Find out more about Timothy O’Keeffe, author of BATTLE YET UNSUNG.
A very long time ago in a Creative Writing class at Columbia University, where Eudora Welty was teaching the course. In response to this question, she said that if she were watching a train going by, she would just “populate it.” I tried a few stories and a novel called “Transplanted Man,” but nothing much came of that work. I learned that I was much too direct and sequential to write any interesting fiction. I became a literary scholar instead and later wrote “Milton and the Pauline Tradition,” which was published. Later again I wrote a book called “The Colors of the Rainbow, A Study of Words in English,” which was accepted for publication but for marketing reasons was never published. I may try to revive and update it after I am done with “Battle.”
What fascinates you about history?
I have always been a kind of a “past” person. Perhaps this is because of my Irish Catholic education and background, being interested in the history of ideas including religious ones and the history of my family and of the Irish, especially their struggle with the domination of the British government. My mother knew firsthand of atrocities, and my father was active in the fight against tyranny, guerilla fighting. As far as my interest in the history of combat, especially in World War II, many of my cousins on both sides fought in Europe, and my Uncle John died of disease in the hellhole of New Guinea in 1944. A cousin died in Korea. Thus, for me, writing about conflict is not just an academic exercise. I have always enjoyed both history and geography to boot.
Who are your favorite writers?
The ones, off hand, I have enjoyed the most in the past are Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, and E. M. Forster. (I am restricting my list to prose fiction writers, some of whom I have taught in college classes.) There are only two current fiction writers of which I am fond: Ian McEwan and the Dutch author of the “English Patient.” (I simply cannot recall his name.) I am now a consistent reader of writers who explore spirituality and contemplation such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Historians such as David McCullough, Max Hastings, and Rick Atkinson write so well and so knowingly about their subjects that they are my favorites as well.
How do you like to relax?
My wife likes to take me round dancing although I’m not sure I anticipate the experience with joy. I guess that’s relaxing when I make the right move in the waltz. When I don’t, well . . . . Just collapsing in a recliner and reading the newspapers and the Bible help me to avoid a pacemaker. I do nap in the afternoon. As far as hobbies are concerned, since my father and uncles on one side were all blacksmiths in Ireland and since my uncles on the other side were mostly carpenters, I do like to work with my hands. I have done a lot of it including concrete block work, framing, roofing, sheetrocking, plumbing, electrical work and so on. I do love to work at my log home including sawing up trunks and trees blown down last winter in an ice storm. However, “I’m not the man I used to be.”