Hello, my name is Ro, and I believe that it is possible for you to turn your ordinary life into an extraordinary life - to find true happiness, while remaining, selfless, mindful and compassionate towards other living beings. Here at my blog, I interview and post articles by musicians, writers, world travelers, humanitarians and other amazing individuals who are doing just that. I also share with you various anecdotes about my own totally awesome existence as a musician, composer, journalist, environmentalist, and compassionati. My hope is to connect with you, enlighten you, inspire you and lead you down the path to true happiness. Compassion is always in fashion and it starts with you loving that most important of people, yourself.
October 7, 2010
Interview with Gerry McCullough - Irish Writer & Poet
This is an interview with award winning Irish writer and poet Gerry McCullough. I am greatly inspired by Gerry, and I know you will be too! - Ro.
Ro: When did you first start writing stories and poems?
Gerry: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Poems were a later development. When I was at baby school, I used to get a lot of praise from my teacher for the stories and, as they were called, ‘essays’ that I wrote. I loved writing these, and I loved the praise – that’s human nature, I suppose! I read a lot, and naturally wanted to write the sort of stories I read.
Ro: Which famous writers do you admire, and why?
Gerry: The list is endless! A few of the most important would be Jane Austen, for her amazing understanding of human nature, especially women, and for her wit; Tolkien, for the wonderful world he created, and its fantastic atmosphere; P. G. Wodehouse, again for his amazing world (completely different from Tolkien’s!) and for the fun and relaxation I find in it; Terry Pratchett, for (again!) his world and his marvellous characters and the humour of his writing as well as the depth - he has created a satirical copy of our own world which throws light on so many of our attitudes; C.S. Lewis, not just for his beautiful Narnia books, but for his thought provoking adult writing which has had a profound effect on me; and not least, Agatha Christie, who entertains, amuses, and enthralls me. I think I should stop there!
Ro: Who has most influenced your writing, and how? They do not have to be famous.
Gerry: This is a hard one. I think I would say my mother and my older sisters. They read the books first, I followed in their footsteps. It was wonderful to grow up in a house where everybody read a lot, and it seemed natural to do the same. My father sang to me, and sparked off a poetical response, my mother recited poetry to me, which I suppose did even more to make me a poet. My older sister took me to the library as soon as I was old enough to join. I am grateful to them all. If you mean actual writers, then all the above mentioned, plus Georgette Heyer (I remember reading one of her books under the desk at primary school!), Patricia Wentworth - hey, don’t get me started again!
Ro: Over the past few years you have had between forty and fifty short stories published in UK, Irish and American magazines, four of them in anthologies and two broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, plus poems and articles published in several NI & UK magazines. What was your first work published and how did that feel?
Gerry: Okay, my actual first published work was a poem in a local newspaper when I was still at school. It felt pretty good! I thought (wrongly) that I was definitely set to be a famous writer! After that I had a good number of articles published in various magazines and newspapers. But my first fiction, a short story, was published in the magazine Ireland’s Own (sold throughout Ireland, but nowhere else, as far as I know) in 1999. This was the first of my Old Seamus stories. Old Seamus is a ‘Seanachie,’ that is, an Irish storyteller, and the stories he tells are about Ireland a good few years ago. Since then, I’ve had a lot of the Old Seamus stories published, and I’ve put some up as podcasts, or rather my husband has recorded me, and done the rest of the work! You can find them on PodOmatic under his name, Raymond McCullough. The Old Seamus stories are my lighter work. I’ve written, and had published, quite a few more serious stories as well.
Ro: You have won a number of awards. Which is the most meaningful to you and why?
Gerry: My major breakthrough was when one of my more serious Irish stories, Primroses, won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing in 2005. This was an award organized by a Galway magazine, in conjunction with the Galway Arts Festival. I was bouncing off the ceiling! I really thought I’d made it! No looking back, no more rejections, everyone would want to publish everything I wrote from now on, I thought! But I found out before long that there was still a long way to go. Rejections still came. But so did acceptance, and encouragement, and I realized I just needed to plough on.
Ro: It is my understanding that you have written several full length novels. Belfast Girls is due to be published later this year by Night Publishing. Congratulations! I had the opportunity to read the prologue and some of the chapters in advance and am looking forward to the rest. How would you describe Belfast Girls to someone who knows nothing about it?
Gerry: Belfast Girls is the story of three girls growing up in Belfast, after the ceasefires, and of their lives and loves. It is also the story of the men who matter to them. It is a thriller, a romance, a comedy - like most people’s lives. But it has, I hope, a lot more depth than that suggests. The three girls come from different religious backgrounds, and, starting off as childhood friends, they manage to hold on to that friendship in spite of everything. The plot includes kidnapping, drugs, high fashion, prison, and the spiritual awakening of one of the girls. I hope this is a book which both men and women can enjoy and which they will feel holds something for them.
Ro: Do you relate to any particular character in Belfast Girls?
Gerry: Each of the main characters (the Belfast girls, Sheila, Phil and Mary) has something of me in them. I suppose this is inevitable. You can’t write about someone unless you relate to them. Sheila’s feeling, as a child, that she isn’t attractive, stems from my own feelings at that age. Like her, I got over it - but unlike Sheila I didn’t win a beauty contest or become a fashion model! Mary’s spiritual awakening is very much based on my own life. I think all writers take parts of their own experience and build on that.
Ro: What was your inspiration for the book?
Gerry: Growing up, as I did, during the troubles, I was very aware that all over the world there was a very simplistic view of what was happening in Northern Ireland, i.e. people seemed to believe that all Catholics thought one thing, and all Protestants thought something else, and that all Catholics hated all Protestants and vice versa. I knew that wasn’t true. It was so much more complex than that. Many on both sides of the divide were horrified at what was happening and only wanted peace and reconciliation. I wanted to write something to show, without lecturing, that ordinary people in Northern Ireland had no problem with each other - it was just a small percentage who were fighting. By the time the book was finished, the troubles were over, so I rewrote it to reflect the same thing in the current climate. Of course, like any writer, I also just wanted to write a book, whatever it was about!
Ro: Rousing Rowena is a blog about living a meaningful and happy life. I interview and post articles by musicians, artists, photographers, writers, world travelers and other amazing individuals, who just might be living the kind of lifestyle that my readers want to live! Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring writers and other artistic types?
Gerry: Enjoy your work! Don’t let it become a burden! I’ve always wanted to write. For many years, I needed to earn a living, and wrote only in my spare time. That’s harder, but still very fulfilling. Recently, I’ve been able to concentrate more on writing. This has been great, but sometimes I find myself working too hard, and letting myself get under pressure. My advice is to enjoy the creativity in you, to have fun, and not to let yourself get weighed down. I sometimes find that I have a list of things to do, connected with my writing, which are not actual writing itself. When I notice this, I deliberately take a day off to do something quite different, and when I come back to it, I make decisions about that list, cut out some of the things, and spend some time actually being creative. I want to be a writer, not someone who never writes, but who does lots of things connected with writing! The creative spirit within us is a wonderful thing, and we need to foster it.
Ro: That is excellent advice! Thank you very much Gerry! I greatly appreciate your allowing me the opportunity to interview you.
You can find out more about Gerry's poetry, stories and books, including the soon to be published Belfast Girls at: