How I started writing | Paul McCracken Books

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

- Starting out writing –

My journey into writing really began when I enrolled in a five day film making course with The Prince's Trust in Belfast in the year of 2011.

I had been out of college for a year after completing an art diploma. I was desperate to find work but business' were still feeling the effects of the recession and with no work experience, I couldn't even land a job in Subway.

The course was advertised in a local newspaper so I applied for a spot and went along for the course that was held in a small film studio in Weaver's Court, just next to Sandy Row in Belfast City Center.

I wrote, directed, filmed and edited my own short film and the owner of the studio was impressed that I had never studied film making or media due to the nature of the shots, editing and story-boarding skills I had combined with knowledge I had within those fields.

He was the first person to encourage me to start writing my own material, my own scripts.

Following my departure from the course, I took the idea seriously where I researched and learned formatting, story structure and effective dialogue.

In my opinion, you don’t need to have a degree in some relevant English field such as English literature. Nor does your working career have to be a reflection of your ability. Professionals I have spoke to and dealt with were a little surprised to learn that I was a factory worker with a relatively poor educational background. Yet sung praises of my writing.

For tips advice an insights into writing, check out these other blog posts;

I started from scratch and everything I know about writing is all self-taught with a little bit of help, guidance and advice along the way from all kinds of engagements ranging from literary agents to other writers. There would be some nights I didn’t have that flare to write, or I was just emotionally exhausted. Those were the nights I used productively to research and learn more about the craft and improve myself.

Some people might find the idea of putting themselves out there, or labeling themselves officially to others as a “writer” daunting.

By the time I came to publish work into the public domain, I had been writing scripts and sending them to competitions and production houses for years. So when I came to publish my first book, I felt kind of the opposite, I couldn’t wait to get it out there and I had the confidence in my writing from all of the feedback during my time building up to it.

As far as finally calling myself a writer, I wanted to wait before announcing it to friends, family and beyond, until I had some sort of validation to back up my claim. For me, that came in the form of a scorecard I received from a screenplay competition I had entered.

Considering this was my first ever completed script and second I had ever wrote, I was expecting, at best a modest score percentage, in the range of maybe 50-60%. I got back a score of 84% which blew me away.

The individual scoring and notes that made up the 84% raised my confidence even more, knowing exactly how well I had done in each area e.g structure, plot etc.

From then on, I took my writing a lot more seriously and was able to take this new found confidence to keep on writing, constantly pushing to get better, write better material and find an audience. I continued to write screenplays for a few more years, growing my portfolio of work as well as doing some freelancing here and there.

I adapted a published sci-fi novel for a royalty commission in return and I also kept submitting my own work to producers, directors and agents during this time, engaging with people from all levels of the industry from the bottom to the top.

After a few small successes here and there, I still had no audience for my work. No-one would ever be exposed to my stories unless they were made into movies, a thought that really bothered me.

Having shot down the idea of branching into novels early on, the idea started to fester. I began seeing it as another challenge, so I embraced it head on, in essence, starting from scratch again.

This has all led me to the point where I am now, nine years later. I still push on. My next two novels (The Last Rains Of Winter/ Where Crows Land) will be out early next year following the publication of my debut novel Layla’s Song in 2018.

Layla's Song is available to purchase now on Amazon.

- Write what you know and where you know-

An early mistake I made in my writing when it came to novels as opposed to screenplays was location. Know your setting.

If you are writing a story based in New York but you have never been or have only spent a little amount of time there, you can not truly reflect and understand the city within your own mind, let alone an audience.

Your characters live and breathe the setting you put them in and sometimes (maybe not all the time) they will be a direct product of their surrounds, good, negative or neutral.

All of my stories are based in my home of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I have always lived here and know every crack in the pavement close to my home as well as an extensive knowledge of the majority of the city. With this knowledge, I may choose to plan certain scenes to happen at certain locations of my choosing which would be suitable or a service to a scene. For example, if a scene is about the protagonist being led into a trap but the protagonist must be able to believably escape. You may think of a place that is ‘out of the way’ but unique in the aspect of having an escape route for the protagonist.

The knowledge of your setting also may help you set the kind of tone you are seeking. Whether it be a noisy and busy city location or a desolate and quiet countryside setting.

Belfast has definitely helped shape me as a writer.

The one thing I wanted to stay away from in terms of using it as a setting was to avoid all of its negative history. Almost all stories that have Belfast as their setting are about its troubled past. What I have set out to do is to showcase it as an excellent backdrop for crime fiction. There are so many unique locations and settings Belfast has to offer and I believe it could compete on the world stage in terms of a story location to rival the likes of New York, Boston and London to name a few.

- My writing process -

I have dabbled in a lot of different writing processes through the amount of stories I have wrote thus far.


I have written entire screenplays from conjuring up one scene and working outwards from it and been inspired by music to conceive the outline of an entire plot for a book.

With my first ever script, I came up with the opening scene and plowed on from there, making it up as I went along. There was a certain freedom to the writing as I wasn’t following a preconceived path set out for me, I could write freely and there was an uncontrollable flow about it. I couldn’t write it quick enough for my own liking because the story was just pouring out of me.

On other occasions however I have outlined the entire narrative. From point A to Z with no secrets, nothing left to discover about the story which can be a little lackluster, as least for me.

Then there were times I did a little of both, outlining perhaps only the first act or a sequence of events but leaving a lot blank and a lot of creative space.

In terms of inspiration, I believe it was Hemingway who said;

“It would take a day to list everyone I borrowed ideas from, and it was no new thing for me to learn from everyone I could, living or dead. I learn as much from painters about how to write as I do from writers.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just books. I have took most of my inspiration from movies as I am a movie nerd with extensive knowledge of the film industry I reckon could rival IMDB (International Movie Database.)

I grew up on watching movies. I think I could recite quite a few word for word from the start such as Dumb & Dumber, “who’s the dead man who hit me with the salt shaker?”

Movies have always had a profound effect on what I write and even how I write. I think this is why I was so attracted to writing through screenplays from the start. I also feel it gives me a unique perspective when it comes to writing novels as I tend to view them as films playing out rather than stories from a book. It is also the style that I try to write them in. I want them to be immersive, engaging, something you could imagine in the cinema. From those who have read and reviewed my books, the feedback that I have got is that they are cinematic which is great to hear as it is always my intention.

Music is another strong influence. I would listen to some pieces as if they were the trailer music for the new story I was coming up with in my head and visualize how it would play out. It is a weird and quirky personal thing but I like to have at least one piece of music I can relate to my story. It also helps to get into that head space for the story by listening to that certain track.

I type most of my stories up on a laptop. From time to time I would make short bullet pointed notes in a notepad, sometimes an entire chapter if I had it all in my head and felt an urgency to get it out before any details fade away. I have no special pens (anymore..Staedtler triplus fine liner), I don’t have a very expensive laptop or use a premium software for writing. I use freeware such as Libre Office and Celtx and would highly recommend both.

I got prescribed glasses back in 2015 and back then, I only put them on when my eyes started to become fuzzy from tiredness around 1am or 2am, with the glasses I managed a further hour or too. Perhaps not the most healthy way of using glasses but that was my old strategy. Now, more and more often I need them by the laptop.

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