tom o. keenan
Hello Everyone, Good Evening ….
Welcome to the book launch of The Castle. / I’m Tom O Keenan, writer, not Sean Rooney my alter ego. I create the killers and Sean finds them!
Thank you all for being here.
Friday night culture on the Byres Road. You can’t beat it! …. a booze cruise down one side of the Road and up the other, intending to finish, if still on your feet, back in Tennents. ….
Something of around ten pubs on the road and another five in the lanes just off; … but to get stuck in one, well that would do ….
Now that was Sean Rooney in The Father… not me I hasten to add!
Thank you Waterstones, Carley, Paul and Graham, and everyone for making tonight possible.
Thank you McNidder and Grace for publishing The Castle.
Thank you to Maggie and my family and friends for all your support through the journey towards publication of the books.
Do you like the cover?
Just wish I’d tidied my front room before they took the picture.
The Castle is the prequal to The Father, the first book in the Sean Rooney, Psychosleuth Series.
I guess this is the book before the first, which makes the first the second, and the third the fourth, and yet it’s the last because it’s the last one I’ve written.
And it features Sean Rooney, budding psychosleuth, or trainee psychologist to be exact while he was in The Castle.
This completes the series, which includes The Father, The Family, The Son, and now, The Castle.
So what happened to the Holy Ghost, I hear you wonder?
A ghost that is holy / an interesting concept
If I was a ghost I wouldn’t want to be holy / I’d want to be bad. / Imagine being a ghost and scaring the shit out of people. An unholy ghost. Jeez, that could make my next book!
This novel, however, is set in the early eighties, where Sean spent nine formative months as a trainee psychologist in The Castle, AKA Hillwood Mental Hospital.
In a parallel universe, I had a training placement in Hartwood Psychiatric Hospital.
I also worked in Gartloch Hospital in Glasgow for five years, and in Parkhead Hospital which replaced it, and in Leverndale Hospital in 1984 and 1900, and back to Hartwood for a time.
I also worked into Gartnavel Royal and Lennox Castle.
And as a Mental Welfare Commissioner I must have visited every large Victorian psychiatric hospital in Scotland, including the State Hospital many times.
I guess I had a lot of influences which informed The Castle.
Right to the book / Why you are here.
In The Castle, long-term patients are mysteriously killing themselves ---- or, as the operative question you would expect is, “are they being murdered?”
Well Sean thought so, but his own mental health wasn’t very good at the time.
You see while he was there he was diagnosed with manic depression, now called bipolar disorder.
Well that didn’t stop him forming a self-help patient group to investigate the mysterious deaths.
Think ‘The Psychotic Thursday Murder Club’. – a psychotic scientist, a depressed philosopher, a delusional vigilante, a dope head crime writer, an autistic arsonist, a wannabe detective, and Sean, a bipolar psychologist. / What a hit team!
Well, all the deaths had a common feature, these patients were all identified for ‘care in the community’, but did the community really care?
The Castle doesn’t give up its secrets easily, whether historical, criminal, or supernatural, but Sean and his cohorts were determined to find out what was going on.
Throw in a Glasgow controlled by gangs and ganglords / Think Ice Cream Wars and dealers seeing psychiatric patients as an easy mark.
This was a time where people with mental illness often found their way into these places / either on a short term basis, or for many for much of their lives.
This was a time when staff in these hospitals were as institutionalised as the patients they served.
There were kind staff too and doctors who cared about their patients, sometimes overly protective, however.
In some places there were examples of mistreatment and abuse and a culture of disempowerment and social alienation.
Treatment methods were developing … outdated treatments such as ECT and large doses of antipsychotic medications were the norm.
This was alongside a historical legacy going back over 100 years, back to the poor law days.
Generally the Victorians were altruistic, believing they were doing good by building these places to care for, or more like contain, the ‘insane’ as the inpatients were called back then.
Alternative treatments / talking therapies like psychoanalysis, group therapy, self help groups, were developing ideas.
As were radical approaches by doctors like R D Laing, who worked in Gartnavel Royal.
When Sean arrived in the Castle he was right into the anti-psychiatric movement, reading Thomas Szasz and Goffman’s Asylums. He believed the hospitals were as mental as the patients!
My first experience of Gartnavel Royal was as a social work student being taken into an old wood lined room where a Doctor Flannigan presented two patients: / one who was trying to catch flies that weren’t there, / the other a catatonic patient whose arms stayed in the same position once they were moved.
Containment was generally the norm: keep them locked up and out of sight.
But The Castle is not all doom and gloom … there are great characters in there and funny scenes
For example there was this woman Sean met in the large cavern like dining room (the book).
“Are you Joan Trainor?” I said to her. She held her gaze down through the hall. “I’m Mr Rooney, the trainee psychologist. Just call me Sean.”
She didn’t respond, but continually looked behind me. I looked around her to see an older man standing there. I turned back to her. She appeared interested in the older man. Then, when I looked around quickly at one point, I saw why. The man had his trousers at his knees ready to whip them back up should he be rumbled. But it was not for me to interfere with his game.
And there was one time in the Forge in Parkhead, just across from Parkhead Psychiatric Hospital, where security men kept returning patients who had wandered over there from the hospital, / and some who weren’t patients at all!
Many of you will know of the themes portrayed in the book and may even have stories to tell.
An early memory of mine is where we had a red Bakelite phone in our hall when I was growing up, to which my parents would lift if I was ‘naughty’, and say (act the phone) “Is that Hartwood, yes, he is bad, could you come please?”
Guaranteed to make sure I was good, I would sit at the window looking out for the white van arriving to take me away. The fact the phone was never connected didn’t occur to me.
I am sure many of you will have visited a psychiatric hospital, you might even have visited some of the old Victorian asylums, as was.
They were incredibly grand and well built, but some certainly looked like castles with turrets almost like battlements. I wonder if that was on purpose. To look powerful and impenetrable.
I’ll take you to the morning Sean arrived at Hillwood (book).
This one door entry into a world of the bizarre fascinated and scared me in equal measure. I always wondered what lay behind this door separating the world of the sane with the insane.
The Castle, as it was called locally, had intrigued me my whole life. This place was notorious; those who went there seldom left. This was an in-door without an out, a step into Victorian care, a portal to the underworld of the mad, a personal introduction to Hades.
I looked up to the twin clock towers which resembled the turrets of many Scottish castles, square with gaps.
They stood like sentinels in each side of the main hospital administration building, ready to reach for me, grab me in a stone vice grip, and fire me off into Hillwood Loch with other unwelcome visitors. The Castle kept people out and held those inside in.
I am confident many of you know someone with a mental illness.
Maybe some of the themes will resonate with you.
Sean received what was thought as ‘appropriate treatment’ at the Castle. (Book)
I had everything thrown at me. I had ECT, and during the first time my heart stopped and they had to do CPR on me. The second time they overdosed me on anaesthesia and muscle relaxant, again it nearly killed me. Paranoid, they said. Shit, they were out to get me!
Sean survived The Castle, and became the clinical psychologist who pursued The Father in the first book of the series. He was psychologically troubled, however, either because of his experiences in The Castle or in the intervening period between the books, when he got married and divorced, and took to the drink.
Did he have his own particular reasons for thinking there was a killer at large in The Castle, his own needs to fulfil?
There was a subculture in these hospitals, a duality of power & disempowerment.
In all my books I try to reflect duality: / right and wrong / good and bad / power and disempowerment / Francie and Josie / Fran and Anna…. / Morecombe and Wise.
The book is really about a group of people challenging the system set up to control them, a system which had gone out of control itself allowing criminal, pathological and supernatural practices to occur.
Could they fight a system which had existed for one hundred years?
I’ll introduce ‘The Murder Group.’
We have John, a psychotic scientist with a brilliant forensic brain.
We have Walter, a depressed philosopher and an expert in trees, but who knew the hospital like no one else.
We have Alex, a delusional vigilante with a mission to find and destroy members of the New World gang which he believed were out to kill the weak, the mentally ill, the homeless, the elderly.
We have Mairi, a drug induced true crime writer, determined to find the killer of her father who was a patient in the hospital.
We have Gerry an autistic arsonist - aspergers - who knew things and worked out everything in his head.
We have Jackie, a wannabe detective and my girlfriend, determined to make it in a macho police force
And we have Sean Rooney, trainee bipolar psychologist, and head honcho.
You pays your money! / Could you all take a bow? / Can you no’ see them?
WERE they all ‘off it’, struggling with their own hallucinations and delusions which they were reflecting? / Were they hysterical over the killings? / Hysteria has occurred in Glasgow before.
Sixty odd years ago, in Glasgow’s Gorbals there was a phenomena called the Gorbals Vampire, where it was reported that a strange figure was spotted flitting through the gravestones of the Southern Necropolis.
It spooked the community who believed it to be a seven-foot-tall monster with iron teeth.
Rumours that it had killed and eaten two young boys swept through the neighbourhood like wildfire. / Gangs of hysterical youngsters, armed with stakes and knives and accompanied by angry dogs, pitched up at the south side cemetery in the hope of catching the strange creature.
Sounds like outside the Rosevale on a Saturday night!
In The Castle we have sinister antagonists, suspects perhaps. / A Godlike Physician Superintendent, / a consultant the patients called Doctor Death, / a hospital clergyman happy to inter patients in the hospital cemetery, / and a strange nun who appeared when a death occurred.
Add a touch of macabre with the fact that the hospital was built on the site of a Magdalene Institution where the remains of more than one hundred babies had been discarded in an area near the hospital graveyard. Presumably, illegitimate children who had died in the institution’s orphanage.
Was the Castle a monolithic creature that devoured its children?
A ghostly presence, adding a supernatural element, ALA Arthur Conan Doyle, melds with a reality check when Arnie Timpson, a Mr Big, an Arthur Thompson Godfather type figure, appeared on the scene.
The hospital was close to gang land east end where the ice cream wars were in full force.
Through his ice cream vans Timpson was intent in introducing drugs into the hospital grounds where there was a ready market in the patient group.
The patients’ meagre pocket money would only buy a £10 bag, but multiplying it by a patient group of over 1000 every week made it a profitable asset.
This gave Sean an insight into the criminal world which would bring him into conflict with The Father and provide the link into the book of the same name.
As you will ascertain my friends we have a range of interesting themes occurring in the book: Victorian asylums / mental illness / drugs / gangland Glasgow / care in the community /
/ a community scared of the unknown / a sinister supernatural element / patients being murdered / and a motley crew out to find out who and why.
Do Sean and his accomplices in crime fighting triumph over their real adversary, the Castle?
You have to read the book to find out!
Ultimately in the book there is power, control, abuse, and rebellion… all the elements of an interesting story which I felt had to be written, and to which I offer to you tonight.
I hope you enjoy it. It’s written in the first person, in Rooney’s own words, and present tense, all happening in real time for him / at the time, from January to September 1982.
I think it is the best book I have written and it is getting great reviews on an online blog tour I did recently, for example:
From Wee Glasgow Bookworm: A well written book with many secrets lurking around the corner. A book I couldn’t put down which makes it a winner for me.
And from Cat.inspired: ‘This is a great mystery thriller with lots of twists and turns in the plot that will keep you guessing.’
‘Despite a supernatural feel to the book at the start I was super happy that it turned into a great crime thriller book.’ Stephanes Reading Corner
‘I think this could be one of the most unsettling covers I have ever seen. It matches perfectly with the story as this is a really creepy, psychological thriller.’ Book Dragon Gems
Other reviews mention spooky, creepy, supernatural. Where did that come from?
My writing unknowingly to me has drifted into sinister, creepy, supernatural, definitely spooky. Have I been influenced by books like The Night of the Hunter. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
I guess that’s the end of Sean then. Or he may come back as The Ghost. He may get to scare the shit out of people. Or he may get murdered and come back as a ghost to find his killer and bring him to justice. How do you do that if you are a ghost? You heard it here first folks
I guess tonight we will have a bit of a celebration on the birth of the book, but also on the demise of Sean. A celebration and a wake. It sounds Irish, which fits perfectly.
In that respect a few of us are going to the Oran Mor for a drink, you are all welcome to join us.
Thank you for indulging me.
I welcome some discussion on the book, or the themes I mentioned, or in my writing in general, and questions even.
Afterwards, please feel free to wander the store, have a glass of wine, a chat, a snack.
I’ll be here to sign your book and to say hello.
Again a big thanks to Carley, Paul and Graham and Waterstones for tonight.
And a big thanks to you for supporting my book and being here tonight.
The Castle Song.
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