Welcome to the Brian Jay Corrigan web page, maintained by WWWorldwide-InfoReach(tm). This writer's work is a combination of soaring beauty, a humane attachment to the human condition, genuine humor, and a touch of magical realism. He has been described as a writer of "love stories, gently supernatural." How did Brian come to embody these elements of human compassion and lively storytelling? Come into his world for a few minutes and meet the man behind the words.HOME
Brian has been writing stories since childhood and won his first national award at seventeen (with a full-length play entitled The Sound of the River). He has had a dozen of his plays produced professionally and many more productions of his work have appeared throughout the country on the amateur and semi-professional stage. His first novel, THE POET OF LOCH NESS won such prestigious honors as the Bancroft Prize in literature, The Florida First Coast Writing Award, and in 2006 Brian was named Author of the Year in the debut fiction category by the Georgia Writers Association. His work is suffused with richly drawn characters, evocative settings, and "lushly lyrical" writing. He has led an exciting life.
From his beginnings as an actor (making his professional debut in Shakespeare's King John before his eighth birthday), director, and playwright, he has grown into a world traveler and internationally recognized expert in Renaissance literature. Brian's love of life and his devotion to literature enriches his novels. Perhaps he was destined to become a writer of deeply moving, profoundly beautiful love stories. His personal background is filled to overflowing with drama and richness.
Brian comes from a long theatrical background. His great-grandparents owned a traveling tent show. His grandmother was a professional dancer and one of Kansas City's Tower Adorables--the Midwest's answer to the Rockettes--during the "Roaring" decade of gangsters and gun molls. His mother grew up on the stage, danced with Vera Ellen, appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and made Hollywood movies.
Brian followed the family profession, writing plays and acting professionally. He has acted on stage with Katharine Hepburn and read twice for the part of Luke Skywalker.
He returned to college in his early twenties, studied Shakespeare, and graduated with honors in just three years. He next went to Tulane University where he studied law and Renaissance literature and, in the short span of six years, earned a J.D., M.A., and Ph.D.
Today, Brian is professor of Renaissance literature in the University system of Georgia. He is also a world-known expert in Shakespeare and has delivered lectures at the Shakespeare Association of America, the International Shakespeare Conference, and at the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Brian is an animal lover who surrounds himself with cats, dogs, and horses.
He is a horse trainer (resistance-free, of course), rides dressage, and was once a nationally ranked fencer (foil and epee).
Q & A:
(the following is an edited version of an interview conducted with Brian for a university journalism project. Members of the media are welcome to use this information free of copyright restriction.)
What is with the black cat in your pictures?
That's Mephistopheles. I was leaving work late one June night, and I heard this cat mewing but couldn't see anything. The sound drew closer but I couldn't see him. Black cat, black asphalt, dark night. You get the picture. Suddenly I saw the pink of his tongue as he meowed at me. I picked him upoh, he was a mess, real alley catand he looked at me as if to say, "All right, I'm ready to go home now." So I took him home. It has been seven years now, and he still follows me everywhere and leaps into my lap at every opportunity. I think it's love. It certainly is from my side.
But THE POET OF LOCH NESS has an orange tabby cat in it, doesn't it?
Yes, the muscular marmalade tabby is modeled on one of my other cats. His name was PipPhilip Ivor Pirriphe was just as the book describes him. Very independent. He died suddenly last year of a heart attack. It was 23 April. Shakespeare's birthday. Also the day Shakespeare died. Poor little guy. We buried him up on the hill behind the ivy. That's where he liked to sit and hunt.
Mephistopheles and Philip Ivor Pirrip? Okay, so who names your animals?
We both do. Damaris and I have very liberal notions about the naming of family members. Of course, with a name like Damaris, I suppose you are bound to have an exotic taste in names.
Damaris? How is that pronounced?
In the States it rhymes with "the Paris." In Great Britain it rhymes with "glamorous."
Which does she prefer?
She doesn't have a preference.
So, what do you call her?
What made you want to be a writer?
Hard to say, really. I've been writing since I was able to put letters together. My grandmother used to call me a "little dickens." Perhaps I misunderstood what she meant.
What was the first thing you ever wrote?
I still have one of the first things I wrotea short story from when I was six called Robert in Fruitland . . . complete with illustrations. It is a strange combination of Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with a strong dose of Irish fantasy thrown in.
What was the inspiration for writing THE POET OF LOCH NESS?
There are many. Here is the primary one:
On January 11 of 1993 Damaris was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension, or PPH for short. The vessels in her lung were closing, and her heart could not pump the blood in. There was some good in all the bad news. Another defect in her heart, an Atrial Septum Defect like Swiss cheese between the heart's chambers, was acting as a release valve for the excess pressure. There was and is no cure for PPH. There wasn't even an effective treatment. She was given two years to live. We might celebrate our ninth anniversary, but she would not see her following birthday.
We took our time allotted and lived. I took her to London and showed her the world of Shakespeare that I teach. She took me to Rome and showed me the glories of the world she teaches. We ended up in Scotland, her ancestral homeland where she attended university. She showed me her St. Andrews, the Royal and Ancient Golf course and the West Sands where the buff boys run in the movie Chariots of Fire. We sat out on the Old Pier under St. Rule's Tower, and she sketched out her hopes. It would be nice to leave something behind, she thought. Something to mark her passage through the world. Perhaps she would paint a view of St. Andrews as she saw it. She wondered if she would have time to write a novel about her junior year there. She smiled and said that I should write that. It was my bailiwick, writing, being the playwright and poet of the family. She would really like to have a beautiful story of her St. Andrews published at a great big publishing house so everyone would have a chance to read it. That would be nice, we both thought, not for the ego of it but for the love.
Two years passed-and then three. With each successive anniversary and birthday she showed no sign of failing. Four years, five. The Atrial Septum Defect continued to let off the steam and prolong her life. The doctors took me aside and warned me quietly that in such cases the end would come suddenly. There might be some early signs, perhaps enough to allow six months to prepare, but she would simply pass away suddenly, without any outward sign of trouble.
She made it all on her own to March of 2002. That is when the cavalry arrived. They call it Bosentan, and it saved her life. It is no cure, but the tinge of blue around her lips and fingernails is gone. She still cannot run or climb steep inclines, but she can do more than she could. More is better.
It was during the hell of those ten years that Perdita, the main character of THE POET OF LOCH NESS, took shape in my mind, and the book is an outgrowth of what a man desperately in love with his wife might do for her when he is certain of losing her.
You once read for the part of Luke Skywalker. How was that?
The force was not with me.
Who are your favorite authors?
Homer, Ovid, Dante, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Middleton, Marston, Webster, Donne, Marvell, Austen, Dickens, Bronte, Twain, A. Conan Doyle, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Douglas Adams, Rosamunde Pilcher, James Herriot, Dick Francis, and J. K. Rowling. I also like to read Italo Calvino, who had a wonderful and unusual approach to novel writing, but I don't know if I would call him a favorite. There are many others, of course. These are the ones that pop to mind.
But who do you read right now?
I just finished Nicholas Sparks' The Guardian and have started James Patterson's Sam's Letters to Jennifer. It is a real page turner. Of course, by the time someone reads this, I will probably be long finished with that one and reading another. I am also unhealthily obsessed with Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series.
What author would you recommend to people who like THE POET OF LOCH NESS?
Diana Gabaldon. Her Outlander series is positively addicting. Also, she wrote the first blurb I ever received, so what can I say? I am appreciative of her in so many ways.
Aside from Diana Gabaldon, Nicholas Sparks, and James Patterson? There are many, but I am afraid of leaving some out if I begin a list. Let me see. Marcia Willett, of course. I especially enjoyed her Summer in the Country. Margaret Atwood. That woman cannot write a wrong word. She came to Tulane when I was a graduate student there and inspired me a great deal. There are so many others, let me just leave it at that for now.
Okay, sure. Why did you decide to write a book?
The honest answer doesn't sound honest. It sounds like I'm chivvying up sales. The truth is I love bookshops. You know the kind with complementary coffee or tea and big, overstuffed chairs for you to read inlike they really don't care if you buy a book so long as you read one. I love those places. There's one in Fairway called Rainy Day Books that I used to go all the time when I was in school back in Kansas City. I still go there when I visit my family. Here in Georgia there is a place called Humpus Bumpus Books. Funny name (from Mutiny on the Bounty), but a great place, a reconverted house. They put the children's books in the nursery and the romances in the bedroom. Great place. What better way to live in that world than to write books? Same reason I write plays. Love the theatre. Same reason I'm an English professor. Love literature. Guess you could say I live for love.
Do you worry that a book with the Loch Ness monster in it won't be taken seriously?
Not really. In the first place, the creature appears very little and is probably best understood metaphoricallymystery swimming beneath the surface, that sort of thing. Besides, when one considers that Dickens had Crook die of spontaneous human combustion in Bleak House, the ghostly happenings in Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights, Christmas Carol, not to mention Hamletand don't forget that Jane communicates telepathically to Rochester in Jane Eyrethere are many serious novels that contain supernatural elements.
How and why did you start working on THE POET OF LOCH NESS?
I wanted to do something really special for Damaris. That was when the doctors were still saying she had less than a year. I began rising at 2 each morning and writing this book before going in to work. I gave it to her on her birthday.
Did she like it?
What do you think?
Right, dumb question. Is there any particular book that you would compare THE POET OF LOCH NESS to?
Without question. I had Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in mind through most of the writing. Strong central female character, love fraught with mystery, a horrible secret, a touch of magical realismeven though Charlotte wouldn't have known that term. I love that book.
Charlotte? You're on a first name basis?
Did I say Charlotte? Sorry. Well, why not? I suppose if I were born earlier or she later, we could have gotten on like a house afire. I see so much to admire in her writing. One of my friends calls me 'the Bronte brother.' I rather like that even though there really was a Bronte brother who did not get on very well at all. Let's say that I could have been the other Bronte brother.
What kind of experience was it to write THE POET OF LOCH NESS?
Engrossing. I have written much in my life-from plays and poems to academic books and articles-but I found the experience of narrative prose almost addictive. It woke me from sound sleep in the early mornings (1 o'clock, 2, sometimes as late as 3), my head brimming with ideas. On days that I did not have to go in to work, I wrote without stopping for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sometimes I didn't even look up from writing until sixteen hours had passed. It was mesmerizing.
Characters often took over chapters-for example, Meg was barely sketched in, a mere functionary of plot, before I got to her. She bloomed as I wrote, simply becoming a personality from whom I took dictation. I had a better concept of Perdita, but she, too, simply insisted on saying and doing things that I found quite unexpected. It was almost as if I sat and watched the movie of this book through my fingers. It was a profoundly exhilarating experience.
The editing process was far less transcendental, but I found that I enjoyed revisiting the work and shaping it. I discovered that I am not one of those "blood on the page" authors. I happily trimmed and chopped text for pace and length and found it-although a mechanical exercise-rather enjoyable. The mystical part of editing occurred when I needed to add dialogue or description to help with transitions or lighten tone. Almost as soon as I touched the keyboard, the characters began speaking again. It was rather like reentering a party after being out on the lawn for awhile. Fascinating experience.
How would you describe your writing?
It is witty and humorous without being comedy, sentimental without being mawkish. I would like to think that my works are literate and poetic but not stuffy. Usually when a professor writes a novel it is categorized as "Literature"that kind of off-putting writing that nobody reads on an airplane. It is usually studied in classes on the modern novel and never seen again. Such books tend to be thought of as "important," whatever that means. In my experience, "important" generally indicates a dry, humorless, high brow, and awfully earnest attempt to pontificatephilosophical dissertations masquerading as characters, punditry dressed up like plot. All trendy pop theory and elderly bohemian sensibility without a truly bon mot in a hundred thousand words. I try to avoid all of that. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Twain wrote beautiful stories that were fun on first reading (or first performance in the case of Shakespeare). That is good enough for me.
Who writes like you? Shakespeare?
Good heavens, no. Anyway, it would be the other way around, I would write like Shakespeare. But I don't. That said, I love Shakespeare's humanity and sense of humor. Most of my students, and I believe most people, think of him as the author of those magnificent dark tragediesHamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othelloall somber and serious. The Shakespeare I love, however, is filled with light and humorthe Shakespeare who loved life and naturethe Shakespeare of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It. I am especially fond of The Tempest. But, no, I would not compare my writing to his.
I would compare our sensibilities. He can write of beautiful places and emotions that bring me to tears:
It is muscular and unashamedly beautiful. The very bone and sinew of beauty. I do appreciate and strive after this.
- "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows";
- "by paved fountain or by rushy brook, or in the beached margent of the sea, to dance our ringlets to the whistling wind";
- "Sermons in stones, books in the running brooks, and good in every thing";
- "Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves, and ye that on the sand with printless foot do chase the ebbing Neptune."
What do you say to critics who would say that writing about beauty is frivolous?
Of course there are hardships in the world that must be eased. Certainly injustices must be corrected. But why are we easing the hardships, why do we correct injustice, if it is not to move toward beauty and contentment? If beauty is not kept alive, if it is not held out, promised and exemplified, then the struggle is not worth a candle. Happiness is more than the absence of misery, much more. It is important to write about and examine that.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write?
If you are serious, buy a good book on the business of writingone of those "how to find an agent" (yes, you should); "how to treat your editor"; "what an editor/publisher is and does." Read it from cover to cover. Take it all to heart. Really learn what publishing is all about. Then treat it the same way you would treat opening any other business enterprise. Work at it, and work hard.
The image of the successful novelist lying on a beach drinking pink cocktails with one hand and scribbling a blockbuster with the other is a myth. Nobody does that. The biggest writers in the business you can name work and work diligently. It is a wagonload of fun, this work, and the satisfaction is great, but it truly does take long, lonely hours, much self-deprivation, and true dedication.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Ah, the big question. I really don't know. I wish I had an easy answer like it comes from drinking well water and lemon or something, but I haven't. A lot of my ideas happen while I am traveling. Damaris and I both love to travel. we judge land as we gogreat pasture, beautiful roll of the hills, marvellous moody forestand I use that in my writing. I love writing about really atmospheric places.
Do you write about people you know?
Not really. I will use someone else's experiences from time to time. Some of what happens to Perdita is taken from Damaris' year at St. Andrew's, for example (not the Andrew bits, however). For the most part, almost exclusively really, the characters are all aspects of me or my imagination.
So it is all just travel and imagination?
Yes, for the most part. I was an actor for the first half of my lifewhich is a little bit like saying I was an Irishman for the first half of my life . . . not something you ever really stop beingso I do a lot of play-acting at the computer. Shut the office door and perform the charactersstorming around an empty room bellowing, 'There she is, Paer! Look, oh look! Out in the water! D'ye see her?'if anyone ever saw me, they'd lock me up.
Do your ideas come from anywhere else?
Many of my ideas come in dreamstrulyfor instance I had a horrible dream the other night of a river with bodies floating in it. Hundreds of them. Profoundly disturbing. It woke me up early even for mearound half past midnight. But it had triggered an idea. I wrote the rest of the night. I think it is going to be a murder mystery with a character who is a Renaissance scholar. No river of bodies in it, though. That was just the inspiration.
Do you usually wake up with ideas?
Constantly. Usually around 2 a.m. My eyes just pop open out of a deep sleep, and I have images swirling through my head. Pictures almost as distinct as if they were projected on the ceiling. I kiss my sleeping wife and pad off to the office and write. Usually I can get in 2-5,000 words before breakfast. If the morning has been good, I am on a real high over my tea and porridge. I might spend another two or three hours after breakfast editingcutting, deleting, refining. Often I am free for the rest of the day, and Damaris and I spend it playing with the horses or going out on a date.
So, you are a morning person?
Morning, afternoon, evening, night, it is all the same to me. I get up dancing and dance till I drop into a deep sleep. Depending on the day, I can fall asleep as early as 8:30 (if there is nothing to interest me) or as late as 1 a.m. There are times that I have dropped off at 1 only to spring up again at 2 or 3 bursting with ideas. Those are the days that I drop off early, though.
What about your wife, is she an early riser?
She needs her morning coffee. Breakfast is walk gently time for me. She's fine after she's had a cup and a chance to hug a cat. If I am too effervescent before that, I run the very great risk of making her a rapid widow.
What are some of your 'guilty pleasures'?
I don't have a television, which would be the only thing that would make me feel truly guilty. That is to say I own a television but am so far out in the country on my mountaintop that there is no reception. I don't have cable or satellitecomplete waste of time and money. I do have a DVD player, however. I often enjoy DVD commentaries better than the movies themselves and am a sucker for special behind-the-scenes features. I love Roy Rogers movies. I also have a rather embarrassingly complete collection of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
No television? How do you know what is happening in the world?
I listen to the radio andnow this may come as a shockI talk to people.
One last question?
By all means, please.
Is there anything about you as a working writer that is interesting or unusual?
My black cat, Mephistopheles, lies on my lap while I write. Just something he likes to do. He has slept right through whole 12 and 16 hour writing sessions. He is, in fact, here right now.
Endearing as it is, it does tend to put one's whole leg to sleep.