Ten MILLION words and still going strong!
Downpatrick author Joe McCoubrey reckons he’s chalked up close to ten million words during a lifetime of writing!
An Interview with Joe McCoubrey.
Working backwards, the count starts with his 8 published novels, which total over 750,000 words. Then there’s a 20-year career as a journalist, which adds about another 5 million, and a 17-year career as a Business Consultant preparing Business Plans, Economic Appraisals, and specialist reports… which contribute another 4 million.
“I’ve never really thought about it until now,” says Joe, “but when you add everything together it’s a lot of output, certainly enough to create a paper mountain if everything was printed out. I’m glad I don’t have to start over again.”
Just to put those figures into context, the overall word count equates to about 6 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, or 10 volumes of the King James Bible. It would also be enough to cover about 100 good-sized paperbacks!
When did the writing bug bite you ?
Joe said: “At an early stage. I can’t really say for sure, but I remember scribbling from about the age of 10. I tried my hand at poetry, essays, slogans – anything that provided an escape into an unreal world. I guess that’s where the urge to become an author really started.”
Joe’s first published words were in the pages of the local newspaper, the Down Recorder. “I used to submit football reports for Downpatrick Rec and ran a regular column for the Downpatrick Youth League. Things kinda snowballed from there. It was through this writing that I was offered a full-time job by the Recorder and started into a career that has brought a lot of reward and fulfilment.”
Joe took a journalism course at the College of Business Studies in Belfast and within three years was the paper’s managing editor. One of the young reporters he studied with was Deric Henderson, who later started a lifelong journey with the Press Association.
Deric’s investigative supplement on the Shankill Butchers in the Belfast Telegraph was ground-breaking, as was his book The Secret which told the story of Sunday school teacher Hazel Buchanan and dentist Colin Howell, who were found guilty of two murders which shocked Northern Ireland. The book was later made into a television mini-series.
It was his days in the Down Recorder that Joe recalls most fondly. “They were strange and exciting times which I remember most for the bunch of talented journalists I worked with. We pushed each other to be better and more inquisitive about what was happening in the world.”
Joe trots off the names of his counterparts with pride.
I remember Chris Hagan (now UTV). Probably the best all-round journalist of them all.says Joe.
“Paul Symington, now Editor of the Bangor Spectator.
“Gary Law (Belfast Telegraph).
“John Graydon (Belfast Telegraph).
“Brad Fleming (now retired after a lifetime as a reporter, broadcaster, and Government Information Services officer).
“David Ross (ITN).
“Gerry Kelly – yes, he cut his teeth with us at the Recorder before his big break with UTV”.
“I have to give a special mention to my brother, Johnny, who revolutionised the paper’s sports pages. He introduced minority sports, such as darts, and was innovative in foraging for behind-the-scenes gossip in the local sporting world.”
What was his greatest influence?
“That’s an easy one,” says Joe. “The Recorder owner, Colin Crichton, was a newspaperman to the backbone. He had a feeling for what was important to readers and he taught us the principles of impartiality and fairness. He also made us understand that things we thought were trivial or unglamorous were in fact just as important as the so-called big stories. He had a true flair for writing, one that seemed effortless, yet was always fully researched and double-checked.”
Away from the local scene, Joe rubbed shoulders with some of the media’s biggest names. He crossed paths on many occasions with Paul Clark, Barbara McCann, Eamon Mallie, Noel Thompson, Gareth Gordon, and Ken Reid. But there was one who stood out said Joe.
He recalls an interesting meeting with an up-and-coming reporter who was sent to Belfast for training in the seventies and rose to become one of the Beeb’s top broadcasters. His name was Jeremy Paxman.
One of Jeremy’s first jobs in Belfast was to recruit “stringers” throughout Northern Ireland. These were journalists working in “the sticks” who would supply the BBC with regular, breaking news, particularly in relation to the ‘Troubles.’
“I got a call from Jeremy to meet with him for coffee in Denvir’s Hotel. Even then, he was an impressive character and managed to make what must have been a dull assignment sound exciting and important. I immediately signed up and enjoyed quite a few years working for the Corporation. By, then, of course, Jeremy had been whisked back to London from where I doubt he ever gave a second thought to the stringers he left behind!”
How difficult, or otherwise, is it to put together a news article, of feature, or a book ?
“The hard part about writing is having the confidence to do it,” says Joe. “Many people often dwell too much on grammar and punctuation or over-thinking the structure of a story. My advice is to just write – the split infinitives and all the other conventions can be sorted out later. Don’t let the worry of these issues get in the way of putting your thoughts on paper.
“Believe me, it’s easier to edit and refine something that’s been completed than it is to keep staring at a blank screen.”
What’s the most important thing in a book?
“There are two,” says Joe. “A good story and great characters. You can’t have one without the other. The trick, of course, is to merge them into a tale that’s interesting, dramatic, suspenseful maybe, but ultimately enjoyable. It doesn’t matter if the story is romance, or sci-fi, or crime, or action thriller – these are the basic ingredients. Get them right, and you’re on a winner.”
What’s the most difficult thing for an author?
“Introducing dialogue in a way that helps the reader to understand characters and what they think. Dialogue should be natural and unrefined. You should write dialogue as you (or your character) would speak it. Stay away from fancy Churchillian quotes or attempting to make a character sound like someone from a Jane Austin classic. Keep it simple and on point. That’s the best way to keep readers with you on the story’s journey.”
So, what’s next Joe ?
“I’ve already started another book and launched a blog website, so I guess the word count will keep climbing,” says Joe.
You can check Joe McCoubrey out at: www.joemccoubrey.org
and see his books on Amazon. See his latest novel, Quinn 2. It’s fast and furious.