How Long is a Piece of Rope: Gerry McCullough

Belfast Girls by Gerry McCullough is available for UK Kindle for £1.39

and .com for $1.99

Gerry McCullough was born and brought up in Belfast and now lives in County Down a few miles from the city. She is married to Media Producer and singer/songwriter Raymond McCullough and has four children, all grown.  Gerry has been writing since childhood, and has had around fifty short stories published, some light and some serious. One of her more serious stories, Primroses, won the prestigious Cuirt Award, organised by Galway Arts Festival, in 2005. Belfast Girls is the first of her novels to be published.

‘Belfast Girls’ is the story of three girls – Sheila, Phil and Mary – growing up into the new emerging post-conflict Belfast of money, drugs, high fashion and crime; and of their lives and loves.

Sheila, a supermodel, is kidnapped. Phil is sent to prison. Mary, surviving a drug overdose, has a spiritual awakening.

It is also the story of the men who matter to them –

John Branagh, former candidate for the priesthood, a modern Darcy, someone to love or hate. Will he and Sheila ever get together? Davy Hagan, drug dealer, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. Is Phil also mad to have anything to do with him?

Although from different religious backgrounds, starting off as childhood friends, the girls manage to hold onto that friendship in spite of everything.

A book about contemporary Ireland and modern life. A book which both men and women can enjoy – thriller, romance, comedy, drama – and much more ….

Which brings us to the questions that really count

1. Belfast Girls is way better than Mills and Boon, but one day I’d really like to be as good as Mary Stewart.

2. You will just love my book if you enjoyed The Ghosts of Belfast but if you’re a fan of James Bond (Ian Fleming) steer well clear.

3. Death comes from the barrel of a gun. Or water, if it’s a water pistol 

4. How do you see the role of food in the contemporary thriller and where does Belfast Girls fit into the spectrum? 

Since food is one of the seven chief pleasures of life (don’t ask me what the other six are; just try to guess) it has a major role in making any book a joy to read.  James Bond, for instance, eats lobster and strawberries with thick cream and champagne; and believes that one of the two things a woman should be good at is making Sauce Béarnaise. Spenser in Robert B. Parker’s excellent series woos his women (mainly Susan after the first few books) with his gourmet class cooking. Lord Peter Wimsey enjoys ‘a sole Colbert very well cooked, with a bottle of Libfraumilch; an apple charlotte and light savory to follow, and black coffee and a rare old brandy to top up with – a simple and satisfactory meal.’ All this adds greatly to the ambience of the book, its setting, background and atmosphere, and to the sheer pleasure of reading, but makes it hard if you’re on a diet. In my own Belfast Girls, food plays a smaller part than drink (although you will notice drink cropping up regularly alongside food in the examples quoted above.) Sheila, for instance, consistently gets into trouble after a drink or four.

5. How would it affect the direction Belfast Girls takes if the action were moved wholesale to the set of Glee in chapter 7?

Since Belfast Girls is based in post ceasefire Belfast, and one critic said that Belfast itself emerges as a major character in the book; and since the plot consists of actions unlikely to occur on the set of Glee – what with drug-dealing, kidnapping, gun shootouts, and more, all growing out of the changing ethos of the city with the increase of material wealth and the end, more or less, of the sectarian struggle leaving a moral vacuum –I should think it would make the sort of difference which would turn it into a completely new book – which I wouldn’t, myself, appreciate; though who knows, others might! 

6. When you’re writing, would you rather look out at the sea, or in at your thoughts?

When I’m composing, there’s nothing better than looking at the sea. Inspiration comes and keeps coming, whether on a cold winter day when the waves are huge, rough and pounding, or in summer when they’re gentle frills of white at the edge of a vast silvery-blue expanse with  sunlight glinting on its surface.  But when the inspiration has come and it’s time to attack the keyboard, concentration on the thoughts which are emerging is essential for me – I can never do more than one thing at a time. I live within easy reach of the seashore, but when I start to write, it’s away from the majestic ocean and all that, and back into my snug office with eyes focused on the keyboard and screen.

7. When writing, do you start at the beginning and keep going, or start at the end and work back?

I may think I’m starting at the beginning, but sometimes I go back and put in a different opening. I usually write my first draft in a straight line, although without any very clear planning. I know where I intend to go, but things may change and develop along the way. However, the second draft probably consists of inserting all sorts of scenes at different points, to say nothing of description both of people and places, and a good few plot twists.

8. Agreat villain or a great hero?

My characters are real people, neither heroes nor villains, or not intentionally so.  Some will be more sympathetic than others, and indeed a villain may grow out of someone who started off much like you or me – mainly me, in fact, since all writers, I believe, create their characters from their knowledge of themselves. There’s a bit of me in all my characters, even the men. Sheila, for example, is shy and lacking in self-confidence, just like me as a teenager, but grows up to be a beautiful women who can deal with life (not so like me!), except for her disastrous relationship with her ex-boyfriend, John Branagh.  John has been compared to Mr Darcy, which would certainly make him a great hero, and to some extent he is the hero of the plot, rescuing Sheila and dealing with the villains. (Yes, there are villains, but not exactly ‘great’ ones.)  But he needs to get himself together, and stop being hard and judgmental; so if he’s a hero, he’s a very flawed one. Nowadays, I suppose that gives him an extra qualification for the role.

9. Belfast Girls will change the way a reader looks at the recent sectarian conflict inNorthern Ireland– I hope. I think most people who don’t live there had the idea that all Catholics hated all Protestants, and vice versa.  Actually, there were as many different ideas and views as there were people. Sheila, Phil and Mary, the ‘Belfast Girls’ of the title, came from different religious backgrounds but were friends from childhood and for the rest of their lives. This isn’t all that unusual, in fact.

10. How long is a piece of rope?

(Forgive me if I correct your punctuation, Mr Holloway. These things matter, after all.)

In answer to your question, ‘A Piece of Rope’ should be at least 70,000 words if it’s a novel and probably not much more than 100,000 words. If it’s a short story, between 2,000 and 10,000 will be ample.


~ by danholloway on June 10, 2011.

6 Responses to “How Long is a Piece of Rope: Gerry McCullough”

  1. Dan, thanks a lot for posting this! I’ve shared it on FB and Twitter.

  2. Thank you for featuring Gerry McCullough. My American friends and I want more-we’re learning lots of tantalizing things! :o) Belfast Girls is totally engaging and edgy-just what I need on the weekends. Well done!

  3. Terrific post. Nice work, Gerry and Dan. I loved Belfast Girls. It remains one of my absolute favorite reads.


  4. Great interview, Gerry!

  5. I’ve so been waiting to read this book. As soon as life gets better it’s off my tbr list and into my hands.

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