This is a question people in a certain small Irish coastal town might soon be asking each other. Because Dyke Duffy and the Dog Days of Killarmon isn’t just true to life, for Jo Belle Coffman some of it was real life. Most of the odd little stories and quirky characters in the book are based on real people and real incidents that happened during her six year stay in Ireland.
In 1992, desperate for a break and a change of scenery, she sold her late parents’ house, signed over her half of a catering business and headed off to Ireland for a six month holiday. Like Samantha, the cynical but ever-humorous heroine of Dog Days, Jo was a bit over thirty and completely unattached. And as Sam says in the opening line of the story, when she left she thought she was running away from home, but soon found out that’s where she was running to. After picturing a quiet six months of sipping tea in quaint little teashops and writing lyrical entries in her journal, what she ended up doing was downing pints of lager in all of the town’s fifteen pubs and being an inmate in the world’s largest open air lunatic asylum. She got stuck right in and started to entertain the locals, while at the same time they were entertaining her, but the only thing she managed to write were barely coherent letters back home relating her adventures. Stalker dogs, bald biker farmers, missing links, men who spoke in tongues, and wicked witches were only a few of the cast of characters who populated the Asylum. Some were too odd even for fiction. Much to her distress, in 1998 Jo finally gave in and went back to Real Life in the States and spent the first few weeks feeling lower than teats on a centipede. Then a friend handed her a stack of those incoherent letters and she began to read. First she cried, then she laughed, then she got an idea. On her fortieth birthday she sat down at her laptop, and Dyke Duffy and the Dog Days of Killarmon was born.
Although Dyke’s setting and characters are based in fact (the names, including that of the town, have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty) the story is fictional. The prologue shows Sam arriving in Killarmon, presumably running from a life that she, for one reason or another, felt she needed to escape. Like her real-life creator, Sam pictures a quiet and peaceful time in this quaint, picturesque coastal town, but right away is smacked in the face with the reality of modern Ireland. Instead of the friendly, smiling, freckled faces she expected she gets a grumpy bus driver who can barely be bothered to talk to her, and a Barbara Cartland lookalike who hits her up for a handout. To add to the weirdness, someone has put underwear on the head of the local hero’s statue, Dyke Duffy is running amok in the hotel kitchen, and a man with a shaved head and leathers sizes her up like she’s a racehorse for sale. And that’s just her first fifteen minutes in town.
Forward six years. Sam is well settled in, despite the fact that her visa expired… well, coming up on six years ago. She has a job in a laundry, a home, lots of friends, a dog, an ex-boyfriend who may or may not be out of the picture, and a bitter enemy in the town harpy. She also has a next door neighbor who fuels her erotic fantasies– Danny Murphy, bin man and Lifeboat volunteer. Danny is funny, cute, sexy, and fifteen years younger than Sam. In the two years they’ve been neighbors they’ve become mates and confidantes, and Sam wouldn’t dream of ever taking the relationship any further than that. Danny, however, might be dreaming of exactly that. The remainder of the story follows Sam’s efforts to keep the brick walls she’s built around her heart from falling under Danny’s siege. In the background the avant-garde play that is life in Killarmon goes on, and Danny and Sam seem to be the main characters. They laugh and cry and fight and break up and make up, but the question is– how long can Danny keep coming back for more?
Dyke Duffy and the Dog Days of Killarmon is an antidote for all the stories about glamorous thirty-something party girls who are looking for Mr. Right at the bottom of a bottle of Chardonnay. It’s a story about ordinary people just trying to be the happiest they can be within the boundaries of their seemingly ordinary lives. Sam isn’t even sure she wants Mr. Right Now, but if she’s going to find anyone he’d better be at the other end of a pint of Guinness.