Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Niall Queenan

Niall

Niall Queenan is a screenwriter from the North West who currently lives in Dublin and graduated from the National Film School at IADT in 2012 with a Masters in Screenwriting. He was recently awarded an emerging screenwriter talent development mentorship from the Irish Film Board, won the gold prize in the thriller/horror category of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script NEXT OF KIN, and the bronze prize in the thriller/horror category of the World Series of Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script SHADOW OF THE BLACKBIRD. He was consequently signed by manager/producer Peter Katz of Story Driven in Los Angeles. His feature debut, THE HIT PRODUCER, an independent Irish crime thriller, screened and won awards at a number of international film festivals and recently had a limited cinema release in Dublin. He has worked with Irish director Cathal Black under his Nightingale Films Ltd production company in a script development capacity and also co-produced his recent short film BUTTERFLY. He has completed feature re-writes for Propaganda Italia in Rome, Bee Holder Productions in Los Angeles, and is currently developing a slate of spec genre thrillers.

Impressive work, Niall. So, when did you first begin to write for screen?

Six years ago. My initial forays were a total disaster. I wrote two scripts without knowing a thing about the craft, thought they were gold, and paid a professional screenwriter to critique them. To say he hated them would be putting it mildly. That said, he was very understanding and gave me some really solid advice. Three months later I still felt like it was something I wanted to do, so I started over, read pro screenplays and began to study the craft. The learning continues and I can’t imagine it ever ending.

Did anyone, famous or otherwise, inspire you?

Well, they’re famous in our house, but my father always made up stories when we were kids and it was time to shut us up for the night, and my mother got me hooked on mystery novels, so I imagine the seed was planted there. But it wasn’t until I saw ‘Catch Me If You Can’ that I knew I wanted to write screenplays. Something about that film really captured my imagination and in that case, for whatever reason, I quickly came to the conclusion that the magic had started on the page. From then on the desire has been to write something that will ultimately result in an audience being as engrossed and involved in a story as I had been that evening. So, I suppose you could credit Jeff Nathanson, and also – shocker – Steven Spielberg.

Do you write every day?

When I’m working on something new I write every day. I believe that it’s important to keep your head in the same space while plotting and writing the first draft. If I’m between things or planning to re-write I’ll leave it alone, or work on something else, and let the subconscious mull over whatever it needs to, which I find productive in the long run… plot holes, inconsistencies and bad dialogue always seem to spring to mind during down time. I don’t have a specific daily structure, but I tend to write a lot at night and into the small hours.

Do you have a preferred genre?

I usually write thrillers, be they crime, conspiracy, supernatural etc. I just love being in that headspace, where there’s a sense of mystery, danger or intrigue, and working out how to assemble the pieces of the story into a compelling read.

How long does it take you to complete a script?

Usually somewhere between three and four months to outline it and get a solid first draft down.

And on your first production break? How involved in the process were you?

I’ve had just one film produced, an indie crime thriller called ‘The Hit Producer’, which had a very limited Irish release a few weeks ago. I met the director at a pitching event set up by the writers’ and directors’ guilds, and after swapping scripts/ideas he sent me his treatment for it. We unsuccessfully pitched it as a Storyland project, but by then had come up with enough material for a feature so I wrote the script. The budget (€18,000) came from a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the crowdfunding campaign, which I was heavily involved in, and after that I was on set as and when bodies were needed to chip in during the shoot. I sat in on the edit for a time during post-production and once that was done so was I. So, very much a DIY break, but it has led to other opportunities and was absolutely worth the effort. Big thanks again to all who backed the campaign and in fact gave us that break!

Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?

I don’t have an agent, but as of very recently I have a manager! I think when you’re an unknown you have to prove yourself, which means writing strong spec scripts, completing assignments and getting your name out there. I expect that once work generates positive word of mouth, and assuming there’s a demand for the writer, an agent gets involved. I think if a writer was in serious demand an agent would absolutely be necessary. The contractual/negotiation side of things alone is a headache that I’m sure few writers want to spend their time dealing with, but want to make sure their best interests are served, so an informed manager/agent is likely vital in ensuring things get done right.

Thoughts on social media and marketing for filmmakers?

It’s absolutely necessary where you’ve made an independent film or you’re looking for backers for your crowdfunding project, nobody else is going to talk you up, but with hashtags and viral marketing tactics it’s possible to build buzz. That aside, when writing, or developing ideas etc., the less time spent on social media the better… it’s a total time suck unless you’re incorporating social media into the progress of your project in order to engage.

And do you contribute to the marketing of your own work?

I use a few social media platforms like Stage32, Twitter and LinkedIn, and post updates if I feel like something is worth sharing, but outside of that I don’t really “market” myself. To be honest, I’d rather be writing, but if there’s a project I’m involved in out there then I’ll absolutely help the team get the word out.

What’s your opinion of the current world of film? National? International? Indie Film?

Where indie film is concerned, I expect that there are tonnes of gems going undiscovered that word of mouth and cult status in their respective countries will eventually bring to a wider audience. Indie film in the US seems to be defaulting toward a Sundance style formula but there’s still plenty of really interesting stuff being made. In the mainstream, I’m a bit tired of the superhero films because they all play out in the same way – more or less – and few risks are taken. Similarly, everything these days seems to be based on book franchises, or is inspired by true events, and it feels like spec scripts are for writing sample purposes only, which is borderline a crime. Where Ireland is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2020’s prove to be our golden age. A widespread confidence in craft is emerging on all levels, which is very exciting, and will hopefully result in greater funding for the respective bodies and lead to more opportunities for Irish writers and filmmakers.

Having just won a PAGE Award – and mighty congratulations on that – what is your opinion on the importance of screenplay competitions?

I think they’re a useful way to judge where your writing is at, and if you win, or place, or make the finals, it definitely justifies contacting producers/managers/agents – or will see them contact you. That said, I think a lot of aspiring screenwriters make the same mistakes I made before and submit scripts that just aren’t ready, in hope of magically hitting the jackpot. Even if you’re confident that the basics of the story work, I would suggest taking additional time to be brutal with your dialogue, and to work the hell out of the descriptive passages. There are tonnes of ways to describe a room, but maybe only a couple that fit the tone of your story, so print it out, red pen it, grab a dictionary and don’t just settle for the easy option before you shell out your hard-earned cash.

And since you have been heavily involved in crowdfunding – what has that experience been like?

I’ve worked on two crowdfunding campaigns, the first was for ‘The Hit Producer’, and the second was for a short film called ‘Butterfly’ – both were hosted by Fund It and, fortunately, both were successful. Crowdfunding is tough, though, and while my experiences of it were ultimately worthwhile, they were extremely time-consuming and exhausting. Engaging your audience on a personal level and putting in the time to talk about their projects is just as important as promoting your own, and it’ll pay dividends when you’re looking for likes/shares/re-tweets. What’s even more key is beginning the process of building your audience a long time in advance of the campaign launch. Trying to get people to notice you when the clock is already ticking is a stress you don’t need, so my advice to anyone considering it down the road is to set up your Twitter/Facebook pages now and start communicating. Talk about the development process, ask opinions, basically involve people so that they’re invested in its progress. I’ve a lot of admiration and respect for those who stick their necks out and decide to crowdfund, and even more respect for those who pledge and green light aspiring creatives. It’s a huge leap of faith and the hope for those who get to move forward is that your backers will ultimately be proud of the work.

Any advice for aspiring film writers, Niall?

Well, I’m still one of them, but from my limited experience I think writers should write the ideas that they personally connect with and can’t stop thinking about, as opposed to writing what people tell them is more suitable for the market/funding bodies. Getting to the end of a script is hard enough, but if you’re not engaged in it, or just doing it for the sake of it, then that’s what will come across on the page. Also, trust your instincts. If something’s bothering you in the script and you just can’t shake it, then cut it or re-write it. For me, re-writing is the best part of writing screenplays… it’s like being given back a test paper and getting to change the answers to something “correct” or at least closer to it, with the benefit of perspective and hindsight.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There are hundreds. ‘Taxi Driver’ by Paul Schrader, ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’ by Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati, ‘The Usual Suspects’ by Chris McQuarrie, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ by Jeff Nathanson … those are the first that come to mind.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve written a very rough first draft of a psychological thriller which I’ve been working on with the assistance of script editor appointed by the Irish Film Board as part of their emerging screenwriter talent development initiative. I’m also developing a high-concept single location thriller that I’m very excited about, and a handful of other genre ideas.

Would you consider directing your own work?

Yes, at some point, but I think before trying I’d like to shadow someone else just to get a better idea of what to expect, and maybe make a really cheap short or two, just so it’s not all new. Even at that, I’d definitely be dependent on the crew’s technical expertise, but I love the idea of working collaboratively with a creative team to achieve a particular vision with a view to ending up with something unique that holds up over time.

And just for fun…six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

For the sake of seeing just how crazy things would get… Charles Bukowski, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Richard Pryor, Elizabeth Taylor and Chris Farley – all while at the height of their infamy.

 

You can find Niall on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Stage32

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Carolann Copland

Carolann

From Dublin, Ireland, Carolann Copland is the founder of Carousel Creates, a writers’ centre in the Dublin Mountains. She has a Bachelor of Education in English and Drama and has been a teacher for sixteen years. Her first book, Summer Triangle was published by Emu Ink in October 2013, followed by Scarred launched in June 2015 and a third novel is currently underway. Carolann has also lived in the Middle East and the United Kingdom. She is married to Neil and is a mother of three children aged twelve to twenty-four. She is a member of two writing groups and works to promote other writing groups in Dublin. Through mentoring writers of all ages, from all walks of life, Carolann is happiest when she is sharing her passion for writing.

Welcome to the series, Carolann. Begin by telling us about your writing journey so far?

I’m not sure if I used to scribble stories as a child, but I definitely told stories. (Or lies?) As an adult, I first discovered writing stories when I went to university to study English and Drama at the age of 30! The last thing my English professor said to me when I left was Don’t forget to write and he wasn’t talking about a postcard… I was forty before I eventually joined my first creative writing class and I became addicted. I was writing novels for about three years before I published.

And how do you structure your writing time?

I need to write every day. I have a full-time job as a teacher so my writing day begins at 6am and ends at 7.30am. I often find time later in the day too but that’s a bonus… and then there are the school holidays. Most of my first drafts are written in the summer. My first drafts are written in a few months. The re-writes and edits take at least a year.

How would you describe your novels, in terms of genre?

I want to write stories that I haven’t read yet. My reading is of such a wide variety of genres and my novels reflect this. Real life is not trapped in only crime, politics or romance. Life is all of these and more.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Disagree. I do believe we should use our experiences to authenticate our writing, but writers are inquisitive by nature. I want to learn about a subject before I write about it, but I don’t need to have lived it. If we could only write what we know, novels would be quite boring. Our lives are not always about death, heart-break and horror. But our readers want to read about such things as well as love, relationships and redemption. We make stuff up. It’s what we do.

What is your opinion on the importance of literary competitions and awards?

I think that the written word, like every art, needs competition to keep it moving forward. But we shouldn’t find ourselves too engrossed in only reading award-winning authors.

Do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

Completely. I think the days of authors writing the book, then sitting back and letting it all happen are gone. All my author colleagues work very hard on their own marketing and PR. I do put things by my publisher before I make big decisions though. Two heads are always going to work better than one. I also run Carousel Writers’ Centre in Dublin, where I facilitate writing courses for adults and children, so my life is pretty much surrounded by writing and writers.

And social media?

Social media is very important to me. My books meet their first readers through facebook and twitter before the snowball effect takes root. Also, the support that others in the writing industry give on social media is the push that keeps my pen flowing.

Do you think it would help to have an agent?

I don’t use an agent. When I’m struggling through PR and marketing, I do sometimes wish that I could let someone else take the strain. But my publisher is so supportive and knows the business so well that I don’t feel the need for a middle person. She’s bossy too in the best kind of way. I have huge respect for her.

What’s your opinion of the current world of publishing?

I think that the current international world of publishing is at a very exciting crossroads. The ebook has contributed to a massive increase in readers and authors. Our reading choices are much wider but it can also create a feeling of being swamped. Nationally I think we’re taking things a lot slower. Many Irish authors are saying that they might take the plunge into independent publishing but few are jumping.

And on Indie publishing?

I have read so many brilliantly indie published books over the last few years. I’m loving the choice that the readers now have and the competition it gives to traditionally published books. My own books are independently published using an assisted publishing company, Emu Ink, and for now this suits me very well. My readers hold me in as high esteem as my traditionally published writing colleagues. Indie Publishing works for me.

If you’ve ever had any: How do you handle negative reviews?

I don’t think you’ve made it as a writer until you get people thinking on your subject and arguing back at you. I like that. I’ve never had anyone tell me that my writing sucks. I’ll let you know how that feels if it happens.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Have faith in your story. Stick your bum to the seat. Write every day. Discipline your time on social media. Involve yourself in creative experiences. Mix with other writers. Love what you do.

And finally, Carolann, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I have just spent the summer in Andalucia, writing a novel set between Spain in post-civil war years and modern-day Ireland. I am deeply in love with all things Spanish and it was inevitable that it would creep into my writing eventually.

Summer Triangle and Scarred, published by EmuInk, are available to rent as ebooks from Emulink and are available to buy from Amazon also in paperback.

You can also find Carolann on Twitter | Facebook | Author Website

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Vanessa Gildea

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Vanessa Gildea studied film as part of a Liberal Arts Degree at the University of Limerick. Subsequently she worked in film training for nine years, mostly for Filmbase. She has directed short documentaries for Amnesty International Ireland and award-winning Dublin based production company Venom Films. In 2006 she wrote and directed the Irish Film Board funded short film ‘The White Dress’ which won numerous awards (Best Short Film Foyle Film Fest, Belfast Film Fest, Cinema Tout Ecran Geneva, awards at Galway & Kerry Film Festivals) and was nominated for an IFTA. It has been purchased / screened by RTÉ, Swiss, French and Italian Television.  In 2009 Vanessa wrote and directed a short film called ‘The Beast’ for award-winning production company Venom Films. She has received three IFTA nominations including ‘The White Dress’, Dambé – The Mali Project, a feature-length music documentary shot in Mali, West Africa, which was nominated for an IFTA 2009 in the Best Feature Documentary category, and ‘John Ford – Dreaming the Quiet Man’ in 2013. Also in 2013, she was the first recipient of the Tyrone Guthrie ‘Film Writing Bursary Award’ and in 2014 she received the Arts Council’s ‘Film Bursary Award’. As writer / director she completed an Arts Council Project Award film called ‘The Abandoning’ which won BEST SHORT FILM at The Sky Road Film Festival, 2014, a Special Mention at The IndieCork Film Festival, and was highly commended at The Belfast Film Festival, 2015.

Vanessa, with such accomplished writing, directing and producing credits, can you tell us when it all started for you?

I was always playing around with ideas, since I was a teenager but I only started to write in my 30s. The first film I wrote was called ‘The White Dress’, I wrote it in one sitting and I never did any re-writes, but I had written the film in my head a hundred times, and luckily it got funded.

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to get into film?

The first filmmaker that blew my mind was Mike Leigh. When I saw ‘Life is Sweet’ as a teenager it changed my view of what a film is, up until then I had only seen hollywood movies. I didn’t know people made films like that, reflecting real life back at the audience and I thought it was the most exciting and moving film I’d ever seen. I still love it and when I’m writing I think about authenticity and Mike Leigh is always somewhere floating around that thought process.

And your first production break?

I had made a short doc for Amnesty [International] and someone from the Irish Film Board had seen it and she decided to take a chance on me as a first time writer / director of a drama. I am forever grateful.

Do you write every day?

No. I work in production, research or teaching. When I’m not working I can spend time writing but not as much as I’d like.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There’s a hundred. I am in awe of Charlie Kauffman, the complexity, simplicity and brilliance of ‘Adaptation’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. Also, I wish I had written or could write something as good as ‘The Visitor’ by Tom McCarthy.

Do you have an agent, Vanessa, or think it necessary to have one?

No I don’t have one and I think if you want to write as your profession then yes, an agent is a good idea.

Do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

A little, but I dislike that side of things, I’d much prefer someone else do it.

And on social media for filmmakers?

I have mixed feelings about social media but it’s here and it can be a very useful tool. It is boring to use it solely for self-promotion though, better to have a bit of fun with it.

What’s your opinion of the film industry in general?

There are great films being made all the time, some are Hollywood, most of the films I really love and admire are not from the Hollywood system. I have to seek out the films that I like, but it’s not hard, with the IFI, the Lighthouse and VOD platforms like volta.ie, but one major problem I see is the lack of women storytellers, women centric stories and characters. I recently heard most film crowd scenes have 70-80% men in them, what is going on? Women are not coming forward, they’re not being allowed to and when they do the kind of films they want to make are not getting the same support. We are 50% of the population, we should be telling 50% of the stories.

And on the importance, or not, of film competitions and awards?

Winning awards can be a bittersweet experience but the recognition is good and it definitely helps when it comes to getting the next project funded, well I think it does.

Have you, or would you, consider crowdsourcing to produce your own work?

I haven’t, but I have supported plenty of projects, I would consider it.

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

Of course you have negative reviews, I would like my films to provoke a reaction in people, but you have to learn to shrug it off, and also sometimes the person critiquing the film might have a point. I equally take praise with a pinch of salt, I know when I am happy with my work, I know the moment when I am happy to say that’s it, it’s finished, that’s all we can do. I also know when I have worked hard and done everything in my power to realise the idea. After that, I don’t think you have a clue what people will think or how they will react, but you make it to be seen and the rest is beyond your control.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

No, because I am still one myself.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I think if every writer stuck to that as a rule, we would have lost out on some great fiction and dramas, but you can write what you know about life, love, loss, emotions in to characters, in to situations without it being necessarily autobiographical.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I am about to start an MA in Screenwriting at the National Film School Dun Laoghaire, so I am playing with a few ideas for that as part of the course we have to write a feature script. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

And just for fun…six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

My Dad, my grandparents and Brendan Behan.

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Vanessa’s film, The Abandoning, will shortly screen as part of the Short Film Programme | Irish Women in Film, I am curating at the MFFA

 

 

Doing it With Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Hazel Gaynor

Hazel

Hazel Gaynor is a novelist, freelance writer and author of New York Times best seller and RNA Historical Romantic Novel of the Year, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, and new novel, A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. Originally from Yorkshire, England, she now lives in Ireland.

Welcome to the series, Hazel. Let’s begin with your writing journey so far…

I’ve always written in one form or another. Even when I spent a late gap year in Australia in 1997 I did a correspondence course in creative children’s writing. I never really thought I could make a career from my love of writing, and only started writing seriously after leaving my professional career in 2009 when my two children were very young. Initially I wrote a parenting and lifestyle blog called Hot Cross Mum (I still love that name!), which led to writing freelance features for press and websites in Ireland and the UK. I wrote my first full novel in 2010 (this has been hidden away under the bed ever since!), and wrote my second full novel, THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, in 2011.

And how did your first publishing break come about?

After both my novels had been rejected by publishers, I decided to self-publish THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. The novel is based on a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on Titanic and with the centenary of the sinking approaching in April 2012, I knew I had a great opportunity to connect with the resurgence of interest in Titanic. Having said that, I wouldn’t have self-published if I really didn’t believe in my novel. I felt so passionately about the subject matter, and firmly believed that there was a readership for it. The self-published ebook sold around 100,000 copies in its first year of publication, and during that year I wrote a third novel, titled DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS. However, despite the success of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, my third novel – also historical fiction – was rejected by twelve publishers in Ireland and the UK and at the start of 2013 my agent and I parted company. This was the lowest point for me. It was really hard to keep going, but I did. I started writing a new novel, and within a few months everything completely turned around for me.

Having parted company with your first agent, do you think it important to have representation?

From personal experience, I think the most important thing is to have the right agent for you. Having the wrong agent is worse than having no agent at all and I would strongly advise new writers to take their time, do their homework, find agents whose published authors they love and who they feel they could work well with and who can best represent their work. I am now represented by an amazing agent, Michelle Brower, from Folio Literary Management in New York. Michelle read THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME on her Kindle in 2013. She loved it so much that she contacted me via Facebook to ask whether I was represented and if I had written anything else. I have that message printed out on my noticeboard above my desk! I wasn’t represented at the time, and I had an unpublished novel to send to her. Within six weeks of that initial contact from Michelle, she had my two books – THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME and DAUGHTERS OF THE FLOWERS – at auction with three major publishers in the U.S. In June 2013, I signed a two-book deal with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME was republished in paperback in 2014 and the retitled A MEMORY OF VIOLETS was published earlier this year. I am currently editing my third novel for HarperCollins which will be published next year.

Do you write every day, Hazel? And how is your writing time structured?

During term time I am at my desk in the attic, Monday to Friday, from 9am-2pm, while the children are at school. I spend this time writing, researching, promoting, updating my website – any number of writing-related tasks. When I’m writing early drafts, I try to spend all my writing time just writing, and use the evenings to focus on admin/interviews etc. I try not to write at weekends, but when the pressure is on, it happens. When I’m not writing, I’m constantly thinking about my characters and figuring our plot issues. They often unravel themselves when I’m out walking, or in the shower! I do try to maintain some structure to my writing, but during school holidays I just have to grab whatever time I can. Often this is very early in the morning or very late at night.

So you also take some responsibility for the marketing and promotion of your work?

Absolutely! I would be worried if a writer wasn’t! A significant portion of my ‘desk time’ is dedicated to marketing/PR activities. Authors are very visible now and readers want to be able to connect with them through all forms of social media, as well as in person at festivals and conferences etc. Authors know their books better than anyone, so I would always encourage the author to be very involved in the promotion of their books and to work with their publisher to generate ideas. Authors often have really strong local networks which a publicist in another country (in my case the US and UK) might not be as strongly connected into.

What draws you to write historical fiction?

It’s a genre that is often misunderstood! Far from being stuffy and boring and using old-fashioned unfathomable language, historical novels are as dramatic, engaging, emotionally compelling and as readable as contemporary set novels. In fact, for me, the fact that the stories and characters, events and settings in historical novels are based in fact, makes them even more dramatic, engaging and emotionally compelling. That’s why I’m drawn to the genre; to discovering fascinating and forgotten stories, events and people from the past. My own brand of historical fiction is set in the twentieth century. I’ve written about Irish emigrants on the Titanic in THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME. I’ve written about orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London in A MEMORY OF VIOLETS. In the forthcoming anthology, FALL OF POPPIES, I’ve written about events on Armistice Day in WW1. In my new novel, I’m writing about a young maid trying to make it in the theatre in 1920s London.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Finish the book!

And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Write what you want to know. Write the book you want to read. Write about something you will still be passionate about in five, six, twenty years’ time, when (hopefully) people are still discovering your book and want to talk to you about it.

Thoughts on how to handle negative reviews – if you’ve ever had any?

It is never easy, but an unavoidable part of the creative process. Some people will love what you produce, others won’t. I try not to dwell on reviews – good, bad or indifferent. Reviews are for other readers, not for the writer. Of course, it is very tempting to read every single review, but my one piece of advice is to NEVER engage with a negative reviewer. You simply cannot win that argument. Let it be. Go for a walk. Have a good cry on your friend’s shoulder. Pour a large G&T, but NEVER publicly respond or engage in a debate about it.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’m currently editing my third novel, due for publication summer 2016. It is set in London in the 1920s and tells the story of a maid at The Savoy who longs to be a star on the West End stage. I have also contributed to a WW1 anthology FALL OF POPPIES – Stories of Love and the Great War which will be published in the US in March 2016. Nine authors have each contributed a story to the collection and we are all really excited about the release.

And just for fun, name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

It would be a gin and tonic and my drinking companions would be Audrey Hepburn. Grace Kelly, Tallulah Bankhead, Charlotte Bronte, JK Rowling and my mum.

A Memory of Violets high res

TheGirlWhoCamHome PB

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Find Hazel on Facebook, Twitter, and her Official Website here

 

 

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Louise Phillips

Louise

LOUISE PHILLIPS is an author of psychological crime thrillers. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS was nominated for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year 2012, and her second novel, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, won the award in 2013. LAST KISS, her third novel was also shortlisted. Louise’s work has formed part of many literary anthologies, and she has won both the Jonathan Swift Award and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, along with being shortlisted for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK and many other awards. She teaches crime fiction writing at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, and in 2013, she was the recipient of an arts bursary for literature from South County Dublin. This year, she was awarded a writers’ residency at Cill Rialaig Artist retreat in Kerry, and she was also a judge on the Irish panel for the EU Literary Award.

Louise, with your latest novel, The Game Changer, just published, your fourth psychological crime thriller, can you explain what it is that draws you to write in that genre?

I’m not one hundred per cent sure. My writing tended to be dark, and I was also drawn to writing about human fragility, a fragility which went beyond the so-called ‘good guys’ or victims, but also asked the why, when it came to people doing harm to others. Humanity is complicated, and when good and bad collide, we can learn a lot about ourselves

And having published four books in four years. how long does it take you to complete each book?

My experience to date is four months writing the first draft, having spent some months letting the idea play around in my mind. Once my editor has read it, I will then get an email with suggestions. It will be about 600 words of feedback, and I usually spend another six weeks to two months doing structural edits. The next phase is line edits and then copy edits, and you could add in another month or two for those. That gets us up to eight months, and allowing for holidays and Christmas, you’re at nine+ months. Fire in a month or two of publicity events, launches, book signing, you’re at eleven months all going well. Actual answer – One Year!

So you write every day?

When I’m writing the first draft, I write practically every day. It is both an exhilarating and daunting time. It will take me four months to get the first attempt done, and no matter how much I repeat Ernest Hemingway’s words that ‘the first draft of everything is shit,’ the doubts never leave. I try to harness them to drive me more.

Thinking back, Louise, when did you first begin to write?

I began to write in my teens, mainly as a result of having an amazing English teacher. He quite literally changed my life. We all need someone like that to cross our paths and thinking about it now, not only do I feel lucky; I also think about people who didn’t get chance.

And your first publishing break?

I was in my late forties when I began to write really seriously, going to workshops, joining a writers’ group and submitting short stories and poems to competitions. I did get short stories and poems published within a couple of years, but it was five years before I heard that my first novel would be published. It was a very productive five years

Thoughts on the importance of literary awards?

They help to raise the profile, but more importantly, they can alleviate some of the self-doubts. It’s a peculiar industry. There will be ‘good’ moments and ‘not so good’ moments, but irrespective of awards/competitions, a writer will write.

And do you enjoy the social media element so necessary for authors these days?

Social media is another form of communication. It is here to stay, although it is not for everyone. I enjoy it, especially when I get feedback from readers. Interacting with others is a good thing. It’s what we humans do.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing.

Want to tell us a little about The Game Changer?

It’s a story about the sins of the father, and how they can ripple through to the next generation, secrets, lie, the darker elements of group behaviour and danger being closer than you think, all form part of the narrative. The intro line is….What if you went missing and couldn’t remember anything?

Thanks, Louise!

 The Game Changer by Louise Phillips (2)

 www.louise-phillips.com

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Sean Ryan

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Sean Ryan, from Waterford, has written numerous short and feature-length scripts. He has also worked as a writer-for-hire on adaptations and as a script doctor on feature screenplays. His films Revenge (Action/Western) and The Lunch Break (Black comedy) screened at the opening day in Cannes Le Marché du Film festival 2013, and along with Choices (Drama/Thriller) have won awards at The Cinerockom International Film Festival, 2013. Choices also won best narrative short at the Cannes Artisan Festival and the platinum award at the 2012 Oregon Film Festival. Change (Drama) won Best Short Film at both the Jersey Shore Film Festival and the Ocean County Library Film Festival and Audience Choice Awards at both the Texas Black Film Festival and the Jersey Shore Film Festival. His script Fading Numbers (Drama/War) was placed in several national and international contests, including the KAOS BSSC, and with his family, Sean travelled to Canada in 2011 to meet the two Auschwitz and Tluste survivors that inspired the script. Tears In The Rain (War/Drama) was also a finalist in the BSSC contest in 2013. In the same year, he worked closely with the Department of Theatre, University of Alabama and their advanced film making students who produced his script, G.P.S. (Thriller) as their final year project. The University plan to use more of Sean’s screenplays for future projects. He has worked as a producer on Choices and Speed Dial (Comedy) and completed his directorial début on Connection(Drama), which screened in festivals in 2013/2014. Now concentrating on feature scripts, his final short film was Failing Hope (Drama) which starred Rowan Blanchard, Scottie Thompson and Elizabeth Regen.

Sean has several features due for release in 2015 and 2016. Decommissioned (2015 – Action/Thriller) starring Johnny Messner, Vinnie Jones, Estella Warren, James Remar and Michael Paré; 4GOT10 (2015 – Thriller/Western) stars Johnny Messner, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Michael Paré and Vivica A. Fox; SWAP (2016 – Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller) starring Johnny Messner, Tom Sizemore, Mickey Rourke, Jon Foo, Taylor Cole and Michael Paré. Currently in production is Fragmented (Thriller), starring Tony Todd, and Darkness (survival horror) and Awakenings (Horror/thriller) are presently in preproduction stages. Sean featured on RTE Radio’s ARENA program about his attendance at the premiere of his produced featurette screenplay, Too Good To Be True  (Comedy/Drama) in New York.

Impressive list of credits, Sean, so when did your writing for film career begin?

About 12 years or so ago. The first short film I wrote I sold for a few bucks and it has yet to be made. My first feature film was this year (2015).

And how did that first production break come about?

For short films was because of hustling and hard work. I kept writing as much and as often as possible. Pitching every short script anywhere and where I could find indie producers looking for material. Until I landed a production.

Did you have an agent to help you along?

I have had a couple in the past, before I had any feature films produced. This was to help either sell a spec script or land a write for hire assignment. Neither happened, so I have been pitching my own work and writing specs that I think could/would make good films. I think a great active agent or manager would make a massive difference in getting work out there, onto the right desks. But it’s not enough to just have an agent, you need the right one, who works as hard as you do.

So you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

If I get the chance yes. But more often than not you don’t get the opportunity – which is a pity.

And social media?

It’s an important tool. Social media is like someone organised the Internet and for most, social media is the internet. So having a presence and a voice on it, is important. It’s free advertisement space (mostly). So why not use it?

On inspiration – did anyone influence you to write?

Stephen King. After leaving school I had no real interest in books until my sister suggested I should try King’s IT. I read nearly everything he wrote after that. Even read some of them twice.

Do you write every day?

I try to write around five pages a day and try to make them five good pages. But I have learned over time that it is very important to plan everything in your head first. Break down scenes; work out what makes those characters interesting before you touch a keyboard. But if I can manage a couple of hours a day and make five good pages, I’m happy. Any more is a bonus. I try every genre and don’t limit to one. I also try to write films I want to see. That could be comedy or science fiction. The characters are at the heart of every great story. The genre is just one element.

And how long does it take you to complete a script?

It depends. A first draft I can lay down in a month but the rewrites could take as long if not longer. But from a blank page to about 100 pages of a script, takes about four weeks.

What are you currently working on?

I’m adapting a write-for-hire script and rewriting a spec of mine called “Redacted”. I’m finding it hard to make the final act all that it can be, but I think I finally have it in my head, just need to get it down on paper.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

My last film was about drug lords, agents and corrupt lawmen, so do I know any of that in real life? No. I think writing what you know can help you to connect with the material, but I think the key is just to write every day and treat it like exercise. The more you do, the better you will get.

Judging from your bio, you obviously place some importance on film competitions and awards…

They can really open doors but I can’t help but feel they are like playing the lotto with a really, really expensive ticket. The odds of placing are fantastic and most aren’t going to open any doors for you. It might help with your personal sense of achievement, which is healthy. Just don’t depend on writing that script that will win that competition and land you a million dollar deal. Write for enjoyment. Write from the heart. If success comes, it comes. If awards comes then great, but write for yourself.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Schindler’s List or Jaws. Either or both. If I could have written them I think then I could say I’m a screenwriter.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Three things: Don’t limit yourself/don’t keep you eggs in one basket. Don’t be afraid to write and rewrite and finally never, ever give up.

Thoughts on film in general?

Film wise there are way too many remakes, reboots and superhero movies. Not that most are not solid films, it just seems to be a case of “I’ve seen it all before” and I find myself too rarely getting excited about seeing something. I think the issue with all the reboots and remakes is that the studios think it is minimising the risk. If it worked well once, it will work again, but as we’ve seen this is more often not the case.

And Indie Film? 

Indie film is the future in my opinion. It’s the heart of cinema that will continue to beat long after the big movies and massive budgets will become too risky. There is a massive demand for content these days with streaming and alike. Indie film can deliver small, low risk, big heart films that studios won’t produce because financial return is all that interests them (being in a business). A lot of indie films remind me of the first films that some of cinema’s greats made when they were starting out, like Godfather, Terminator and alike. Films when they were hungry to prove themselves and taking risks.

Would you consider crowdsourcing to fund your own work?

I would consider it but it kind of conflicts with me as I’ve supported a lot of crowd funded films yet never received any perks. Which just hints it’s a little bit of take your money and run. Also you are asking people to give you money so you can potentially make money from their money. I think the only fair model is that everyone that invests is treated like an investor. Not perks, but they should get a return on their investment and should 100% not have to pay to see they film they help get made.

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

Film is subjective so you won’t make something everyone will like. Which is fair enough but you will meet people that love to hate and will be very vocal of that fact. But I always remember a quote from the great Paul Newman who told Tom Cruise that negativity is like white noise, just ignore it. Listen to every review and remark, just don’t live by them.

And finally, Sean, is there anyone, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

I would like to go for a pint or two with my Mum and Dad, so we could talk about life. What they have missed out since they passed away, in terms of their grandkids and children and to just experience once again what once we took for granted, time together.

You can check out Sean’s links here: IMDb  FACEBOOK   TWITTER  and BLOG

 

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Len Collin

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Len Collin was born in London and has lived in Ireland. He trained as a professional actor at Arts Educational Drama School, London and is also a production and Direction MA graduate of the Huston Film School, Galway, Ireland. Len started writing for the theatre in the early nineties. His award-winning play Box, set during the first Gulf War and WWI, brought him to the attention of TV producers and he began writing for that medium. In 2010 he wrote, directed and produced the award-winning Irish web series Covies and he has written for several TV shows, including Holby City, Casualty and London’s Burning.

Welcome Len. Your writing credits are quite impressive – so where did it all begin?

I’ve always written, from diary entries as a teenager to bad poetry. At drama school I began to write scenes and then plays. Eventually screenplays. I started writing seriously after leaving drama school. I’d write plays when I wasn’t working as an actor… seven years later I wrote Box, which won a national competition in the UK, and kick started my writing career. After the success of Box I got an agent and was invited to write for two TV shows. The Bill and Families. Drama is my genre. Within that at one time I specialized in crime stories. However I tend to just be interested in justice and injustice. I tend to write about bigotry and intolerance. I’m a Yes voter.

Did anyone – famous or not – inspire you to write?

I think all writers are influenced by other writers. My influences range from Stan Lee to Sean O’Casey. The Silver Tassie was a particular influence as well as Shadow of a Gunman. Spiderman comics were really just storyboards…I loved the humour. Joe Orton, Tennessee Williams, Tony Marchant, Budd Shulberg, Charles Bukowski and more recently Charlie Kaufman.

And is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Withnail and I – Bruce Robinson.

With regard to screenplays, how long does it take you to complete a script?

The fastest I ever wrote a first draft of a one hour broadcast screenplay was twenty-two hours. It was surprisingly good. But writing is all about the rewrites, so I have written good material that took a week and other good material that has taken years. I have no idea why that happens.

You mentioned that you have an agent, Len. Do you think it necessary to have one?

Yes. A good agent makes all the difference.

What’s your opinion of the current world of film and writing?

Nationally, I think Ireland struggles to find a voice. I really admire Terry McMahon (Charlie Casanova. Patrick’s Day) for his work. He has something to say and he says it, and that’s what writing is all about. But I despair at the lack of rigour when it comes to screenwriting in general. There is no excuse for lazy writing.

And Internationally?

Internationally, the market is dominated by facile superhero movies (Remember I like Stan Lee) I cannot get excited by another Superman reboot or Avengers Go Shopping in Supervalu. Then you get a drama like Birdman – which is good but gets over hyped because there is so little intelligent drama out there. In TV everyone now believes slow is good so we have British and American shows aping the Scandinavian dramas. Only the cable channels, and new online broadcasters seem to be taking risks… and what wonderful shows they have produced. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are particular favourites, and Netflix’s Lilyhammer. Love / Hate and Pure Mule seemed to signal a new era of drama for RTE, but perhaps that was just a blip. In my opinion RTE need to think more about international sales, so that we can do what the Scandies have done and export our stories.

Do you place any importance of film competitions and awards?

Anything that gets your name out there is ultimately a good thing. I got attention because I won a playwriting competition, there were two awards in that competition, two plays that were produced and two careers that came from that competition, myself and Conall Morrison. So yes I think they are a good thing, but would advise that it’s all about the right competitions.

And your thoughts on Indie Film?

Indie film is very important. Equipment is cheaper and better now than ever. Buy a DSLR and Tascam and go out and shoot a movie. Yes most of your efforts will be mediocre or worse…but you will learn…and then there is always the chance that your next movie will be the catalyst for your career.

Have you ever considered self-publishing, funding or crowdsourcing?

I have considered self-publishing a novel I have written. E readers are ubiquitous, and there are gems. The problem is the advertising. How do you market your novel? It’s a vast ocean.

What are your feelings on social media as a marketing tool for writers and filmmakers?

Writers have to learn how to use social media… we all have two personalities now… our online and our real. I try to keep my online persona as close as possible to my real persona to stop me going insane. That way I make sure I never say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person. But social media is here to stay… and we have to use it.

If you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

If you produce enough work you will get good reviews and bad reviews and you should treat both imposters the same. Only you can judge your work at the end of the day, and you will always be your own harshest critic.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep notes. Write down the names of people you meet, who they are and what they do. What you think of them. Read the end credits of films you like and don’t like…because if you are going to have a career you are going to work with some of these people – and for when you forget there is IMDb.

And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

It’s nonsense… so much of the “Rules” you read about are. My first piece was set partly in the First World War…I had to do that thing called research. A better rule is “Write what you are passionate about” Because if you are passionate about something the chances are that someone else will be too.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

About to direct my first feature – Christian O’Reilly has written the script – It’s funny, thought-provoking and quite brilliant. It’s called Sanctuary – and the cast are mostly actors with intellectual disabilities from Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway.

And finally, name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with…

Eamon Collins (He was killed by the IRA and wrote a book called Killing Rage. I tried to secure rights for it. He was brave and idealistic.) Charles Bukowski (Poet), Louise Brooks (Actress) my Dad (He died before I could ask him all the things I would want to ask him) Now I’ve realized they’re all dead so I’ll have to add fellow writer Ted Gannon and Edwina Forkin (our producer on Sanctuary) Because she really is the brightest, funniest person and if Bukowski was getting sulky on us she’d sort him out.

Cheers, Len!

Check out Len’s new website and IMDb Profile Here