Interview with Greg McVicker

Your first book was a Personal Memoir. What inspired you to write it?
I honestly think that serious writing for me began at the delicate age of 15, upon leaving my beloved hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, over 32 years ago. One sunny Saturday morning, which was July 19, 1985, my family and I immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Even before we left, homesickness took an unprecedented toll on me which lasted well over 18 extremely difficult years. It was then that I wrote countless letters to friends, but those eventually became fewer and fewer. This was absolutely heartbreaking to me as everything I loved and longed for was quite literally disappearing; there was simply nothing that I could do about it.

I believe that it was back in 1986 through to 1988 and while attending school in Winnipeg, which was completely foreign to me, that I began writing poetic stories about life events based on my own experiences growing up in Northern Ireland, or that of someone else who had the profound courage to share their story with me regardless of how positive or challenging it was. I would compose each piece, but as seen through my own two eyes. My goal was to actually make songs, but it never worked out as such, but did have a lyrical flow to them.

After my second trip home to Northern Ireland in 1998, the first being 1992, homesickness had once again grasped me fully within its clutches. I composed approximately twenty poems over a period of a few years and would share them with friends, family, and co-workers. The inspiration behind my first book and personal memoir, ‘Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child: Life. Personal Reflections. Poems.’ started in 1998 with my poetic, storytelling compositions. However, the motivation for the actual book came into play in August of 2010 when a colleague suggested that I write a book. Although I had been told this many times before, I never truly put any serious effort forth in doing so.
Did you find the writing process to be challenging? How did you approach it?
In some respects, yes. In others, no. I guess it depended on what was happening in the world around me which would lead to a frenzy of writing, or, time to pause and edit each piece within the book and either add more of my thoughts or edit what I had already written.

The initial draft of my personal memoir was written approximately within a two-week time frame and had consisted of 42,000 words. Since 20 of my storytelling poems had already been constructed, I began building my own personal reflections around each one. I then began incorporating six of ten editorial articles that I had written as a volunteer staff writer for the University of Manitoba student newspaper called The Manitoban. This was during the final four months of my pursuits to gain my Bachelor of Social Work degree. Each article is based on world issues that were occurring at the time and in which I felt I needed to bring much needed awareness too. Sadly enough, they are as much a factor today in the human journey of life as the day I first wrote them.

At the time of writing, I thought it was best to provide readers an idea as to what was behind the composition of each poem, where I was at in life, and then expand upon those thoughts. However, that was challenged by a friend and colleague who grew up in County Down but resides in Manitoba. She told me that I was giving away far too much of myself and not allowing readers the chance to see how my journey was their journey, and that I needed to pull back somewhat. To be honest, and from that advise, I went on to find that writing the book was the easiest part of the entire process. It was editing it was the most tiring and trying!
Editing was the most challenging aspect of the process? Is this the same for all of your books?
In my mind and beyond any reasonable doubt, yes! Even for the two latest books I have written and published, "An Irish Heart: Poetic Memoirs of a Belfast Child" and "One Cross to Bear: Humanity through Narrative Prose", I certainly do not enjoy the editing process whatsoever. I have ideas in mind as how I would like the final product to look, feel, taste, read, ignite thoughts, stir up countless emotions as well as a plethora of feelings, and to then hear how each composition has impacted various readers and get their thoughts on them.

With respect to my personal memoir, ‘Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child’, my pet dog, Brandy, who had been with me for just over sixteen years, died within my arms on the evening of Independence Day. Even though at that time I thought I was done with the manuscript, I immediately turned to writing as my coping mechanism. This included telling Brandy’s story and how she came into my life up until the day of her death, and the events associated in trying to come to terms with her passing. At the same time back home in Northern Ireland, yearly events of hatred started to once again make their ugly presence known, which led to even more reflective writing. That draft kept growing until it reached 88,000 words, but I had to cut it back by 13,000 words. Remember as I was saying that I was told that I had given so much of myself away? Well, that was part of what ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak.

I guess with the poetry compositions, it was a frenzy of writing over a very short period of time in August and September, but even that can be a challenge on its own. The ideas are there and flow, but it is a matter of taking scrambled thoughts and making sense of them on paper. Some of the pieces I composed for 'One Cross to Bear' I researched before writing, including the story of Maeve Roe, who is the Banshee of Dunluce Castle which sits on the North Antrim coast back home. The others included the Cave Hill which was not far from where I grew up, as well as the story of our legendary Irish Giant, Fionn Mac Cumhaill and his home called the Giant's Causeway. The rest of the poems are based on true life issues and experiences and seem to come to me without much effort at all.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
That is a funny question for as soon as I read it, I remember sitting in my third year of secondary school back home in Belfast, an English class. We were asked to write a story to which my mind was completely blank. No matter how much I stared at the page, the lined paper remained very much the same as my mind - blank!

Since I did not want to get beaten by our teacher and his very pliable strap that he would bend around his arm for full effect, I began reflecting on musical lyrics from bands I would listen too on a regular basis with my mates. The chosen song in my mind was by AC/DC; the song was called 'Night Prowler'. Needless to say, I incorporated those lyrics into the story and saved myself from getting my hands lashed that day. It is a pity that I could not do that for every class. Then again, if those very teachers were into Rock N' Roll and listened to the music that I did, perhaps those cheeky efforts to save my hide would not have worked very well after all.
What is the most rewarding part of the whole writing experience for you? Or the most painful?
It is rewarding for me to see my books in print, online, in book stores, on tables at festivals, and in speaking to people about each book and the background behind them. However, it is the feedback that I receive which is truly the most rewarding in hearing how readers have taken to my works. Each book, in itself, is a labour of love yet a painful process due to the task of editing. I want to ensure that each book is a masterpiece in how it is crafted so that others are just as proud in what they are reading and seeing to what I am writing and am putting together. I am probably my own worst critic!

My dad, Charles, always told us kids that we "only get one dig at it.” What he meant is there is only one chance to do things right so make our mistakes on paper. As much as I appreciate and reflect upon his ongoing insights and guidance, and if I am truly honest with myself, his advice has somewhat become the bain of my existence. My biggest challenge from a personal standpoint is that I work from a ‘perfectionist’ lens. To finally have three books out there with one more in production is a feeling of glorious relief and personal reward, yet I am always hoping that others see the finished product as a work of art and extreme perseverance as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I am not so sure about the first story that I ever read except for one that my brother had written for school while he was attending grammar school in Belfast. However, while I was in the final year of my Social Work degree, Nikki Sixx, bassist and founding member of Mötley Crüe, had released his own extremely revealing memoir called 'The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star.' I had met Nikki during that time frame, yet I was completely unaware of the struggles and personal demons that he himself as a self-made millionaire and musician was facing on a daily basis.

His book completely changed my outlook on those who have issues of substance misuse, and have actually helped form my practice as a Social Worker and Supervisor in the field that I am currently working in. It was a sobering wakeup call and life changing as seen through his personal memories. Thanks, Nikki!
How do you approach cover design?
The cover designs that I use for my books are from home. Places I remember going to as a child or would love to visit. Or things that are very personal to me, as is the case with the cover of 'Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child'. That cover is taken from the Cave Hill along the Antrim Road just outside of the city of Belfast. It was a part of my community growing up in Northern Ireland, and looks out towards where I grew up. So, in essence, it brings me a sense of belonging each time I look at it.

The same can be said for 'An Irish Heart'. The picture is taken about five miles from where I grew up, just behind our house and across the field atop the mountain. Knockagh Monument, which is a poem within the book, also has a reflective piece written about it as well in 'Belfast Child'. My brother and I would cycle up to it as young lads and would look out to our house from there, and to our mum. It was a difficult journey getting up there as a youngster on a Raleigh Chopper bicycle, let alone the fact that I am a bronchial asthmatic.

For 'One Cross to Bear', the image of the Celtic Cross struck me as such: “As an Irish Poet and Author, Celtic Crosses are very much a part of our culture. To me, the cross in the grass seems broken, but resilient. Forgotten, but has memories. Unattended, but at peace. Not only does it give meaning, it very much defines various aspects of my own existence. Although the footprint that each of us leave behind is considered unique in its impression, it is shared with perfect strangers who become acquaintances through poetic inscription. After all, in the human experience called life, we all have One Cross To Bear.”

My next book which is currently in production and contains the first of three stories in what I hope will be a four book series based on the true life experiences of my childhood entitled, 'The Adventures of Silly Billy', has a beautiful picture of Belfast Castle on the cover. So, needless to say, I am still in search of my childhood and a long-lost identity through both the cover designs and the internal contents of my books.
What have you learned about yourself during the writing process?
That is a loaded question, but an important one. I have learned a number of things about myself including that writing one's own personal story, and the stories of those who come into our lives in whatever presentation, is a never-ending journey whether good, bad, or otherwise. Writing these books and poems for me has become one in which myself, as the author, exposes all of my own vulnerabilities, inhibitions, troubles, difficulties, memories, along with my trials and tribulations to the outside world along with those who stories I've captured through my lens all the while telling the stories of several thousand others. Whether it is my story or that or another person, it is a sense of gaining deeply personal, self-awareness which becomes extremely prevalent in the books and stories that are being told through my eyes and hands. That in itself can take a huge emotional toll.

A few years ago and when I published my personal memoir, I coined this phrase: “In life, we all have a cross to bear and a very unique story to tell; we just hope that someone will take the time to listen.” In essence, it truly is about wearing one's heart on their sleeve and putting each and every vulnerability worldview, feeling, emotion, and heartfelt challenge out in the open for everyone to see and interpret from their own perspectives, whether or not they agree with it. That is what makes us all unique.

I learned that putting a book out for the world to see is not as easy as it looks. The investment of blood, sweat, and tears, the hours, the perseverance, the emotional and the financial commitments that are invested into the art of writing, developing, supporting and promoting each book are beyond any sort of measurable equation. It comes down to a personal level of wanting to see how successful one wants to become, based on what they are willing to sacrifice.
How do you feel now that you have three books completed and fully published?
On one hand, I am relieved! On the other hand, I am beyond shattered. I also hold down a full-time job as a Supervisor in the Social Work field, as well as have a full-time schedule in being a parent as well as all of the promotional work that goes on behind the scenes in bringing each book to the global community.

However, and as I mentioned much earlier in this interview, I do believe that writing is the easiest part of it all. It is the editing, post-production work, reviewing, tweaking, and then all of the publishing woes that come along as well to ensure that each and every book fulfills the requirements that are needed to bring them to the eyes of the world. I stated that I am my own worst critic; anyone who knows me on a personal level will very much agree with that statement. Three books published now in full is nothing to sneeze at, but I look at those authors who have written an exponential amount more than myself and think, wow. How far have I come; how far have I to go. I guess it is a matter of taking each book as they come and crafting them to be their own masterpieces and appreciating the accomplishment and end result, rather than constantly critiquing oneself.
Based on your previous response, is your creative process more ‘inspirational’ or ‘perspirational’?
Wow. That is a great question. Honestly, I believe my creative process is definitely inspirational as there are those who inspired me throughout my life. Specifically, my mum. Growing up in Belfast during a very difficult period known as ‘The Troubles’, I watched her go to extreme lengths to ensure her children were able to receive an education, provided for our every need, all the while providing a mother’s love to her family during a very dark and turbulent time due to the religious and political upheaval that was occurring all around us.

In my personal and professional engagements, I have found inspiration from others in how they themselves have overcome some extremely personal and difficult challenges. We can all learn from one another. As my First Nations sisters and brothers will often say, we have to prepare for the next Seven Generations. That should not be 'perspirational' in its approach or development, but inspirational.
What makes a good book, and what is next for you?
What makes a good book is one that draws each reader in, exposes their emotions, touches every nerve ending within their soul, and keeps them spellbound. Thus, not only do they not want to put the book down, but they will go back and read it time and time again.

When I write books, my hope is to captivate readers, have them visualize events or locations, become engaged within the story, and allow for them to be swept along by an emotional roller coaster. If a book can make people laugh hysterically one moment only to then immediately shift their emotions to uncontrollable tears, anger, grief, sadness, provoke thoughts and allows for them to have personal introspection regarding their own life, I believe the book has achieved its goal.

I have written two children’s books, which are now going to be part of “The Adventures of Silly Billy” along with the third story based on my real-life experiences growing up in Belfast, These will appeal to children, parents, and schoolteachers of all ages since we can all relate to our childhood experiences as part of our development and growth.

Lastly, and although I am currently in talks to scribe a book for another individual who would like to share their story with the world, my hope is to have my personal memoir be developed into a screenplay. It is a story that keeps on giving of itself regardless of where our life starts, takes us, and where it eventually ends up. In the meantime, I am currently working on the audio book formats of each of my books, as well as possibly having an original score set to some of the poems within 'An Irish Heart'. Stay tuned, there is much in progress.

My personal thanks to you all for this opportunity to share!
Greg McVicker.
Published 2017-11-01.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

At Least He Wasn't Hitting You...
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 40,290. Language: English. Published: August 28, 2018. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » Relationships & Family » Abuse / domestic partner abuse
After meeting the man of her dreams and saying, “I do,” one woman realizes her lover’s modus operandi is to gain ultimate power and control over her life by utilizing malicious patterns of verbal, emotional, financial and psychological abuse. In this gripping, unsettling personal memoir, the fight for survival while enduring unfathomable trauma becomes a do-or-die situation.
Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child: Life. Personal Reflections. Poems.
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 74,590. Language: English. Published: August 11, 2018. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » Inspiration » Personal inspiration
A heartfelt memoir. Leaving behind family in war torn Belfast, this story is oft described as a direct reflection of immigrants who have experienced political and religious persecution and upheaval, only to be met with harrowing challenges and unexpected trauma while trying to resettle in a county that was full of promise, hope, and new beginnings. Telling his story tells the story of many others.
Four Green Fields: Irish Banter & Stories, Shenanigans & Poetry.
Price: $6.99 USD. Words: 80,230. Language: English. Published: July 10, 2018. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
The authors of 'Four Green Fields' open the doors of their closets and introduce us to family skeletons, put flesh on their bones and make them dance! Glimpse into the wacky world of their Irish upbringing with humorous tales, family members devoid of any sense of political correctness who wreak havoc and cause embarrassment, as well as intimate Irish memories told by each author's own poetry!
The Adventures of Silly Billy: Sillogy: Volume 1.
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 30,860. Language: English. Published: December 8, 2017. Categories: Nonfiction » Relationships & Family » Life stages / general, Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs
Irish Author and Poet, Greg McVicker, brings us on three, true life adventures from his childhood while growing up in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. These hilarious, heartwarming stories will have readers laughing continuously, all the while reflecting on their own memories of yesterday. Suitable for all ages, each story ends with its own moral!
An Irish Heart: Poetic Memoirs of a Belfast Child
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 11,800. Language: English. Published: November 1, 2017. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Inspiration » Personal inspiration
Using his unique and distinctive style of storytelling by way of stanza and prose, Irish Author and Poet, Greg McVicker, dives headfirst into the turbulent cycle of life. He writes unashamedly from his heart, using powerful imagery and descriptive quotes that beautifully support and paint a vivid picture throughout his poetic narratives, all the while carrying readers along on a whirlwind journey!
One Cross To Bear: Humanity through Narrative Prose
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 15,720. Language: English. Published: October 27, 2017. Categories: Nonfiction » Social Science » Storytelling
Using his distinctive style of storytelling by way of stanza and prose, Irish Poet and Author, Greg McVicker, dives headfirst into the turbulent cycle of life. In “One Cross to Bear”, he takes us on a whirlwind journey of growing up in his native Northern Ireland, up to the present day in Canada. Greg writes unashamedly from the heart, carrying readers along on the waves on an emotional tsunami.