Tuesday 19 March 2019

An Interview With Writer, Journalist and Activist Felicty McCaul - A Legend Of Irish Writing

 Writer, Journalist and Activist Felicty McCaul 

Are you happier now that you're not involved in journalism? 

I don’t think I’ll ever not be involved in journalism. I’ve been a proud member of the National Union of Journalists for almost 40 years now, which qualifies me for life membership. While it’s no longer my main source of income, I will never stop following news and current affairs – and having my indirect input. Journalism is a great training for creative writing- from the research to the discipline of deadlines. All my creative writing has underlying journalism. 

You appear to be very busy - what with directing,writing, activismand many other things. How do you get time to write? 

I’ve a wide portfolio – I’m not doing all these different disciplines at the same time. I love the flexibility of my world- the last year has been a serious period of solitary writing followed by the current PR and publicity tour, and my involvement with Literary Ladies complements this. That followed two years with a lot of theatre work and the coming months look to be rich in community possibilities- another core ethic of my practice.

I was born and raised an ‘issues person’ - not my description!- and involvement in neighbourhood environmental work, trade unionism, perceived miscarriages of justice, integrated all ability education, and more, is simply part of life.

I think writers are always writing in their head and some of my breakthroughs and inspiration come when I’m doing something unrelated. It’s only for the first and subsequent drafts for a deadline that writing has to take over. 

This is your 21st published work - would you say it's your best? 

It’s close to my heart and was written first for my daughter ...I’m delighted it has touched a chord and may be inspiring others to write their own story./ There’s a wealth of hidden history out there. We owe our antecedents to set the record straight 

Why is your book called 'Tombstones Lie an Imagined Memoir'? An obvious question but why 'an Imagined Memoir'? Does it really fall into the category of Memoir if it's imagined? 

It was difficult to define a genre- earlier drafts had incarnations as a short story for a collection, and a novella- it’s a mixture of genealogical research, social history, and the impact of the journey on myself as well as three other lives. I’ve called it ‘imagined memoir’ because I could only direct my questions to the women I’d never met and try to build an emotionally honest account of their life. 

Is this work intended for Adults? 

For anyone who enjoys it 

Do you find it difficult to make a living from writing? 

At the start, yes, which is why journalism is a great transitional tool. My first two novels were written while I was freelancing as a court reporter. Like many writers, I supplement my income by arts facilitation, commissions,mentoring and talks. Since entering my 60s I’ve readjusted the work/life balance more in favour of life. There are always surprises in what is financially successful. I never set out to write a best seller so the intermittent economic successes have been a bonus 

Do you think you will ever get tired writing? 

I wrote my first book at four and clearing out a house found a list of books my seven year old self intended to write as an adult. So, not until my mind and physical ability stop me 

What is your preferred genre? 

I love the variety, and the blend of reclusive writing time and social and community engagement. Without it, I couldn’t write 

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 

Write. Just do it. However stream of consciousness, or raw, get it on the page. Try to write something every day. Engage with writers’ groups and centres until you find one that offers non judgmental feedback and support.

Never give up. Don’t let rejection deter you. 

Are you still and an Irish Executive of the National Union of Journalists? 

I’ll be a lifelong NUJ member and while I don’t anticipate serving again on the Irish Executive, it was a wonderful experience and good to be the first woman jobshare Cathaoirleach. I’m Grievance officer with the active Derry and NW branch. And I organise the buns. Journalism is tough now- it’s all about supporting those coming after. 

Do you prefer writing plays or Novels? (*see above) 

You have had two Meyer Whitworth nominations how does that make you feel? 

Very proud and sad this marvellous scheme has been discontinued, as has the Tyrone Guthrie Award- like Arts Council endorsement, it’s not the money but the doors they open and the confidence they engender 

You are an activist a journalist a playwrite and novelist besides being a mother how do you fit all of this in?

(already answered but ) having a 28 year old, supportive, strong independent daughter must help- and I see it all as part of me, my voice, my life- it’s an overall package and writing is a huge part of it
book 'The Pigeon Men' was rather dark and 'Large Mammals, Stick Insects and Other Social Misfits' was more of a teen fiction. How do you manage to switch genres so easily?
Large Mammals, Stick Insects and Other Social Misfits
I don’t have a genre. Every writing project is different. A substantial amount of it has been inspired by people and areas I’ve been involved in in other areas of life- bereavement by suicide, childhood sexual abuse, alcohol and drug addiction and I like to think that rather than concentrating on the darker aspects, I’ve helped to give a voice to the voiceless. 

The YA novel was a direct response to a houseful of teenagers who loved diary genre novels and pointed out there were none set where they lived...Little Island, a marvellous publisher, liked the first three chapters...six weeks of very intense writing followed, then eight more drafts and it took off….it opened up another readership to me, here and abroad. It was my reflection on my ‘Derry Girls’

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