Archive for June, 2020

Scriptorium: Nicola Lindsay

24th June 2020

Nicola Lindsay started writing seriously in her early fifties. After having her poetry and two children’s books published, she had five novels published by Poolbeg. She was also published in America and Germany. She wrote and produced a humorous Christmas play for adults and also had a feature screenplay optioned.

Clíona Ruiséil: What can you tell me about the script you’re writing at the moment?

Nicola Lindsay: The script I have been working on is the second draft of a two-hour feature. It is based on one of my novels, Diving through Clouds. It is about Kate, an agnostic, middle-aged woman, who dies and is taken aback by the fact that she is left hovering above her corpse, accompanied by a black guardian angel. She leaves behind her an unhappy marriage and a loved lost daughter. With the help of her guardian angel, she tracks down her daughter in France and, to her delight, discovers she has a grandson. He is a vulnerable seven-year old and the two bond, enabling Kate to bring about the coming together of her fractured family. She learns forgiveness and hard-won patience in the process – as well as getting pretty nifty at diving through clouds, walking through walls and other such spook-like abilities.

CR: How have you approached the adaptation – what kinds of decisions have you had to make?

NL: I wasn’t sure what genre this story fitted. My novel is fantasy but has some very adult situations involving a wife who is mentally abused before her death from cancer, an adulterous affair, loss and middle-aged passion. I liked the idea of it being a family friendly film as they seemed rather thin on the ground. In the end, I decided to leave out some of the darkly spooky stuff in the book and concentrate on the fun had between the dead grandmother and the young grandchild. Because my novels usually contain quite a lot of descriptive writing and mentioning what is going on inside the characters’ minds, it was difficult not to make the script too horizontal. Because I knew the characters so well, it was horribly easy to forget to show rather than just assume an audience would have cottoned on and didn’t need further explanation. Like writing poetry, I found it challenging cutting dialogue to the minimum and that was the area in which I had to work hardest.

CR: In terms of the business side of things, from your perspective is it more or less difficult in this country to find a publisher for a novel, than a producer for a film?

NL: Finding a publisher for a novel is a nightmare! It took me months of rejections before Diving through Clouds was published by a well-known publisher. I had previously had a children’s book, a selection of poetry and a novel all brought out by a very small publisher, who then went out of business. The editor didn’t seem to understand that marketing and distribution of one’s books was somewhat crucial to their success. My first feature script was optioned by a minor film company, who then produced a contract so impossibly weighted against the writer, that I had to withdraw. I had to chalk this up to bitter experience. Since I have only just completed this draft of Diving through Clouds and am in the process of approaching a producer, I’m not yet as experienced – or bruised – in the area of film production companies but I have the feeling that it may prove to be just as difficult as finding a good book publisher. Ask me in six months time!

CR: Are there any themes, issues or types of characters that are of particular interest to you?

NL: I lived in Africa for several years and so I love films and books that deal with life there: the struggle to develop strong and equitable systems in countries that, for years suffered under colonial rule and are still recovering and fighting back. I love the extended family systems and the joy in music and dance and the fabulous colours and tropical smells. I especially enjoy storylines where white and black are equal and supportive of each other.

Perhaps because I am now seventy-six, I especially enjoy seeing feisty, interesting, funny, wise older characters on the screen and I like intelligent gentle stories, touched with humour and sometimes a little pathos. I also like characters who go against what is considered to be correct behaviour – the quirky, anarchic and the irreverent. I want to see characters in films – and storylines – that make me think and question and that touch me and fill me with delight.

CR: How have you been managing during the Covid crisis?

NL: I was cocooned and I managed quite well, mostly working on the second draft of the screenplay. I also started to re-work my latest novel, Mama Bea’s Retreat. I mixed mental labour with planting and weeding and listening to French podcasts to keep me on my toes. I tried, not always successfully, not to worry about what the future holds for us all.

CR: Do you have any daily writing rituals, favourite place to write or other things which you feel are essential to getting your work done?

NL: When grandchildren visit, any rituals go straight out of the window! Usually, I try and write in the mornings when my mind is less cluttered and I write in my study with views out onto my much-loved garden and bird bath and feeders. When I am involved in writing scripts I find it best not to lose myself in a book as I don’t want to be influenced by another’s writing style that I enjoy or admire.


Scriptorium means a place for writing – so this is a place for you to discuss your work, your views on writing in general, your thoughts on the industry and anything else you’d like to mention. You can focus on a script that you’ve written which was produced during the last year, or one you’re currently writing. We hope you enjoy this series and look forward to hearing what you think of it. We welcome in particular writers who may have an unusual or atypical experience of scriptwriting in Ireland in terms of their ethnicity, gender, age, physical ability, socio-economic background or other life experience.

Bheadh áthas orainn freisin a chloisteáil ó scríbhneoirí le Gaeilge gur mhaith leo an agallamh a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge.

If you’d like to participate simply email:

Scriptorium: Philip St John

10th June 2020

Philip St John writes fiction and drama. His plays include The Sylvia (Dublin, 2013 and Italy 2019), and Temptress (Dublin 2015, 2019). He has twice received Arts Council Literature bursaries. His first play Maxine (2011) won an International Theatre Forum Award and was performed in Germany and Manilla.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are you writing at the moment and has the pandemic affected your work?

Philip St John: I think I’ve found the pandemic less disruptive than many. I live with Laura Kelly, the artist, and we have both worked away quite steadily. We have no kids. Though the house is small, we can work in separate rooms. I’m used to a fairly solitary existence and, if anything, I’ve found the lack of the usual activity has freed me up. This may be the result of ignoring anything other than the page or screen in front of me, though. I’ve just thought, ‘It’s awful out there for now, so I’ll get on with things in here.’ Increasingly over the last few weeks, talking to other writers, I’ve become aware of the challenges facing all the arts in the near to medium future. It’s going to be rough!

I’m a writer of fiction as well as a playwright and I go from one to the other but in the last year I’ve concentrated largely on a novel which I will be finishing very soon (friends will tell you this is a familiar refrain). However, I did apply for the special Covid award from the Arts Council and was awarded funds to write a one act play which can be performed—most likely as a staged reading—under lockdown conditions. It’s set in a kitchen. A woman calls to the house intent on removing from it the ghost who has driven away many previous owners—an invisible ten year old boy. Matthew Ralli will direct his partner Melissa Nolan as the woman and Carl Kennedy, sound-designer and performer, will create the invisible boy. It’s a few years now since I first had the idea but when the award call went out, the play came back to me as it felt resonant: an invisible, perhaps fatal, threat lurking in what is normally a safe environment.

So far I’ve written a rough draft. I try to write drama fast and in a relaxed and even slightly distracted state, with loud music playing, for instance. Often I will lie down and scribble long hand on an A-four booklet, sometimes one I have already used. I’ll squeeze the writing into the margin. All this helps drown out the voice telling me ‘You are now writing and it’s not very good.’ And if it’s not going well, I can still enjoy Joni, Miles, Dylan, Zeppelin or the Stones.

CR: It sounds like you like to get a first draft done quickly. Do you spend much time (whether for a play or a novel) planning, structuring or researching before you start writing?

PS: The novel is set in Ireland in WW2. It’s about an encounter between a Nazi agent and an adventurous Dublin jazz band. Though I love jazz, I can’t play an instrument or really understand musical terms, and I’m no historian. So I’ve had to do a lot of research. With a bursary from Wicklow Arts Office, I went to Berlin for a week and visited places I thought might be useful. I talked to Ronan Guilfoyle the jazz bassist and he recommended a book that was really useful in getting to grips with the technicalities of advanced 1940s jazz. Then I read loads of history about Ireland at the time and Europe in general. I also got in touch with some specialists who helped me with various other matters that crop up in the story. So yes, for the novel: lots of research.

My plays are pure invention, so zero research. After the rapid first draft, I work on it for a while, then I might show it to a director and perhaps have it workshopped.

Recently, in a departure from my usual practice, I’ve been researching the short life of my great-uncle Herbert Conroy who fought in GPO in 1916 and was subsequently attached to assassination squads. It was pretty eye-opening, even shocking to discover—fairly recently—just what he had been involved in. So I’m exploring his life for what may be documentary theatre, or a form which combines that with fiction. Or I might turn it into a book.

CR: Many scriptwriters feel that there aren’t enough opportunities here to make a living. Are there any particular aspects of writing that you find difficult, whether that be from a practical, craft or earning a living point of view?

PS: Well, earning what a sane person would call a living would be great!…I’ve just about survived through thrift (our car recently reached its 21st birthday), the exhausting business of applying here and there for funds, and luck. But I have moved towards movies in the last couple of years. I sold the screen rights for my play Temptress last year and am currently working with an Irish director on a series aimed at Netflix (as is everyone else). Artists need to be supported with a minimum guaranteed income. Look how hungrily our citizens have turned to culture in the present crisis. Our leaders should stop regarding art as a luxury like cake – it’s bread.


Scriptorium means a place for writing – so this is a place for you to discuss your work, your views on writing in general, your thoughts on the industry and anything else you’d like to mention. You can focus on a script that you’ve written which was produced during the last year, or one you’re currently writing. We hope you enjoy this series and look forward to hearing what you think of it. We welcome in particular writers who may have an unusual or atypical experience of scriptwriting in Ireland in terms of their ethnicity, gender, age, physical ability, socio-economic background or other life experience.

Bheadh áthas orainn freisin a chloisteáil ó scríbhneoirí le Gaeilge gur mhaith leo an agallamh a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge.

If you’d like to participate simply email:

A Tribute to Liam O’Neill by WGI Board Member Joe O’Byrne

8th June 2020

(21st May 1956 – 29th May 2020)
An Appreciation

The recession of the 1980’s was a difficult time in the history of Ireland, forcing countless people to emigrate. But there were also very many who didn’t, because they had ideas, plans, dreams, and were prepared to live through the straitened times, and fight to make a contribution to the country’s regeneration. One of those was Liam O’Neill. His strong sense of commitment may have been due to the fact that he was born in Chicago, American first generation Irish, his mother returning to Dublin with Liam and his siblings in 1968, when Liam was twelve. Liam did his secondary schooling here, then went to UCD to study philosophy and psychology, funding his student years by heading to Alaska in summertime to fish on trawlers.

Clearly his first Arts degree wasn’t going to get him a job in early 1980’s recession Ireland, but he always had the dream of becoming a filmmaker. So he applied to the Dun Laoghaire Art College – now the National Film School – and was accepted onto its fledgling film course. Liam was one of its first graduates and he emerged in the mid 1980’s as a budding director, writer, cinematographer, at a time when there was next to no film industry here.

But there were a lot of ideas, plans, and ambitions in the air despite the recession. Many organisations would emerge, and Liam was always a formative part of them. For four years in the early 1990s Liam was chairman of Film Base, the filmmakers’ resource centre, which was followed by participation on the Board of Media Desk. These organisations in their own way contributed to the opening up of the Irish film industry and the energy behind them were part of the impetus for the re-constitution of the Irish Film Board (now Screen Ireland) in 1993. He conceived and co-founded IFTN, the Irish Film and Television Network, which to this day is an important information resource centre for the film and television business. Liam contributed a huge amount of energy and time to these enterprises on a voluntary basis, and they are an important part of the early chapter of the history of our current media landscape.

Aside from his general commitment to the industry, Liam had his own talent and ambition to foster. While developing his early film projects, he also spread his creative wings further than film, and worked with Co-Motion Theatre Company for a number of years, producing, directing, doing lighting design and photography, and was involved with a number of key productions at the Dublin Theatre Festivals between 1988 and 1991, which included “The Ghost of Saint Joan”, “The Sinking of the Titanic”, and “Vlad the Impaler”, which he directed.

As the landscape for film improved, Liam set up Paradox Pictures in 1990, and produced a significant number of feature films, including “Pete’s Meteor”, which premiered as part of the Berlinale 1998, “How Harry Became a Tree”, premiering in competition at the Venice Film Festival 2001, and “Separation Anxiety. Liam was always prepared to produce and help other filmmakers get their films made, just as while a student he reached out to students in the years below him in a respectful and inclusive way, and later as a lecturer he brought the same qualities to his teaching work at various institutions such the National Film School, NCAD, and the Dundalk Institute of Technology.

But his own first love was directing and writing, and his credits include “Frankie and Johnnie”, “The Barber Shop”, “Northern Lights”, “Lost and Found”, and most recently “Danny Boy”, and “Kathleen”. When he fell ill Liam was preparing to shoot the film he co-wrote, “The Spectator”, and was completing the development of a feature film script, “Hiding in Plain Sight”, that he intended to direct.

Liam brought great commitment and generosity to his work with and for other people, but he was also a man with a strong sense of social and political commitment, of which his creative work was a part. He was also a joyous person to work with, and there are many who will remember with fondness time spent in his company even in the middle of the enormous stress that production in the media business can generate. Liam fought his way through those situations with determination and good humour, and even when he got his diagnosis of Covid-19 while a patient in St. Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny, for an unrelated medical condition, his sense of humour didn’t desert him, and he called his situation a “Comedy of Errors”. He fought the virus bravely for three weeks, but unfortunately succumbed on Friday 29th May at the age of 64. He will be missed terribly by his partner Annabel, and their children Ben and Ella, and by the many people who have been the recipient of his friendship and generosity over the many decades he was active in the media business. As Liam wrote in his rushed last post on Facebook when he was about to be intubated, his final written words: “See you on the other side”.