Friday, 27 January 2017

Returning to DCU in a new guise

Pity the Masters students of Multi-media and Film & TV studies at DCU! Next Monday I return to my old Uni, nearly 31 years after I left with my Communication Studies degree, to teach the screenwriting module for both these MAs.

When I arrived in the campus back in 1983, it was so new. There were 2000 students in all - we knew everyone to see if not by name - and it was still called NIHED, the National Institute of Higher Education, Dublin. It was a strange hotchpotch of a course - we had 40 hours per week in the first term! Some of it was stimulating, some of it we couldn't see the reason for, some of it offered glimpses of areas we would pursue. We did everything from TV, radio, photography, graphics to psychology, linguistics, statistics and mass communication theory. (And I know I've left something out!)

The course was still in its infancy. The Uni itself was just three years old so the first Communication Studies students had just finished. (It was a four year course compressed into three; we did work experience in the second summer and our thesis in the third.)

But I got to publish my first writing magazine, help set up the drama society and direct my first play (Zigger Zagger by Peter Terson. The cast was enormous; we had three rehearsals running concurrently for three months.) And I went back to direct my own first play just after finishing.

DCU then was somewhere so new that wecould start things and that was fantastic. As was the group in my year, all of us with different ideas of what careers the course would help us into.

I can't wait to go back!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Dad's Red Dress... Coming out soon

I'm in the final stages of preparing to publish my  novel, Dad's Red Dress. Excited and nervous; every time I look at the manuscript, I tweak another line, find another typo, read a sentence and decide it could be tighter/ shorter/ longer/funnier/stranger/ cut! 

But this story has been waiting in the wings and it can't wait to be read... We're holding on to each other, the book and I, ready for the strange dance that is publication.
Cover design : Aoife Henkes

So what is the book about?

Jessie wants her family to be normal. Really normal. Boringly so.

Trouble is her kid sister thinks she’s been abducted by the Virgin Mary – twice; once on a motorbike; her step-Mum makes nude sculptures and her Dad becomes Mandy when the door closes.

And that, as Jessie is about to learn, is only the start…

I would love to keep you in touch with what's happening...either on this blog or via
Twitter on @DadsRedDress
Facebook: @DadsRedDress


The history of DRD is interesting for me and that's why I wanted to get the story right. The germ that inspired me was planted when I was a teenager myself. A man my parents knew was transitioning  -- but, and this shocked my parents, she was also staying with his wife and family.

What horrified my parents equally - but which I thought was remarkably brave and possibly necessary financially - was that she was partially financing the necessary operations with a published diary/ expose of what he was going through in, I think, the Evening Press. I can also remember the paper being closed when I began to show an interest! In one particular two page spread, I read something about part of the jaw being chipped away to create high cheekbones, which sounded immensely painful.

But also, I was a child so I wondered how the kids felt and that's where this story comes from. I never met the woman who inspired me; I've never even spoken to her or her family. That would have felt deeply invasive. The story I created came from inside my mind in ten days in 2002 when, faced with the deadline for a script competition, I wrote what was originally called Jessie Jones is Nearly ten. 

She was, then. In the book, she's 13 and called Jessie Keane.

In it's original incarnation, it was a family film, despite the subject matter, because it was told from the perspective of Jessie, who was nine at the time. (In the novel, she's now 13.) 

Who knows, once the book is out, maybe the film will finally follow?

Feedback/ Bluecat Screenplay Competition 2011

"I enjoyed the subject matter. Sexual identity makes for an interesting story, and here, the writer gives us a story of a man becoming a woman, only it’s from the perspective of the man’s daughter. This is fascinating and complex. This family is full of love. They’ll never stop loving each other. Everyone wants to do the right thing. But still, Jessie struggles to come to terms with her father’s impending change.

"And why not? After all, she is going through her own transformation. She’s becoming an adolescent.  Her life is full of questions. She’s only beginning to discover herself, and yet, she must somehow understand her father. It’s a great set up for the story..."

"I love the way you describe the loading of the truck “swallowing everything up efficiently.” It makes for a much more interesting read than something along the lines of “chairs and tables are stacked in the back of a truck.”

"You seem to have a talent for breathing life into inanimate objects (“Jessie feeds coins into a hungry pay phone”). Descriptions like this all but guarantee you’ll have some engaged readers. The way you characterize Laura as being “not so angelic now” after her veil is snatched is likewise effective.

"Additionally, I really like how you come back to her veil at the very end of the piece (“. . .Laura dressed like a white rabbit, but with the veil”). It helps to present a genuine sense of closure and finality."

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Start that log book now

A few years ago, some wise person pointed out that writers and creatives remember the negative comments about their work and forget the good feedback. Maybe it's a survival instinct or our own self-doubt, but it's true. I can more vividly remember the put down's and critical comments than the good feedback - despite the fact that it made me glow and bounce on my toes at the time.

The suggestion was that you cut and paste positive feedback into a separate document so you don't forget it. I did it for a year or two and I could see that, really, overall, even if productions didn't result, producers, directors, actors, other writers, readers loved my writing. That felt good. It can be enough to encourage you to keep going on a gloomy winter morning.

The other suggestion was to keep a log book of everything you've done - meetings, invitations to work, when you've sent material off or entered a competition, when you've finished a draft or spoken to someone about an aspect of research or your writing... This I have been doing for years now and it's great to look back over. Even to see how many people you reached out to or met; creative collaborations or deadlines you met, even if they were personal ones.

For me, it has meant that I went from thinking I had done very little in 2016 to realising it was a pretty productive year overall. I put on a new play with the wonderful Julie Lockey, my second in two years and packed the space out. I also directed another (from 2015, starring Karen Connell) in its first tour and co-production out West and got a third into the Irish Playography. We got great audiences, great responses and reviews everywhere. Meanwhile, I finished a new, complex one woman play and had readings of it.

Then I was appointed Screenwriter in residence at Maynooth Uni and Kildare Co. Council Library and Arts Service. Lots of whooping and excitement. I was also invited to do an animation masterclass in Limerick School of Art & Design and to run the Screenwriting module in DCU's MA in Film & TV, which starts later this month. I'm chuffed and excited!

I taught three courses in Filmbase and adapted two plays for radio - both turned down, but still; I submitted to the IFB once more - and was turned down; sent four plays out to five different theatres and have only had one refusal - but interesting feedback - so far. And on the plus side, I completed an independent commission to write a feature and that was a wonderful and stimulating experience. I joined a screenwriting group even though I've only managed to attend three meetings so far.

I got one of my novels to the verge of publication - DAD'S RED DRESS, watch this space! - and another (CANDLEMIST) is being bullied and cajoled into shape. I even read from both books at an event in Maynooth Uni - for the first time - and they went down well!

That's not including all the plans to develop material with people that didn't quite happen. I wrote the second episode of my tv series Worms in the Wall but then had to put it aside, as I did a lot of screenwriting projects that I didn't see going forward at the moment. Then, just at the tip-end of the year, a US production company contacted a colleague of mine because they are VERY interested in developing an animation series I developed two years ago....

Never give up hope!

Start that log book for 2017 (and your page of commendations/ positive feedback) for the year ahead. It will be worth it.