How to write a book while running a company

Ged Walsh is a business owner in South Dublin and has just launched his own book. Here he shares his tips on writing a book while running a business.

Ged Walsh ran his own painting and decorating company Walham and Co. for 45 years. But local history was always his passion. After obtaining a diploma in local history from NUI Maynooth and being a long-time member of the Rathgar Local History Society, Old Dublin Society and other history societies, Ged considered writing his own book. After an initial meeting 12 years ago, he and his publisher and illustrator Michael O’Brien worked together on the book ‘On the Banks of the Dodder, An Illustrated History’. At the recent launch of the book we asked Ged to write a guide for any aspiring authors who run their own business, but have dreams of being an author particularly in the non-fiction area

“Paying rent or taking on a mortgage requires an income. In my twenties, I decided to earn my money by starting up a painting and decorating company. That was 45 years ago. At the time I had ambitions to be a writer. I was interested in books and local history, but interest isn’t enough to put a loaf of bread on the table. 

Don’t expect to make a fortune

As anyone who wants to write would know, there isn’t much money to be made. It also requires a huge amount of discipline and time. The management of time is the greatest problem for anyone starting a business. Deadlines, wages, marriage, kids; these all have to take priority and that of course is only right. As a result, the writing was put on the back burner for a long time.

Leverage your network

Through the years working and running a company, I met really interesting people and it was in the course of my work that I used to collect stories and folklore about people and places around my local area – Rathgar and Churchtown. The stories included several unprintable and libellous ones! But I always wrote the stories down because I could forget things, with all the demands of the business and life. I can now say that was the secret to what has happened. 

Find a place to write with no distractions

James Joyce had the great capacity to write on the kitchen table while his wife worked, and the two children played around him. Alas, I didn’t have that kind of concentration, nor would most people. What I needed when I started writing was peace and quiet, with perhaps a little music. So eventually I built myself a shed at the end of the garden which was to be my quiet space. When I shelved it, much to my wife’s relief, I could then have all my reference books to hand. Previously they were piled up all over the house. 

Find an editor to look over you work

Your first editor will probably be someone close to you. They need to be honest but not overly critical. You can be the expert in a subject, but you may not be able to put it across. When you look at something you’ve written it can make sense to you, but possibly not to someone else. If you find someone you know and trust and who happens to be a master of spelling and grammar – you’re doing well. I was lucky enough to have my wife Dymps on board from the start.

Find a publisher who is as passionate on the subject as you are

Having been a member of the Old Dublin Society and local history societies, it kept my enthusiasm alive by giving talks on various topics to groups in South County Dublin. I was lucky to meet Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press about 12 years ago, through decorating his home. We discussed at length the need for a local history book, particularly with all the changes that are occurring in the area. I felt it was important to share the knowledge I had gathered over the years. The only problem was not having the time to write.

If you can find a publisher who is also an extremely talented artist, it helps!

I managed to convince Michael not just to be my publisher but to come out of retirement and illustrate the book. After initial reluctance, he offered to do 20 illustrations. He ended up doing 67 and the result is an extraordinary collection of illustrations taken from photos, postcards and books that brings history to life, so that you can see the local area for what it was, the leafy suburbs of Dublin of the early 19thcentury.

Disadvantages to self-publication, leverage your publishers’ network

The advantage of being with a big publishing house is they have an editorial team, a design team, a marketing and a sales team. If you were to self-publish you would not have these advantages. 

You have to make sacrifices

We all hear about the people who make millions running their own business and good luck to them. But the reality for the vast majority of self-employed people is different. You just hope it will work out and try to keep things going in order to pay your way. Often days, nights and weekends have to be sacrificed. So any interest or hobby has to take second, third or fourth place. As time went by, my work lessened, and I could put my other interests to the fore. I put more structure on my collected notes and expanded my research. 

Let the experts create a book launch

The next step was to launch the book. As it is about Rathgar and Churchtown, we felt we needed to launch it in both locations. We were lucky that the Rev Purvis Campbell, embraced the idea and offered us the hall below Christchurch in Rathgar. In Churchtown we were again fortunate that Jim Treacy, owner of SuperValu offered host the launch in his supermarket, but we had to change the venue to The de la Salle College due to the numbers who wanted to attend. Jim is very supportive of the local community so will also advertise and sell the book there. 

Never say never. Live the dream

Several times during the writing process I never thought this would happen. People would ask about it and I would become uncomfortable and often embarrassed at the length of time it was taking. You need to have faith in the process, it’s like a job interview – if you don’t believe that you’re the best person to do this, you won’t get the job. If you believe that your book won’t be published, then it won’t be.”

The book itself ‘On the Banks of The Dodder, An Illustrated History of Rathgar and Churchtown’ is on sale now. You can get your copy here.

Published: 14 November, 2019