INTERVIEW with JOE McCOUBREY
Questions: Roy Murry
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
These days I am now a full-time action thriller writer, although in a sense - as a former Irish newspaper editor - I always was! In the early seventies I was working in the Civil Service based at Stormont, the seat of the Northern Ireland government, and was watching behind the scenes as some of the country’s most momentous events unfolded. These were the early dark days of the “troubles” — events that reverberated around the world, and somehow served to push me towards my real passion of writing. I became a newspaperman, started my own media business, and took a front row seat as history was played out in Ireland.
I have lived all my life in the beautiful Irish town of Downpatrick, made famous by its association with the national patron saint, St. Patrick. I have three wonderful daughters and two grandsons.
Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Goodness, that’s almost too far back! I used to relieve the urge to write by penning a number of short stories – anywhere between 500 to 2,000 words. I never published any of these and, sadly, I’ve since lost the manuscripts which were produced on an old portable typewriter and boxed away in an attic. There was no such thing in those days as saving work to a file and uploading for safe storage on Cloud!
They were, however, an excellent way to develop my writing style, as well as learning how to overcome some pretty basic early gaffes that paid scant attention to POV, head-hopping and other such pitfalls.
Were you inspired by someone or something?
The first big influences on my writing could not have been farther apart when it comes to style. They were romantic novelist Jane Austen and action guru, Alastair Maclean. With Austen, there is a constant sense of how captivating the written word can be, while with Maclean there is the sprinkling of drama, tension, and pathos that often make the words come alive on the page.
Over the past number of years I've enjoyed the styles of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, the late Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, David Baldacci, and James Patterson. They produce works that are not only a great read but succeed, where too many others fail, in putting the reader into the heart of the action. You can learn a lot from the style of writers like these but budding authors should never try to emulate. It’s important for an author to find his or her own style – without it I would suggest it is almost impossible to pen a credible story.
I guess the biggest influence was being in the heart of the Irish troubles. These were horrific times but, perversely, they produced fertile ground for fiction storytelling – not least because so many incidents and experiences could be based on fact. In those days it didn’t need much imagination to come up with plausible plots for a range of action thriller scenarios.
What do you like about writing a story?
I love the freedom that writing provides in being able to take my imagination into dark and dangerous places! I am not one of those authors who like to storyboard or plot out their book before committing the first words to paper. I like to fly uninhibited, letting the story move off in different directions, almost on a whim. I think it adds to the creativity of a story line if you can suddenly decide to open a new angle, or kill off a character simply because the point at which you are in a story demands it. Pre-planning or pre-plotting would, for me, destroy this ad hoc excitement.
Can you tell us about your book?
My first book – SOMEONE HAS TO PAY – has its background in the last days of the Northern Ireland troubles. Essentially, it is about how the British Government and the IRA tussle for superiority as the clamour for peace points inexorably to a permanent ceasefire. Both sides know they are heading for peace talks but each are determined to hold all the aces when the time comes to get around a table.
The follow-up book – ABSENCE OF RULES – is more global. In many ways it is a bit of a throwback to James Bond, brought up to date with current current-terrorism campaigns against the like of al-Qaeda. The action takes place in Paris, London, Moscow and various parts of the USA.