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Wordie Wednesday: mondo

I'd never heard of the word "mondo" until this interview with Irish author Patrick McCabe 20 years ago. Does anyone remember the mondo movies in the '60s? I'm too young for those, but apparently they were a thing. So, today, I've cross-purposed this interview with Wordie Wednesday. I hope you don't mind. It is an entertaining read!


mon·​do | \ ˈmän-(ˌ)dō \


slang: very large or great in amount or number

See! The written imagination of Phildy Hackball!!! See! The sad town of Barntrosna!!! See! Together for the first time on one page!!! Depraved journalist L.A. Livingston and mondo Irishman Patrick McCabe!!! Mondo!

Patrick McCabe looks pissed off, sitting at the table in a hotel in Islington, lighting a cigarette.

"You don't mind if I smoke?" he asks. What can I say? That the smoke fills my lungs, makes me cough while making everything in the immediate vicinity smell horrible?

"No," I reply.

"I'm going to smoke anyway if you do," he says. That's a fine how-do-you-do.

"I suspected that would be the case," I answer. Patrick McCabe can do what he likes, having attained a certain amount of fame and reputation, although not enough to put on airs, which I also suspect is the case.

His new book, Mondo Desperado, is a series of short stories written by an imaginary novelist named Phildy Hackball.

"Mondo movies were phoney documentaries that appeared in the early '60s from Italy," McCabe says. "Mondo Potso, Mondo Ma, Mondo everything. Basically, phoney documentaries were a way of getting soft porn into mainstream cinemas. You didn't know what was real and what wasn't; some of them were mock-ups and some were actual footage, so you don't know what world you're in at all -- somewhere between the real and the fantastic. I used to love them. They don't make them like that anymore. I suppose it was the beginning of the permissive era."

McCabe is becoming accustomed to his books being made into movies -- his novels Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto have both made it to the screen -- but Mondo Desperado is written like a movie. Perhaps a 'mondo' revival is simmering away, like some soporific narcotic wearing off. McCabe has other words for describing the book.

"It's what Dostoevsky and the Clancy Brothers would come up with if they ever got together in a bar," McCabe says, sipping his coffee. "Style is a conglomeration of a thousand different things -- everything you've ever read, everything you've ever seen, everything you've ever heard. You don't consciously sit down and think, 'This is where I get it from.' You hope after maybe 20 or 25 years of writing that you have a style that frees you up to release all that dormant fantasy."

The author is currently working on another collection of short stories entitled Emerald Germs, where every story is a song title. He lived in North London for several years, teaching the children of Asians expelled from Uganda in Kingsbury. A father of two daughters, aged 13 and 14, McCabe moved back to Ireland, to Sligo, in 1995 to live and write.

"I only intended to stay in London for a year, and I stayed eight, so I suppose it was about time to go back," he says. "The peace process is more important than anything. Once that's settled, people can get on with normal life, or a relatively normal life, because it's been a bizarre, stunted, awkward road for a nation that got its independence in 1921. It hasn't developed the way it should have done because the country was partitioned, but hopefully there will be some kind of resolution."

McCabe has plenty to say about the state of Ireland, the Celtic Tiger and all that. He agrees with the suggestion that Ireland has only begun to develop its identity in the last few years.

"I think there's too much self-congratulation going on. Let's just get it right first, before we start patting ourselves on the back. Riding shotgun with that kind of self-congratulation is insecurity . . . It has developed recently because it's poor; it's very difficult to develop when you're poor. Wherever the money came from -- Europe or wherever -- it's kind of established a level playing field now for Ireland, so it's getting a fair shake in a way," he says. "Now you're not summed up on the basis of your nationality, which Ireland was; sometimes it was good, sometimes bad. You were exotic or funny or wild, or you were white trash, so you obviously sense it in the extreme. I didn't want to be extreme; I wanted to be like everyone else. My daughters, for example, I would say, wouldn't have any of these hang-ups, so you can see that as emblematic of development. They're totally at ease with themselves, whereas my generation wasn't."

Fatherhood has changed him more than writing, he says.

"I was always a writer; I wasn't always a father, so I don't suppose I changed as a writer. I was always the same," he says.

Being Irish does give him a particular perspective, he says, on his writing.

"Irreverence, I think. I haven't got the same respect for figures of authority, lords, ladies, dukes, earls, mayors," he says. "I have a healthy disdain for bureaucracy. That and perhaps a melancholia. Maybe it's the climate; the sun's out, but you can be sure it's going to start raining just as you're ready to take the hay in."

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