A judge of a nationwide student fantasy writing competition who has carved out a reputation both as a doctor and author has fondly recalled his days growing up in Clonmel in the 1950s.
“All my childhood memories are from Clonmel”, says Dr. Frank Ryan, whose books have been translated into nine languages and who now lives in Sheffield in Yorkshire.
His debut fantasy novel, The Snowmelt River, was published last year and its first chapter includes references to the banks of the Suir and The Green, which were part of his world as a child growing up in Abbey Road in Clonmel.
In his “day job” as a doctor and scientist he co-wrote The Eskimo Diet, which pioneered the Omega 3 story in 1990. He also penned The Brainfood Diet, which focuses on the importance of Omega 3 for a healthy brain and mind.
Dr. Ryan was born in Limerick where his late father Frank was stationed in the army. When he was 18 months old the family moved to Clonmel, the home town of his mother Mary Fitzpatrick, whose father Patrick was originally from Dundalk and moved to Clonmel to take up a position at The Borstal.
As a child Frank Ryan attended the Presentation Convent and St. Mary’s Christian Brothers schools. He remembers winning a medal for Irish recitation at the Feis Ceoil and has vivid memories of hunting rabbits with his pet dog Darkie. “At that time Abbey Road was at the edge of the town and we loved to go wandering through the fields”, he says.
Swimming in the Suir was another favourite pastime and he recalls swimming to the opposite bank of the river with his dry clothes tied in a plastic bag around his head.
When he was 13 the family moved to Bolton in Lancashire, where he attended the local grammar school. He later studied medicine in Sheffield – he wrote his first book while still a student - before graduating as a doctor and he later became a consultant physician. He also wrote detective novels and has written books in science and the arts.
Dr. Ryan is a regular visitor to the Clonmel area, where several of his relations still live. His aunt Veronica Fitzpatrick, whose late husband was Micky Sheehan, lives in the town while his uncle Tony Fitzpatrick, a former jockey, lives in Old Bridge. Another aunt who also lived in the town, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and her husband Billy McMahon both died some time ago, although their many children, including Paddy and Kate live in the town. Another cousin, Mary Hartigan (nee Sherlock) lives in Powerstown.
Dr. Ryan’s mother Mary is still hale and hearty and lives in Bolton and meets up with her sister Betty every day. His brother Tony and sister Mary also live in Bolton while his uncle Tom Fitzpatrick and aunt Phyllis (nee Fitzpatrick) are based in London.
Dr. Ryan is married to Barbara and the couple have two children, Catherine and John, and two grandchildren, Amy and William.
He is enthusiastic about his role as one of three judges in the Brainfood.ie Fantasy Writing Competition, which attracted almost 5,000 entries in its inaugural year this time 12 months ago.
“An epic fantasy has never been set in Ireland before. Now that Harry Potter is no more it would be great if the replacement hero or heroine came from Ireland – and even better if he or she was created by a Tipperary pupil”, he says.
The competition is looking to discover the story in everyone by asking students to compose a short story based in the fantasy/science fiction genre. There are three categories – Primary (5/6th Class), Junior Secondary (1st – 3rd Year) and Senior Secondary (Transition Year/4-6th Year).
Dr. Ryan says “Fantasy is fun, escapism, call it what you like – and boy do we need a little of this in these troubled times. It is also highly imaginative, literally magical, both to write and to read, which makes it very popular with children. Think Twilight, Harry Potter and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. The Brainfood.ie Fantasy writing competition aims to encourage students’ imaginations by asking them to compose their own original fantasy short story. They can write about anything from witches or warlocks to vampires and ghouls, from autonomous superhero robots to alternate realities where electricity doesn’t exist or penicillin was never discovered – the only limit is the imagination!”
The overall winner will receive an iPad and an all-expenses paid trip for two to London to be mentored in writing skills by Frank Ryan and to meet with a literary agent. Each category winner gets an iPod Touch and the first 800 entries will receive a copy of Frank Ryan’s second book in his fantasy series, The Three Powers, which will be published early next year. There’s also a prize for the teacher of the winning entry – a weekend spa break in Ireland for two people.
Further information and entry details may be found on www.brainfood.ie. The closing date for the competition is 30th November.
The other judges are Brendan Murphy, the general manager of John West Foods Ireland, who was born in and still lives in Templemore; and Dublin-born author A.J. Healy.