Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
Born in Belfast, March 2, 1942. Apparently I was the first, or one of the first, babies to have the Rhesus blood transfusion, so maybe I got a writer’s blood. I always wanted to be a newspaper reporter – with a friend I started our own little newsletter around the Northwood, Shore Road estate when we were about 10. And being from the Shore Road I’m an ardent Hatchet Man, for those poor souls who don’t know, that’s a Crusaders fan. I am currently heading up the campaign to establish a Crusaders Museum.
I have worked on a number of newspapers and magazines as an award-winning staffer and freelance, when newspapers were proper newspapers, including, from my first job: The Mid Ulster Mail, Belfast Telegraph, Larne Times, Mansfield Chronicle-Advertiser, Sunderland Echo, Hereford Evening News, CityWeek, Sunday News, News Letter, Irish News, World Soccer and Soccer Star.
I am a former Chairman of the Belfast Branch of the NUJ. As an Arts/Entertainment Editor I have attended two Oscar ceremonies and 13 Cannes Film Festival and I was a co-founder of the Guild of Regional Film Writers and a former Chair of Dance Northern Ireland.
I have travelled extensively and written and broadcast about my trips. My daughter, Heidi, publishes and edits the award winning tourist guidebook, Belfast in Your Pocket and she and I have co-hosted our own magazine programme on a local radio station.
Q. What prompted you to start writing?
I always wanted to, starting as a journalist – as both a general and sports reporter and subsequently as a columnist, Chief Sub, Features Editor, Sports Editor, Arts and Entertainment Editor.
Q. How long does it take you to write a novel?
I am not, alas, a disciplined writer so it can take a matter of weeks or months to start and finish a novel. I am easily distracted and, I have to confess, lazy.
Q. Was there much research involved?
My great interest has long been the American Civil War – I have a large library and archive of related material – and my novels are set during and immediately following the conflict. I frequently visit the Southern States where I have many friends and if I’m planning or working on a story I can do additional research. I can also write travel pieces on the places I visit.
Q. Where do you find your inspiration? Are you influenced by anything in particular?
Just an idea popping into my head, where it has plenty of room to ferment. All of my chief characters are female so my inspiration comes from my many strong, independent, feisty female friends. I also like the idea of placing my characters in unusual, fish-out-of-water experiences and seeing where they go: I have sent a widow and her young daughter on a long wagon train journey, a Mississippi school ma’am on a task of running a paddle steamer, two sisters to New Mexico to run a suddenly acquired business, a poetess on a cross-American journey and three friends on a journey of great danger. And in all my stories I never know what will happen next, my characters seem to take over and decide for themselves.
Q. What would be your criteria for a good story?
As a writer even my villains must have redeeming qualities but the reader must have characters to love ... and hate. Try to give readers as many ‘Goodness, I never knew that” moments as possible.
Q. Who are your favourite authors?
The ‘old’ ones like the Americans Mark Twain, Thomas Wolf as well as the classic English writers ... I also read a lot of history. But as an avid reader I can happily be engrossed by a sauce bottle label.
Q. What was the last book you read?
Re-read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and PG Woodhouse. I also recently rediscovered several old William books and I can still laugh at the adventures of William Brown and his friends.
Q. How important as a writer is support from family and friends?
I have a great friend, Angela, who constantly advises, reviews and helps with research ... and, in many ways, the friend who encouraged me to expand from being a deadline-chasing hack into attempting the more ambitious novel, the late journalist, David Culbert. I owe Dave a lot.
Q. Have you any advice for aspiring authors?
Just do it, stop thinking you’d love to write a book, only you can ... so do it. NOW!
Q. What are your plans for the future? What can we expect from you next?
I finish one novel and wonder if that’s the last thing I will ever write, so I have no concrete plans ... maybe I’ve written myself out. But maybe not ... we shall all have to wait and see.