MY CULTURAL LIFE: Felicity McCall

The Derry~Londonderry author on her Young Adult debut, social networking and the benefits of a Donegal beach

If you were writing your own wiki page, how would you describe Felicity McCall? (Who/what/where/when/why type of thing.)

A native of South Armagh, I’m based in the North West of Ireland where I work as a freelance writer, theatre and film producer, arts facilitator, and occasional actor.

I’ve never completely left news and current affairs journalism; it was my BBC career for twenty years. I'm also a director of three companies, the writing and drama performance groups Handful Productions and Postscript Productions, and the film production company Brassneck Productions Ltd. My website, www.felicitymccall.com, is updated every month so that's a good way of following my news.

You are the author of Large Mammals, Stick Insects and other Social Misfits, can you tell us a bit about the book?

It's a novel in the diary genre with a narrator, Aimee, who's a fifteen year old with attitude, big plans, a wry sense of humour, and whose sideways look at life includes a tongue in cheek take on the plethora of terribly PC schemes directed at NI's first generation of children of the peace. 

The dreaded question – where did you get the idea for a book about social networking set in Derry~Londonderry?

I got the idea some five years ago when our home was alive with teenagers who loved reading and especially the diary genre of novels. They made the point that, while some things about being fifteen have universal truth, no one was writing in this genre about the society, geography, and political environment they identified with. They made the point several times, with heavy hints. So I wrote the first three chapters of Large Mammals...and invited constructive feedback. It would be another three years and many advances in social networking before I submitted the first fifty pages to Little Island, the synopsis became a full novel in three months and two years later Large Mammals... had its debut.

Did you have to do a lot of research or are you an avid social networker already?

I relied heavily on my team of youth advisors and my publishers to keep me up to date on every changing nuance. When Aimee first sat down at her laptop, Bebo was the site of choice, but, of course, it is now defunct.

I use social networking more and more for arts activities and PR as well as keeping in touch with friends. I realise it could become obsessive, but believe that some of what I perceive as the most blatant miscarriages of justice of past years (such as those tackled by the lobby group Portia) could not have happened if the immediacy and accessibility of today's communication networks had been in place.

Large Mammals... isn't your first novel, but it is your first YA/Children's book. Was it a difficult shift to make as a writer?

I'm fortunate in that, while the group who inspired Aimee have gone on to live their adult life, they remain my most constructive critics. A lot of my work in creative writing and drama involves our amazing young people. Also, I think there's a part of most of us which will be forever fifteen...

 What are you working on now? Will there be a sequel to Large Mammals...?

Yes, I'm working on the proposed sequel. It's now in its fourth draft and hopefully it will published in early 2014. I'm also working on a novella which developed from one of the planned short stories for my 2013 ACNI/Guildhall Press anthology A Pitying of Doves. Facilitation work includes a long term writing project with the Foyle Haven homeless centre, and Page to Stage drama workshops. I'll also be involved in the festival circuit this summer, starting with the Earhart in May, a flagship event for Derry~Londonderry.

You started off as a journalist and many of your books are non-fiction, but did you always have a hankering to write prose?

I've been an avid reader all my life and have been in love with the world of theatre since I was seven and saw my first live stage performance, so the urge was always there.

Making the transition from full/time journalism took twenty years before everything fell into place, but the worlds are not mutually exclusive. I still appear as a reviewer for the BBC and value the journalistic discipline of deadlines and writing something, however small, every day.

 What is your writing process? Sound or silence? Writing in chunks or snatching a few sentences where you can?

I never go anywhere without a notebook, sleep with one beside my bed and jot down ideas as and when they come. Once the structure is in place and I have a deadline, it's an intense process, seven days a week, most hours of the day over a period of months until the first draft is completed. I suspect my returns to the world of normality at this time are not as committed as they might be.

And, yes, silence. If things aren't taking shape as they should, a view of a Donegal beach and solitude can work wonders.

What other YA books would you recommend to people who enjoyed Large Mammals...?

Louise Rennison, anything from Little Island's young adult/teen catalogue, and favourites from my own youth include Alan Garner's The Owl Service

If you were making a soundtrack for large mammals, which three songs would you use and why?

For generic pop, how about Bruno Mars's 'Grenade, Beyonce's 'Run the World' and Katy Perry's 'Teen Age Dream'. For a slightly more alternative soundtrack, look to The Script and Florence and the Machine

If you had to pick would you rather Large Mammals... become a film or a tv series?

A TV series as it's more commercially feasible to make in Ireland. It would also allow scope for writing specific one off episodes and developing the character base. I'll be pursuing this...

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Other. If you could only be on social network for the rest of your life which would it be and why?

Facebook. Easy to use, good for professional links, and keeping track of friends and family. But never stalking.

Download an extract from Large Mammals, Stick Insects and other Social Misfits on Felicity McCall's website.