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'I hope it shows you can write a novel based here that's not about the Troubles'

It may have taken him four years to complete, but Peter Waugh believes that his New York-inspired debut novel Half Irish is well worth the wait, as he explains to Stephanie Bell

Published 03/06/2015

Paperback writer: Peter Waugh
Paperback writer: Peter Waugh
Peter Waugh with his wife Kerry on their wedding day
Peter Waugh with his wife Kerry on their wedding day
Outward bound: Peter in his role as a youth worker during a trip Latvia

New Northern Ireland novelist Peter Waugh might have been short on time when it came to fulfilling his ambition to write his first book by the age of 30, but material for his story was something he definitely didn't lack.

Inspiration for Half Irish, which will be launched as part of Belfast Book Festival on June 3, came from many sources - his work with young people, his love of Northern Ireland and, unusually, being left mostly alone on honeymoon in New York while his new wife was ill.

Ideas for his story took root while he walked the streets of the Big Apple on his own. It was then he set himself the deadline of becoming an author within four years.

Working full-time as a youth worker with Damask Community Outreach in Lisburn, studying for a Masters Degree, setting up home as a newly-wed and helping his wife set up a new business meant it wasn't easy for the Belfast man to find a spare hour to write. As a result, it took every one of those anticipated four years to produce his book.

Now aged 30, Peter is the author of a novel, which he is understandably proud of and hopes will launch his new career as a writer.

He is confident his book will wow readers and feels he may even have created something which could be picked up by Hollywood for the big screen.

It was clearly a labour of love and he is speaking from the heart when he says: "I really believe in the book. I think people who read it will love it and find themselves falling more in love with life. Belfast is a place for creatives to be right now and I want to be part of that.

"My book is a bit of a love story and will remind people of what it is like to fall in love. I also hope it shows that you can write a book from here that is not about the Troubles.

"Also, because the story moves from New York to Belfast, it is very visual and you can get a sense of what it would be like on the big screen."

Half Irish tells the story of Tyler, a young high school graduate from New York, who comes to Belfast to spend the summer with his cousin.

The book explores issues very prevalent for young people, such as loss, depression, failure, love and friendship.

Peter has been a youth worker for nine years and drew on his experience working with young people to explore some of the more serious problems affecting the youth of today, however, he insists: "It's a story of hope fundamentally.

"One of the things I do in my work is encourage young people to enjoy their lives and be all they can. I want them to know it is okay to get up and say what they think and live their dreams.

"That alone inspired me to lead by example, by showing them that I was doing something to realise my dream by writing my book.

"Working with young people every day, you do get to see the good aspects as well as the difficult and challenging aspects of life they face.

"Dealing with the loss of a loved one is particularly tough on a young person and this can lead to depressive thoughts. For me, it is a great privilege to be there and support them through these challenging times."

Peter had wanted to write a book, since his early 20s, but for many years he didn't have the confidence to do so, although the idea never left him.

It was only during his honeymoon in December 2010, when his new wife, Kerry Waugh, a 28-year-old graphic designer, took ill that he unexpectedly found inspiration for his first book.

Shortly after the couple arrived in New York for their honeymoon Kerry, who runs her own wedding stationary business The White Letter, was hit by a virus which knocked her off her feet for three of the four days they were in the city.

Peter, meanwhile, spent his time exploring the city alone and was surprised to find that the places he visited stimulated his imagination so much, that the story for his first book started to form in his mind.

While Kerry has memories of a disastrous honeymoon spent in bed sick, Peter will always remember New York as the place where he finally realised his dream of becoming an author.

"We think Kerry got sick because all the build up to the wedding had left her exhausted and so she was susceptible to getting a virus," he says.

"She was told she needed to rest up so I went to a lot of places on my own. I just got really excited and inspired because everywhere I went ideas for a story kept coming to my mind.

"I sat in coffee shops and noted down details of different characters and plots and ideas to take back to Belfast and develop a story from.

"Thankfully, before we left New York, Kerry picked up enough to go to Broadway to see the musical Wicked, which really lifted her and for the second part of our honeymoon in Miami she was well."

While part of the novel is set in New York, most of the story is Belfast based because the author was determined to showcase the beauty of his home city.

"It was also really important for me that the novel was set here. I like how other Irish authors such as Cecelia Ahern and Marian Keyes base a lot of their novels in Dublin and I wanted to do the same here," he says.

"I really enjoyed exploring it through the eyes of a character who isn't from here - our humour, the beauty - it made me see Belfast through different eyes and appreciate it from a whole new perspective."

When asked who he aligns himself with, the novice writer doesn't mind being compared to other chick-lit authors and is happy to be described as a male Cecilia Ahern.

"This novel is geared towards the young adult genre - anyone aged from teens to early 20s I suppose, but adults will also enjoy it," he says.

Having spent so long writing his book and realising his dream there was only ever one option when it came to getting his finished script onto the book shelves.

He choose the self-publishing route because he knew that to try and get an agent or a publishing house to accept his script would have meant further delays of months, if not years.

However, he has taken every precaution to ensure that his book is as professional in its presentation as any produced by the big publishing houses, hiring an editor, and commissioning an artist to work on his cover.

"I know people don't look at self-publishing with the greatest respect, so I wanted to do it really well, which is why I only got top quality people to work on it," he says.

"My hope now is that people will read it and I will sell loads of copies, and my dream is to maybe one day become a full-time writer."

Peter will be hosting a book launch on June 3 in Established coffee shop, just before this year's Belfast Book Festival (June 8-14).

"Events like the Belfast Book Festival are fantastic and hugely important as it not only provides a platform for new writers to showcase their work but is a celebration of the huge creative talent we have here," he says.

This is just the beginning of his writing.

"I already have plans to write a fantasy series of other young adult literature and a novel about a group of cyclists," he says.

"People think it's near enough impossible to be able to write and complete a book while working and studying full-time, but the hardest part is actually starting and I feel like there's no stopping me now."

Half Irish is available to order now from www.petewaugh.com/store or download on iTunes

A wealth of literary talent

Northern Ireland has produced a number of authors, including, among others Brian Friel and Brian Moore (screenwriter for Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain film).

There is also the legendary C S Lewis, Christian intellectual and writer of the hugely popular children’s stories about Narnia, who was born in east Belfast.

Of course, we also have Nobel Laureate, the late Seamus Heaney, born on a farm near Bellaghy, and Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, who both went to school in Enniskillen.

John Hewitt and William Carleton are remembered through summer schools and a well-developed literary trail is associated with Patrick Bronte, father of the novelist sisters Emily and Charlotte.

Jennifer Johnston is the author of novels such as The Illusionist and The Old Jest.

Comic writer Colin Bateman, from Bangor, has given us the much-loved character journalist and alcoholic, Dan Starkey.

Londonderry man Brian McGilloway is author of the critically-acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin series.

And the award-winning novelist Glenn Patterson, who co-penned the script for Good Vibrations along with another Belfast man, Colin Carberry, has written many books including the critically acclaimed The Mill

Belfast Telegraph

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