Austin Duffy’s two worlds collide in writer Dundalk’s latest novel

Dundalk writer Austin Duffy’s third book, “The Night Interns,” evokes a world that will be familiar to anyone who has spent a night in a hospital ward.

When the light fades, the hustle and bustle of the day is replaced by “the long, empty night that stretches before us with no end in sight.”

The wards are quiet apart from the constant beeping of machines when patients are sleeping or trying to sleep.

The teams of consultants, clerks and Seni or House Officers went home, leaving only the night interns to patrol the hallways, answer their pagers, order takeout, hope to get a few hours’ sleep and pray they don’t have to deal with an emergency.

The three trainees get into the thick of things, first doing their rounds together to support each other, then taking turns wearing the pagers so everyone can enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. They’re at the bottom of the pecking order, learning on the job, and there’s a coat hanging in the doctors’ residence – a ghostly reminder of Arnie finding too much and jumping down a now shunned hallway. .

“I think things have improved a bit, I think the culture is better,” says Duffy, who did his own internship in 1998.

“The idea then was that these young junior doctors were learning a lot on the job, it was a maturing process that you can’t teach, you have to learn it.”

The book captures the exhaustion, fear, and gradual accumulation of experience as young interns navigate their way through the hospital.

There are no chapters in the book and the sparse prose thrusts the reader into their exhausting world.

“I really wanted the reader to feel like they were in this claustrophobic world and feel the fear and anguish of having to cover this big, massive hospital at night. I wanted people to experience it as much as possible.

Almost all of the action takes place inside the hospital, except for one section where the unnamed narrator returns home for the weekend for his brother’s birthday.

“Just beyond the middle of the drive, at the decline of the highway, where you get the first view of the Cooley Mountains and the bay where our town was, I realized that I had driven way over the speed limit and I suddenly freaked out, slowing down as fast as I could and pulling into the slow lane.

Although he doesn’t check the name of his hometown in the book, it’s obviously Dundalk.

“Love this view from the M1,” says Duffy. “You know you’re home.”

After completing his internship at St James’s and working as a junior doctor in several Irish hospitals, he won a research grant to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan in 2006.

It was there that he met his wife, the artist Naomi Taitz Duffy, and he also took writing lessons and took up the saxophone.

“I started the saxophone when I was 20. I never made music when I was a kid, I always feel like I’m behind, that it’s not quite second nature, but I love it!

There’s a saxophone playing doctor in his debut novel ‘This Living and Immortal Thing’, which was shortlisted for Kerry Band’s Irish Novel of the Year, and although it’s set in New York, there was much guesswork in Irish medical circles as to who the characters drew inspiration from.

In ‘The Night Interns’, consultant Dr Lynch “is definitely the villain of the piece”, he says, “He’s not based on anyone in reality but reminds me of a few guys I would have met.”

Now working as an oncologist at Mater Hospital in Dublin, he writes whenever he can take a few minutes.

“I write about the Dart on my way to work, when I have coffee and on my way home at night. I have a kid who plays soccer, so when he’s at soccer practice, I’ll sit in the car and write. I’ll try to do an hour or an hour and a half almost every day, and after about four years it’s a book!

He has already written a fourth book which he has not yet sent to his agent.

“No one has read it yet.”

He was delighted to be invited to join members of An Tain Arts Center’s online book club to discuss his second novel “Ten Days” last year.

‘It was great, very nice. They were all avid readers and knew their stuff.

While he rejoices in the favorable reviews that all of his books have received, he is aware of the gap between the two different worlds he inhabits as an author and a doctor.

“It’s a different world and they have no relationship with each other. It’s like I’m two different people and that’s how it should be.

That said, his work as a doctor informs his fiction.

“You write about what you know, about what you do. Writing is a way of expressing this and thinking about it. »​​​​​​

Having missed a launch for his previous two books, he was happy to be able to mark the publication of The Night Interns with a launch in Dubra​​​​​​y Books.

Her parents Vincent and Pauline came from Dundalk for the occasion.