My Earliest Writing: Greg Stewart

Why I started writing I’ll never fully understand. There had never been a writer in the family.
Its roots were in the childhood games I played with Frank Mulhare, who was about the same age as me. We used to pretend we were Batman and Robin; Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin; and the Lone Ranger and Tonto. We used to shoot and have fist fights with invisible baddies – our guns were sticks. Frank’s parents kept chickens in an old van, which had no wheels, but did have a driver’s seat, and more importantly a steering wheel. To get behind that steering wheel was an incredible feeling of power and magic. To two young nine-year-olds, this wreck was the Batmobile or the UNCLE agents’ car.
These childhood games taught me to use my imagination and then in the winter of 1969 and early 1970 I began creating my own stories at home, using Matchbox cars – which I was collecting – and a variety of little cowboy/soldier/diver figures. My hero was a character I got from a magazine – although I can’t remember which one – and his name was Greg Stewart. He was a private detective and a secret agent. He had two friends – Tom Walker, and a butler called Desmond Philby. This latter character was inspired by the cartoon strip Rip Kirby whose butler was called Desmond and I got the surname from the spies – Philby, Burgess and McClean. I usually went to my room and spread all the toys out on my bed and did a number of five minute segments of a story, each ending on a cliffhanger. I’d do the voices for each character, although the dialogue was pretty basic.
I continued with these enjoyable segments for most of 1970, but was finding that if I left a week or two between segments, I’d have forgotten where I was in the story. Then, at school, on Monday October 12th 1970 -daydreaming in Seamus McElwee’s class – I suddenly thought: ‘why don’t I write these stories down?’ And so that night – a damp drizzly night at around 10p.m. – my mother was hanging out clothes in the hayshed – I first put pen to paper. I remember going out to the hayshed to her and saying that I had started writing a story.
I little realised the far-reaching consequences the decision to start writing was going to have on the next forty-one years of my life.
The first year or two of the Greg Stewart stories are pretty terrible – the handwriting is poor with a lot of mistakes and one story merges into the next without any new title.
But as I got older, the stories and the writing improved. Every night in bed I wrote four pages into a copybook – usually planning them on the way to and from school on the bus and maybe sometimes during class.
A very good friend of mine, Paul Nugent – a fellow student at St. Mary’s CBS, Mullingar – began reading my Greg Stewart stories in 1971 and faithfully continued doing so until our Leaving Cert year began in September 1975. He was my audience of one and I wrote to his tastes – to catch him out – sometimes with the hidden identity of the killer or once or twice to let the killer get away. I owe Paul so much for having the patience to keep reading my stories for four years. God bless you, Paul and thanks.
Every year from 1972 until the stories’ demise in 1977, I had a few favourite stories every year starting with ‘Escape Into Darkness’ in 1972; ‘The Gifts’ in 1973; ‘Crash Course In Fear’ in 1974; ‘Craze’ in 1975; and ‘The Hunted’ in 1976.
During all the time I was writing these stories, I never went back and corrected any of them – that would have made them seem like homework. Besides, my imagination was working overtime and I had so many stories left to tell.
A few changes occurred over the years. Tom Walker was replaced by Mark Kirby in 1973. Tom returned in 1975 but was shot and crippled for life. A good friend of Stewart’s, Barney Long, who appeared in many stories, was shot and killed in a story called ‘Two Of A Kind’ in 1976. Insp. Carter in the early stories was later replaced by Lt. Jim Lucas.
In 1977, a few months after I began university, I stopped writing ‘Greg Stewart’ in the middle of a story called ‘A Complex Of Nerves’. It remains unfinished to this day.
I owe ‘Greg Stewart’ a lot – for giving me a love of writing, the patience to write and for setting me on the road to where I am today.
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