Posts Tagged ‘Scriptorium’

Scriptorium: Michael West

15th April 2020 by admin

Picture by Mathias Fend

Work with The Corn Exchange includes The Fall of the Second Republic, Dublin By Lamplight, Freefall and Man of Valour. Teaches scriptwriting at Queen’s University Belfast.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are your thoughts or feelings about this crisis – has it affected your work and how you view the world?

Michael West: It’s a bit like having an opinion about an asteroid. And hard to comprehend while it’s still going on around us.

Obviously I’ve never had a show closed down by the government before. And to see the next 6 months’ work for myself and colleagues torn up overnight is also deeply strange — quite apart from the question of lost income, it’s the loss of purpose and focus that will prove challenging in the long run.

On the one hand, working in the arts is to be part of a cycle of death and rebirth, project to project. And yet if the theatres can’t open, or audiences refuse to come, what then?

I work from home anyway, so on a daily basis, the same basic distractions and table are still there. I’ve taught a couple of classes online and it was ok.

As I’m typing this the sun is shining and the air is warm and fragrant. The birds are making a ferocious racket in the morning. The quiet is luxurious.

It’s unexpected to find spending so much time with my family so pleasurable — and we are all grateful that we aren’t sick or working in the health services, and count ourselves fortunate every day. People are being kind and thoughtful. I imagine long phone calls are general all over Ireland.

CR: Tell me about your most recent play, The Fall of the Second Republic?

MW: The title and premise of the show — an embattled Taoiseach forming a grand coalition with the other civil war party to hang onto power and crush his rivals — came to me about 10 years ago. We pitched it to the Abbey around the time we were presenting Freefall there in the great snow of December 2010.

The city pretty much shut down around us, and the actors and audiences had to walk to the theatre, where the Abbey handed out hot port to welcome them. It was also the week the IMF came to town. It was one of the most joyful and depressing experiences of my life. Anyway, Freefall is about a dying man seeing his life flash before him. It’s funny and sad and lyrical, dealing with the collapse of a marriage, and looked at the shadow cast by children lost to institutions and the possibility of kindness.

And The Fall of the Second Republic was to be a correction to all of that — a furious, foul-mouthed ensemble comedy to catch the sense of anger at the politicians of the time, but also to provoke laughter. The Abbey passed.

When the current directors of the Abbey asked us back to present Dublin By Lamplight in 2017 I pitched it again as a follow-up, wondering what the grandchildren of those characters would have made of Ireland in the 70s.

By that stage, given the elections in the UK and the USA, the descent into madness and populism made the idea more relevant. The decision to set it in the 70s was a response to the impossibility of keeping up with topical satire. A fictional 1973 offered a simpler time, where politicians were still scared of the truth because they still believed it existed. And I was becoming more intrigued by how Irish politics in that fraught time steered carefully away from demagoguery and proto-fascism in the pursuit of economic stability. Civil liberties, women and children were thrown under the bus, but the political centre was carefully held.

The Abbey commissioned the play and offered a co-production with The Corn Exchange to present it. I wrote a sprawling first draft over the following year and we held a workshop in the summer of 2018. That draft focussed mainly on the internal politics of Manny Spillane and his entourage in Leinster House. The role of the journalist, who became Emer Hackett, was very underdeveloped. Annie Ryan felt that the idea of Manny Spillane’s fall from grace being triggered by a journalist in the years of Watergate made more sense now and that the play needed an outside, female perspective to set off the political shenanigans.

We were originally supposed to present the show in late 2019, but funding struggles between the Abbey and the Arts Council led to a postponement of the show to 2020. The Corn Exchange also had its funding cut to zero, so we were in the strange situation of presenting a posthumous play. We held another workshop with the cast in early December. And we started rehearsals with a fabulous ensemble on January 13. Andrew Bennett who played the lead in Freefall took the part of Manny Spillane. Anna Healy (with whom I first worked in the Abbey with Andrew in The Marriage of Figaro in 1996) was to play his personal assistant. Caitríona Ennis was the fearless journalist, Emer Hackett. John Doran was her lover, Finbar Lowe.

The other roles were played by Declan Conlon, Pa Ryan, Niamh McCann, Eddie Murphy and Camille Lucy Ross — frequently running off and coming back on in different wigs and outfits. Comedy is a gruelling game but I loved every second of rehearsals, rewrites and all.

CR: Arthur Miller said that writers should ‘ask questions’. Do writers have a duty to tackle political, moral or existential questions, or what could be considered other important issues?

MW: To talk of a writer’s duty is itself a political, moral and existential framing of what writing is. Duty implies obligation and service. It is both onerous and honourable. It confers authority and importance on the writer — before they’ve even written anything.

For myself, I’m wary of anything that makes writing into something heroic. But equally I can’t imagine why you’d want to write if you weren’t addressing something you felt was important. And that includes writing for pure entertainment.

Providing answers is rarely satisfying, but asking good questions is another way of imagining yourself into another’s situation.

“What if?” is the premise behind all drama.



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:


26th March 2020 by admin

An award-winning screenwriter working in film, TV and games, Lindsay created the ground-breaking animation series PUNKY and published Ireland’s first comprehensive guide to screenwriting, WRITE THAT SCRIPT in 2018.

Clíona Ruiséil: How are you managing during this crisis?

Lindsay J Sedgwick: It’s very strange. Although I mostly write on my own, I do like taking scenes or sequences or chapters to coffee shops for a change of scene and having the hum of people around me! I’m trying to see it as an opportunity to get less distracted and focus on pushing a few projects through.

CR: What are you working on at the moment?

LS: A couple of projects. One is the script for an information video, another is helping a director develop an idea into a treatment, but I’m also adapting my first novel DAD’S RED DRESS into a ten x 30 min TV series for Lunar Pictures. It’s the first of a trilogy so the series will have legs.

I also have a couple of books at different stages, including the second of a series (WULFIE) that will be launched at the end of the year by Little Island. It is based on an animation series that was optioned but never got made.

CR: Tell me about DAD’S RED DRESS – what inspired you to write the novel and how did the adaptation come about?

LS: When I was about 13, (the age Jessie is in the book and the series) the son of my father’s boss transitioned. I was aware of snippets of conversations I wasn’t meant to hear and there was one double spread I remember seeing in an evening paper. It was whipped away but not before I’d read enough to intrigue me. This was the 80s, it wasn’t that progressive a time but I can clearly remember that, despite what I was hearing, I knew transitioning was not a choice. It’s something you have to do and it’s difficult on so many levels, for everyone involved. But what really fascinated me about the whole story was that she stayed with her wife and young children. I wondered how those children coped.

So that was the germ of it.

The adaptation came about because the daughter of the producer, (Niamh Holmes), read the book and loved it. Niamh and I had been trying to find a project on which to work together for years and it just hadn’t happened. At the time the book came out, we were both busy but when I sent her daughter a proof of the sequel to read, she asked me if I was interested in developing it with her. We sat down and it was clear she wanted what I wanted from the adaptation and it has proven to be a great, positive experience.

CR: In practical terms, how did you approach the adaptation? What steps did you take to get to a first draft of the script?

LS: Because the book already existed, the overall structure of the narrative was there; the central characters’ arcs were clear. I sat down and listed what I remembered were the main events, rather than rely on the prose narrative. I needed to see what were the key events that moved the central story along, to make sure the momentum would work on screen.
I did this for each of the characters, so I could make sure that all the stories developed.

Once I’d pulled these points into episode outlines, I fleshed them out, dipping in and out of the book. Initially it was going to be a six-parter, then eight and we finally settled on ten.

We sat down and went through the outlines line by line, with Niamh feeding back regarding the development of the story, whether some characters needed to be brought out more than in the book etc. I love constructive feedback. It pushes you to be creative and sometimes that’s all you need – to know that something isn’t strong enough or that there’s a jump in the timeline (emotional or physical) and you brainstorm and find something far stronger.

To make sure each episode moves the story on, I did a logline highlighting what would happen in each episode.

I was writing the first script in tandem with this process. The first script flowed out; pure joy. She was there, waiting to be brought to life! We changed certain things. It’s contemporary, while the book is set in 2008; it’s in Galway, not Dublin; they come from Canada not LA. And it opens quite differently. I had certain scenes and beats I needed to hit. I find it’s easier to have a rough script to rewrite than to agonise over decisions mid-script.

Jessie’s voice is very strong, so we decided to use voiceover. I haven’t used that in a script since 1998! It was only when I had the first script that we could read it through and work out what we wanted the voiceover to achieve. That’s the thing with developing a series, you need to establish the ‘dead body paradigm’, the rules that will hold throughout the series. When and why and how voiceover would be used. That episodes would go from home to school but end up home again, possibly in Jessie’s room. That all central characters will have stories in each episode. That it has to keep the heart-warming, funny and truthful tone of the original book.

Dad’s Red Dress is easier than other projects because I know the characters so well. The difficulty with that is that I assume other people know them that well too and that’s where Niamh comes in!

CR: What advice could you give other writers in terms of how to handle the business (contract, money, etc.) aspects of their work?

On contracts, on fee, look for an ‘or % of the above the line budget, whichever is the highest’ clause and turnaround. From script meetings, email the points you agreed back to the producer so there is no ambiguity re what they’ve asked you or you’ve agreed to do.


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:

July Scriptorium

9th July 2015 by Maura McHugh

Cheers! James and Fred at Furey's Pub...

The next WGI Scriptorium is on from 7pm on Thursday, 16 July in Mulligans, Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”.
Thomas Mann
“A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.”
Don DeLillo

What strategies do you employ to drag those words from your brain onto the page? Maybe you’re writing in a cork-lined room like Proust, drinking up to 50 cups of coffee a day like Balzac, or maybe you like to emulate Hugo and have your servant strip you naked until you’ve finished your writing work for the day? Or perhaps you just fancy meeting up with a bunch of savvy scribes? Escape the dreaded white page (or white screen) for an hour or two with what cynics might call pure procrastination. We call it getting inspiration, and what better way to get inspiration than to do it with other writers; you can mark it down in your diary as a business-related conference if you like. No one will know. (Except yourself of course but that’s exactly the kind of philosophical-psychological matter we need to discuss).

Talking about writing is indubitably the next best thing to writing (pencil-sharpening and checking the thesaurus notwithstanding). Chat amongst your sistren and brethren about what you’re writing, or what you’re not writing, or what you really should be writing if you weren’t at this very important meeting.

You might agree with Camus, that “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilisation from destroying itself.” You might not. This, and the careful dissection of other famous writers’ quotes, will form part of the very serious and urgent agenda of the Scriptorium. No need to RSVP as we’re busy looking up writers’ quotes here.

December Scriptorium

1st December 2014 by Maura McHugh

1. translated as “a place for writing”, which is commonly used to refer to a room in medieval European monasteries devoted to the writing, copying, and illuminating of manuscripts by monastic scribes.
2. Can also be used in reference to the monthly meeting of WGI members at The Stag’s Head.

The famous cave painting at Mélange de Paroles in the South of France for example, dating from environ 5 B.C., depicts Guild writers in a heated exchange of words over what looks like a shocking number of empty glasses (it is not known whether the glasses were once full, half-empty, or whether they were perhaps always empty and have remained thus éternellement in the cave painting). Knowledge of etymology is not necessary to attend the Scriptoria, as those writers in attendance usually find that they know more words leaving than they did coming in.

Scriptorium [2]: from 6.30pm on Thursday, 4 December at The Stag’s Head, 1 Dame Court, Dublin 2

No RSVP necessary: just bring your mouth, your brain, and your money (preferably in reverse order).