Blog Image

Gary McElkerney

I do all my own stunts…

Life, and other things Posted on Fri, September 09, 2016 19:51:54

The thing about
creative ventures is you never know which direction things will go, or what you
will get involved in next. Five years on, I should have learnt by now to expect
the unexpected.

At first glance
things seemed quiet, so Janine (Write Path NI) and I concentrated on an
overhaul of Volunteer’s script, in the hope of getting beyond the road blocks
and red tape. Patience was not something I’m renowned for, unfortunately.

It has also been great to watch others I’ve worked with push forward
with their projects; Carl Quinn and the rise of Empty Horoscope Media, working
on some great music videos for an incredible array of talent such as Dream
Awake, Cuig and Follow My Lead. Michael Foster documenting the exploits of local
comedian Shane Todd’s alter ego Mike McGoldrick. Mark McCann, pushing into the
photography world with his new haircut.
Laura Lacole and Frontier Models travelling everywhere for photo shoots in the
sun – not jealous at all… And of course Janine Cobain showing off
her talents on the production side of things.

Last year was about trying
my hand at acting and having fun on set, meeting new people and building up the
TUCC community, and this year we looked to push forward on some projects and get
involved in some new stuff too. I should have known
things were never going to work to plan.

This summer, I learnt
about stunt work; the hard way and not really by choice. First up was Janine
Cobain’s ‘Seconds Out’ directed by Noel Darcy, and what started off with me
being an extra in the Chroma office, saw me pushed to the front and taking on
the role of office manager ‘Colin’ who was picking on what can only be
described as Northern Ireland’s Sexiest Fire-fighter 2010-2016, Mr. Raymon
O’Hare, but hey none of that matters because he’s short… (shorter than me

I had no problem
being the bad guy to one of the nicest guys out there; I even got a kiss… this
was before knowing there was a second part of the short (pays to read the
script) which was to be shot in the Dockers Boxing Club. So, I found myself in a kit
fighting the lovely short fire-fighter with the nicest guy ever Mr.
Chris Tweed – actor, fight choreographer and also another fire-fighter – alarm
bells should have been ringing. The only thing ringing by the end of that four
hour boxing session was my head after the “knockout punch” was very nearly a
knockout punch; two fire-fighters in the ring with a lighting designer and I
lost. Figures. Also, how is it possible to be in a ring with two fire-fighters
and end up burnt? #FirefighterBrutality #Justice4Gary. But, I did get my first
lesson in and taste for stage combat, no belt, no certificates, just a
concussion, rope burns and bruises… Life lessons.

Being no rest
for the wicked, I quickly found myself taking on the role of a killer in
Emmett O’Mahony’s short ‘Someone to watch over you’. Again, pays to read the
script (I had no lines alright?) and I soon found the role was a little more
specific; I was to play a child killer, and one with a questionable blonde hair style,
which is never to be repeated. To give you an idea of the look, I coined the
nickname Swedo (Swedish Paedophile). I’m happy to say that I felt
uncomfortable in the role and my hair, but as if that wasn’t enough, Mr. Chris
Tweed was on set again strapping a harness around my chest, and then pulling me
clean off my feet. I was then jumped on by the lovely Laura Webster, clearly in
revenge for my attack on her in ‘Just A Box’; at least my attack was swift and

By the end of the day,
I found myself alongside Max Abbi and Tim Fergusson agreeing to help Chris
Tweed (why I hear you cry, after all the abuse) to be a runner, escorting fighters to the ring for the 25th Clan Wars at the Ramada, Shaws Bridge,
an MMA competition (men in shorts rolling about on the floor). I would highly
recommend getting tickets to the next Clan Wars as it is an incredibly well managed
event in a great venue with awesome fights; a really great day out.

So just when I
thought I’d finished off a very productive August, I found myself in a paid
role (I know I’m still laughing), in a WW1 uniform, deep in a trench in the war torn
area of Templepatrick, for Phil Ball’s short ‘The Tin Box’, which will be shown
at Mossley Mill on the 20th of October to commemorate the 100 year
anniversary of the Somme. Of course it was not to be a simple role, acting
alongside Cillian ‘Eye Candy’ Lenaghan, Stephen ‘Dodgy Tashe’ Rea and the fresh
faced Adam ‘Sugar Loaded’ Bradley. To top it off they had an explosives expert
on set to blow us up in the trench and it was a lot of fun; the attention
to detail was incredible.

So this summer I have
learnt a number of new Life Lessons;

1) Read the script

2) In a boxing ring,
when the opponent is a fire-fighter and the ref is a fire-fighter, you’re gonna
have a bad day

3) If Chris Tweed is
on set, be suspicious

4) I don’t suit
blonde hair

5) No matter how much
you cover up for an explosion, dirt still gets everywhere… EVERYWHERE!

6) Your Innuendo
Bingo game has to be on point or the crew will take you apart… Zara Jackson
is champion.

So, in summary, I had
a lot of fun being back on set – well for the most part – with some awesome old
and new faces, but I have to give a huge shout out the crews on the short films.
The people behind the cameras on all of the productions were awesome, even when
you’re sore, tired and grumpy, these unsung heroes are always there to
encourage and pick you up. Films just wouldn’t happen without their level of
dedication. Thanks for putting up with me guys.


What label will you choose today?

Life, and other things Posted on Wed, June 15, 2016 15:33:13

Yesterday I watched a small clip called momondo – The DNA
Journey, and it was fantastic; I would recommend everyone to watch it.

Recently, it seems the use of social media has given people a platform to express
themselves in all the wrong ways; they have to have their say, to choose a label for who they are, and I am supposed to take
notice of this person and their plight, their struggle under this label as they
diminish others. We have become a retail market for causes to join.

shooting in Orlando was a horrible act of violence, that has angered and
saddened me. I do not care that the LGBT community was attacked by a Muslim. I
care for the loss of life; innocent lives, and the pain their
friends and family are going through. Yet it has given rise to an opportunity for the
media to exploit the issues of Homophobia and Islamophobia so society can jump
on these labels. I am neither.

Don’t get me wrong, the more we can educate ourselves to the
unknowns of our own society the more empowered and stronger we can be, but we
should not rally to one side while turning on another group of people. I am
saddened by the shooting in Orlando, not because the of the sexual orientation of the victims, but
because these innocent human beings had their lives cut short, taken away from their families
and friends, who have to go on with only memories.

have some very close friends, some of which are gay, who I support 100%, not because of their
sexual orientation, but because they are my friends; their sexuality has nothing
to do with it. I invest my friendship because of who they are as a whole, so
why do we feel the need to label ourselves as one thing to feel accepted?

A while back a friend of mine, who is a black Muslim living in London, was offended because he was called coloured. When I asked why, he explained “Because
I’m black and should be identified as so.” I asked him who called him coloured, and he answered
“Some White guy.” I pointed out that my friend was no better than the
other guy, simply because he was offended that a white person
called him coloured yet his fellow black friends called him far worse, yet it was perfectably acceptable. I also pointed out the guy wasn’t white, he was
Caucasian, so my friend’s comments were no different. He asked “Do you get offended when I
call you white?” I said no; I actually see myself as more of a pinky colour, but it doesn’t define me.

So what is the point? Basically we have found ourselves
shouting out to be noticed, but it seems that race, or religion, or sexual
orientation, even illnesses now are what define us. We pick and choose who we
defend, changing our profile pictures with watermarked flags to support the
victims of one terrorist attack, yet not for another due to cultural
differences, only for us to change them with the next.

We are
picking and choosing labels to brandish who we are told to be. Just because I
don’t change my profile picture on social media doesn’t mean I don’t care. What
I’m saying is I don’t identify myself by my colour, nationality, sex, religion,
sexual orientation and I don’t identify others by their colour,
nationality, sex, religion, sexual orientation either. It’ll be your personality that
dictates how I treat you. We are all human; we bleed the same and like
it or not we are stuck on this planet together, at least for the time being.

And before some shout about white privilege, or living in a
Western or safety bubble, having an easy life. I have been racial attacked
while doing first aid in foreign countries, trying to do a job when all I could
see was a forgotten people; people in need, who were often comforted by the fact that
another person cared about them. I bled the same colour along side

I have been attacked for my religion and my nationality, questioned
in my own country. I’ve been made to feel ashamed for being a man because of
the disgusting acts of other men. I have been asked to leave a LGBT club that I
paid into to celebrate a friend’s birthday because the bar was “not for my
kind”; I was too straight?!

Admitting I suffered with PTSD and depression made
me an attention seeker; was I angry? Of course I was, but more because I was
recognised for one aspect of who I was as a person.

Take the time to get to
know the person beside you, expand your mind to social and cultural

Please watch momondo – The DNA Journey as you will discover that
there is more to you than your label. I love travelling and experiencing a life
that is not mine but the life of others; life experiences. Our minds have been
made up for us to force these issues by negative social media and hatred, we
all constantly have to be on the offensive; constantly frustrated.

If you look
at toddlers and young children playing together, colour, nationality, sex,
religion, sexual orientation means nothing to them, they only care that he or
she is a nice person or not, that is our natural state.

We have the world at our finger tips yet most remain
ignorant to lives of others. Strip yourself of your social labels and introduce
all that is you to the world and respect those who are different.

You are more
than a label, you are human like everybody else with different story to tell.


The Negative Side of Creativity

Life, and other things Posted on Mon, March 14, 2016 13:28:19

After receiving what
could be seen as a more negative than positive review of Just a Box on the
Banterflix show, people have asked if I’m ‘gutted’. Don’t get me wrong; I’m
disappointed, of course, because if we are honest with ourselves we never like
to hear negative feedback on our work but it’s not something I worry about.

The creative industry is
one of the most heavily criticised industries as it comes down to people’s
personal taste and opinions, and what is marketable. It can be soul destroying
at times. There is constructive criticism, but it’s how you deal with the
negativity and criticism that counts; it’s a learning curve and aspects of
creativity don’t work or don’t sit well with some people. If I got so bogged
down and affected by negativity and criticism then The Ultimate Creative
Challenge (TUCC) would never have got off the ground. Creativity is personal and
– yes – it’s hard not to get defensive and disappointed with negativity because
you put yourself out there, lay it on the line for the world to see, you are
vulnerable and feel the need to protect yourself.

During the 70s and early
80s, my dad had the opportunity to make it big within the music industry,
working with bands like Stiff Little Fingers, (Jim Riley being a good friend of
my dad’s), beating the Undertones in Battle of the Bands in ‘68 (year later
they went on to win with ‘Teenage Dreams’), lead musician for the Kelly Show,
working alongside Van Morrison, Shannon Singers; the opportunities were endless
for those who dared during the “Troubles”. Instead he continued to work in the
Housing Executive and start a family. I asked why he didn’t go down a road to
fame and fortune; his reply was simple “Because it’s not the reason I got into
music. I play music because I enjoy music, what more do I need.”

Of course it’s easy to
say that, but he travelled across Belfast at the height of the “Troubles”, a
target for kidnappings, murders and constant security checks and you still have
to ask was it worth it? “I got paid to do my hobby. Of course, you can’t please
everyone with your set list, but I didn’t care. People came out simply to enjoy
live music, if they didn’t like you they could go to another bar. Eventually
you get a crowd that just follow you around the bars.”

This has always stuck
with me from when I first started TUCC. I doubted myself and worried what
others would think, but as my dad advised “Do it for the right reasons and
because you want to, if it no longer becomes enjoyable, then time to call it
quits.” Since the beginning I haven’t worried about people’s opinions, I do not
get involved in projects for people’s approval and praise, I’m not aiming for
fame and fortune; I do this simply because I enjoy it. I’m just enjoying the

Of course I will take the
negative points and criticism as part of the learning curve, all part of the
process for the next project; what works, what doesn’t work. To those involved
in the projects, this is only the second film since starting a year ago, it’s
not always going to be perfect, but there is no reason not to aim for the next
one to be.

There was some positives from
the review of ‘Just a Box’; the acting was praised (one of the guests on
Banterflix really liked the bad guy, so he needs help!) the setting of the
scenes, the camera work, and the music. So, onwards and upwards, on to the next


Beyond Hollywood…

Life, and other things Posted on Mon, March 30, 2015 14:42:04

Crawfordsburn to be exact…

Since starting this challenge, even
as it grows, I’ve only considered myself to be a designer. People find it
difficult to understand why I stick with this label, wondering why I don’t
choose another; author, scriptwriter, musician, composer, artist, producer and
now an actor. Yes, in some way, I am all of those; author of Volunteer, Jacob’s
Journey and Duality; Scriptwriter of ‘Off the Beaten Track’, ‘Volunteer Teaser’
and ‘Just A Box’; with an album written,
and music developed, performed, and recorded vocals for Sign, the theme tune
from Feathers, which I also acted in, as well as the ‘Volunteer Teaser’. Am I
Jack of all trades, but a master of none?

In my day job, I’m a designer and I’ve
applied those skills to the challenge. On the back of my bedroom door is a
handwritten plan that took me from an idea five years ago to this point; I’ve
designed it this way. So, why do it? I wanted a challenge; I wanted to try
something new, something fun; to learn about the different creative industries,
and try my hand at various things to see how it turned out.

I have learnt so much during this
time, more so in the last 6 months with being involved in the production of
Feathers and playing one of the main characters was a real eye-opener! There is
nothing ‘Hollywood’ or glamorous about acting, especially here; from getting changed
in the freezing cold Northern Irish weather to standing around for hours in the
cold unable to break character, trying to be consistent, eating on the go,
location hopping. All this in front of a large crew – camera, sound and
lighting guys, directors, assistant directors, props and wardrobe, production
manager, runners, make-up artists, hairdressers, and other actors. There is
always someone there, poking and prodding at you, guiding, placing, directing
you; your personal space is non-existent on set, and then you see that your three
hours of work has a run time of two minutes. At the end of the day, I found
myself looking in the mirror and wiping my make up off before jumping in the
shower to defrost.

I worked with the composer to record
the guitar and vocals for the Feathers theme tune ‘Sign’. As a novice, recording
was difficult; keeping time, singing a line exactly as you sang it previously,
and keeping the nerves in check is tough, especially when you feel you’re
putting yourself out there to be judged. Confidence can only grow though.

What has amazed me is the wealth of
talent there is in this country; people who have given up there weekends and
evenings to work on projects without payment, purely for the enjoyment of it, and
yet their professionalism and standard of work is incredible.

So, yes; I am a designer. I designed
a challenge to bring the creative industries together, to bring people and
their talents together, and I’ve had to fill in for a few of the skills to do
so; author, scriptwriter, musician, composer, artist, producer, actor. Why?
Because I can, and I’m enjoying it, so far.

What’s next? Well, my short story ‘Duality’
has been adapted by Janine Cobain, and entered into the Jameson First Shot
competition, along with my own script ‘Off the Beaten Track’. This competition
offers the winners a chance to work with Kevin Spacey and Adrien Brody, and
while it may be a long shot, as they say, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

The script for Volunteer has been
completed and we’re waiting on feedback from NI Screen ahead of a meeting with
an American production company next month. In the meantime, we’re developing
the screenplay for another short film; watch this space…


Life, and other things Posted on Sat, October 25, 2014 17:52:02

On location during the filming of a trailer for How Will You Remember Me?, author Janine
Cobain was asked by actors Narelle Allen and Tim Fergusson to write a script
for a short film called ‘Feathers’ based on their ideas.

Inspired by the script, I wrote this short story to give an
insight into the situation from Jacob’s point of view.

Narelle and Tim loved my story, and
elements have been incorporated into the final script.

Feathers will be produced early in

FEATHERS by Gary McElkerney


A cloudless
sky, the whisper of a gentle breeze ruffling the trees and sunlight turning the
leaves a luminous green. Just holding the framed photograph – a gift to her
before I moved in – took me back to that day, a reminder of how happy we were.
It was the original ‘Selfie’, skilfully taken with a camera back in the days
when you had to point it blindly and hope for the best. Mobiles make it so
effortless now.

It was our
perfect day. That’s not to say we didn’t have other days that seemed perfect,
but there was something about that day; as if everything that happened would
become a marker – imprinted on the mind – for all other days to come.

I don’t know
what it was exactly, I guess numerous things made it perfect. The fact it was
unplanned, that we both connected with how we should spend our day, the fact
the weather was so glorious it exaggerated the beauty of the forest park, and
time passed slowly enough for us to take everything in.

In truth, it
was because when I looked at her through the camera lens I knew I wanted to be
with her for the rest of my life. I had always avoided commitment, terrified of
being let down, or betrayed by emotions, but not this day; everything was
perfect. I was 100% sure that we would spend the rest of our lives together,
but life is never that simple. Things have changed now. It’s not that the love
is gone – far from it – it’s just different, distant.

The slam of
the front door snapped me out of my reverie. I day dream too much these days,
but by the time I got to the living room door, Grace was half way up the stairs
– no doubt straight for bed again. A sure sign that today was tough
emotionally. There had been a lot of those lately.

I felt
useless. I wanted to help her, but it was impossible to reach out to her. She
was losing weight, and even though others had voiced their concerns she thanked
them for it, convinced them she was fine and working through it, but she never
heeded their advice.


I woke up on
the sofa again to the familiar slam of the front door. It was morning. ‘Jesus half nine!’ We had both slept in.
Luckily, I had nothing to be up for, but this was the third time this week
Grace had left the house late. I know she hears the alarm and turns it off, but
she can’t say it’s due to late nights, I mean she goes to bed as soon as she gets

I ran out the
front door to see her pull off the drive, dressed for work. The silver Polo,
that we had bought together, narrowly missed a pedestrian. As I watched her
drive away, it occurred to me she had the better deal with my non-existent license
status. I’d lived in Belfast all my life and I walked everywhere; it didn’t
matter what the weather was, with a good pair of shoes and clothing to suit the
weather, there was no need for a car in the city. I could walk from the South
of Belfast to the North in an hour, and, with my earphones in listening to
music, not even notice the time go by.

Jacob,” the pedestrian addressed me, “I take it Grace is running late this

I stumbled
over my thoughts for a second, not realising he had seen me.

“Ah yeah, I’m
not sure, maybe a late start today?”

He looked familiar,
but I couldn’t place him. ‘A neighbour

“Well, she’ll
not get far in that traffic this morning. There’s an accident on the Westlink,
and the knock on effect has pushed it across this side of town,” he continued.

‘At least
that could be her excuse’ I thought, but given her recent lack of punctuality,
it was a bit feeble. With her mental state being what it was, I wasn’t sure
what was best; to keep her head busy at work to escape from her problems, the
house, and I guess us, or to get time off and seek professional help, take a
trip somewhere, visit her family, or get her head showered. Just something, I
guess, rather than trying to convince everyone that things were okay when –
quite clearly – they weren’t.

I was aware
of the man watching me, and it made me nervous. He was tall and slim; his
angular face cut sharp shadows even in the morning light, and his dark eyes
bored into me. I fucking knew his face, but from where? Clearly, he knew us, but his name escaped me,
and there is nothing worse than talking to someone who knows your name when you
don’t know theirs. It puts you on the back foot. Would it be too rude to ask,
after all, I hadn’t lived here that long.

“If you ever
need to talk Jacob, I’m happy to lend an ear.”

“Cheers mate.
I appreciate it.”

Ah ‘mate’,
always guaranteed to pull you out of the nameless hole, ‘I recognise you but
you don’t know that I have no fucking idea who you are.’ I raised my hand and
with a sharp nod turned to disappear into the anti-social comfort of the house.
The front door was closed.

could have sworn I left that open.

How had it closed over? It always stays open.

‘Fuck I hope I’m not locked out.’ I
wasn’t sure I could make small talk with this familiar stranger much longer.

‘Please be
open, please be open.’ I coolly pushed at the door, which opened effortlessly.

‘Oh thank
fuck,’ I thought as relief flooded through me.


“Hey Jacob.”

‘Who the fuck?’ I snapped out from daydream
to see the guy – from the other morning – standing in our back garden. I
relaxed, happy for the company.

“Hey man, how
are you?” I asked, hoping to gain evidence of our connection to this man.

alright,” he said. “What has you out here so late?”

“I was just
admiring the garden. We decided last Christmas that we would get a dog – or a
‘Fur Kid’ as Grace calls them. Once the weather changed for the better, we
started dog proofing the garden.” I pointed to the far side of the garden, “It
was easier to build a new fence than block up all those holes in the hedge.”

I cast my
mind back; I wasn’t one for DIY, but it hadn’t felt like work, more like fun –
a sporting activity that you don’t see as strenuous exercise. We would start on
the Sunday afternoon, and work at a steady pace – weather permitting, fire up
the BBQ for dinner, and spend the rest of the evening lying on the grass
sharing a bottle of wine, allowing the conversation to take us anywhere and

“What type of
dog were you thinking of getting?” His question brought me back.

‘I really
need to stop daydreaming.’ An escape mechanism to cope with the pressures of

“Grace wants
a Spaniel, something mad with too much energy. I want a decent size dog – had
my heart set on a Weimaraner – but we would have got a Spaniel,” I laughed,
accepting the truth in it. “Probably not the best time to get a dog now though;
it wouldn’t get the attention a puppy needs.”

“How are
things with Grace,” he asked, “any change?”

Maybe I
should have been concerned as to how he knew of her situation, but I gratefully
took the opportunity to vent my frustrations.

“Not good to
be honest. I can’t tell if she’s getting worse, or just in a constant low
state.” I signed, and ran my hands through my hair, “I just feel so fucking
useless.” The truth of the words formed a dull ache in my gut.

“Well, you

‘Wow thanks for the support there mate,
don’t hold back on my account.
’ “I
know. I would just love to be able to just tell her that everything will be all
right, and that I’m here for her.” My sentiment stuck in my throat. It was
tough, watching someone I loved fall apart without being able to do anything
for her.

I looked up
to see her draw our bedroom curtains, my face strained into an involuntary
smile at the sight of her. This was breaking my heart, prolonging my pain and
suffering, punishment for something that wasn’t our fault, and certainly not

“You can’t,” he said, following my gaze. “She
knows she has support and a great network of friends, but she is the only one
that can pull her out of this. At this point, she needs to realise that she is
responsible for her own happiness. It’s all part of the process Jacob, she will
come to realise – eventually – that while her life seems to have stalled in
this state of depression, and time waits for no one. Slowly, she will
re-introduce herself to the world and begin to move on. She is stronger than
she knows or gives herself credit for. She will be okay.”

I nodded at
his words; they rang true. “Yeah, I know she will. It’s just frustrating to see
her like this, especially when she seems to have a good day and then fall apart
the next. How long will it last?”

“I don’t know.
That’s up to her.”

Although it
wasn’t the answer I wanted, it was the truth.

“I best call
it a night mate, need to get up early tomorrow. I appreciate the chat though.

“Not a
problem. I’ll talk to you soon.”

I probably
should have walked him out, but, by the time I had thought of it, he was gone
and I was in the kitchen trying to navigate past the recycling bin in the dark.
It was overflowing – as always – and if kicked would make mess, not to mention
a racket. As I inched my way along the counter, I felt the crunch of broken
glass underfoot. I stepped towards the kitchen door and turned on the light. As
the energy-saving bulb slowly increased its burn, the remains of a broken wine
glass glinted menacingly. Grace must have left it too near the edge, at least I
hoped that was how it happened and that she hadn’t cut herself. I took the
dustpan and brush from under the sink and ushered as much of the broken shards
together as I could with tired eyes, before heading wearily to the sofa.


I startled,
having dreamt I was late for something, even though I didn’t have anything to
be late for. Maybe Grace’s alarm had broken through my slumber. Who knows? I
shivered and looked for the throw – certain I had pulled it around me – but it
was still tucked in the perfect way Grace did it; my lazy attempts had caused
more arguments than enough. I mean, the clue’s in the name; it is a throw, so
it seems natural for it to live up to its title and be thrown onto the sofa, but
no. According to Grace, it would ‘drag on the ground and gather dust, or end up
on the floor’.

Speaking of
Grace, it was 8:00am and the familiar sounds of her getting ready were missing.
I went up to the bedroom, hoping that with a miracle I could reach out to her.
Slowly, I opened the door and poked my head in to see if she was already up.

It was rare
for me to be up at the same time as Grace, never mind before her; she was my
alarm. I watched the duvet – moulded around her motionless frame – uncertain if
she was still sleeping, or just lying awake facing the wall. She looked out of
place; Grace always slept on the right side of her face. I smiled as I
remembered pretending to be freaked out when I would wake to find her watching
me as I slept. It’s stupid; now those small things – the ones I has dismissed
or ridiculed – were the ones I missed now.

‘What I’d
give to have those mornings back. Waking up to see her smiling at me, saying
‘morning babe’ and kissing my nose.’

I wished I
hadn’t taken those meaningful nothings for granted, that I’d have gone for that
walk with her instead of crying off because I was tired, or gone with her to
that works do instead of making excuses so I could play on the PS3. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“Grace?” I
whispered softly, “you need to wake up missus. You’ve that doctor’s appointment
before work. I know it’s tough, but I need you to make the effort here.

No response.
Nothing. I wasn’t surprised, but I had figured she wouldn’t want to miss the
appointment. I made my way to living room, drawn to the picture of our perfect
day; I guess I found comfort in it; a time when our life seemed carefree and

Eventually, I
heard movement upstairs; a good sign, she might actually make her appointment.
I walked into the kitchen; the broken wine glass still splayed across the

I must have kicked it when I went to bed;
Thank God Grace hadn’t been up before me.’

I grabbed the
dustpan and brush from under the sink as Grace thundered down the stairs and
slammed the front door after herself.

‘See you
later.’ She’d gone without eating breakfast, again.


There was
this patch of green paint on the white ceiling. An inch wide brush stroke,
right in the middle.

‘How did that happen?’ I stretched the
length of the sofa, and sat up to avoid the mocking stripe. It upset me;
pinching the edges of my OCD. Anyway, today was Saturday – 10:00am – our
activity day. I crept up the stairs quickly and poked my head through the door
to see the bed empty.

‘Where is
she? She definitely came home last night.’

I had heard
her on the phone to her mum, complaining the doctor hadn’t prescribed
antidepressants; the right decision, in my opinion. I raced down the stairs,
noticing her North Face jacket was gone, the red one she wore out walking.

‘Where the
fuck would she go? Saturday was our day.’

I rushed out
the front door – the car was still in the drive so she hadn’t gone too far –
maybe I could catch her. Opening the gate, our nameless neighbour walked
towards me.

‘God, I wish
I could remember his bloody name.’

“Hey man, how
are you?” I asked, trying to remain calm while almost pulling the gate of its
hinges. “Did Grace pass you by any chance?”

“Yes, she did. She seemed in good form.”

“Good form?”
That was odd these days. “Do you know where she was going? Did she say

“You know
where she is Jacob. Like I said, it was only a matter of time.”

Strangely, as
soon as he opened his mouth I knew. I just wished she hadn’t gone without me;
of all the days in the week, today would have been the perfect day to go

“I’m sorry,”
I said as I hurried away. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon. Cheers.”

I ran, as
fast as I could, the adrenaline maintained me at a constant speed of
desperation, hoping at every corner that I would see the flash of red from her
jacket, disappointed with each blank turn.

When I
finally found her, she was kneeling on the wet grass, tears rolling down her
cheeks as silent sobs shook her body. My heart ached; I hated to see her like,
tears spilled from my own eyes.

“I am so
sorry Grace,” I whispered, taking a moment to breathe and compose myself. “It
was never meant to be this way. In my heart, you were mine for always, and you
will always stay. I would do anything to take away your pain, for it to be the
way it was. I just wish you could realise how much I love you.”

“She knows.”

There he was,
as cool as a cucumber; the nameless neighbour, but now I knew who he was. I
guess I knew all along.

“How do you
know?” I asked.

“Because you
showed her; the feathers. You knew she would make the connection, and that you
were there for her. The feathers you left every time you looked at the
photograph, the feather on the sofa where you slept, beside the wine bottle,
the feather on her coat, and the feather on your pillow for her to wake up to
every morning. She kept them all in her jewellery box. She knows.”

I watched
Grace arrange flowers in the small vase.

“I believe
you have one feather left to give,” he encouraged.

I reached
into my pocket and pulled out the last white feather, pressing it between my
thumb and index finger I hesitated; fearful the wind might catch it and deprive
her of my parting gift.

“She’ll be
fine,” he reassured me.

I bent down
and looked into her eyes for the last time, hoping to freeze the moment
forever, so she would know – without any doubt – I was right there with her.

I placed the
feather on to the plaque, which documented a life cut short.

Jacob Loving husband of Grace Forever In Our Hearts

The Invisibles

Volunteer Posted on Tue, October 07, 2014 12:05:58



1. a person who freely offers to take part in an
enterprise or undertake a task.

2. a person who works for an organization without
being paid.

This is the definition of a Volunteer
in the Oxford Dictionary; very vague to cover all aspects of volunteering. The
majority of people in society who volunteer for things actually gain more for
themselves in doing so. People raise money for charity, participating in a
range of fun activities, or choose a form of volunteer work that best suits
what they would like to do and not for a cause that needs it most.

I’m not going to step onto my soap box
and preach about how to be the model citizen, because I’m not; I did exactly
the same. My CV documents three summers during university doing a range of
‘selfless’ acts of volunteered humanitarian aid; work in Nicaragua, Hungary and
Ethiopia, building hope and community, and blah blah blah…it’s crap. Yes,
each country benefited from my time there. Each country benefited from the
money and gifts I brought, and also from the faith that the first world was
aware of their struggle. It‘s crap though, because it was only after Ethiopia
that I realised; I did it for me.

I spent my summers doing construction
and offering first aid in three countries because I wanted to travel to
countries I had never been to, and probably wouldn’t go to on holiday. It was a
working holiday paid for by others, but I did work my ass off, and hope I did
some good. I could have volunteered at home, but travelling appealed to me more
than working in a nursing home or shelter. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone,
but it certainly made me think that I chose the charity work that best suited
my needs. It was only when I found myself volunteering in Ethiopia – for
something outside of my comfort zone – did I truly come to understand what it
means to be a Volunteer.

We have heard in the media this week
about one of the Volunteers who are more than the definition above. Alan
Henning; a man who went out to Syria to help bring much needed medical supplies
to the local people stating “It’s all worthwhile when you see what is needed
actually gets to where it needs to go”. A Volunteer, beheaded; for what
gain? The fact that the media allows these cowardly murderers any coverage at
all is sicking, as it only feeds their need for attention. It’s the very fact
that these cowards – who wouldn’t survive any length of time facing a
real army on the battlefield – snatched an easy target.

My only hope from such an atrocity is
that people focus on the vulnerability of volunteers, and not on the
terrorists. Without trying to deter people from volunteering – because the
world needs these everyday heroes – there is a dark side. Volunteers are physically
and emotionally vulnerable, just like everybody else. Volunteers die from
diseases, road accidents, killed in ambushes and caught in crossfire on the
frontline of conflicts around the world, and now, being taken hostage to be
brutally murdered.

It’s very rare you will hear of the
death of Volunteers around the world on the news; there are no funeral
processions or national mourning, they don’t receive a hero’s welcome or medals
for bravery. Many that come home from some of the worst disasters and conflicts
just get on with their lives; they don’t expect – or even want -rewards or
hand-outs. That’s not why they do it.

So, what do I think a Volunteer is? My
definition of a volunteer, is a human being who takes on a selfless task, who
realises that the needs of the most vulnerable are greater than their own.
Someone who uses their gifts and talents to make life better for something or
someone and asks for nothing in return. They don’t pick sides; they don’t care
about race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or
financial status. They see a fellow human being – or even an animal – in
trouble, and offer whatever help they can, and offer the belief that someone
cares. They don’t seem themselves as victims or aggressors; they are part of a
team carrying a stretcher, or individually pulling the injured to safety. They
know they can’t change the world, but they can change the world for one
person. And that’s enough.

A volunteer is not invincible; they
breakdown, they feel loss, and often they are – accidentally and purposefully –
killed. They bleed like everyone else, they get exhausted, and at times they
lose hope. They are aware of the dangers and the threat to their own personal
safety, but find some strength to pull themselves together, and put their boots
on the ground for the sake of others.

Despite the tragic nature of Alan
Henning’s death – and the death of too many aid volunteers around the world –
maybe the world could learn something from the lives and the roles of today’s
Volunteers; if we focused more on caring for those who need it most rather than
on our own selfish needs and wants, we could actually change this world for the

My name is Gary McElkerney, and I was a
Volunteer. #BeMore

Follow Gary on Twitter @TUCCofficial and

Gary’s debut novel Volunteer is available from

Life taught me otherwise

Volunteer Posted on Mon, August 18, 2014 11:38:12

Last week,
for the first time in three years, I took a holiday with a friend who – due to
my OCD nature to plan every last detail – would not have been my normal choice of
travelling partner. I left my fate in the hands of a guy who organised nothing
and lived day by day with the ethos that planning created boundaries and it’s
the unexpected acts and surprise details that really make memories. And he was
right. I have been asked ‘Why the Faroes?’ and in truth I don’t know, but I
found myself constantly laughing at the randomness of our trip; from music
festivals, drinking beer in hot tubs late at night, experiencing both sides of
those for and against the Grind (killing of Pilot whales) from the Faroese and
Sea Shepherd. I headed closer to the Arctic and still managed to get sunburnt, been
dived bombed by Arctic Turns, crashed a traditional Faroese party, and spent
time in a prison. All the while running into a vast range of people travelling,
everyone equal, and each with their own stories.

For the
first time in an age, I sat — at 788 feet — and admired the view; just for the beauty
of it. I thought of nothing and looked for nothing. The time I spent sitting
there were the longest minutes I’ve had since I can remember; all the
obsessing, constant searching, mind running at a hundred miles per hour,
thinking of were my life was taking me, the potentials, the fears and the
dreams stood still. Up there, none of it mattered; I was comfortable with my
own silence.

On the way home, I sat beside a girl from Dublin called Fiona, who had spent
six weeks on the islands with her Faroese boyfriend. The turbulence was making
her nervous and so I struck up a conversation, and asked about who she was. We
talked about her career as a games designer, her move to London, and her family
in Malaysia; it was good to just listen and get an insight into someone completely
new and hear their dreams and passions. “So what about you? Who is the guy
in seat 20B?” she asked. I was a little stumped as to how to answer, or
what to say so I just started to talk. At the end, she sat there looking at me
with surprise before eventually asking “Are you real?” I still don’t
know how to feel about that. It made me realise though that these were the
surprise details that make memories, that with all the information and
technology we’ve lost out to basic face to face human communication, finding
connections with complete strangers, taking the time to just listen to someone
else’s story.

I had no
access to my phone or internet, which was funny for the first few days as panic
set in as if I’d lost a limb —now I’m home I’m trying to remember where I left
it. Arriving at Stansted, and logging in to the world of Facebook (or should
that be Face-less-book?) to hear of the sad death of Robin Williams, and
couldn’t help but think despite having the ability to connect with everyone and
anyone in the world, no one could help him, he had no one to turn to who would just
listen. We are a generation that read the views, opinions, and feelings of
others constantly, but we don’t actually listen. Many have left this world
through suicide telling the world how they feel with the sound of a gap.

many will look at the seriousness of depression as an illness, focus on suicide
prevention, and wait for answers, or solutions, liking Facebook pages, doing
challenges and donating money, but maybe, instead, we should donate our time;
talk to a friend — or a stranger — and ask them about their life, and their
dreams, or take an opportunity to say what we really want to say, before it’s
too late. Surely, it is better to take the time to notice someone in a crowd
than to notice their absence?


Chris Johnston – The Love/Hate Relationship

Volunteer Posted on Sun, June 22, 2014 16:33:22

Since its release six months ago the feedback from
Volunteer’s readers, about Chris Johnston in particular, has been interesting to
say the least. Most have described the story as a powerful and emotional read
but feelings are mixed when it comes to the protagonist; do we feel sorry for
Chris? Or want to give him a good shake, followed up with a hug and tell him
everything is OK? Or should he be criticised? Labelled as unlikeable, annoying,
arrogant, egotistical, and opportunist? Which description is right? In truth, all
of these are correct because everyone connects with Chris on a personal level.
It’s by placing ourselves at his side that we allow ourselves to judge him. The
judgement we make about Chris is based on who we are as a person; what we would
or wouldn’t do, whether we agree with his actions and thought processes.

However, the incontrovertible fact is that even though
Chris is a character in a novel he is very human. Chris is an
example of the duality of mankind and while many have not shared such an
extreme experience we have each had our own ups and downs on life’s journey. Did we
deal with those situations as best as we could? Were we selfish or cruel,
spiteful or vengeful? Were we kind, compassionate, open minded or charitable?
At some point in our lives we were all of those things. So while it’s
easy to judge Chris for his actions, and inactions, in such extreme circumstances
most of us can only extrapolate parts of his experiences and mirror them on to
our own emotional and personal level.

We’ve all suffered a loss
and celebrated new life, experienced some form of conflict; on the
frontline of a warzone, the ‘frontline’ of the home or workplace. We have
fallen and we have learned to pick ourselves up. Chris allows us to recognise
our successes and our failures as human beings with the important message that
life can be cruel but will move on regardless, that the emotional rollercoaster
is part of the make-up and our journey through life.

Who are we to judge others?
Are we all so perfect? Can we really live in someone else’s shoes? I think it’s
impossible to do so as our experiences of life differ greatly and therefore our
perceptions of someone else’s situation will be different. Some of us are
strong, while others may not be able to stay as strong for long. Some strike
out with passion, while others shut down with mental exhaustion. I don’t
believe you can walk in someone else’s shoes – sometimes I wouldn’t want anyone
to live in mine – but you can walk beside them, and that was the aim of
Volunteer; to walk beside Chris and see the bigger picture.

Volunteer as a story is full
of comparisons and contrasts. From looking at the regurgitation of the conflict
in Northern Ireland to the brutally real, often ignored, conflicts in Africa. Western
society’s ignorant behaviour, fuelled by greed and materialism, compared to the
third world’s sometimes medieval savagery, the ‘dog eat dog’ minimalist hard
life. Although true in some form, these ignorance’s are not wholly accurate
descriptions of each society. It is through Chris that all these views are fed,
on a mental and emotional level, dealt not as a corporate branded hero trying
to sell you a way of life but as a very ordinary, grounded human being, just
another blank faced number of society. One that questions his religious and
moral beliefs, is full of life but embraces the prospect of death, almost
certain of his place in society only for his protective bubble to burst and
suddenly find himself lost, with ideas of being a saviour only to become part
of the problem.

Of course Chris’ personality
is going to clash with others, it’s impossible for us to be liked by everyone.
I’m certainly not the same person I was five or ten years ago; friends have
come and gone, my beliefs and morals, even my personality has changed. I have
experienced difficulties and live with a few regrets, but who hasn’t? What
makes us unique is how we got from A to B in our life. I’m not perfect, far
from it. I make mistakes, but that’s ok because, as the saying goes, ‘That’s

Volunteer wasn’t about Chris
Johnston, it was about the sacrifice of volunteers who work tirelessly for the
needs of others, even if that costs them their own life. So, don’t try to live
in someone else’s shoes, instead walk beside them, without judgement,
and offer support for them to lean on. You never know, somewhere down the line you
might need a little support.

We worry too much about the
judgements of others picking at the small details and imperfections of our
lives, maybe if we allowed ourselves to shine others would be encouraged to do
the same. It’s all about support and being there for the person next to you be
it family, a friend, or even a stranger.

Be More.

Volunteer is available from

Next »