Versatile writer and poet Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls, The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus, Danger Danger, and Angel in Flight, among other titles, visits The Plain today all the way from Northern Ireland. Gerry’s new Young Adult novel, Lady Molly & The Snapper, a Young Adult Time Travel Adventure set in Ireland and the High Seas is one I can’t wait to read: a Time Travel adventure set in Ireland!
Welcome, Gerry. Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born and brought up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but now I live just down the road, so to speak, near the seaside town of Bangor, about 16 miles outside Belfast.What sparked your interest in writing?
I was always a reader, as were all my family, parents and three sisters. I think I wanted to write something like my favourite books. I know I was writing from about eight if not earlier.What components, in your opinion, make a great story?
I think you need characters whom the reader can relate to; a good plot; a writing style which is grammatical and fast moving; and, for me personally, some wit and humour to lighten things up. At least, it's books like this which I enjoy reading myself. I don't claim that my own books are like this – but it's certainly what I've aimed for!Having read The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus, I’d say you’ve hit the bull’s eye. Do you set your books/stories in your home town, or do you prefer more exotic locations?
I like to write about settings I know well – there's less risk of getting things wrong. My first two books, Belfast Girls and Danger Danger, are set mostly in Belfast, with a few excursions to other places I've visited. Angel in Flight is a bit of an exception to this rule, since only a few chapters take place in Belfast, and mostly it's set in Athens and Crete. But these are places I know well and love. My second Angel Murphy book (still in process of being written) is called Angel in Belfast, and as you can tell reverts to the more familiar setting.What inspired you to write Lady Molly & The Snapper?
I wrote this book some time ago. I wanted to try a children's book (or a Young Adult book, as they are called now if they aren't for pre-teens) and I had it in mind to make it about Time Travel E. Nesbit, the Narnia Books, and others had long been favourites of mine, and I thought it would be fun to try something of a similar type. I like to write about settings I know, as I've said above, so Ireland seemed like a good idea. Then it was a matter of choosing some of the better known figures in Irish legend or history – Cuchulain, St Patrick, Grainne O'Malley the female pirate, throwing in an episode during the Irish famine and then actually writing it! It's a book I'm fond of – I hope others will enjoy it.I suspect they will. How did you come up with the title?
I wanted something different and attention grabbing. Lady Molly is the name of the boat on which the adventures begin. The Snapper is the nickname of the bad tempered saint who takes Jik and Nora on their travels through time. I'm not sure why I chose to put these two names together as the title – sometimes we writers just have to put our ideas down to inspiration. The rest of the title, 'A Young Adult Time Travel Adventure set in Ireland and the High Seas’ was my publisher's inspiration, not mine, but I'm really happy with it. It tells the reader what they are getting in a nutshell.What was the hardest part of the story to write?
The hardest part of any story, for me, is always the plot. It involves a lot of hard thinking. And when it's written, I always need to go back and edit it very thoroughly –getting dates and times right, inserting bits which need to be there to explain what happened next, etc. It's very satisfying when it's done – but certainly not easy.What was the easiest part of the story to write?
The characters are always the easy part for me. I enjoy inventing people and imagining their lives. My characters always have something of me in them. But they are also very different from me. For instance, Sheila, in my bestselling book Belfast Girls was unhappy with her looks and very shy as a young teenager – just like me. But unlike Sheila, I didn't grow up to be a supermodel!Was there much research involved?
Far more for this book than for any of my others to date – although I always try to check my facts carefully. There was a lot of research involved into the invention of radar, and into the history of the three historical characters, Cuchulain, St Patrick, and Grainne; and into the famine. Even though I felt I already knew a lot about all these subjects, I checked and double checked. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get accurate details about the types of boats around at the different historical times!You’ve no doubt created a tale that will educate as well as entertain. Do you celebrate when you finish a story, and if so, how?
Yes – my husband and I go out for a really special meal – that is, if we think we can afford it!Do you have a set writing routine?
I try to write around a thousand words a day. Of course, things crop up to prevent this. And if I'm on a roll, I might write far more on one particular day. It seems to average out, on the whole. I like to write in the morning, when I'm fresh. Only rarely would I be still writing late. I need my sleep too much.Do you listen to music when you write?
No. I'm not a multi-tasker. In order to write I need complete peace and quiet.If you could go back in time, what author would you most like to invite to share a chat and a bottle of wine?
Probably Agatha Christie, whose books I always enjoy, and re-read regularly. She comes across as a bright, intelligent, amusing and kind person. My next choice might be PG Wodehouse – I'd be sure of a lot of witty conversation from him.You’re marooned on a desert island. What’s the one book you’d want with you, and why?
Let's be unoriginal here and say The Bible. To be honest, I think I'd be lost without it.Who supports your writing activities most?
That's an easy one. My husband, Raymond. He's constantly encouraged me, has read and edited everything I've ever written for typos, etc., and has made helpful suggestions. Recently, when I'd decided to move on from my first publisher, Night Publishing, owing to major changes in their set-up, Raymond also became my publisher under his company name, Precious Oil Publications, and his input and support is now even greater and more important to me. Thanks, sweetheart!All the best to the two of you, Gerry. And now, let's have a peek at Lady Molly & The Snapper.
Brother and sister Jik and Nora are bored and angry. Why does their Dad spend so much time since their mother’s death drinking and ignoring them? Why must he come home at all hours and fall downstairs like a fool?
Nora goes to church and lights a candle. The cross looking sailor saint she particularly likes seems to grow enormous and come to life. Nora is too frightened to stay.
Nora and Jik go down secretly to their father’s boat, the Lady Molly, at Howth marina. There they meet the Snapper, the same cross looking saint in a sailor’s cap, who takes them back in time on the yacht Lady Molly to meet Cuchulain the Irish warrior and others. Jik and Nora plan to use their travels to find some way of stopping their father from drinking – but it’s fun, too!
Or is it? When they meet the Druid priest who follows them into modern times, teams up with school bully Marty Flanagan, and threatens them, things start getting out of hand.
Meanwhile, Nora is more than interested in Sean, the boy they keep bumping into in the past…
The boat deck creaked precariously under their feet.
There was a loud, ominous crackling from the sails.
Nora looked round her. Was she imagining it, or had everything suddenly grown darker?
A whirl of angry clouds scudded across the sky, and a fierce cold wind pulled her long, black hair loose from its clasp and whipped it about her face. Nora put her hands up to push the hair out of her eyes.
"Jik!" she yelled.
"Wow!" said Jik.
Nora knew he had shouted, but she could hardly hear him. His voice was faint against the creaking of the ropes and the flapping of the sails as the mast swayed in the sudden gale.
She felt herself staggering as the Lady Molly began bucketing about in the wild lashing of the waves.
Seizing the grab rail she collapsed onto the bench behind her, and heard her own voice crying out, "Snapper! Help!"
Jik, flung across the cockpit by a quick lurch sideways from the boat, landed on her knee, panting breathlessly.
"Wow!" he said again.
Unbelievingly, Nora realised that he was enjoying this.
He was mad!
They were both mad!
What did the Snapper mean by bringing them into this? He should have warned them!
She heard a soft laugh near her ear, and realised it was the Snapper. He smiled briefly at her, showing bright white teeth against his tanned skin. His curly white hair and beard flew round his face in the fierce wind. He was clutching his captain’s hat with one hand.
"Hold on tight!" he roared. "Nearly there!"
Then, abruptly, the noise of the gale died away, the boat settled down, and Nora was able to breathe again.
Strangely, though, it was still dark, although it should be the middle of a July afternoon.
But Nora had no time to wonder about that.
A hand seized her roughly by the arm, pulled her to her feet.
A voice spoke into her face.
"Ha! What have we here? Stowaways, by my oath! Speak! Who are you, and what do you want with me, aboard White Lady?"
But just before the storm, they had been safely on board their own boat, Lady Molly!
What was happening? What were they to do? Was there any way out? Any way to get home?
Nora, trembling with horror, could say nothing.
* * * * *About Gerry McCullough:
Gerry McCullough, born and brought up in North Belfast, is an award winning short story writer, with a distinguished reputation. She has had around sixty short stories published, broadcast, or collected in anthologies. In 2005 her story Primroses won the Cuirt Award (Galway Arts Festival) and she has won, been short listed, and been commended in a number of other literary competitions since.
Gerry lives in Conlig just outside Bangor. She is married to singer-songwriter, writer and radio presenter Raymond McCullough, and has four children.
Gerry's first novel, Belfast Girls, was published by Night Publishing in 2010 and has been in the top 100 bestsellers list on paid UK Kindle for over a month recently and at Number 1 in Women's Literary Fiction. Danger Danger, her second Irish romantic thriller, published by Precious Oil Publications, is fast catching up on Belfast Girls, as is her collection of 12 Irish short stories, The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus. Her new book Angel in Flight, featuring Angel Murphy, the new Lara Croft, is now out on Kindle. Gerry’s plan is that this new book will be the first of a series about Angel, the strong-minded Belfast Girl.
Now Precious Oil Publications has published a new venture – a YA Time Travel adventure, Lady Molly & The Snapper. This is a very different field for Gerry, who hopes that a younger audience will enjoy her writing just as much.
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Lady Molly & The Snapper / Available from