Dublin man's journey from the mean streets to debut novel
Frankie Gaffney came of age in Dublin’s north inner city and became immersed in the capital’s underworld.
But his love of books steered him away from drugs and crime to Trinity College, where he studied literature before becoming a best-selling author.
Frankie’s explosive debut novel, Dublin Seven, has been described as a cross between Love/Hate and Goodfellas.
It tells the story of working-class kid Shane, who gets drawn in to the drug-fuelled underbelly of Dublin at the end of the Celtic Tiger and sets himself up as a cocaine dealer after a chance meeting with a local gangster.
Initially enthralled by the sex, drugs and late-night clubs that became his life, Shane soon finds the occupational hazards starting to mount up, with rival criminals, vigilantes and Gardaí starting to pay attention to him.
The dark descent into the violence and paranoia coincide with the impending collapse of Ireland’s economy.
Frankie said that while the book is not autobiographical, his experiences growing up influenced the content and he wanted to show the “squalor behind the glamour” of gangland Ireland.
He spent his early years living in a council estate in Balbriggan before moving to the north inner city at 13. He failed his Leaving Cert and went on to DJ in nightclubs in Dublin, which were swamped with drugs. It was here that he went “partially off the rails”.
“Living in that environment you’re going to come into contact with those characters. I would have seen friends of mine get into real serious trouble that I managed to avoid,” he told the Sunday World.
“I’ve seen acquaintances end up getting killed and others getting sent to prison.
“They’d be handed a massive prison sentence, but were never going to profit massively from it or do well out of it. It was people who were vulnerable.”
He said he wanted to show that the people sucked into the drugs world are human.
“People turn off when they hear the phrase ‘known to Gardaí’.
"I wanted to show these people are still human underneath it all.
“For certain people growing up it’s just a way of life, a tragedy of circumstance. It’s very easy to get seduced and sucked in by that world.”
He said that while people take drugs all across Ireland, it is people in working-class communities who pay the highest price.
“The drugs are consumed everywhere throughout the city, but the people who end up suffering consequences of the drug world don’t tend to be from Dalkey or Blackrock or people who went to Clongowes.”
Although there are characters in his book who get sucked into crime and suffer the consequences, there are others like violent thug Paddy Lawless for whom there is no hope.
In the book he writes: “They’d committed suicide long ago, just deferring the result, every drink, every sniff, every pill, every ride, every minute not locked up – every minute still alive – they were all just bonuses.”
The author said he’s come across these types of people.
“It’s another level of person where you just really think they do not care. Lawless has no moral code. He doesn’t live by the laws of the land or the underworld. People like that have given up hope and are living on borrowed time. They’ve absolutely nothing to lose and that’s why they behave like they do.”
He added that he didn’t want to glamorise a criminal lifestyle.
“I think it’s inevitable that you end up glamorising these things just by representing it, but I did really want to portray a negative image of that world. I wanted to show the squalor behind the glamour.”
Frankie said he was saved from the world of crime by a love for literature instilled in him by his mother.
“We were poor when I was growing up, but even when we were broke she always found the money if there was a book I wanted.
“I was terrible in school and wasn’t attending and failed my Leaving. I think maybe most teenagers go off the rails, but reading and having a love of literature meant when I did engage academically it was easy for me.”
He went on to study literature in Trinity College, where he is now halfway through a PhD.
There is some talk of a film adaptation of his book, but Frankie said he’d like some creative control if there is a screen adaptation.
He said while Tom Vaughan-Lawlor excelled as Nidge in Love/Hate, other actors have not been as successful at playing working-class Dubliners.
“If I was making a drama about Soweto in South Africa I wouldn’t have white actors play the characters. I think it’s on that level; it’s like linguistic black-face, it’s almost offensive.
“The Dublin accent is the most common accent on this island. I don’t see why people bother getting people from other backgrounds to play that when there would be actors queuing up to play those roles.”
Dublin Seven published by Liberties Press is out now.