SHORT, SHARP INTERVIEW: GERRY McCULLOUGH

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PDB: Can you pitch  Angel in Flight: An Angel Murphy Thriller in 25 words or less?
  
‘Angeline Murphy, feisty young Belfast girl, leaves her abusive husband, turns her life around, and in Greece sorts out a greedy corporate villain – mostly single-handed.’
PDB: Which books, films or television shows have floated your boat recently?
I don’t watch much television these days. Reality shows and football – it’d be hard to say which bores me most.  I watched a film the other night, the new Sherlock Holmes, which I enjoyed a lot. (Although I don’t know how Lord Blackwood – or Lord Charles Blackwood (he can’t be both) got his title, when he’s the illegitimate son of a man who isn’t a peer himself. It’s not really a hard area to get right).
Books are my main source of entertainment (speaking about the arts, that is). Recently I’ve been rereading the Saint books – so different from the bland TV series. I’d forgotten how good the actual books are. (Though very non PC.) My new female hero, Angel Murphy, probably derives more from the Saint than I’d realized – the righting wrongs, Robin Hood, sort of bits. 

I particularly enjoyed The Last Hero, which I bought, with a couple of others, second hand from Amazon when I’d worked my way through the ones I already owned. It’s one of the few full-length Saint books and also one of the very early ones. Early books are often, though not always, among a writer’s best, I find.
PDB: Is it possible for a writer to be an objective reader?
I spent my University years reading English and being an objective reader. That is, examining what I read as I read it and making judgments. Now I never do that (except recently, when I’ve had to review quite a few books). I read for pleasure in a purely subjective way. And I think this is much better for my writing than the earlier objective reading. I’m feeding my imagination, having fun, and storing up dozens of ideas in my subconscious which I can pinch (mostly without realizing it) when I need them. 

All writers, from Shakespeare on, steal ideas, by the way – let’s be honest. If you don’t relax and enjoy reading, how can you write, I wonder? So I suppose the answer is, ‘No, a writer can’t be an objective reader, except occasionally.’
It occurs to me that you may have meant something quite different by your question, i.e. can a writer think a book is good if it’s very different from the stuff he/she writes themselves? In that case, yes, probably. But there will almost certainly be strong similarities somewhere under the surface, even if there are also obvious differences, between what you read and what you write.
PDB: Do you have any interest in writing for films, theatre or television?
No, I like to write books. There’s so much freedom and scope for imagination in writing a book. In these other media the reader’s / writer’s imagination is overtaken and to a great extent replaced by visual images. Not for me – not as a writer.
Having said this, several people, by now, have approached me wanting to write a script for Belfast Girls or Danger Danger, and I’ve told them to go right ahead, as long as I get paid a reasonable amount! So far nothing’s come of it, but who knows? I tend to think it would be very hard to make a film or play of Belfast Girls. It’s too complex, covering as it does the lives of three very different girls. Maybe TV? Danger Danger would make a much better film, in my opinion.
PDB: How much research goes into each book?
Well, some. The Internet is a great tool. I tend to write about places and subjects that I already know about – Belfast, Greece, etc. But some research is always needed. For Angel in Flight, for instances, I looked up Interpol and malaria vaacine, checked that the Herodes Atticus Theatre was still going, since I was last in Athens, and a lot more. My characters, of course, are my own creations, and I don’t need to look up anything to write about them.
PDB: How useful or important are social media for you as a writer?
They are very important. Since my books are sold over the Internet, both in paperback and as eBooks, I need to make them visible. Someone can walk into a bookshop, see an interesting looking book, and end up buying it. But no one will even look at a book on Amazon unless they already know it’s there. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I blog, and as you can see I’m always ready to talk on other people’s blogs (thanks for the opportunity, Paul!).
The various social media have also put me in touch with a host of other writers who do a lot to encourage me. Mutual support, that’s the name of the game.
PDB: What’s on the cards in 2012?
People keep suggesting that I do a sequel to Belfast Girls. I can’t see it. The book is a stand- alone. The characters’ lives were resolved, one way or another, by the end. I mentioned this to one of my daughters recently and she said, ‘Why not run a competition for everyone to write their own suggestions and let them see if it works out or what?’ 

And my son-in-law, who was present, suggested that I should resurrect one of the characters who dies (not saying who – no spoilers here) as a zombie, and make the sequel a horror. (He has some sense of humour!)
I might possibly write a sequel to Danger Danger. I can see that working. But what I am going to do is write the next book about Angel Murphy, which was always intended to be a series. I have the plot in my head, and a title, Angel in Belfast. Now all I have to do is write it (joke).
Meanwhile, my publisher is keen to bring out a couple of books I wrote a while ago. An Irish children’s book about time travel, called Lady Molly and the Snapper; and a comic fantasy, nothing to do with Ireland. I expect I’ll let him.