apart from the main characters, which other character are you most fond of?
Keep in mind that writers love villains as easily as saints. But, more important than simple badness or goodness is credibility and depth: is the character believable, palpable, breathing, motivated to act.
In terms of fondness, Leo Reffo is absent from the story for long periods but his influence hangs over all thirty-five years of the novel period. He is powerful and quiet, and like others has made big mistakes. Lenny’s friend Emer, appears in only two chapters but it’s hard not to like her neediness and warmth, and her wittiness as a younger woman. Paddy McCann is a rich character; he’s charming and has a silver tongue but is fundamentally a brooding type. Paddy’s wife, Eilis, is a minor character I would have been happy to develop had the story required it. And Gus, the old down-and-out guy in Dublin, is one of my favourites, for his heart.
The women in your story drive much of the action. Is there a message in this?
Not a political message, no. I set out to reflect female nature as I see it. And to be loyal to the female characters I created. In life, though maybe not so much in literature, women are often the stronger sex, despite not having the platform men enjoy. Their strength is often missed in the day-to-day grind, but is nonetheless catalytic.
Characters like Lenny, Róisín and Cilla, even Kate and Peggy and Emer, may not seem like role models to some readers, but each is decisive, each makes things happen, and so they shape outcomes in the story, as so often women do in life.
Tony is obviously searching for redemption. But what does this mean?
We can see living as having three possible conditions. One is existence, where people acquiesce and rationalise and never commit to worthy goals; many get stuck here. The second is conviction, when people strive to grow, to express their talents and skills; a minority commit to this. And finally there’s redemption, when conscience or courage drives the person to atonement or fulfilment, respectively. For most of the story, Tony is in this last category, driven by conscience. He might not agree, but that’s not for him to say; that’s for the reader to judge.
You let the reader see inside Tony’s mind but no one else’s. Why did you limit point of view to this one character? Did it make the book more difficult to write?
For readers, a single character point of view is least confusing; it feels authentic, truer to how they experience life, through just one perspective. And yes, it’s harder to write this way because the author must put all the other characters on stage and get them to do and say things that reveal who they are and how they think; he cannot tell their inner stories. When it’s done well, this method allows for better control of pacing and helps build suspense.
Interestingly, I wrote the early drafts almost entirely in Tony’s stream-of-consciousness, just to get to know his mind intimately. Stream of consciousness, similar to interior monologue, is the voice we each speak to ourselves with, the voice no one else hears. But I always knew I would limit the novel’s point of view to Tony. It’s his story, after all.
Had I let the reader inside Lenny’s head, into an often chaotic mind, it would have become her story. As I’ve written it, the reader’s challenge is exactly the same as Tony’s, to understand Lenny from her behaviour and her words, and from sketchy details others provide about her that may not be reliable. Reader understanding is meant to come incrementally as the pieces fit together. Therefore, the reader gets to figure things out only as Tony does, not before.
On the other hand, it’s relatively easy to write using the omniscient or ‘God’ point of view. Most fiction writing students begin this way; some are totally unconscious of the concept of ‘voice’ or point of view in literature.
Omniscient point of view is where the reader is a fly on every wall, potentially inside the heads of any or all the characters, knowing their innermost thoughts, past and present. So, the writer/narrator can reveal hopes, memories, the characters’ loves, hates, and oldest and deepest and most secret feelings. In the past this was popular; today it is less common in serious fiction.
But, remember, voice and point of view are writers’ tools, readers do not need to know anything about these to understand and enjoy a novel.
The main characters are atypical; at times they’re clearly unbalanced, except for Cilla, perhaps. They’re also all psychologically different. What was your thinking on this?
Flawed, unbalanced, yes; in given circumstances each is a misfit, as Tony accuses Aidan, ironically. Yet each protagonist is extraordinary in at least one positive way. In real life it’s no different, though many don’t see it.
For authenticity, I built a psychological profile for each protagonist. Ninety-five percent of this information was not intended for inclusion in the book. For the characters to be credible, I needed to know their intimate backstories in detail, so I did a case study analysis of each.
Lenny’s condition, for example, as presented, is clinically accurate, with its origins in trauma. The mentalities of Tony and Aidan are just as true.
The message is that it’s time to normalise and better treat mental ill-health. Few people get through life unscathed.
Why did you end the story the way you did, the final chapter?
This is a question I prefer not to answer. In one sense it is the chapter I am most happy with, the way in which it achieves what I set out to write. The first critic to review the book saw exactly what I intended, which delighted me because I knew it would not be obvious to all.
What I am alluding to is something the reader will sense by carefully reading those last few pages. I am being vague now because there is something in the final chapter that is best discovered rather than being told about. The emotional overhang from the previous chapter, the final train station scene, leaves the reader in a mild state of shock and with a lot of mental pictures. Consequently, for some, the ‘secret’ of the final chapter may be too much to take in on the first reading. So, re-read. I don’t want to say more than that, for the readers’ benefit.
You are sending the reader back for a second read?
Yes. At least of that final chapter. Many readers re-read literary novels anyway. One critic commenting on On the Edge of the Loch said he would enjoy the second read even more than the first, that he’d still feel anxious but a little more relaxed, and this would enable him to notice more. There’s a hint in that in relation to the final chapter.
What are you planning next?
A number of reviewers have suggested Book Two of the story. That was never my plan. Others said they see it as a film or TV series. I created a pared-down film script as I wrote the story, but only to embed the pictures in my brain and thereby add vividness to my writing. I do agree though; it is a visual novel.
But the answer to your question is, I don’t know what will have my priority next. I am always working on more than one project.
Let’s wait and see . . .
New, unmistakably Irish, this is a social and psychological cosmos of evocative writing, the authenticity of J.M. Synge, the thuggery of Brendan Behan . . . one exquisite insight after another into the mind of the protagonist, what it is like to be lost and flawed, maybe insane.
I found it compelling, each chapter a literary or visceral delight; I could neither wait for nor predict the sublime outcome. I commend this work in the strongest way. It has epic qualities.
Jack Engelhard: International Best-Selling Author of Indecent Proposal
A taut, richly atmospheric tale of romance and redemption set amid the wild grandeur of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. At its heart On the Edge of the Loch is an exploration of hope, the shining possibilities, the harsh limits. Hope is the strand that runs through the lives of almost every character, binding them one to the other, a silvery thread reflecting light in shadow.
Geography is a full-blooded character here, a rejuvenating, life-giving force, and Cummins’ gift for describing it, alternately solemn and resplendent, is as cinematic as the sweep of the land itself.
James Rutherford: Author of Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump (Crossroad Press, 2016)
This story is dark and frightening and brilliantly bright, with twists and turns like the back roads of its west of Ireland setting.
Just when the author gives you enough to let you think you have figured out the two lead characters, here comes another of those perplexing but pleasing turns, and heart-pounding action scenes to increase the stakes and your nervousness. On my second read I will take more time to appreciate the creative turns of phrase that seem the gift of the Irish. And I’ll listen again for rhythms of other Dubliners, like James Joyce. Yes, it will be worth the second read.
Dick Noble: Author of The Adventures of Mousco Polo
I read a book with the anticipation of a journey that will take me out of the ordinariness of life, into places unknown. On The Edge Of The Loch gifted me this and so much more. I feel fortunate to be asked to read an advance copy. The reader is introduced to characters who immediately feel alive; you truly care about them. I found very early that I had become a part of the story, continually imagining the climax (with anxiety), hoping I had foreseen what lay ahead. I hadn’t!
The book lived up to all the big expectations it built up in me – it’s a journey of heart-stopping moments, not without romance and tenderness. What a great movie or TV series this would make!
Emma Feix Alberts: Author of All That Is Familiar
On the Edge of the Loch builds its deeply focused qualities around one seemingly simple concept: Leave the reader wanting more. This is what each chapter accomplishes as the plot becomes more complicated with each new psychological twist.
Cummins’ gift lies not only in his ability to weave a theme through intricate wording and exquisite characterisation, he presents layer upon layer to force the reader to constantly question. What appears at first as conventional perspectives on love, moves far beyond cliché with surprising results. In the tradition of Thomas Hardy, Cummins blends the Irish landscape with psychological intrigue to produce a truly compelling read.
Daniel R. Flinn: Author of Dancing with the Ants
A story as inspiring as it is original, full of brooding, suspense, tension, complex character relationships, the superiority of new dreams. But it’s also a romance. In many scenes the music of Riverdance played in my head, words dancing off the page, beautiful poetic language, nothing short of startling at times; and the scene at the cottage with Lenny and her mother is haunting.
This is simply a beautifully crafted story, compelling and original. I was transported back in time to many happy visits to Ireland.
Amanda Clowes: Cambridge, England
Cummins delivers at a forceful pace the near cursedly indomitable spirit at the very essence of what it is to be Irish. His characters range from the living souls of its city streets to the mercurial, earthy and embracing denizens of its rugged coastline. This ‘hero’s journey’ is a tapestry woven from themes jagged and brutal, forgiving and abiding. You can touch the texture of the thoughts and feelings of Cummins’ characters. Above all, though, it’s honest, unpretentious, and unapologetic. A very good read . . . one very memorable tale.
Robert S. Galasso: Vancouver, Canada
From start to finish I was captivated – by the main characters, the scenes in Dublin, western Ireland and America, all presented in such vivid terms. I loved how the writer describes the emotions of the characters; I felt I was almost part of their souls.
At times you think you know where the writer is bringing you, then you realise you don’t have a clue! It’s a compelling love story, with a backdrop of the complexity of relationships and life experiences. If you love a novel full of raw emotion and fantastic characters, this is for you!
Janet Mooney: Dublin, Ireland
A vivid picture of the human condition, it left me wondering what became of the characters as their lives went on. Many aspects of human life are alluded to: the utter inhumanity of war, the hopelessness of incarceration, unbridled self-sacrifice, etc.
The author draws upon powerful imagery to illustrate challenges that can seldom be altered. References to Mweelrea, the enchanting yet foreboding mountain, reinforce the enormity of the task facing protagonists Tony and Lenny. But Leo and Cilla’s selfless qualities lift the novel. This examination of loss and its impact upon those who have yet to fully understand how their lives have been affected by it, provides the reader with many layers to ponder.
Nigel Castle: Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK
Miscellaneous Book/Author Images, etc
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