I would like to showcase a writer I greatly admire who I first met on Authonomy and whose writing stood out in the crowd, as well as having me in stitches. His name - Gerald Hansen. He not only wrote like a professional writer, he looked like one too! Ireland has a long tradition of fine writers and Derry-born Gerald joins that long tradition. His genre is black comedy at its best, wickedly funny, featuring larger-than-life characters in the form of the Flood family who first wreak havoc through the pages of An Embarrassment of Riches and continue their rampage through the pages of Gerald’s follow-up novel Hand In The Till.
An Embarrassment of Riches is based on what happened to Gerald’s parents when they won the Irish lotto and were “disappointed in the behaviour of their grandmother’s relatives because of it”. It took him about 5-6 years to write, because he had to write it twice. The first draft was based on the true story of the lottery win, but Gerald found that his characters were too similar to their real-life counterparts. Of course, Gerald did what any good writer does and used this personal experience to write a first-class piece of fiction by changing the characters and making them “more desperate, more violent, more sleazy ”. He then “spiced up the story with drugs, violence, humour and a Holy Communion Gown”.
Embarrassment of Riches
An Excerpt - 'The Loan'
She thought she would want for nothing after that bloody win. She’d clearly been deranged. In the dock of Her Majesty’s Magistrate’s Court, Ursula Barnett gripped the railing, her eggplant-hued bob a shambles, a woman on the wrong side of both fifty and, if her family had their say, a row of prison bars. She withered under the rows of glinting eyes in the public gallery. Attempted manslaughter of a minor? Reckless endangerment? Whichever verdict was arrived at, those creatures heaved into the benches would be her moral judges, if not her legal jury.
Her husband Jed was the only solace, giving a watery thumbs up and a weary smile, but these were cut short as the usher barked at him to remove his cowboy hat. Ursula loved Jed dearly and appreciated his support, but the sound of his muttered apologies in that Wisconsin accent made her cringe. She suddenly hated his faded goatee, his frail body in that checkered polyester blazer, his Buddy Holly specs, and, most of all, she hated him for picking those flimmin lottery numbers six months earlier.
The courtroom door clattered open and Ursula flinched as in Fionnuala and Paddy tramped, a pair of hardened hooligans in bargain bin rags. They claimed their place in the public seats, settling themselves with grand self-importance and eyes bleary from the previous night’s drink, their looks letting her know there would be hell to pay. The door burst open again and an unruly mob of children—“wanes” as they were called in that part of the land--trawled in after their parents, sniggering as they took their seats and opening packs of sweets they had smuggled in past the security guard.
“Merciful Jesus,” Ursula muttered.
Review by Comedian Colin Quinn
"Gerald Hansen’s writing is smooth and appealing. With a cast of incredibly amusing, if not always charming characters, this book feels like a cross between a roller-coaster and a carousel. The plot moves on very quickly and it would be impossible not to get drawn in. While wildly amusing, this tale should also make you think of some important life issues, so I’d consider the time spent reading An Embarrassment of Riches well spent."
Hand In The Till
Gerald’s second book has been described as even funnier than the first. After Gerald had written An Embarrassment Of Riches, he tells me he needed to take a rest for a year before starting Hand In The Till. He played around with the plot for a year, then scribbled down some hilarious lines for about a year as well. Then, he woke up last September and realized he needed the book done by the end of February so his mother would be there for the launch party. In effect he wrote the book between September to December, writing before going to work, and again after work late in the night for four months. “It almost did my head in!!” he confesses. “I don't know where so many of the lines came from. I was just on that very ridiculous deadline, and somehow the characters wrote the book themselves! I would read chapters a few days later and wonder how on earth I thought of the lines I did, and the plot twists that suddenly appeared!” It’s clear that Gerald writes best under the pressure of a deadline and gets into the zone!
With a family like this, who wouldn't need Absinthe?
Fionnuala Flood, mother of seven unruly thugs, takes stock of her life on her 45th birthday, and it couldn't be more of a misery. She's been sacked from the corner shop for stealing, her two oldest sons are in prison, her husband's hands are fondling more than frozen fish at the packing plant where he works as a scab, and her lesbian daughter has just published a book exposing the family's attempts to get their claws into Auntie Ursula Barnett's lottery winnings the year before. Daughter Dymphna, unwed mother, has just been kicked out of her boyfriend's house, adding two more mouths to feed.
Desperate to raise money to travel to Malta for the launch party and wreak havoc, Fionnuala puts into motion a get-rich-quick scheme that preys on the weaknesses of others and will hopefully add a bit of luxury to her empty coal bin of a life. The scheme, however, unleashes dark secrets that bring Ursula back to town for a final showdown.
Hand In The Till is a darkly comic look at revenge, retribution and, perhaps, reconciliation. With a shot of Absinthe.
“The dialogue in this black comedy simply sparkles, and the plot about the money-grabbing Floods (especially mother Fionnuala) trying to fund their trip to Malta with scams and schemes (like posing as home carers to drug old people and steal everything in their attics...really!) unfolds at a deft pace. Highly recommended for anyone who likes comedy or suspense.” – Ruth Forkes
The Next Book
Gerald tells me his next book is a sequel to Hand In The Till called Fleeing The Jurisdiction, and takes place on a Titanic-Centennial-Commemorative cruise. It's a novella to keep our appetite whetted before the third in the trilogy called Best Served Frozen. Gerald needs to finish the novella soon for it to be out next year to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking! For those who have read Hand In The Till, you will know the significance of the Titanic in the form of a satchel - Fionnuala Flood’s second most favourite possession.
More About The Author
Gerald now lives in New York where he is an ESL teacher, having lived for years in Derry and attended Dublin University. Describing himself as a ‘navy brat’ due to his father’s occupation, he also grew up in California, Thailand, London, Iceland and Germany, but has lived in New York longer than anywhere.
On a more personal note, Gerald has become a great friend of mine and my sister, Ann’s, who has also read and loved his books. He’s very supportive, funny and humble. He was a Semi-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) in 2010 with An Embarrassment of Riches. In fact, he inspired me to have a go at ABNA myself this year. We both passed the First Round but to my dismay I crashed out of the Second Round. Even more shocking, so did Gerald. That certainly cushioned my disappointment to know that I was in such good company and if Gerald had crashed out there must have been something wrong with the judges this year – the only conclusion to be drawn.
You can find out more about Gerald and his books at his website, including the launch party for ‘Hand In The Till’ where Gerald and comedian Colin Quinn both read from the book.
An Embarrassment of Riches - Paperback
Hand In The Till - Paperback