David Diebold is an author and journalist whose new book, This Is How We Dance, is rapidly gathering interest. Originally from Los Angeles, his family first arrived in Dublin when he was three years old. After secondary school, he lived in the States for 15 years before moving back permanently in 1998.
A well-known figure in the Irish media over the last two decades, Diebold has written for The Irish Independent and Irish Daily Mail. In addition to his journalism, he was a features and magazine editor with The Herald, where his regular weekly column of seven years was shortlisted for the National Newspapers of Ireland Feature Writer of the Year award in 2011, and NewsBrand Ireland Popular Columnist of the Year in 2016. His writing has appeared in Press Gang, Tales from the Glory Days of Irish Newspapers (New Island, 2015), and in Spontaneity magazine. A compilation of his parenting columns, The Family Guy, will soon be available as an Amazon eBook, titled Diary of a Wimpy Dad. He is currently co-director of Monument Media Ltd with his wife Emily, which publishes Skerries News as well as tourist, food and event-related titles. They also run a landmark independent tourist information office.
This Is How We Dance is a unique collection of 52 vignettes, which in no particular order capture key moments from his unconventional life. Diebold is someone who has moved through many incarnations. His remarkable list of jobs includes: camera operator, actor, film-maker, cook, ballet dancer, and stripping vicar. Running throughout the work are meditations on his most pivotal roles: husband, father, brother, son, and friend.
Diebold writes with the craft of a poet and the gravitas of a seasoned comic. Each piece of flash memoir is composed with great tenderness, clarity and sincerity combined with a zinging wit. You will roar laughing one minute and weep quietly into your hankie the next, as he shares a humanity to which we can all relate. Fellow journalist and author Shane Hegarty has said of This Is How We Dance – “With detours through celebrity, ballet and Kung Fu, David Diebold writes with honesty, warmth and hilarity about fatherhood, family secrets, life, love, loss and the perils of growing up.”
David Diebold lives in Skerries with his wife, Emily, and their four children.
This Is How We Dance (€11.95) is published by Monument Media and available from selected bookshops and Amazon.co.uk.
I’m based in Skerries, Co Dublin, where my wife and I own a large, dilapidated house near the sea and rent a 250-year-old thatched cottage in the town. The cottage, our office, has a suffocating cast iron fire to ward off the damp, and a spiral staircase up to the desk where we run a little local newspaper. It’s like a doll’s house and there’s foam taped to all the angular jutting bits to stop me bashing my head in. After twenty years in Skerries, it’s wonderful to recognise so many people that a ten minute trip to the post office becomes an hour-long expedition, but it’s hard to hide away. I’ll pop out of view for a hot towel shave at my barbershop, Ridgeways, or nip into the aptly named Snug pub where alone on certain days, at opening time, the rich wood almost hums with cascading sunbeams.
My father was an American writer and jazz musician and we moved around quite a bit when we first came to Ireland, finally settling in Dalkey, where I grew up. Skerries reminds me of it: the rocks and seaweed, the crying gulls. Both towns have an island with a Martello tower, working harbours that reek of fish and salt-encrusted rope; both have backstreets connected by hidden passageways that you only get to know when you live there. As a child, I’d escape to nearby Dalkey hill and quarry to build forts with roofs of fern. I can still smell the flowering gorse. I’d map the paths and bury rusty tins of precious things like bones and buttons, or foreign coins. I like to think those things are all still up there somewhere, quietly waiting for a child that will never return. Who knows? Perhaps someday he will.
On early reading
I’m sure it’s unfair, but the first person I remember reading to me was my sister, Julie, who was 18 years older than me and who we left behind in Los Angeles. She showed up again when I was six, in Ireland, and revealed that she was really my mother. I had a book called Adventures of the Cucumber Pony, richly illustrated, which she would read to me. I loved that book so much. When she disappeared back to America for most of the remainder of my childhood, I figured out how to read the rest of the book myself. The first real novel I read after that was Island of the Blue Dolphins, about a young woman left behind in the Aleutian Islands when her tribe was evacuated. It was utterly immersive, like a window to another world. I was hooked on books after that.
My early life before Ireland was spent on the outskirts of Los Angeles, in the foothills of the Mojave Desert. I remember a lot about it, perhaps because the change of moving to Ireland was so profound: running outside to see a tumbleweed bouncing down the street, or the Goodyear Blimp passing overhead. I remember the smell of the heat: concrete, dead grass and melted ice-pops. We would holiday at Salton Sea, a vast accidental man-made lake, now mostly dried up and abandoned, post-Apocalyptic. I only revisited Los Angeles recently. It was a strange feeling to be back where I was born after so many years. I think I felt an immediate connection many never do. You could happily be swallowed up by its vastness. I may always live in Ireland, and there’s a lot of Irish in my soul, but California sunshine is in my blood.
Dad was an award-winning Los Angeles Times journalist who came to Ireland on a career break to write a novel. It was only ever supposed to be a temporary thing. For some time it felt as though each year here could be our last. Meanwhile, I was growing up. I can’t say I ever felt truly Irish, but whenever we visited the States, I was never quite accepted as American either. I think this gave me a useful “outsider” perspective. Hearing Dad bash through sheets of paper on his typewriter for hours, it was only natural that I began pecking out my own stories on the old typewriter he gave me when I was ten. I don’t feel that I wrote because he wrote, I had a deep urge to express something about myself, probably born out of not really ever being sure who or what exactly I was.
Although we have an office in the town, I’m more comfortable writing creatively in the study at home, a room at the front of the house with a floor-to-ceiling wall of books, over-stuffed leather couch and a fireplace with an electric bar heater jammed into it. My desk, which faces a window onto a ridiculously overgrown corner of the garden, is piled with annotated clippings. There’s also a model car, a vintage black Opel, given to me by screenwriter Rowan Joffe on my birthday some years ago, and a photo of my biological father who I tracked down with an investigator. He was a movie effects expert when I found him. “Federally licensed to blow stuff up”, he said. In the photo he’s on his Harley. If I’m working, hours vanish here. If I need a change of scene, I just look up at the clouds and criss-crossing jet trails.
On independent bookshops
I grew up haunting The Exchange bookshop in Dalkey. Sadly it’s gone a long time, or I’d still be making the trip out there to bother Michael, who owned it. I still have books I bought there thirty years ago or more. Now, I’ll drop in to Skerries Bookshop for a chat with owner Paddy about books, the book trade, or publishing. It’s a tiny shop so you have to shimmy around the other customers to peruse the shelves, but I love it. When Paddy is alone, we’ve chatted for half an hour. He has a mischievous sense of humour, a twinkle in his eye, and he’ll order any book you want. When it arrives, if he could, I reckon he’d have it delivered to you by owl, there’s that sort of magic whiff about the place.
On his “To Be Read” pile
I’ve been slowly swimming through Patti Smith’s Year of the Monkey, which is dreamy, trippy even, so I might savor a few pages just before sleep. There’s a lot of California in it, especially Santa Cruz, which I visited with my wife a few years ago when our eldest was in college there, and it’s quite different from Just Kids, her New York experiences living with Robert Mapplethorpe, though just as beautifully written. Also in the bedside pile is Michigan author Jim Harrison’s A Really Big Lunch: The Roving Gourmand on Food and Life, which is playfully overwritten, rather like its brilliant author. I suppose I have a thing for American authors. I’m a big Willy Vlautin fan. Maybe it’s that American hole in my soul that I’m still trying to fill.
As a child, I hiked in the Wicklow Mountains with Dad (my maternal grandfather). It was a special time that features in my book and there’s still peace to be found high in the hills, though these days I tend to head north to the Cooleys. When my wife and I need to reset, it’s usually in a city in France or Spain where we can feel like young lovers again in the galleries and cafés. We’ve often been to Paris in the winter too and found it intoxicating. In the Marais district, there’s a little “book cave” – wine and books – called La Belle Hortense. Go there on a rainy Monday night when it’s all locals and sometimes “the Book Dancer” will appear, a professor from a nearby library who plucks a random book from a shelf and dances with it clasped to his chest like a lover. It’s Felliniesque.
On This Is How We Dance
Many of the pieces in This Is How We Dance appeared in embryonic form as weekly columns in a national newspaper, where I would occasionally work through some of my stranger memories and experiences. The common thread, I suppose, is love, something men don’t talk about. Love for a parent we might not have expressed while they were alive. Love for a daughter at the awkward age of emerging out of childhood. Love for a friend we’ve lost. Love of life’s strangeness and unpredictability. Men tend to dance around these feelings. The most rewarding thing has been working with a professional editor able to compassionately hold a mirror to my more annoying literary ticks. Most difficult has been the magnifying glass put to some of the more painful passages. It’s one thing to give all between the covers of a book, quite another to talk about it on live radio.
On what’s next
I have another selection of pieces from a sort of parenting column I wrote for some years in which I relentlessly parodied myself as a ludicrously inept father of four. It’s not so far from the truth, but there’s a lot of love in that book also. There’s also a book I want to write afresh, set in the Dublin I loved and suffered in during the mid-1980s while I was studying to be an actor. I shared a freezing, semi-derelict flat in Mountjoy Square with my best friend, a cook. It was, as they say, the best of times and worst of times and I think there’s a hungry nostalgia for the city and culture of that particular time. Take The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy and Bruce Robinson’s cult film Withnail and I and give it a Fontaines DC soundtrack and you’re somewhere close.
See more from the Writer’s Block series …
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