Saturday, March 12, 2011

An Evening With Pete McCarthy

February 2003: “I’m so excited I feel sick – I’ve just discovered that Pete McCarthy is coming to Chelmsford to talk about his book!”

This was a note I found in a scrapbook just a couple of weeks ago and it brought back very happy memories of a wonderful evening spent in the company of an exceptional person. It’s at this point I have to put my hands up and say I wasn’t excited because Pete McCarthy was my favourite writer, in fact I hadn’t even read his book 'McCarthy’s Bar'… I was excited because my son, Angus, who was 13 at the time, absolutely loved his books and I knew he would go into hyperspace when I told him I’d got tickets. Don’t you just love giving surprises?! Yes, I can still feel that tickle of excitement in my stomach when I bought the tickets (in fact I think I may have been the first person in Essex to buy tickets!)

I know we were definitely first in the queue at the Shire Hall because Angus was adamant we had to be there at least an hour early. The hall was full and we sat in front row seats (what a surprise); there was a definite buzz of anticipation in the air as the time approched for Pete McCarthy to appear.

As I’m sitting typing this I’m smiling because it was a glorious evening; Pete was a warm and wonderfully quirky raconteur and not only did he read from his book and tell very funny stories about his life he brought an Irish fiddler along and everyone sang and laughed and joined in – the spirit of humour and love of life was so tangible you could reach out and touch it, I swear. And at the end of the evening when it was book signing time, Angus was first in the queue clutching his dog-eared, tatty version of McCarthy’s Bar and told him that he wanted to be a travel writer. Pete smiled and although I can’t remember what he said to Angus he wrote in the front cover, “to Angus in the front row”. You’d have thought Angus had been given a million pounds.

A couple of weeks later Angus wrote to him to tell him how much he loved his writing and Pete quickly replied with a wonderful handwritten letter which was full of warmth and encouragement telling him that he must keep on reading and writing. I think Angus has two letters from him as well as the treasured book.

In 2004 Pete McCarthy died after a long battle with cancer aged just 52 and I still feel my eyes prickle with tears when I think about how ill he must have been that night he entertained us. Just knowing him for one evening had a profound effect on both Angus and myself – life is about laughter and music and drawing people into its heart and he managed to convey that in an exceptional way. And if I ever do become a published writer and am asked to give a talk I’m definitely going to take leaf from his book and take an Irish fiddler with me! Thank you Pete McCarthy!

(PS: And should you be wondering why I’m writing about an Essex Book Festival event 8 years ago, it’s because the event I went to this year (and I’m not saying which one because that would not be polite) was cold, dry and I don’t want to write about it!)


  1. LOL! I love your experience of meeting Pete McCarthy and the mark he left on much better than he/she/it-who-shan't-be-named!!!

  2. Lovely to read about Pete Mccarthy, his books are excellent and a lasting legacyto him and his family. It's a real shame he was taken so young, and with unfinished work.