Dave Kavanagh speaks to local author, Gerry McCullough

Gerry McCullough lives in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. She won the Cuirt Award for her short story Primroses, 2005, has won, been short listed and commended in many other literary competitions, and has over 100 short stories published. Gerry is a poet with around forty poems published in literary magazines and anthologies. In 2016 Gerry’s poem Summer Passing won the fourth Bangor Poetry Competition, run by Blackberry Path Art Studio. Gerry's first novel, Belfast Girls, published by Night Publishing in 2010, was a #1 bestseller on paid UK Kindle. It was republished in 2012 by Precious Oil Publications.

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Dave Kavanagh

Hello Gerry. Thank you for taking this time to answer our questions. 

Gerry McCullough

No problem, Dave. It’s a pleasure.

Dave Kavanagh

When did you begin writing?

Gerry McCullough

I’ve been writing since childhood. I come from a family of readers. I read a lot as soon as I learnt how to, and after a while I wanted to produce books like the ones I was enjoying. My first attempts were, of course, obviously imitations and not very good ones. I’ve improved with practice, although how much is for others to judge.

Dave Kavanagh

You write both fiction and poetry, but which are you most drawn to?
Gerry McCullough

It depends on my mood. I love poetry, and every so often I feel inspired to attempt it again. I’ve had around 40 poems published in magazines, and in 2016 my poem Summer Passing won the Bangor Poetry Competition, which pleased me enormously. But I love writing full length fiction and short stories, too. I’ve had 15 books published to date, mostly full length, but 5 of them short story collections. I’ve had around 100 short stories published. My first published work was a short story in my series Tales of Old Seamus, which are very light hearted stories, but I was also writing more serious ones, and I was encouraged a lot when, in 2005, I won the Cuirt prize. 

Dave Kavanagh

How do you manage your time? Do you have a particular writing routine? 

Gerry McCullough

Yes, I need to be organized to some extent. My first published book, Belfast Girls, was written in bits and pieces over a number of years. Saying that, it was a success, no 1 in the Amazon charts, winner of Book of the Year at Night Publishing, and Book of the Month in the Ulster Tatler, with sales of over 70,000 – and still selling. But I decided after that to aim at a thousand words a day of whatever fiction I’m working on, and I mostly do that.  I write as early in the day as I can, and afterwards go out, shop, walk, meet friends, and come home to relax and read.

Dave Kavanagh

Tell us a little about the story, Lights and Stones, what inspired it?

Gerry McCullough

This story had been on my mind for some time. Like many of the things I write, it sprang, to some extent, from events in my own life. I particularly remember travelling, like my narrator, up to Belfast by train, and sharing a compartment with a woman who talked to me about her son’s death at the time of the troubles. I wrote it a bit at a time, then went over it and edited it.

Dave Kavanagh

Which writers do you most admire?

Gerry McCullough

The list is a long one! First to come to mind, Shakespeare. Then Jane Austen, C S Lewis, Tolkien, James Joyce, Barbara Pym, Saki, PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout. In poetry, Flecker, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, Dylan Thomas, Tennyson. This is only a list of the writers who first occurred to me. There are so many others.

Dave Kavanagh

And leading on from that, what are you currently reading?

Gerry McCullough

I’ve been rereading Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy. I’ve always loved the title of the first book – My Family and Other Animals. Beat that!  And I love the setting, in Corfu. I’ve enjoyed several lovely holidays there, and in fact I used it as the setting for my book Angel in Paradise. I always reread books that I’ve enjoyed. And conversely, if I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t read on. Life’s too short for that.

Dave Kavanagh
You have won and been placed in a number of contests. You won the Cuirt Award for short fiction with Primroses in 2005. How important are literary awards to emerging writers?

Gerry McCullough

I think they have a certain amount of importance. People hear of you, you are invited to take part in Literary events, and so on. But it would be a mistake to give them too much importance. When I won the Cuirt I thought everything I ever wrote would be accepted and praised from then on, and in fact that just didn’t happen. I went on getting my fair share of rejections, as all writers do, and the occasional acceptance. P G Wodehouse said he had enough rejection slips to paper his study wall. Now that I have a publisher, I can expect that my books will always be accepted, and there are a few magazine editors who will always accept my work, but when I send something to a new editor, there’s no certainty about it.

Dave Kavanagh

Are you working on any projects right now?

Gerry McCullough

Yes, I’m about two thirds of the way through a new novel, which I’ve put a lot of work into.  People keep asking me to write another book like Belfast Girls. I thought I had done, lots of times! However, I think this may be the one which my readers will agree is as good.

Dave Kavanagh

What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?

Gerry McCullough

Don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. 

 (I would add, as my own advice, that it’s only too easy to be discouraged. Keep editing your work and improving it, and eventually you’ll get somewhere.)

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The Blue Nib believes in the power of the written word, the well-structured sentence and the crafted poetic phrase. Since 2016 we have published, supported and promoted the work of both established and emerging voices in poetry, fiction, essay and journalism. Times are difficult for publishers, and The Blue Nib is no exception. It survives on subscription income only. If you also believe in the power of the written word, then please consider supporting The Blue Nib and our contributors by subscribing to either our print or digital issue.

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