Limerick author and comedian Caimh McDonnell, aka CK McDonnell, on his new supernatural novel The Stranger Times

Limerick-born comedian and author Caimh McDonnell has been having a little supernatural fun in his latest book, The Stranger Times. Here, he tells Gail Bell the inspiration behind his 'change of pace', why he thinks he has been looking in the wrong direction for aliens and the problems of having a name that no-one can pronounce...

Caimh McDonnell's latest book The Stranger Times is out now. Picture by Carla Speight
Caimh McDonnell's latest book The Stranger Times is out now. Picture by Carla Speight Caimh McDonnell's latest book The Stranger Times is out now. Picture by Carla Speight

IRISH stand-up-turned-author, Caimh McDonnell – aka the White Haired Irishman – has a confession to make. He hasn't really had any supernatural experiences of his own to write home about – but he hasn't given up looking.

So far, no aliens, vampires or werewolves have come calling and the closest thing to a surreal event happened during a comedy tour of the Philippines some years ago when he was warned not to "get into it" with the audience because many of them would be carrying guns.

"We were told this, just as a topless woman carrying a tray of cigarettes casually walked past, so that was definitely one of my strangest experiences," chuckles the Limerick-born author of new supernatural comedy thriller, The Stranger Times, published in January.

"It ended with the MC, a Geordie from Newcastle, literally climbing over people in the audience to get to the back of the room because he was afraid to stay in the changing room in case a bullet aimed at the stage came through the wall and killed him."

That might be just the sort of thing to take the fun out of making people laugh for a living, but McDonnell only retired from stand-up in 2019, finding it less stressful to entertain with his writing.

Prior to The Stranger Times, he published successful comedy-crime fiction though independent publishing company McFori Ink – run by his wife, Elaine – but this new offering marks the first signing with a major publisher (Penguin Random House), with screen rights recently won by Playground Entertainment.

And the adopted Mancunian, who has written for TV shows including Mock The Week and for comics such as Sarah Millican – he was also nominated for a children's TV BAFTA in 2011 for animated children's series, Pet Squad – has been somewhat surprised by all the buzz surrounding his new supernatural tale set in a newspaper office in Manchester.

"The Stranger Times sets out to investigate the weird, the unexplained and the inexplicable, but when tragedy strikes, some proper investigative journalism is called for and things become frighteningly real," teases the author, who goes under CK McDonnell for the first time with this book after being advised that no-one ever knows how to pronounce his first name.

"It's certainly a change of pace and one of the big inspirations was the Fortean Times, which reports weird news from all around the world. I've always been fascinated by UFOs and ghosts and stuff – it's not that I believe in them, but I just find the whole area fascinating because it tells you a lot about human nature.

"If you look at different parts of the world and the weird little beliefs they have – like Ireland and the banshees and abominable snowmen in America – it's a reflection on our society at a certain level and that's fascinating. I wanted to have a bit of fun with it all, so I took traditional werewolves and vampires and tried to find a different way of thinking of them."

Disappointingly, he says he keeps looking but hasn't found any other-worldly creatures himself yet, although that might be because he has been staring in the wrong direction.

"My wife always says that if I was haunted I probably wouldn't even notice because I'm always losing stuff and forgetting where things are," quips McDonnell, who, in a former, banausic life, made servers for computers after graduating from University College, Dublin, with a degree in electronic engineering.

"That's the story of my life – I've probably been staring at the wrong light while three aliens were walking behind me."

However, it would be wrong to think that the comic and recently retired stadium announcer for London Irish rugby club has been standing in the literary shadows until now. His second title in the Bunny McGarry (Stateside) series, I Have Sinned, was shortlisted for the 2019 Kindle Storyteller Award and debut 2016 novel, A Man With One of Those Faces was nominated for best novel at the 2017 CAP awards – and was also a hit Amazon bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.

But now things have moved up a gear and, along with a three-book deal and prospective TV series, McDonnell has been enjoying making a Stranger Times podcast and appearing on Jason Manford's Planet Radio show, testing listeners on the "weird and wonderful" news of the week.

"It's all very exciting; strange times indeed," muses McDonnell, who says he is happy these days to hide away in his little office at the back of his garden and just quietly make up funny stories – without having to perform them to a live audience.

"I do miss stand-up," he says, "but I don't miss the travel. And when someone reads your book and doesn't like it, the chances of them finding you in the car park afterwards are very slim indeed."

:: The Stranger Times by CK McDonnell is published by Bantam Press, part of the Penguin Random House group, and is out now. See whitehairedirishman.comhttp://whitehairedirishman.com