Killeeshil vet Francis Scullion has the write stuff

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An internationally-renowned vet based in Killeeshil is hoping to take on the world of publishing with his first novel ‘The Left-Handed Hurl’.

However, unlike James Herriot, the most famous vet turned author, Francis Scullion has left behind all creatures great and small and turned his fictional eye to the sport of hurling.

The father of nine has spent a year or so dashing between chapters and far-flung locations such as Uzbekistan, Japan, Africa and Brazil as he strove to balance his working life with his passion for writing.

Over the past thirty years, he has built a successful international career as an expert in avian, exotic animal and wildlife medicine and often has to jet off to foreign zoos.

As well as being the chief veterinary consultant in Uzbekistan, Francis has treated, captured, and lectured about animals as varied as sea eagles in Japan, tamarins in Brazil, elephants in Africa and freshwater fish in Australia.

Originally from Antrim, but living in Tyrone for the past twenty years, Francis is the Past President of the World Association of Wildlife Veterinarians. He has published widely as a veterinary expert in magazines for the animal owning public and in scientific journals for the profession.

Now he’s hoping to bring a little of that animal magic to the world of book publishing. Not only has he penned his first novel, he’s also publishing it himself.

Francis is part of a growing army of writers, who emboldened by technology and the influence of internet-based companies such as Amazon are rejecting the traditional route of publishing.

“The recession dealt a severe blow to the book publishing industry, leaving it much more difficult to find someone ready to take a risk on a new author”, he said. “As soon as I saw that indie publishing was a growing sector of the business I knew this was the place to be.”

The Left Handed Hurl, which Francis launched as an e-book on Friday, follows the lives of the management and players of a county team as they strive to achieve the ultimate prize and win the All Ireland Hurling Championship.

The story revolves around the 1989 All Ireland Hurling Championship season. Former Tipperary hurling captain, Tony Maguire, had to retire from hurling due to injury and missed his shot at an All-Ireland title. Getting a second chance, he drops everything and leaves his family in America to travel to Ireland to coach an unpromising county side. Tony has to deal with the pressures of his failing marriage across the Atlantic while persuading county players to forget their club rivalries. “Since The Left Handed Hurl is set in the Northern Ireland of the 80s it deals with some of the problems people had to contend with then”, he said.

“The story “The Left Handed Hurl” developed from the title of the book. My eldest brother was telling me that his son hurled with his left hand and like southpaw boxers this presented certain advantages when dealing with opponents who were accustomed mostly to defending against right handed players.

“Throughout history, left handedness has often been seen as a marvel in many legends and myths, helped in some ways by films from the tinsel town of Hollywood. There has always been a fascination in the world of films and stories for extraordinary left handed people. I remember, from my childhood, a western called the Left Handed Gun based on the Billy the Kid story, starring Paul Newman. In my teenage years the Kung Fu craze was raging and I remember a famous martial arts film called the One Armed Swordsman about a guy who loses his right arm and trains himself to become the best ever left handed swordsman.

“In other words left handedness has always made a good story. So this term, The Left Handed Hurl, played continually on my mind and eventually like in the westerns of yesteryear, like the myths of oriental heroism, I pictured a gifted young lad with extra special abilities due to being left handed.

“A hurling hero developed in my mind, an ordinary guy with extraordinary talents; a hero, who, on being discovered, becomes the talisman for a down on their luck County team and their attempt at All Ireland hurling glory.

“There are no fictional stories about the All Ireland Hurling Championship and although I don’t know too much about hurling, I love it as a spectator sport and think everyone should see at least one All Ireland Hurling Final. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and fortunately I decided to write the first Chapter of a book before heading off to deal with the Foot and Mouth scourge that plagued the country at the turn of the century.

“Fast forward thirteen years to March 2014, when Northern Ireland Libraries offered budding authors a chance to submit a short piece to their Writer in Residence. I didn’t really consider myself as an author in any shape or form, but I was in the throes of finishing a scientific thesis on factors that affect racing pigeon performance and I needed a break.

“I submitted the start of my story to the NI Library in the hope that I had a story worth telling. The best part of the deal was that I got to meet and discuss my writing with Brian Mc Gilloway, the famous crime writer from

Northern Ireland.

“I had expected some words of wisdom that would perhaps direct me in character development and plot structure and other creative writing niceties. I gave Brian a brief background to the story which was still in my head and he insisted that I should finish it. He said he thought it was terrific and even though he wasn’t interested in sports he loved reading the submitted piece.

“That was the encouragement that I needed and I wrote the whole story during any spare time I had that year.

I remember some of the first stories I ever heard were jokes told by my father. He was a great story teller and when he started to narrate a tale you never knew if it was another one of his jokes or actually true. I think this is where I got the urge to tell stories. I just decided on a different medium.”