Thanks to Cyberspace I am able to pop over to Belfast to interview Amazon best-selling author Gerry McCullough, the incredible storytelling talent behind Belfast Girls, Danger Danger and The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus, without leaving home.
Me: How and when did you start writing?
Gerry: Hi, Mel! Lovely to be here on your blog in such good company. And as for your intro, well, flattery will get you everywhere!
I started writing while I was still at primary school. My teachers had encouraged me to think I could write by praising my ‘compositions’ as they were called. Not that I ever showed any stories I’d written to them, or anyone else – I was very shy and self-conscious about it. I read a lot even then (still do) and reading made me eager to reproduce the sort of things I enjoyed reading, so this was another reason to write.
Me: How do you feel about the phenomenal success and popularity of Belfast Girls on Amazon?
Gerry: It’s been my dream ever since those childhood days to become a great (bestselling, famous – all of those) writer. It’s hard to believe that I’m now on the road to achieving this lifetime ambition. When Belfast Girls recently hit the overall top 100 in paid Amazon UK, and went on to stay there for the next month, I was over the moon but also felt as if it wasn’t quite real. Some day I’ll wake up and actually be able to believe it.
Me: I know that, like me, you are a big fan of Agatha Christie but what other authors do you admire and have they influenced your writing in any way?
Gerry: You can read about the writers I admire on my blog – www.gerrysbooks.blogspot.com There are so many of them. You’ve mentioned Agatha Christie. Also Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, PG Wodehouse, Tolkien, CS Lewis – the list goes on. As a child I copied my favourite writers, using their writing style, especially Heyer and – separately, of course – Wodehouse. Later on I gradually broke free from this and developed my own writing style.
Me: Have you any books or other writing projects in the pipeline? If so do you mind telling my followers a bit about them?
Gerry: Currently I’m finishing what will be my third romantic thriller, the first being Belfast Girls and the second Danger Danger. The new book is called Angel in Flight and the plan is that it will be the start of a series about the main character, Angeline (or Angel for short) Murphy. Angel comes from Belfast and bits of the book are set there, but the story mainly takes place in Greece where she’s supposed to be having a holiday, but gets mixed up with some villains. I’m thinking of using the slogan, ‘You’ve heard of Lara Croft? You’ve heard of Modesty Blaise? Well, here comes Angel Murphy!’ In other words, Angel is tough and can look after herself, and help others as well.
Me: Have you any advice on dealing with bad reviews; since we all get them from time to time?
Gerry: A bad review is like a punch in the guts. The best advice, which everyone will give, is to ignore them. Don’t try to answer back – it only makes things worse. Writers have to develop a skin like a rhino, as my friend Sam Millar says. But that’s more easily said than done. A bad review will always hurt. But it’s wisest to do your weeping in private, or to close friends only.
Me: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement (literary or otherwise)?
Gerry: Getting my first short story published (one of the Old Seamus stories, The Tale of a Teacup); winning the Cuirt Award for Literature from Galway Arts Festival for my story Primroses; getting as far as #51 (so far) in the Amazon top 100 for Belfast Girls. These are the best in writing terms. In non writing terms, having my first baby, and then having the other three – an unforgettably wonderful experience each time; and staying married for over 32 years – but since it’s Raymond I’m married to, that was quite easy!
Me: Have you ever based a character on someone you know personally?
Gerry: Not really – apart from myself! All my main characters have some of me in them. I don’t think you can write about a character unless you understand them from the inside. Sheila, for instance, was a shy teenager who thought she wasn’t good looking – like me at that age. Mary’s experience of meeting God is very much my own. And so on. But all my characters are very unlike me in other ways. That’s where the creativity comes in.
Me: Which of the three Belfast Girls do you most identify with and why?
Gerry: It would be hard to say. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a bit of me in all of them. Possibly Sheila, who is the one I’ve written most about. Or possibly Phil with her devotion to Davy. (We’ve all gone through that sort of romantic longing for someone completely wonderful and completely unsuitable.) Or possibly Mary, whose live was so amazingly turned around. Oh, well, take your pick!
Me: What has been your worst life experience to date?
Gerry: I’ve had so many bad experiences, as well as so many good, that I’ve wiped most of them. Having my books consistently rejected for years was high up on the list, certainly.
Me: What was the last Kindle book you bought or downloaded for free?
Gerry: Anna Elliott’s Georgina Darcy’s Diary (one of the many books which follow up Pride and Prejudice.) Anna is a good writer and the subject should be interesting – if I ever find time to read it. I buy a lot of kindle books, mainly when one of my writing friends publishes something. I also download free to help give a push when one of my friends has a promo. Trouble is getting time to read them all!
Me: What was the last print book you bought?
Gerry: Swing, Brother, Swing by the great Ngaio Marsh. I love all her detective stories, and I’m trying to complete my collection through the online second hand stores, mainly Amazon. I buy most of my print books this way now – otherwise the price is too much for me as a poor starving author
Me: Were “the troubles” as bad as they were portrayed on TV news?
Gerry: Yes, or even worse. Naturally, there were many areas where nothing much happened. But I think there can’t be many people who lived through those years without coming up against some episode. And I think almost everyone knew someone who was killed or injured at some point. A great deal of prayer went up, by people on both sides of the religious divide working in unity, which was the good side of things. The Good Friday Agreement, when it came, was to a large extent due to such people working behind the scenes and was a real answer to prayer.
Me: Will there ever be a sequel to Belfast Girls? It could be called Dublin Boys.
Gerry: Very funny, Mel! But in a word, no. I have had this suggested to me a good many times, but the girls’ stories each came to some sort of resolution by the end of the book and I can’t see how a sequel would work. Still, in writing there’s never a final word, so who knows?
Me: Which of The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus is your favourite?
Gerry: I like them all. The stories are easy to write and I’ve always enjoyed writing them. The only hard part is thinking up a new plot. Now that 37 have been published, this part is getting harder. I particularly like The Tale of a Teacup, since it was the first published. But I’m also very fond of The Parish Outing which was actually the first written, although I later edited it considerably. The original storyteller in it wasn’t Old Seamus, for instance. I turned it into an Old Seamus story when I had had several published, and thought it would be a good one to add to the list. It brings back many happy memories of my childhood on similar outings.
Me: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Gerry: Keep on writing. Don’t stop because you don’t have instant success. Writing is something which improves the more you do it. If you keep at it, you’ll get there sooner or later.
Don’t wait, in the current climate, for a publisher to accept you. Self publishing is now not only possible but no longer considered inferior. But make sure before you self publish that you’ve edited your work thoroughly. Let someone else whose opinion you can trust edit it as well. It’s too easy now to put out work that still has far too many mistakes. Some mistakes will remain – I’ve never yet read a book, self published or published by the most established companies, which doesn’t have mistakes. But get rid of as many as possible.
And remember that writing and publishing is only the start. After that comes the promoting!
Me: And finally, just for fun, if you could invite three literary characters to dinner who would they be and why?
Gerry: Edmund Crispin, PG Wodehouse and Terry Prachett. The conversation would be fantastically witty – I expect I wouldn’t have to speak at all! Of course, there’s a problem here – the first two are dead, and Prachett isn’t too well – this dinner would have to be taking place some years back. And someone else would have to cook the meal or I’d be too stressed out to enjoy myself!
You can buy Gerry’s Excellent books here.
STOP PRESS – Gerry’s new book Angel in Flight is now available on Kindle. You can download it here