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My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had a ready answer: “I want to play piano.” She didn’t think this was a good idea. “Nobody in Ireland plays piano for a living,” she said. “Then I want to be a writer,” I responded. She didn’t think this was a good idea either. “You should get a job in the civil service, just like your father,” she said. “That’s the best career for a young man in this country.”
As it turned out, I did all three. First, I joined the civil service, mainly to please my parents. Then I immigrated to Canada and played piano for a living. Then I became a writer.
I have since become an award-winning and best-selling author of a dozen critically acclaimed narrative non-fiction books about the colourful personalities of Western Canada’s past. One of my titles, Romancing the Rockies, won me the inaugural Dave Greber Freelance Writers Award and a nomination for the Canadian Rockies Award. Another title, Scoundrels and Scallywags, topped the Canadian best-seller charts for more than 18 months and was short-listed for the prestigious Grant MacEwan Author’s Award.
My latest title, the eBook Brief Encounters: Conversations with Celebrities, recalls interviews I did with 63 musicians, writers, theatre personalities and movie stars during my 15 years as a newspaper entertainment reporter. My previous title, the best-selling Rogues and Rebels: Unforgettable Characters from Canada’s West, looks at 32 colourful individuals who left their markings on the wall.
Before that, I published Leaving Dublin: Writing My Way from Ireland to Canada, a book of memoirs tracing my story from my upbringing in suburban Ireland to my life in Canada as a writer, broadcaster and musician. It was nominated for the 2012 Alberta Readers’ Choice Award.
My other books include the first biography of former Alberta premier Ernest Manning, the first biography of renowned Canadian historian James H. Gray, and the first biography of the celebrated 19th century Irish folk poet Yellow Mary O’Leary (Máire Bhuí Ní Laoire), which was nominated for the Irish Times Literary Prize.
A former staff columnist with the Calgary Herald, I have written freelance articles and opinion columns for magazines and newspapers across the United States and Canada, including the New York Times, Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. In 2012, I wrote the official centennial history of the Calgary Public Library, Inspiring Life Stories.
Born and educated in Dublin, Ireland, I immigrated to Canada in 1966 and settled in Calgary in 1974. Over the course of my varied career I have worked as a golf caddy, lounge waiter, customs officer, nightclub pianist, church organist, radio news announcer, and a featured storyteller on CBC Radio One’s Daybreak Alberta – a popular program heard across the province.
As a newspaper and magazine journalist, I have written on a variety of topics including politics, business, theatre, contemporary music, medicine, education, and travel. I have served on the national boards of The Writers’ Union of Canada, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Theatre Critics Association.
I have won national and regional awards in Canada for my journalism. They include two Western Magazine Awards (Gold Award Alberta, Science and Technology Award), for stories on regeneration of animal brain cells, and the national Hollobon Award for medical writing in Canada, which I won for a magazine feature story on open-heart surgery. I have also won a Professional Writers Association of Canada Award for a lengthy feature on Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, published by the respected online journal Facts & Opinions.com. You can read that story by clicking HERE.