Delighted to be featured alongside IN RIBBONS director Marie Valerie Jeantelot in this lovely interview for Cinewoman Cahiers
On a crisp winter morning such as this one, the view from Quinn’s bedroom window could be breath taking, but only if he looked straight ahead, keeping his line of vision over the tops of the grey slate and terra-cotta rooftops.
Quinn allowed his gaze to move across towards the smoke-hued mountains in the distance. Folding as they did and disappearing through the faded powder-blue sky, he could see the ice clouds knit together in that slow and lazy motion that calmed him like nothing else could.
A morning like this didn’t come very often these days, or if it did, he wasn’t in any state to appreciate it.
He leaned out now to greedily inhale the fresh dewy air and tried his best to take comfort from the scenic view that capped the cramped council houses, and the risen, empty blocks of apartments that overshadowed the last vestiges of open space, defiantly holding its own against the solidity of concrete that ebbed at its fragile borders.
“Are you up yet son?” his grandmother, Maggie, called from downstairs.
Quinn moaned quietly, his insides burning again, searing acid rushing at his throat. His head, heavy as lead, weighed down on his neck and shoulders, and how it pounded, relentlessly, like the dull ache in the pit of his belly. And that smell, that fucking smell kept clawing at his nostrils, seeping out from under his skin to keep him there, in that moment, in that memory; that moment.
He only managed to get in one drag of his cigarette when the sound of Maggie’s ascending footsteps prompted him to stub it out with licked thumb and forefinger. Carefully placing it back inside his precious pack of twenty, he stuffed the carton down the front of his tracksuit bottoms, hurriedly fanning away the last of the smoke that curled from his nostrils before she entered the room.
“Alright Nan?” he asked, without awareness that his tone, while emanating from such a tough and armoured expression, was so soft, so benevolent and gentle, that it could still surprise or unsettle the one person who knew him best, or at least, thought she did. With his ruddy, weather-beaten face and tightly shaved hair, the colour of hardened chestnuts, his features were too rough, too lived in, for a boy of seventeen; a fact that would have broken Maggie Quinn’s heart, if it wasn’t fractured irrevocably already.
Quinn studied her lined expression now, each deep wrinkle a scar-like testament to the toughness of her life. She was creasing her nose in suspicion, an accusing finger pointing at her only grandson, and he knew that she was weary at the impotence of yet another idle threat.
She nagged him constantly, wore that frown, pan-caked to futility, like a mask, her eyes screwed up and glassy to make her look constantly on the verge of tears. It was a face that could tug at his heart-strings and still manage to drive him up the fucking wall.
Quinn’s belly sometimes hurt with the deep feelings he harboured for her, but she could be such a pain in the bollix. Giving her opinion on everything, and mostly when least called for. Going on and on, about Monica and apprenticeships, and the state of his clothes; the company he kept.
And reminding, always reminding him. Like Quinn ever needed that.
He knew that she was trying to help, but sometimes it took more than a little self-control to stop him from telling her to piss the fuck off. He never did though. Avoided confrontation at all costs, after all, she was his family, and she hadn’t been the one to abandon him after his Da’s death, but Quinn never spoke of that other one, that dead-to-them bitch; and neither did Maggie.
In the cluttered, cramped kitchen now, Quinn watched quietly as Maggie prepared to go to her cleaning job. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to poxy minimum wage we go.
“Your man the driver is always going sharp” she moaned as Quinn watched her hurriedly pull on that old trench coat that he hated, once beige or maybe pink, now an insipid shade somewhere in between, “It’s like a feckin’ race every morning to get to the bus stop before he does!” She wrapped a printed cotton scarf around her neck, the only splash of colour on her slight, shapeless form. “And I want to go to the grave before I start.” Quinn’s stomach churned now, his mouth dry and set in a grimace as he anticipated her pause. Even with her back to him, he could see her quivering lips pucker up with that question. “You know the date, don’t you son? And don’t waste that breakfast – and wash up the dishes after!” she called back on her way out the door.
Quinn held his breath, the sight and smell of the mixed grill she had cooked for him made him want to puke now. He pushed it aside, his heart heavy.
He wouldn’t be going to the grave, not today, not ever. He rolled his livid blue eyes towards the ceiling, knowing she meant no harm, knowing she couldn’t help herself, knowing she was existing in a hell that must be similar to his own
“Fuck it! Fuck it!” Quinn swallowed a lump in his throat, squeezing his eyes shut as he tried to erase the pictures in his head, the images that haunted his days and nights; that morning, a year ago now. The hammering on the door, the dull thuds of the shots, the growing pool of blood on the hall carpet as he cradled his father’s head in his arms, and time standing still as the car screeched away and the blood seeped into his jeans, and he waited for the ambulance. And waited, with this smell in his nostrils and that sound in his ears; the smell of a broken human being, bleeding out, and the sounds of the wretched gasps and gurgles as his father struggled to breathe, his precious gulps of air being sucked back out through the gaping, singed hole in his neck.
And afterwards, the silence, that terrible lull and the searing sense of loss.
Quinn held his finger on the doorbell as he peered through the frosted glass panel of Monica’s front door, his raw, bitten-down fingernails sliding off the glass as Robbie, a beautiful dark-skinned, chubby toddler, squealed, tugging with elation at his mother’s hand as Monica paused inside the hallway before opening the door.
“So you are not dead then?” Brushing past her to lift the wide-eyed boy high in the air to the child’s roars of excitement, Monica’s broken English helped to camouflage the tremor in her voice as Quinn wondered if she could hear the quickening of his heartbeat at the sight of her.
“Two weeks now — you go on holiday or something?” The sudden acute pain inside his ribs made him double over, ignoring her failed attempt at sarcasm as his legs quivered, and Quinn allowed Robbie to fall gently as he slumped, clutching his sides, onto a chair. Monica’s concern, her knowing, creased her expression to frustration.
“When you gonna quit doing that shit!” she yelled at him, “You made a promise to me!”
Quinn groaned through clenched teeth, “Don’t fuckin’ start Monica”, he winced, pain etched across his face, “Have you anything’ I can take – for the pain?”
Monica fell silent, turning away to compose herself. Quinn watched her from behind as she stretched up to reach the cupboard, his eyes travelling the length of her shapely body; the deep olive skin of her lower back and curvy hips showing from between her low-rise jeans and slightly raised sweater. A couple of years older than him, though she never told him her exact age, Monica was a fine thing, and he wondered now, and for the thousandth time, just what the hell she saw in him.
He was sorry he had snapped at her, Monica, of all people. He wanted to tell her that, among other things, but the words just were not there; few words, and even less courage to use them.
Quinn stood up and moved in closer to slip his hands around her waist, thoughts of his pain subsiding as he pressed his body against hers, his hands caressing that invitingly soft skin beneath her sweater, reaching for her warm breasts as he nuzzled into her hair. She smelled sweet and fresh, a clean soapy scent that he loved. It made him forget, it made him wish he could breathe her in so deeply that it would drown out that other smell.
Quinn turned her around to face him, tried to kiss her; she barely brushed his lips with hers. “Not in front of my child” she whispered quietly, “You know this”. She gently pushed him away and Quinn let his arms fall awkwardly, stepping back from her as his need to touch her, to be connected to her body, rushed through him; a craving, so like the other.
“Do you know who got picked up last night?” She asked carefully, “I heard there was a raid?”
“Should I?” he replied, and more defensively than he would have liked. Quinn did not speak to Monica of such things, neither confirming nor denying his involvement with anything that might sway her against him. No lies, no truth.
He was on eggshells as it was; if Monica knew where he had spent the night, how he had spent the night, in the burned out remnants of the community centre. And those scorched walls, barely providing adequate shelter from the creeping cold. Until dawn, until the last deal had been done and he’d finished himself off from his profit for the night after that fuckin’ psycho had come to collect.
And then, Quinn had been alone again, to float away on his powdered clouds, time standing still until they cruelly disappeared from beneath him, leaving him to fall, fall, and he was back there again, sprawled on the piss-damp ground, his veins throbbing from inside out, and praying that if those scarred walls would stop closing in on him, that if the contents of his stomach would stay down just long enough for him to get some dreamless sleep; he’d never touch gear again.
If Monica knew how he had spent the night.
Quinn had trouble now looking at her, meeting the disappointment in her eyes. Coal black, cutting into him, through him, causing him to suck air into his heaving chest as he baulked internally at the vacant promises he kept making for himself, his good intentions meaningless.
Monica cleared her throat. “I also heard some guy is dying. A bad fix.”
Quinn’s expression darkened. He stared at her, his mouth tightening. He knew that poor fucker, the one who’d just had his leg amputated after injecting his heroin fix, cut with wallpaper paste, straight into his veins.
“What are you tellin’ me this for, what the fuck has it got to do with me!?”
Instantly contrite, he sensed Monica’s turmoil bubble inside her now, sensed how she struggled to suppress it, her dark lashes sweeping down to conceal moistened eyes. No shelter though, from Quinn’s penetrating, needy gaze.
“Monica, stop worrying, okay.” Quinn relaxed a little as she nodded, the corners of her full lips lifting ever so slightly. Yet, the gnawing unease remained as he silently admired her prettiness, her courage, her sense of herself; her duty to her son.
What the fuck was she doing here? Monica did not belong in this shitty, low-rent council bungalow. Spending her days, her nights, waiting, and for what? Quinn had no illusions about himself. He didn’t even mind when his mates called him ‘the foreign bird’s bit of rough.’ She deserved better, better than anything he could offer her.
Robbie clambered up onto his lap, a broken toy in one hand, his other hand, with small sticky fingers, clutching at the hood of Quinn’s sweatshirt. “Fix it yada”, he warbled, dropping it onto Quinn’s lap. An uncomfortable smile escaped Quinn as the innocently mouthed implication settled on his brain. He felt the colour rise in his cheeks and couldn’t meet Monica’s mortified expression. Pushing the child away, tentatively, and not daring to look into the tiny puzzled face, Quinn became engulfed by a sickening panic.
“I have to go — have someone to see”, he stumbled, embarrassment, legs like jelly as he headed for the door.
Outside her house, and with the cool evening air to soothe his flushed cheeks and heated brow, Quinn hesitated, but it was only for a moment before he strode quickly away.
The psycho would be waiting for him, with another stash of gear. Quinn quickened his pace. That fucker wouldn’t wait all night, and if things didn’t go his way, he’d be pissed off. And he knew all about Quinn’s Da.
The psycho was always reminding him about it.
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.