A NEW SCRIPT
In early August I spent an afternoon brooding my way through the gardens of Farmleigh and out across the sun-tormented plains of the Phoenix Park. I was arranging an event for the ballroom in October. LOVE SCENES promised to be a fascinating evening of music, readings, and conversation. But the line-up had an embarrassing gap: zero writing from the writer-in-residence. LOVE SCENES would explore love in the 21st century, and Sleep City, the novel I had worked on during the residency, was set back in World War Two. It shed very little light on the age of Trump, Me Too and tinder.
I’d have to write something new. A play, possibly. Yes, quickly write a play and have some of it read script-in-hand at LOVE SCENES. I set to work and for the rest of the month engrossed myself in developing a complex dramatic world. ‘It’s grand,’ a director friend said, when I showed him the result. That’s ‘grand’ as in, ‘not grand’.
The following day, I gave my first masterclass to seven emerging playwrights. We met in a beautiful room on the ground floor and had a long, stimulating session. At the end, the writers asked if I was working on any drama. I said no, a novel. But as I walked across the Phoenix Park to catch the bus home, I remembered my director friend had said he liked two aspects of my play. They were the parts that most excited me. Perhaps I should start again and concentrate on those two threads…Within a week, the first scene of The Occupant had emerged. I showed it to my director friend, who liked it, and in October an extract was read by the actors Cathy White and Madi O’Carroll at LOVE SCENES.
I’ve since completed a draft of The Occupant. Would I have even begun it, had I not needed a scene for that evening in the ballroom? Probably not. Sometimes circumstances shape the art as much as the artist does.
A NEW ROLE
During August, another dilemma emerged. My final event, CRIME SCENES, which was scheduled for the ballroom in November, would combine crime-fiction readings, interpretations of crime-music by a live band, a panel discussion with crime experts (two detectives and a forensic scientist), and an extract from my 2014 play, On City Water Hill. The trouble was that I’d used up the budget for the event and could not afford to hire anyone to direct the play. ‘Then you’ll just have to direct it yourself, won’t you?’ one of the cast said.
‘Of course, I will.’ I said, very calmly for someone who had never directed anyone apart from ten-year olds in a school play and had no experience of acting.
Soon afterwards, the second of my playwriting masterclasses took place in the atmospheric cabinet kitchen in the basement of Farmleigh. We were joined by two actors, Shane English and Madi O’Carroll, and director Matthew Ralli. The actors were to test the writers’ scripts by performing brief extracts under Matthew’s guidance. Though we had only forty minutes for each script, the emerging writers said they were fascinated by the acting and directing, and that they learned a lot—as did a very attentive writer-in-residence.
For On City Water Hill, the two actors, Neill Fleming and Jed Murray, and I used the spacious boardroom of Farmleigh to rehearse. I had decided my directing style would follow my approach to the writing of stage-directions. It would be minimalist. Anyhow Jed and Neill were experienced performers who needed little in the way of guidance and did a great job performing at CRIME SCENES.
Would I have ever directed a reading if I hadn’t had to do it at CRIME SCENES? Possibly not. Circumstances at Farmleigh had proven creative again.
A NEW DRAFT
I began working on my novel, Sleep City, back in 2011, when The Arts Council of Ireland awarded me a Literature Bursary. Set mostly in Dublin during the Emergency, the book explores the consequences of a partnership a jazz pianist forms with a Nazi spy. During the residency, I reworked the opening fifty pages and all second half of the novel.
I’ll soon be binding those first fifty pages and giving them to Nuala Canny, Farmleigh’s librarian. Previous writers in residence have work on the shelves of that impressive room, and it is good to think that Sleep City will be joining such company.