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INTERVIEW: FTN interviews Garry McElherron, author of MourneQuest

March 2nd, 2013 by Irwin Fletcher Comments

Here at FTN, we like to support local talent and today we’re talking to Garry McElherron, a Newry author that has just released what could be Ireland’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Garry, thanks for talking to us.

GME: First of all let me say thank you for the opportunity to talk about my favourite subject. The comparison to Lord of the Rings is too much though. I’d settle for Ireland’s answer to The Hobbit. Just kidding.

FTN: Let’s start by telling people who you are.

GME: My name is Garry and my profession is very far removed from my writing. I work in the medical field and deal with facts. But in my quieter moments I sit and write. I’m 43 years old now and I have three kids but the writing thing is still there.

The Dullahan

FTN: Has writing always been a passion for you?

GME: I think I am more of a storyteller than a writer. Writing is an impossibly frustrating way of getting what is in my head out there. I would call it a love-hate relationship. I love writing; it’s the editing and re-drafting that’s the hate bit.

FTN: What sort of sci-fi did you watch growing up?

GME: I ate sci-fi up with a great big spoon (even now, I cannot get my fill). Sitting down as a child with excitement watching Joe 90 in his great big metal Chocolate Orange or hearing the theme tune to the Six Million Dollar Man from upstairs and nearly breaking an ankle to get to the TV set, in slow motion, in time for the opening credits. Dr Who was a favourite. I even wrote to Tom Baker (he never replied I might add), Space 1999, Holmes and Yoyo, America’s Greatest Hero, the Hulk, Star Trek and so many more. Even Barbapapa…

And as for movies… Westworld, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Logan’s Run, Superman, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Bladerunner, Alien and the Granddaddy of them all, Star Wars.

FTN: What was your inspiration for MourneQuest?

GME: That’s an easy one. My son, Jack, inspired the book. There is a wood close by my house where in May time there is an abundance of bluebells. It is a magical place and after we visited it we went dandelion hunting. I took a great photo of Jack holding a dandelion waiting to blow on it and make a wish. You can see the belief in his eyes. He was only four at the time. Then a few nights later, when I was reading him his bedtime story he asked me where dandelion clocks went when you blew on them. That was all it took. The story grew and grew each night until I got to the point where I thought it might be an idea to put it down on paper.

My other children are very much a part of the story too. Tess and Grace. Each character reflects my children.

FTN: I started out with The Time Warriors by watching and reading some rubbish and thought I could do better than that! Ever think like that?

GME: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, but bad writing was an incentive to see if I could do any better. Again, I think people have some great ideas; it’s the execution that usually falls down. Writing is a craft like any other and it is one I know I’ll never master. I had a mentor and I learned more from her in 6 months than I would have on my own in 10 years.

FTN: did you have the complete story in your head or did it evolve as you were writing it?

GME: Oh no, it certainly wasn’t complete. It began as a story to tell a four year old. I didn’t sit down and think of the overreaching arc, antagonist/protagonist and the scenes that needed to convey a story. But I always knew it was set in 19th CenturyIreland.

The first version of MourneQuest was called Dandelion and it was a 6,000 word children’s book. But that all changed when I met a fantastic Northern Irish writer called Declan Carville. He read it and looked at the illustrations that were done by an extremely talented artist called John Farrelly.

Declan liked what he read but thought it needed to be much bigger; a novel. He loved the fact that Jack Turner lived in the Mournes but he hated the idea that he should go somewhere magical calledMulberryForest. He thought the Mournes were a better setting and I should explore that more. As a great fan of the Mournes it was a no-brainer.

Declan also thought the original Cobs the Bear should be done away with but I couldn’t do that, so the new Cobs, Cobs the Clurichaun was named after him. John Farrelly came up with the concept of a twenty-first style Leprechaun, almost post-apocalyptic. The drawings were incredible but Leprechaun became Clurichaun and the rest is history.

FTN: Given the locations in your book are real, did that help you visualize the concept?

The Shimnavore

GME:That’s a really good question. It did help but in some places it was a hindrance. I knew geographically where I wanted to crescendo to happen and thanks to a tunnel under the mountains made

by the Dunneywater tunnelers that was able to happen.

Some of the characters wrote themselves into the book. For example, the Three Sisters of the Heather: Erica Tetralix, Erica Ling and Erica Cinerea are the actual Latin names of the heathers that cover theMourneMountains. Colocera, Trevor the Tree Warrior and quite a few others came about from research.

My favourite fact revolves around a geographical event called the ‘Holocene’. I mean what a word and what it is, is even more amazing.

The book can be carried around the mountains. You can go to the Stepping Stones inTollymoreForest, visit Fofanny Dam. Climb onto Pierce’s Castle. Cloc Mor stone plays a big part as does the Mourne Wall.

The geography is inspirational. Narnia was based on the Mournes and they are in the process of putting in the Narnia Trail. Who knows The MourneQuest Trail may happen one day. A three day expedition, ‘cos that’s how long it takes Jack Turner.

FTN: Your artwork is excellent. Did the artist capture your vision as you had it in your head and who is he?

GME: The main artist in the book is John Farrelly, a best mate since school days. We hadn’t seen each other for ages and he came up to my house one night for a few jars. A few became a few too many and I told him I was writing a fantasy story and I described Cobs the Bear.

FTN: I rambled on for a bit, as I’m prone to do (with or without a drink) and when I’d finished he handed me a pencil drawing of Cobs. It was as if someone had gone into my mind and plucked Cobs out and put him on paper. From then on John became the artist to do all the sketches and detailed drawings. Another old friend Alan Perry painted over John’s sketches of Cobs and the dreaded Shimnavore and that is the front cover of the book. Their collaboration is nothing short of sublime.

John has a website where you can see his work and get commissions done. He is a great caricaturist. The sit is well worth a visit.

Alan Perry has a blog as well. He is incredible. The attention to detail is second to none. Check out here.

FTN: You also released a companion book Jack’s Journal. What was your thinking behind that?

GME: It was done out of practicality and writers block. Whenever I was stuck, I would take Johns art and my photographs of the Mournes and play around with them. Then the thought struck me. Since it would prove far too expensive to put illustrations in the novel, why not let the reader decide if they want to purchase the artwork separately.

I decided on a journal format. It is written in Jack’s hand and has all the pictures taken with an old Box Brownie (modern technology rendered old) and the sketches and drawings are presents from Cobs the Clurichaun or doodled by Jack himself. It was the kind of thing I did as a kid, making up whole scrapbooks.

FTN: Self-publishing is a tough market. How are you promoting the books?

GME: Self-publishing is a steep learning curve. I was very fortunate along the way to get onto a mentorship programme run by LitNetNI. They are a fantastic arts funded writers body who take writers and pair them up with someone in their chosen field. I was lucky to be mentored by Lindsey Fraser from Fraser Ross, a Scottish literary firm. She spent nearly a year with me helping me hone my writing. In the end, I had a manuscript and I started sending it out to publishers knowing there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell of getting it accepted. I was right of course, after the third rejection letter and the fifth month I thought I’d do it myself. That’s where the internet comes in handy.

As for the promotion, that is a learning curve too. MourneQuest in on all platforms: Kindle, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Lulu,

Using media such as Twitter, Facebook, local radio and Newspaper is a way to get it to a local audience and hopefully from there it will grow.

The Newry branches of Waterstones and Easons are selling it and I am looking into getting the book in all the Waterstones shops as it has sold well over the Christmas period. I will be doing a book signing in Waterstones soon as well.

FTN: Have you plans for sequels? If not, have you other books you want to write?

Trevor. The Tree Warrior

GME: I have a series of MourneQuest mapped out but I am waiting to see how well this one will fair out. I have a great title for the second in the series. All be it a scary title it is a direct inspiration from theMourneMountains.

But sometimes it is an idea to let characters sit for a while. They develop in the subconscious. I swear Cobs lives in my study in a hundred year old chest next to my tiny window.

I also have a manuscript I wrote 8 years ago- a fully fledged novel but it needs a lot of polishing. It’s called Synapse: A Certain Train of Thought. It is an adult venture this time. Part sci-fi/ medical/ part murder chase. It’s also set inNorthern Irelandand is about a regular Joe who gets contaminated by something he has inadvertently touched and goes on to pick his nose and infect himself…what happens next is a good romping story.

I would also like to resurrect my first ever novel I wrote when I was about 21, called The DreamMaster; a horror story, but unfortunately the film ‘Seven’ came out so I shelved it. I wrote mine 5 years before that movie and sent it into aLondonwriter’s competition. Ah well c’est la vie.

Having said all that, I want to see MourneQuest grow.

I find Irish mythology is very rich for story telling, something the world seems to have forgotten. I’m on a mission to put us back at the forefront of the science fiction genre globally with the Time Warriors. Is that something you are aiming for with MourneQuest?

All mythology is inspirational but I have a soft spot for Irish folklore. It is so rich in beauty. I have characters in MourneQuest from the ancient stories ofIreland.

If you ask most people nowadays to name any evil creatures fromIreland’s past, they’d be doing well to remember the Banshee. MourneQuest has them all: Banshees, Merrows, Pookah, Watershee, Sheerie and my favourite the Dullahan, the original headless horseman. But there is a new addition to the cast, A Shimnavore ( now there’s a word just begging to be Googled), born of the River Shimna and cannot be killed . No weapon can defeat it and one touch ages you a hundred years in an instant.

Also, I’m trying to encourage people to go and explore the Mournes, starting withTollymoreForest, where you can find the Stepping Stones that saved Jack’s life. You can walk the trail of the Drinns and go to the spot where the Curraghard tree stands. All be it in the True Kingdom of Mourne.

FTN: What shows at the minute fire your imagination?

GME: A big favourite of mine, and has been now for a number of years, is ‘Fringe.’ It ends soon and there will be a big gap to fill. It has every ingredient that makes a good show; brilliant characterization, especially Walter Bishop. The actor John Noble is superb on screen. The storytelling is wonderful. It reaches its finale at its 100th episode and promises to go out with a bang.

Guilty pleasures are Continuum, Alphas and The Neighbors (not to be mistaken for the Aussie show). I also love American Horror Story, disturbing with just the right amount of psychological/ physical danger.

I still re-watch The Prisoner (Not Prisoner Cell Block H) because it is timeless. Patrick McGoohan was another great actor and when I saw him inColomboand he said “be seeing you,” I nearly screamed.

I’ve just seen The Hobbit and I think MourneQuest would lend itself to the big screen. I have already eaten a box or two of imaginary popcorn while watching it., not in 3d, in my dreams.

FTN: If you could write for one television show, what would it be?

GME: I would love the chance to write for Eastenders. There, that threw you I’ll bet. In my episode, aliens from a distant and parallel galaxy would contaminate theThames, then the water supply toAlbert Squarewould turn them all into Ken Dodd-like Diddy men, and they’d all be extremely happy.

However, on a less serious note I would love to write for Fringe and carry the show beyond its 100 episodes. Oh, and The Big Bang Theory, Norn Iron stylie.

FTN: I find that it strange that people can regulate their writing; for me when the zone grips me, I could be up to all hours writing. Did you have a similar experience when writing these books?

GME: I have a full time job, albeit I don’t work Wednesdays, and I have three kids, a social life I try to keep alight and a wife that likes to see me once in a while. She has been very understanding with my obsession with MourneQuest. She has even put up with me missing my turn to do the dishes because Cobs and Jack are calling me out to play.

I wrote religiously 2 to 3 hours every other night and at weekends, but mainly after 10pm, when all is quiet in the house. But I write down my ideas no matter where or when I am. I record it on my phone.

FTN: Tell us where people can buy MourneQuest and Jack’s Journal.

GME: Ah, the plug… You can read the first chapter or two free online if you go to Amazon or Nook. Then if you don’t like it you won’t be annoyed at forking out your hard earned money.

MourneQuest can be found at the following: The Newry branches of Waterstones, Easons, Heart and Home and The Art House in Newry. Also in Newcastle Tourist office.

It can be found online at Amazon, Ibooks, Nook at Barnes and Noble, for our American friends.

My website, on Lulu and here.

Thanks for talking to us and folks, get out there and experience the world of MourneQuest. You know you want to.

FTN: Thank you. It has been my pleasure. And folks, even if you never pick up MourneQuest at least Google ‘the Mournes’; the most fantastical place on the planet

I'm an LA journalist who really lives for his profession. I have also published work as Jane Doe in various mags and newspapers across the globe. I normally write articles that can cause trouble but now I write for FTN because Nerds are never angry, so I feel safe.