Writer's Block: Pete McHugh - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block: Pete McHugh

Pete McHugh discusses writing, success, his career journey and growing up in the Middle East…

Pete McHugh was born in Jerusalem of Irish parents. His father was a United Nations Peacekeeper and so he spent his childhood moving around the Middle East, before attending an Irish boarding school for his secondary education and graduating from Chemical Engineering at UCD. He has since written a non-fiction book Making it Big in Software, opened the Rialto Bridge Café and spent eleven years of interrupted but dedicated writing to achieve his dream of writing and publishing a novel Fragmented.

ON HOME: My wife and I currently split our time between a terraced house in Dublin 8 and a small farmhouse in Glenfarne, Leitrim where my father grew up, and where I finally got Fragmented finished. I moved back to Dublin in 2016 after 25 years working in software in the UK. I had recently reconnected with my childhood sweetheart, whom I hadn’t seen since our 1985 summer romance in Israel. We both grew up as children of United Nations Peacekeepers, and after a lifetime of travelling we’d both be happy to never see an airport again!

ON ROOTS: I was born in Jerusalem and spent my childhood moving around the Middle East, as my father was transferred to different UN missions. I was the first-born and followed by four sisters. We’ve always been close, partly as a result of the many strange experiences we shared growing up. In early childhood, we rarely lived in one place more than a couple of years, and often found ourselves adjusting to life in a different country and looking to make friends in a new school. By the time I was 18 I’d lived in 18 different homes in seven different countries! To provide some consistency and stability for our secondary education, we were all sent back to Irish boarding schools; being sports mad I enjoyed that life, my sisters less so. Every Christmas and summer, we would fly out to wherever our parents were then living, transiting Heathrow with groups of other Irish kids, whose parents also worked in UN peacekeeping. It was a unique, special upbringing which I’m very grateful for.

ON BECOMING A WRITER: I always loved English but being numerate ended up doing Engineering, which led me into a working life in the IT business. In 1999, I published a non-fiction book, Making it Big in Software. Then in my fifties, when I sold my software company, I suddenly had time and space to pursue two long-standing ambitions – to run a food business and write a fiction novel. I set up the Rialto Bridge Café as Covid hit but it took me eleven years of sporadic, much interrupted periods of writing to realise my ambition to publish a novel.

ON WRITING: Because I’ve ended up writing Fragmented over such a long period, and in so many different places, I don’t really have a defined process. I am very much a planner – storylines and plot mapped out over time, character arcs well defined – rather than a “dive and see where the writing takes me” kind of writer. I do particularly enjoy the research part of writing. Starting out, I read loads of “theory” books on novel writing and I attended writing courses. After my early fumblings at writing, I can now see how over time my ability with key writing skills – fluid, realistic dialogue; weaving in backstory and time period shifts; managing different points of view – have all improved by lots of practice. I also read widely on personality types and profiling to flesh out my characters. I did detailed research on locations and Middle Eastern history to ensure factual accuracy for my settings and the current affairs during the Fragmented time period.

ON SUCCESS: Success is hearing back from friends and family who read Fragmented that they were surprised to find it was quite good; realistically, after my varied career and coming late to writing, it’s natural that people wouldn’t expect me to produce a compelling novel, with an interesting storyline and engaging characters.

ON YOUR DESK: My writing desk is generally minimalistic and tidy (I’m the sort of person who clears unread email notifications and red phone message alerts as soon as I see them). I need quiet to get into writing so like it best when I can lock myself away in the Leitrim barn.

ON READING: I’m currently reading John Irving’s Widow for One Year; I’ve read a lot of Irving, and other satirey/comical family saga authors like Updike and Franzen. One of my recent favourites is The Most Fun We Ever Had, a hilarious dysfunctional family story. The Great Gatsby is my all time favourite, such rich writing, colourful imagery and so many layers weaved into a story about obsessive love.

ON BOOKSHOPS: I love browsing independent bookstores like Hodges Figgis or Alan Hanna’s and always end up leaving with an armful of books I didn’t know I wanted! There’s nothing like the randomness of browsing the New Fiction section and coming across a book I would otherwise never know about.

Pete’s debut novel, Fragmented is out now. It shines a light on a unique period in Irish history – the late 1950s – when nearly 100 Guards joined the United Nations and built fascinating lives for themselves and their families as peacekeepers in the Middle East; some rising through the ranks and becoming highly regarded within the UN community for their integrity and their ability to work effectively in dangerous warzones. Pete McHugh’s father was one such UN Peacekeeper.

Fragmented follows the fictionalised story of one of these UN families and spans twelve tumultuous years from 1984 to 1996. Drawing on Pete’s experiences growing up, the story is set against the backdrop of the Lebanese civil war and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It provides historical accuracy and cultural insights within a poignant human story, and portrays in searing detail the trauma of everyday life in war-torn countries, and the collateral damage to relationships and mental health caused by drugs and alcohol.

Eleven years in gestation, Pete completed Fragmented on October 6 2023, a day before the Hamas attack on Israel. Fragmented gives a real insight into how this conflict has been brewing since the early 90s and even before.

Fragmented is available to order on Amazon.


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