I recently sat down with my good friend and fellow Irishman Greg McVicker. He’s the author of Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child: Life. Personal Reflections. Poems. We talked about his upbringing, his family’s journey from Ireland, and his writing. There’s also a wonderful pair of videos of him reading his work, and and talking about his life.
Can you explain to the readers how a Belfast man wound up living in Canada?
Aye, I can indeed. My mum and dad had taken a trip over to Canada in 1984 for a three week holiday to visit family on my mum’s side who already lived there. When they came back, and, due to the political movements known as ‘The Troubles’ in Belfast, they felt that it was time for their kids to have a life away from such horrific experiences. Thus, my mum was considering her options of where she should move us and felt that due to our Belfast accents (and again, as a result of the Troubles), that moving us all to England would subject our family to further discrimination. She had also considered New Zealand due to the large Irish contingent already living there but that this was simply too far from her family which she herself would be leaving behind, including her own mother, sisters, and brother, she chose Canada. On July 19, 1985, that dream became a reality; that reality became my nightmare for eighteen years as a result of my severe homesickness.
Your wonderful life story; “Belfast Child” mentions your love for music going back to your teenage years. How did music help you cope as a teenager “trying to fit in” and even now as an adult?
Music became a huge part of my life as a child growing up as my mum always had a few records and singles on the go. I remember playing songs such as ‘Runaway’ by Del Shannon, and Gene Pitney’s (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance before moving into rock music in the early eighties. However, times were rotten back then in Belfast. The Mod scene was alive and well, along with Teddy music, Skinhead, Punk, and Metal. There was a ‘music war’ of sorts going on, whereby one genre would target another based on what they were wearing on their Crombie’s, blazer, flight jacket, leather or jean jackets, including buttons or patches of their favourite bands. ‘Quadrophenia’ was massive at the time; mopeds became the choice of transportation for Mods and bikers were also on the rise as their direct rival. It really was a culture clash of music and opinion whereby one band was considered to be “absolutely shite” if you didn’t listen to their music, even if you had never heard any of it before.
My mates and I would graffiti the covers of our school books with band names, travel into Belfast and buy their records along with a couple of sausage rolls or a gravy chip, only to return to our houses and play their music all day while studying the covers until a veil of darkness fell. I identified with the band called Mama’s Boys, who were three brothers that hailed from Derrylin, County Fermanagh and took the rock world by storm. I would play their albums constantly and felt connected to their music. After immigrating to Canada, that was my connection to home, to my mates, and to Belfast for it was there that I first saw them in concert just two months before we moved. Two months after our arrival, I saw them again and met them through Tommy McManus, the drummer and youngest of the three brothers. That introduction pretty much cemented my love of music, meeting, and interviewing several other bands thereafter throughout my teenage and into my adult years. It also maintained the thread of my identity in that even in the troubled times of Belfast, that the music of Mama’s Boys captured many happy memories.
When did you start writing?
After moving to Canada, I tried my hand at writing songs, which was quite often met with failure since my lyrics would turn into poetic compositions. No matter how hard I tried, it was always the poems that seemed to come out of my head and onto paper. I had left writing alone for quite a few years thereafter until I went home to Belfast in 1998 and returned to Canada three weeks after extremely homesick once again. That is when a lot of my poetic compositions started to truly take shape before taking to writing my first book, “Through the Eyes of a Belfast Child: Life. Personal Reflections. Poems.” in 2009.
What are you currently working on?
To be honest, writing has taken a bit of a back seat at the moment for me as I bought a wee house and am in the midst of renovating the life out of it. It’s been a maddening process since it is constructive chaos. Other than that, and aside from work, my son, Ciarán, is extremely busy with his AAA Bantam 1 hockey schedule which in itself is a fulltime application. But, his commitment to hockey and the investment that his mum and I have in his hockey program in seeing him fulfill his dreams and aspirations is one that we are committed to. Once things settle down a wee bit though, I will be writing more poetry and expanding on my book called, “An Irish Heart: Poetic Memoirs of a Belfast Child.” along with writing my third in the series of my children’s books, The Adventures of Silly Billy, which are based on my true life childhood experiences back home in Belfast.
How are your books received in Canada? I would think they would be very popular given the large number of people with Irish roots there.
Unfortunately, and to date, I haven’t had much of a chance to get out across the wilds of this spectacular nation to do much in the line of book signings and promoting it to other Irish markets. However, I am indeed hoping to get over to the east coast where there are several book and cultural festivals, so that I can have an opportunity to engage with the local community and have a chance to read, and share, each of my current four books. Eventually, I would love to have the opportunity to do this in each of the provinces and territories since there is something in each of my books that relate to everyone, regardless of their social class, standing, race, or culture.
Is there anywhere online that readers can hear you reading some of your works?
Where can readers pick up your book? Are you doing any signings this year?
My first book, ‘Belfast Child’, can be ordered online through any of the Amazon websites, or can be ordered through local bookstores or the Friesen Press website. Otherwise, my other three books, An Irish Heart as well as both of The Adventures of Silly Billy are currently only available directly through me at in-person book signings. As for those, I am in the midst of preparing for several signings this year, and will be making announcements on the Belfast Child Facebook page as each is confirmed.
In closing, I look forward to meeting an chatting with everyone at each signing. As I always say,
“In life, we all have a cross to bear and a very unique story to tell; we just hope that someone will take the time to listen.”
So thanks very much for taking that time.
To stay in touch with Greg’s events and creative pursuits, follow him on Facebook.