Teenage dreams: Irish actor Karl Geary on his acclaimed debut novel, Montpelier Parade

Dublin-born actor Karl Geary is enjoying glowing reviews for his debut novel Montpelier Parade, a moving and highly atmospheric coming-of-age story centred on a tragic May-to-December love affair. The Glasgow-based writer spoke to David Roy about the first chapter of his promising new career

Karl Geary grew up in Dublin's Blackrock before emigrating to New York at age 16
Karl Geary grew up in Dublin's Blackrock before emigrating to New York at age 16

THERE is a well-established tradition of actors becoming authors: the late Carrie Fisher wrote a trio of well-regarded novels during the 1980s and 90s, most notably the semi-autobiographical Postcards From The Edge, while the likes of Steve Martin, James Franco and Ethan Hawke have all published critically acclaimed works of fiction.

Now, Dublin-born actor Karl Geary – who played Horatio to Hawke's Hamlet in Michael Almereyda's star-studded 2000 film adaptation – has added his name to this list of book-selling Thesps with his impressive debut novel, Montpelier Parade.

Set in rain-swept, sea-spray soaked 1980s-Dublin, it's a moving tale of two very different people who find a connection and, eventually, love with each other despite their mismatched backgrounds: The bright but academically disengaged 16-year-old Sonny comes from a dysfunctional working class family, while the mysterious Vera is a depressive 30-something English beauty who haunts her spacious Georgian terrace in the leafy Monkstown street of the novel's title.

The book loosely maintains an unusual second-person perspective ("Her head rose up and, without meaning to be bold, you let yourself look at her") through which we receive the smitten butcher shop boy's side of their story, which takes several unexpected turns once Sonny has successfully insinuated himself into Vera's lonely life.

"I think really it's a story about two people who are utterly trapped who release each other," says Geary (44) of his first book, which he worked on for four-and-a-half years in a painstaking process of reduction and refinement prior to publication.

"It's also kind of a confession. I know it's dark in places, but I actually find the book quite hopeful. Even where Montpelier Parade itself is located, looking out over the sea, there's always the sense for Sonny that there might be a freedom there somewhere."

Indeed, while Sonny's mother and teachers are quick to shoot down (and, in the latter case, openly mock) any ideas he might have about pursuing a career beyond manual labour – he feels the pull of artistic painting rather than painting and decorating – the well educated, world-travelled Vera opens the teen's eyes to a world of books, art and culture while supplying a tenderness sorely lacking in his semi-regular drunken fumbles with local girl Sharon.

"What Vera gives Sonny outside of the physicality of herself, she shows him that the world can be something else – that maybe there's more for him than what society had planned initially," continues Geary, who lives in Glasgow with his wife Laura Fraser (Lydia in Breaking Bad, most recently seen in series two of BBC drama The Missing) and children, Lila and Billy.

"We've well raked the coals of kitchen sink poverty – what's on the shelf, what's on the table. What I was interested in is this other idea of more cultural poverty. At one point when Sonny has hidden one of Vera's books strapped under his clothes, he calls it "an incendiary device" – because ideas are so powerful.

"His mother fascinates me because she's already gone through the mould of what's expected of him and she knows how painful it is to have hopes outside of that. And so even though she comes across as mean at times, there's this sense that she's protecting her kid from his own dreams. That breaks my heart, y'know?

"I had a great experience when I worked with Ken Loach (on 2014's drama Jimmy's Hall) who's had a lot of criticism over the years for presenting working class people as articulate – as if that was an impossibility.

"His point of view was always that if you show the truth, that should be enough. I really relate to that in terms of how society is formed: there's a certain voice for certain people and other people don't have that voice.

"I find that very troubling in the world."

Most recently seen on screen in Billy O'Brien's excellent horror/thriller I Am Not A Serial Killer (where he played opposite his wife), Geary left school at 16 with no qualifications before emigrating to New York.

Although he's quick to point out that his own school in Dublin was much more supportive than Sonny's, the actor-turned-author admits he was pretty quickly steered away from further education.

Certainly, none of his teachers would have predicted he would go on to write a novel that reportedly sparked a bidding war between five different publishers (Harvill Secker emerged victorious).

"I'm dyslexic," explains Geary of his own educational trials. "It was undiagnosed; in those days, no-one knew what dyslexia was. In fact, I didn't even find out until years later while I was in the States. There was just a general assumption: 'Well look, you're not academic ­– this isn't for you. There are better places'.

"But Dublin in the 1980s was a different time – even third level graduates were unemployed or working at low-level stuff. So somebody with my qualifications? I wouldn't have gotten very far."

Still, emigrating was a bold move for a 16-year-old. And if Geary was seeking adventure along with improved prospects in the pre-'Disneyfication' Big Apple of the late 1980s, he certainly found it.

Following a spectacularly unsuccessful stint as a cycle courier under the direction of the one person he vaguely knew in the city, a salty individual nicknamed Jonny One Eye, Geary survived a gunpoint mugging before eventually finding work in a nightclub.

After a spell, Geary fell in with a guy opening his own cafe/bar in St Mark's Place in the East Village: Sin-É quickly became *the* hip New York hangout and gig spot, with a then unknown Jeff Buckley one of the venue's regular musical turns – he released a live album recorded there in 1993.

As well as running Sin-É, Geary was also doing some modelling work – including an appearance in Madonna's infamous 1992 vanity tome, Sex, which he hates to talk about – before getting the acting bug when Michael Almereyda cast him in his 1994 vampire flick, Nadja.

He also landed a small role in an early episode of New York-centric TV drama Sex & The City and looks back fondly on his time living there, despite getting off to a rough start.

"Sure, I got mugged and beaten up and all the rest of it, but the other side was that it was a phenomenal era in New York City's history," enthuses Geary, who still owns a bar in Manhattan with the chucklesomely Irish name, Scratcher.

"So, to kind of get to brush up against that in a small way, I really feel very fortunate to have shown up when I did."

Best of all, it means Geary will have no shortage of colourful stories to draw upon for his now eagerly anticipated future works.

:: Montpelier Parade is out now, published by Harvill Secker.