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Many thanks to Writers and Authors for this recent feature interview
What genre do you write and why?
I write mostly in the horror/supernatural genre, but also in dramatic fiction. I am a screenwriter and filmmaker too, which allows me the freedom to experiment in different genres and formats of storytelling, so in terms of creativity, I have many structures to imagine and develop stories.
Tell us about your latest book.
‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ is my debut novel and is a supernatural tale of myth and magic. It is set mostly in Ireland on the Aran Island of Inis Mor, where Caleb Flaherty encounters the beautiful and mysterious French girl, Coco de Rais, only to discover that she has unwittingly unleashed a daemon vampire, Lucius. Drawn together from vastly different lives and finding themselves in mortal danger, the lovers must accept and utilize the power they have each inherited through their strange and magical lineage.
Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
I learned a lot through the process, particularly in terms of the amount of discipline and commitment that is necessary to apply to the long form of novel writing. The story meandered between a screenplay and a novel for a number of years, and eventually, to force myself to finish it, I began to post sample chapters on my blog. I received some very helpful feedback from supportive readers and it really spurred me on to finish it. The sheer satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that I felt on ‘having written’ a novel was also rather unexpected!
Who are your favourite authors?
I have so many, so perhaps I’ll just list the ones I find inspirational in terms of writing: Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Ann Rice, Alice Hoffman, Susan Hill, Neil Gaiman, and lately, David Mitchell and Audrey Niffenegger.
What’s your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
One of my favourites is from Anne Lamott: “When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” From Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?
I’m in favour of any method that enables an author to get their work out there. I understand how difficult it is for a lot of publishing houses, they simply don’t have the resources to publish every good book that comes their way, so authors have a right to look at alternative paths to publishing. I think people’s attitudes have changed for the better in regard to self-publishing in the last while. Sure, there are works out there that perhaps don’t meet the standard required, but overall, I think the vast majority of Indie Authors are sound, talented people with voices and stories that deserve a platform. I’ve been a librarian for almost 20 years, so I also understand that readers will find the works that speak to them, and whether that is fantasy, horror, crime, dystopian, erotica, western, romance, high-brow literature, classics or whatever else, taste is taste and there is an author out there to meet that need. Self-publishing bridges many gap, particularly with ebooks, supplying reading material that is cheaper and in abundance, and that means that more books are read, and more people are reading. Who can argue with that?
What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Giving yourself permission to daydream, to imagine and to live in the fantastical worlds with the magnificent characters that exist inside your head!
What advice do you have for other writers?
Be brave. Write what you want to write. Write what you want to read. Look for feedback from people you trust and admire. Take the negative in your stride, don’t respond to it. Save your energy and embrace only the constructive criticism. Don’t assume you are better than anyone else. Don’t assume you are not as good as anyone else; you are unique, so strive to express your work in your own voice. Take inspiration from your own experience. Don’t try to imitate others. Keep at it.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I’m always delighted to connect with readers.
I have a website and blog: https://carolinefarrellwriter.com
I’m also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolineFarrellScreenwriter/
And Twitter: @CarolineAuthor
Where can a reader purchase your book?
Links to purchase ‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ can be found here:
Delighted to be featured alongside IN RIBBONS director Marie Valerie Jeantelot in this lovely interview for Cinewoman Cahiers
An interview which first appeared in Filmmakers Lifestyle…creating story, the magic of storytelling:
My Creating Story sessions with Irish filmmakers continue with screenwriter Caroline Farrell. Farrell has written award-winning feature and short films, as well as short stories. Her film In Ribbons is now in post-production.
Farrell writes her own blog, which includes a series of conversations with Irish women filmmakers. I was interested in knowing if she sees any emerging or ongoing trends.
“What I notice mostly from connecting with these women,” says Farrell, “is that most of them are creating their own art. By that, I mean they are not waiting for funding opportunities, or for the green light from producers, directors, whatever. I think the male/female ratio of successful screenwriters in Ireland is mirrored internationally, but I am optimistic that it is changing. The wave of independent productions, much like the ebook revolution, is altering the goal posts, and the previously stifling role of the gatekeepers. That can only be a good thing.”
Create Your Best Work
Farrell knows a number of talented male writers who aren’t getting the breaks either. “My take on it? Forget about gender disparities, just get yourself out there, find like-minded people with talent, and create the best work that you can. If it’s good, it will be recognized, eventually!”
It’s commonplace for writers in Ireland to move comfortably between the screen and the stage. I asked Farrell how that might impact a person’s writing and storytelling ability. “I haven’t written for the theatre,” says Farrell, “though I know many writers who move quite freely between stage and screen. I would imagine that it can only have a positive impact. Exploring story from every angle makes the telling of it more imaginative and exciting.
“Film is more about action and subtext, while theatre is generally dialogue-centered and physically expressive, but it all has to stem from good story. That is where the real ability and talent lies for any writer. How to express it (play, film, novel) is, I believe, a choice that comes instinctively.”
In her blog, Farrell offers up her top ten tenets for writing. Here’s one: “There are only so many books, courses and master classes you can read/attend. Learn from the best of them and move on. Get down to the actual storytelling.” Easier said than done, I’m thinking. How does she suggest a writer get down to the actual storytelling?
“Here’s the thing,” she stresses. “There is a difference between want and need. Wanting to write is not enough. I need to write, and therefore, I find a way. I struggle from time to time. Life gets in the way and knocks me back now and again. I get foggy brain sometimes, and I question my ability, but the need remains, and so I get back to it, always.
“We live in story anyway,” she says, “so if you are awake to your own personal myth, you should be able to absorb story in everything around you. Inspiration comes from living your life. I can brew a story in the back of my brain for anything up to a year before I write it down. I love the brewing bit, but sometimes, the writing of it scares me. Writing is hard, but necessary.”
The Tradition of Myth and Legend
I asked Farrell if there might be a unique sensibility in Irish film. “I reckon so,” she says. “As a nation, we are steeped in the tradition of myth and legend, not to mention the scars of war, revolution and resilience. An amazingly rich heritage of language and literature are embedded into our culture, as is the oral tradition of storytelling.
“Ireland has changed a lot in the past ten years or so – for better and for worse – a convergence of everything that has gone before, and film reflects that. So I think, even unconsciously, that rich tapestry emerges through the work and shows us as we are.”
The Independent Wave in Ireland
Farrell talked about the current filmmaking environment in Ireland. “We have some amazing filmmakers: Juanita Wilson (As If I’m Not There); Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did); Carmel Winters (Snap) – to name but a few. I mentioned the Independent wave earlier,” she says. “That is where I see the most noteworthy change, with some excellent filmmakers emerging through the work.
“Not all are flawless, but where is the truth in perfection? The last couple of years have seen films like Charlie Casanova, written and directed by Terry McMahon; and Pilgrim Hill, written and directed by Gerard Barrett. I mention those two because, while they couldn’t be more different, they both represent a slice of Irish life and were made on shoestring budgets by men with talent, a story to tell and sheer determination.
“Those films, and more like them, generate debate and, certainly with the former, controversy. No bad thing, to my mind. And the upside of it is that both films have proved to be spring-boards for their creators towards more mainstream support and funding for future productions.”
The Struggle for Film Profits
Farrell says that the Irish Film Board is the main source of funding for the majority of Irish films that go into development. Profitability is a real concern for Irish-made films. “Many struggle to get a distribution deal, and even when they do, it can be difficult to compete with the international productions, and a fickle cinema-going public!” She says some of the films made are excellent, but are rarely seen.
“In Ireland, we are fortunate to have the national Irish Film Board (IFB), which is publicly funded, to support new talent and indigenous film. There have been quite a few changes to the structure and personnel within the board in the last year or so, and there is a general air of positivity abounding. Time will tell,” she says. “Screen Training Ireland, functioning in the area of training and development within the industry, has recently been amalgamated into the IFB, a result of our economic downturn – but, the potential is there for sharing resources in a cost-effective and productive manner, and hopefully, emerging writers, directors and producers will continue to benefit from that.”
Reflecting Irish Life
We wrapped up the interview with a few comments on whether or not Irish film was reflective of Irish life. “Yes, of course,” Farrell says, “though it’s not all about depictions of happy drunks, gangsters, junkies and navel-gazers looking out over soggy fields. I think, as filmmakers, we could do a lot more to reflect more of it. Life as we know it. Forgotten social history, politics, women’s rights, immigration, emigration, the fallout from the ‘Troika’ (The tripartite committee led by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that coordinated financial assistance to the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus), and the economic drain on our resources – all human-interest from micro to macro level, and all fodder for meaningful, and particularly, in the case of politics, comedic storytelling.
“And speaking of comedy, Irish people are innately funny, steeped in wit and irony, and yet, we don’t seem to be able to master the art of comedy in film. Or perhaps, we just can’t laugh at ourselves from the viewer’s point of view? Now, I need to go and reflect on that last thought!”
An interview with Irish Filmmakers…http://www.irishfilmmakers.com/
IFM: First off Caroline, tell us a bit about yourself.
Born and bred in Dublin, but live inside my head! Constant scribbler, life-long learner, day and night dreamer!
IFM: How did you first get into writing, and how did that lead you into screenwriting?
From the age of learning to put pen to paper and making sense out of words, I have always written in some form or another. I hated school. Inside my head, I was little Wednesday Addams! I was out of there by my own volition, at 15, but that conversation is for another day! However, the one thing I did enjoy about primary school was that every Friday for homework, we would have to write an essay, and every Monday morning, I would have my work done. Wish I had kept them all! I entered my first writing competition at 19, and was placed runner-up for my synopsis of a novel – I never did write that book though! I was always a quiet kid, but for as long as I can remember, I was curious about people and situations I witnessed; a spectator. I would make up stories in my head, or embellish on real life events, and I often saw life in a serious of frames, scenes I suppose, playing them over in my head after the fact. About fifteen years ago, I sent the first three chapters of an early attempt at a novel to the legendary agent, Darley Anderson, and he replied personally to say that he liked my writing, but that it was rather ‘episodic’. At the time, I didn’t get that he was actually offering a helpful insight! I didn’t have any experience of screenwriting though until 2005, when I sat in on a Screenwriting course. As soon as the tutor broke down the format of the first script we read, The Crying Game, I was hooked. Though I had a long way to go in terms of learning about structure, it all made perfect sense! For me, it is all about Story: we story our own lives as we breathe each day, and we story the lives of others, real or imagined, through empathy, curiosity, imagination, analysis and connection. Each and every one of us is living the three-act structure…
IFM: Take us briefly through your process of writing a screenplay, including how many drafts do you go through, and when you know the work is ready to hand over.
I generally have a story percolating in my head for a long time before I write the first draft. Sometimes it can take a year or so before I’m ready to hammer it out onto the blank page. After that, it varies. I have scripts that I know will take me several drafts before I am comfortable enough with them to hand them over to anyone. With others, it is easy to let the first draft go out to the world, and I’ll happily receive whatever feedback is thrown at it. I try to write something every day.
IFM: What are some of the challenges you face when writing, and do you draw from any personal experiences?
My challenges would be the same for most writers, I think. Time is a huge issue for me. I work fulltime, and I have family and friends that, while understanding my need for solitary confinement, still like, for whatever reason, to have me around!
Do I draw from personal experiences? Hell, yes. And don’t believe any writer who tells you that they don’t! In one form or another, the essence of a writer is in their work. Sometimes obvious, mostly not, but however subtle, it is always there. It is what gives a writer his or her voice, and it is what makes them different from everyone else.
IFM: You’ve won a number of awards for your work. How does it feel to have your talent recognised?
Fantastic! It’s a wonderful affirmation when my work is recognised to a level of winning an award, and it really spurs me on to do more, to do better, and to raise the bar on my own expectations.
IFM: What are some of your favourite scripts and books that inspire you?
My favourite scripts are too many to mention, but a snapshot would be The Others by Alejandro Amenábar,Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Red Road, by Andrea Arnold, The Secret in Their Eyes, by Eduardo Sacheri Juan José Campanella, and Angel Heart, written by Alan Parker. I’m also a big fan the Robert Riskin/Frank Capra collaborations…simply wonderful!
I used to be a sucker for the gothic novels, particularly as a teenager; Bronte, Stoker, Poe, etc. At that age, I would also devour Agatha Christie novels. I think she may well have been my first inspiration to write. Later, I discovered Anne Rice, Susan Hill and Alice Hoffman, as well as John Connolly, Joseph O’Connor, Patrick McCabe and Neil Jordan. My love of books in turn inspired my future career path, to be a librarian, though it took me a long time to get there [see previous comment on leaving school early!] At the moment, I am reading Audrey Niffenegger.
IFM: What advice would you offer to any screenwriters in the making?
Watch films, read scripts, learn format and just do it! Do it often! Make sure you present your work as good as it can be. Look for feedback and learn to take rewrites in your stride. Join a writer’s group. If you can’t find one, start one up yourself. And when you feel you have reached a standard that is good enough to compete, submit your work to producers, awards and funding opportunities, and enter competitions.
IFM: Tell us what you have planned for this year and what else are you working on?
My short script, ADAM, directed by Denise Pattison, which we have co-produced, is currently in post-production, and another, IN RIBBONS, is now in development, to be directed by Marie-Valerie Jeantelot. I am collaborating with director Vittoria Colonna on a feature screenplay, and am also doing my best to finish a novel. I have three more completed screenplays currently doing the rounds, and another with a director in the US,Ozzy Villazon. I am very lucky to be working with some very cool and inspiring people, so although I would say that my year so far has been pretty hectic …long may it last! I also blog regularly, and am at present featuring Irish women in film, which, I have to say has been a joy to do, and very inspiring.
Where do you call home?
Dublin, Ireland. I love to travel, but I love to come home again.
What is your book about?
Time Standing Still is a collection of short stories. Some have been published before, or have been placed in competitions, so I gathered them into this small collection. With the exception of the final story, The Birthday Gift, which is a gothic tale of the supernatural, each story explores the nature of humanity, universal themes of ordinary people dealing with the darker and sometimes brutal side of life
Do you have plans for a new book?
Working on a novel as we speak! Lady Beth, the story of a mother and her quest for revenge following the drug-related death of her son, is based on a feature length script I have written. An extract has appeared in the latest edition of the Irish Literary Journal, RECITAL, which I am extremely pleased about.
What inspired you to write your book?
Not just for this book, but for everything I write, I am constantly moved, inspired, and fascinated by the lives we live and how we live them. Themes that come up time and time again for me tend to be built around ordinary people facing extraordinary situations, and clichéd as that may sound, life’s experiences inspire me to write. To paraphrase a quote by the Mexican Film director, Alejandro González Iñárritu… if you scratch the skin of pain, you may find beauty in a much more profound way. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Yes, for the most part, my writing does veer to the darker side of human nature…though not always!
How did you come up with the title and cover design?
Time Standing Still is the title of the first story in the collection. The cover was designed by my brother, a graphic designer [details on request!] who somehow managed to decipher my vague concept and came up with an image that I truly feel best represents the status quo of all of the characters in the stories.
What books have most influenced your writing most and why?
From the classics, the gothic novels of Wuthering Heights, Dracula and the stories of Poe and Lovecraft and Irish mythology. I am also greatly influenced by contemporary authors…see question below!
Is there an Author that you would really like to meet?
Apart from the dead ones, which rules out Oscar Wilde, Emily Bronte and Bram Stoker, I would like to meet Anne Rice, Alice Hoffman and Alice Sebold; simply wonderful women creating wonderful stories. On the male side, John Connolly and Joseph O’Connor are two of my favourites, both of whom I have been lucky enough to meet.
Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks or hardcovers?
Being a professional Librarian, I could never end my love affair with the printed page. However, I also love the idea of ebooks, and see the demand for them growing. When you consider the unique and varied ability of the human being, ebook technology breaks down a lot of social and physical barriers that perhaps traditional bookstores and library buildings, however clued-in, may never manage to do.
Have you ever read a book more than once?
Yes. Wuthering Heights, Dracula and I am currently reading Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor for the second time; it is a masterpiece of language that must be savoured slowly.
What book are you currently reading?
I usually have two or three on the go! Along with Ghostlight, I have just finished John the Revelator by Irish author, Peter Murphy and Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters.
What book do you know that you will never read?
War and Peace…probably.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep doing what you’re doing. Practice your craft and don’t be afraid to take criticism. And for goodness sake, edit, edit and edit some more!
What was the first book you read that inspired you to become a writer? Though I have never written in the traditional crime genre, as a young teen, I used to devour Agatha Christie books and think wow, wish I could write like that! I did attempt a murder story at the age of nineteen, but that will remain buried, forever! Following the Agatha Christie phase, I became interested in the Gothic classics, and my early writing was definitely influenced by those.
Did you try the traditional publishing route before going indie and if so, what was that experience like? I’ve had some success with the publication of several of my short stories in magazines and literary journals, but I have not tried the traditional publishing route…yet!
Besides the genre you currently write in, what other genre would you like to try? I have already written in the genres of horror, drama, and children’s fantasy, mostly in screenplay format. I’m having a go at a rom-com at the moment, so the outcome of that will be… interesting!
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story? Strong characterization and relatable themes; great stories are emotive, and arouse the reader’s empathy and curiosity.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.? I go through phases of being extremely disciplined, writing every day, and making great progress, to periods of procrastination when very little actual writing gets done. However, I have come to understand that during these latter periods of faffing around, my imagination is generally percolating, and some gem of an idea will usually emerge from the process of seemingly doing nothing!
Dogs or cats? Dogs, most definitely; wonderful, intelligent and loving creatures.
Do you think people DO judge books by their cover? Well, I do anyway. First impressions count, although page one counts even more.
What’s the best and worst things about being an author? The best – sleeping well because you know you’ve achieved in your writing time what you set out to do. The worst – not sleeping well because you know you have not achieved in your writing time what you had set out to do!
What are you working on right now? A novel titled Lady Beth, a dark drama, and a rather macabre rom com script, titled Three Versions.
Besides writing, what other hobbies or interests do you have? I work full-time, so hobby time is limited between that and my writing. Reading, music, film, theatre and travel are essential pastimes, and all feed my creativity.