Interview: Deirdre Madden, Irish Novelist

Originally featured in the print edition of The Irish Post, Tuesday 30th, 2013.

Timeless talent: Antrim novelist Deirdre Madden

STRIDING to our meeting place from across Trinity College Dublin, Deirdre Madden, once widely characterised as a uniquely North of Ireland novelist (no doubt as result of her remarkable and best- known work, One By One in the Darkness, set during the week of the IRA ceasefire in 1994) appears to be at one with the Southern capital. The Antrim native, who has lived in Dublin for decades, now, with her husband, poet Harry Clifton, teaches Creative Writing at Trinity College.

Having completed novel number eight, Time Present and Time Past, I ask Madden, described by Sebastian Barry as “The constant genius of Irish letters”, if her move to Dublin and her post as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the college’s Oscar Wilde Centre for Writing have made the process of writing novels any easier.

“I suppose it doesn’t get easier; it just feels different. You’re always changing what you’re writing about. My writing habits have definitely changed. I used to write primarily at night and I don’t do that anymore, now; I tend to write, more, now, in the morning. I suppose in the same way you are piecing things together. The more you write, the more your confidence does grow. But it’s a very slow process and you are trying to balance everything. It’s not always easy, so I am very happy to get this latest book finished.”

“When I’m teaching my students, I suppose some of the things I would advise are straightforward. I always tell my students to read their work aloud at least four times in a row during the drafting process; you pick up on the flow of the sentence- if too long, or not flowing smoothly. Reading is so important. If you’re trying something, you try to think of who else is doing what you’re doing. I think I read more as a writer now than I would have done as I was younger. It takes me a while to figure out what I have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…”

Time Present, Time Past is set, largely, in Dublin during 2006, the Celtic Tiger economy still roaring with the end to those heady days just over the hill. The protagonist, Fintan Terrence Buckley, is a 47- year- old solicitor living in the leafy suburbs of south Dublin, who’s new- found interest in photography sparks an interest in the past and how it is that we think about the past. Photography features as strongly in Madden’s latest novel as music does in, say, Nick Hornby’s Hi- Fidelity; photography is almost, you might say, another character in the book. I ask Madden why photography, of all of her interests, became such a huge part of the novel’s narrative.

I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is.

“It’s something that a lot of people have remarked on. I’ve always loved old black and white photographs and I became aware that colour photography had been developed much earlier than had been commonly thought. In a way, I’ve always preferred black and white portraits; they just feel more dramatic. And I became interested in how colour photography and colour photographs had been taken at times in history that I hadn’t been aware of. An example I would give is of a photograph from WW1: if you see those photo’s in black and white, they look very dramatic, very austere, but if you see them in color- and these are actual photographs in colour that haven’t been improved or impressed with a color filter- they’re so immediate, more contemporary, much more closer to us. That was what really interested me in featuring it so prominently in the novel. I mean the photograph on the cover of the book is actually a photograph from 1907 and that’s an original colour and I find that quite strange; I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is. That whole way of how we view the past, how we picture the past is interesting to me. And I though that photographs worked as a good medium to discuss that particular view.”

Running alongside Madden’s interest in photography is the theme of progress, which appears again and again in the novel. Madden seems to be examining what progress actually is and whether what we think is progress is actually a step forward in the right direction. In the final third of the novel, for example, we are brought to the North of Ireland, where Fintan and his sister Martina visit their grandparent’s old house, only to discover their cousin Edward has flattened the land and intents to erect a “decent, modern house”.

Though Madden stresses that she did not intend to write a Celtic Tiger novel (“novelists are not journalists”), it is hard, in the current economic climate, not to read a book set in Dublin in 2006 and think of the difference between now and then; Madden agrees and she compares and contrasts life in Ireland between “the two days”.

“I think people gained a lot during the Celtic Tiger years, but I also think that we lost a lot. People did travel more widely; they were able to take sun holidays more often, buy houses, etc. But as result, people became a lot more insular and so there was always a step back. The quality of life, now, has, obviously changed quite a bit; people are not as brash, impatient and, sometimes, rude in shops and restaurants…that whole mercenary thing, which I think that they were during the Celtic Tiger years.  People have calmed down a bit, now, so there are few things like that, which perhaps we are now reflecting on. We’ve also become more and more interested in making things, particularly this resurgence in baking, in boutique shops in pop- up shops and markets. So every time you have progress, you lose something; every time you take step back, you gain something.”

Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything

It’s on this note that I ask Madden if she feels the same way about writing as she does about the theme of progress in Time Present, Time Past; if there’s any relationship between the perceived progress during the Celtic Years and the perceived progress in writing a novel. Pausing, she carefully considers the question.

“It takes me a while to figure out what it is that I actually have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…There are times, of course, that you can go down the wrong road when an idea leads you astray; I think that most writers don’t like talking about that because it’s such a horrible experience. It’s like tossing a coin; toss a coin and the odds of it coming up heads or tails is 50/50. No matter how many times you toss it and if it comes up heads every time, logic dictates to you that, even if it comes up “heads” 10 times in a row, it should, eventually, come up “tails”. But that isn’t true. You can convince yourself that “ok, I’ve spent 6-12 months on this; the longer that I work at it, it’s bound to come good at some point” But that can leave you disappointed. You accept that instead of losing time, that you have to ask “why does this not work”. You have to know what went wrong. If you don’t, you’ll do it again. The relation of time and effort isn’t always equal.”

As the interview is finishing and we get up to leave and walk out to an unusually sunny day in Dublin, I ask Madden if, as a northerner living in Dublin for as long as she has, Dublin feels still new to her and if it felt fresh to her having written a novel set in Dublin; she smiles, looking down one of the city’s many Georgian streets. “Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything; I’m interested in what people are wearing, what the traffic is like, what people are eating…the whole fabric of life really interests me. I feel very much at home here, but when I’m traveling I find everything interesting.”

On that note, Madden returns to the gates of Trinity College, leaving me with a impression that she is, as a novelist, of her time and yet timeless; a juxtaposition that wouldn’t be out of place in one her own novels.

Time Present and Time Past is out now from Faber

Theatre Review: ‘Noises Off’ at Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, Monday 8th July, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 8th July, 2013. To read the original, please click here

Making a noise: Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ is world class theatre at its best.

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”, Mel Brooks once claimed, which is an aphorism that quite neatly sums up the central workings of farce. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, undoubtedly one of the most complete farces of the genre, takes Brooks’ maxim as far as it can possibly go, the result being one of the funniest and, remarkably in comedy, one of the most timeless theatrical comedies ever made.

The play revolves around the dress rehearsal of Nothing On, a play-within-a-play that is nothing other than a shambolic and badly timed production, riddled with missed cues and fudged lines. In the play’s opening act, former Drop the Dead Donkey star Neil Pearson, who plays director Lloyd Dallas, is stage left, shouting directions to the cast members from within the audience. It’s a brilliant touch and it immediately invites the audience in to the production; the audience feels as if they are in on the joke, which is an essential element to farce. It is, quite simply, comedy at its most involving.

Curtain call: The cast of ‘Noises Off’.

The third act bookends the first act; that is, that the same set – the set of the fictional play, Nothing On – is used for both acts. While the first act depicts the dress rehearsal the night before opening night, the third act is the production of Nothing On nearing the end of its ten-week run in the Municipal Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees, with offstage tensions among the fictional cast members spilling onto the production of Nothing On. The success and true genius of Noises Off, however, is in the second act; an almost entirely silent act, as seen from backstage, that relies almost purely on physical comedy. The dynamics are brilliantly executed and in sharp contrast with the fictional play, Nothing On. Each member of the cast is totally in synch with one another in a performance that is high octane, unpredictable and utterly hilarious.

What is most remarkable about Noises Off is that it somehow manages to eschew the self-absorbed satire of many plays and films that use a theatrical or Hollywood setting to fire out industry in-jokes, which had the play been written by an American would almost have been impossible. Instead, Michael Frayn has given us a comedy, which, like the best British comedy, relies on the comedy of frustration; the more Neil Pearson’s Lloyd becomes frustrated by the farcical nature of the shambolic production of Nothing On, the more the audience laughs. Where Shakespeare used the play-within-the-play in Hamlet as an opportunity for Hamlet to “catch the conscience of the king”, Frayn uses the-play-within-the-play as an opportunity to find comedy in chaos, as only farce can.

It’s all a farce.

Uproariously funny and performed by an ensemble cast that are perfectly locked- in with one another, The Old Vic’s production of Noises Off is world class theatre at its best, which is not only hilarious, but also makes one appreciate the skill and craft that comedy demands of its actors.

Noises Off runs in The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from 8th – 13th July 2013 at 7.30pm. Matinee: 13th July at 2.30pm. Tickets available from €18. For more information and to book tickets go to www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

Star rating: 5 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Written by: Michael Frayn
Directed by: Lindsay Posner
Cast: David Bark- Jones, Maureen Beattie, Simon Bubb, Danielle Flett, Geoffrey Freshwater, Chris Larkin, Neil Pearson, Thomasin Rand, Sasha Waddell.

Theatre Interview: Neil Pearson, Noises Off

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Monday 24h June, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Former Drop The Dead Donkey actor Neil Pearson in Michael Frayn’s Noises Off

Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is routinely referred to as one of the funniest comic plays in the English language. Having just enjoyed a sensational run at both London’s West End and the Old Vic theatre, we caught up with former Drop The Dead Donkey star Neil Pearson to talk about Farce, why comedy is overlooked at awards season in favor of drama and why comic theatre is important to people in a recession.


As a comic actor, what have you noticed to be the biggest differences between stage and screen- are there dynamics and ideas that are unique to both arenas?

Well the first and most obvious thing is size. It was difficult with Drop the Dead Donkey because you are playing to an audience and your instinct is to play to them, but the main audience is the one that’s much closer than they are and that’s the audience through the camera, so you have to keep it smaller. With Noises Off, on the other, hand, it’s farce, so you’re playing it big. Big, however, doesn’t mean untruthful and you have to hit the back of quite big theatres, so there’s no room for screen subtlety in this.

And I take it, then, that improv is a bad idea, especially in that completely silent second act of Noises Off?

Improv on stage is a bad idea in a play where you can get hurt if it varies too much from performance to performance. People are falling down stairs, chasing each other around a crowded set…it has to be pretty much the same every night, you have choreograph it as tightly as you would a fight or a dance. While it’s a nightmare to rehearse, and we did have trouble early on, I’m pretty sure we’re on the right track now and the instant approval that you get from audience laughter tells us that we must be doing something right.

There are more and more comedy productions being represented on the stage, now, than I think there has been in years previous. Is there truth in the cliché that people in a recession flock towards comedy?

I guess there is, yes. These economically straitened times and people are looking for a laugh. I don’t think comedy ever goes out of fashion, though there might be a glut of them at the moment. I don’t that comedians and comic writers are ever short of work. Having a laugh is never something someone doesn’t want to do.

As well as working in comedy, you’ve also worked in politics in campaigning for the Labour party. Do you find that politics and comedy are a good mix?

I don’t think that comedy and anything are always a good mix. Comedy, first and foremost, has to be funny. I would contend that most comedies in order to be funny have to be true, which is true of farce. For farce to work you have to play it absolutely seriously; that’s what makes it funny. The fact that these terrible things are happening to people in front of you as a member of audience is funny, because of the situation that these people find themselves in, but also because it’s mingled with a sense of relief that it’s not happening to you. Mel Brookes once said that “tragedy is when you cut your finger; comedy is when I fall down an open sewer and die.” The fact that you are free from these nightmarish complications is what makes it funny.

Comedy is sometimes used like a scalpel: the make the point that is memorable. People remember funny lines and funny jokes: they circulate. So if you can attach a point of view to something that you wish to make as a comedy barb.

So where would you place Noises Off within the broad and gittering tradition of farce?

For me, Noises Off is right up there with the best of them. It’s a forensic examination of what’s funny and why we laugh. I don’t want to get too highfalutin about it, because the whole point of the evening is that you come out of the theatre aching with laughter. Frayn has a mighty brain and he has applied it as forensically to this play as he would to his more “serious work”. I would also content that comedy is serious business; people tend to think the word comedy means “not serious”. You can make points, savagely, through comedy. I mean, Will Ferrell, for example, Steve Carrell…will never win an Oscar for being the very, very best at what they do. It is seen as the poor relation of drama and I wish it wasn’t. It’s seen to be something that isn’t serious and should be tucked away or, at best, in it’s own category. So you now have the ridiculous situation, now, in the Golden Globes where you have best drama and you have best comedy / musical. I think we fail to take our comedians seriously.

“The best comedians are deadly serious”…

Absolutely. Look at, say Bill Hicks, and tell me that he’s just a funny guy.

What has it been like working with this cast and was difficult for everyone to lock- in during rehearsals?

Well, we’ve had and continue to have great shows. It has to be a communal effort- everyone has to work as part of team. It can be a nightmare to rehearse 45 minutes of stage direction; nobody speaks. You can’t rehearse it outside of the rehearsal space itself. It’s entirely movement based and you can’t rehearse that unless you have all eight cast members working with you during the rehearsal. It’s purely physical and entirely movement based. You can’t, as with most plays, go away, walk the dog and mumble the lines to yourself until they get under your skin. So, as a play, it presents unique problems. As a cast, we seem to have solved them.

How important is it in the rehearsal process to reign- in the excesses that farce can produce: does it ever get too over- the- top?

You have to rein that in. It’s a scientific medium, really. In Farce, the star of the show is the mechanism- the audience should be laughing at how it all works. Rules become apparent. The pace never slows in a Farce: it either goes at the same pace or it accelerates or it comes to an abrupt standstill. It never goes from crisis to no crisis; it only ever goes from crisis to different crisis. There are rules by which it all works and you try breaking them and you find that you can’t. And once you’ve identified those rules; once you’ve identified how this thing works, then it becomes easier to work on it, because you know that there a whole slew of things that you shouldn’t be working with and aren’t worth experimenting with and you can gladly cast aside.

With most dramas there are infinite ways of doing it right: you could see a million different ways of seeing a production of Chekhov and they will all bring something different. With high comedy like this, there’s only way of doing it and that’s the funniest way and once you’ve found the funniest way your job is not to change it; that’s counterintuitive for actors who are always trying to change things up to keep the production fresh. With comedy, you have to keep it at that boiling point for 17 weeks. It’s fun.

You play a director in the play. Did it change your perspective of what directors do and how taxing their job can be?

No, not at all: it confirmed them! I’ve been doing this for a long time and so has Michael and we’ve sat in rehearsal rooms weeks away from opening and he knows very well how that dynamic works and the angst and anxiety of actors as opening night approaches. It’s a love letter to the business, it pokes fun at it and it pokes fun at the type of people you often meet working in it, but it’s done fondly.

Is there a thin line between farce and satire in Noises Off?

I don’t think so, no. Michael was concerned, when he wrote the play 30 years ago, that it would just be understood as an in- joke among actors; that actors would love it but nobody else would it or they would think it was show business being navel- gazing and inward looking. The more we’ve done it, the more we understand that the audience enjoys being in on the joke- all that ‘It’ll Be Alright On The Night’ outtake footage. People like seeing when it all goes wrong. I think Michael aim in writing was to write an affectionate, gently lampooning snapshot of a certain strata of show business, but also to write possibly the funniest play in the English language that’s ever been written.

Noises Off runs in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre from the 8th – 13th July at 7.30pm. Matiness: 10th and 13th July. Tickets from €18 on sale now. For more info go towww.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

Review: hurry by Jean Butler | Project Arts Centre, Dublin, Saturday 18th May, 2013

Originally published by Entertainment.ie, Wednesday 22th May, 2013. To read the original, please click here.

Can’t rush this: Jean Butler in hurry

In hurry, former Riverdance star Jean Butler returns as choreographer of her own work in a new piece that is intensely lyrical.

Opening amid a clatter of polyrhythms, Butler’s new work blends her extensive knowledge and experience in Irish Step Dance with a very modern, contemporary twist. It’s the soundtrack by Jon Kinzel and Jim Dawson, above all, which gives hurry a modern sheen. At one point in the work, it feels as if we are transported to a park; kids are laughing and shouting in the background, there is the distinct hum of traffic whizzing past, as Butler’s fluid movements echo those of a yoga practitioner in the part… it is subtle touches such as these that lend the work a vital context. Featuring additional music on uilleann pipes by Ivan Goff, it is the clash of the modern and the traditional – a hallmark of much art and design throughout the Celtic Tiger years – that gives hurry a character that is all its own.

That said, however, the soundtrack doesn’t overshadow the nature of the live performance. On the wooden floor on which Butler performs, every breath that she takes, every scratch and squeak from the movement of her bare feet on the wooden floor can be heard, all of which leads the audience to believe that intimacy can be found amid the chaotic and modern landscape that hurry evokes. Where there is intimacy, however, there is also menace and fear; Butler’s calm, natural and unlabored movements are soon left behind as she runs around the space to the sound of an eerie, Orwell-esque buzz, which soundtracks her desperate and fear-induced movements.

At 45 minutes, hurry is, perhaps, a little long; for a work as nuanced and three-dimensional ashurry is, it would have, like Butler, worked better in a neater, more compact space. Running time aside, however, hurry marks a new development in a talent who continues to evolve with new and exciting work.

For more Dublin Dance Festival shows click here.

 

Author Interview: Novelist Helen Seymour, author of Beautiful Noise, interviewed by Philip Cummins

Making a noise: My interview with novelist Helen Seymour was published Rí-Rá: The entertainment supplement of The Irish Post.

Originally published in the print edition of The Irish Post on Wednesday April 27th, 2013

“I can tell you now that that cover is printed on 320 gsm and that the inside cover is 80 gsm Munken; I can tell you that the printer tried to pull the wool over my eyes and print it on 270 gsm and I had a fight with him; I can tell you that this is a single press: you can actually have a double press where you get like a little flat spine going along it; I can tell you it’s silk coated on both sides so that the photograph on the inside of the back is just a little bit shiny. I can tell you a lot about that and for a lot of people that would be scary, but for me it’s just advertising. So printing the book and publishing it didn’t scare me.”

Helen Seymour is a pro. Though she rejects the perception of herself as a ‘Celtic Tiger High Flyer’ (“That expression in itself is kind of bizarre”), when I meet the former advertiser, marketer and now first time novelist , she exudes the sort of confidence synonymous with those atop the crest of Ireland’s wave a decade ago.

Striding impressively across the upstairs foyer of Dublin’s Westbury hotel, the 44 year old arches her pink tinted Chanel sunglasses atop her head as she gestures towards me and greets me with a confident display of cordial pleasantries. She’s clearly used to meeting business professionals following 17 years at the coalface of marketing and advertising.

She leads the way as we find a table at which to seat ourselves. “Hmm…,” she says. ‘Too near the ailse. What about the window…that sun is strong…”

Seymour, a self- described “control freak” who used to run her own company, eventually settles on a table, seating herself on a couch and strategically placing herself within clear view of the outside clock of a pub down on the street, before ordering a double espresso.

For the next two hours she’ll prove engaging company as she discusses her bold move to follow her dream and jack- in her highly successful (and lucrative) day job in order to write her debut novel. Along the route she’ll touch on her friendship with Bono, the influence Ireland’s pirate radio stations of the 80’s had on her, and turning down an offer from renowned publisher, Harper Collins.

Beautiful Noise

Seymour’s novel, Beautiful Noise, a story of three young Dubliners who set up Studio One, a pirate radio station that takes on RTÉ, has been lauded by everyone from Roddy Doyle to Bono. The U2 frontman even launched the work in the full glare of the national media last February; unheard of, for a self- published writer.

Writing about a pirate radio in 1980’s Dublin, she says, came by default rather than design.

“I grew up in an era of no mobile phones, no internet,” Seymour says. “You had two television stations, five if you were lucky.” Wide- eyed with wonder, she recalls how she first discovered pirate radio stations such as Big D and Radio Dublin, a breeding ground for future RTÉ talent such as Dave Fanning and the late Gerry Ryan. She was struck, she claims, by the alternative ways of thinking and non- mainstream culture that pirate radio fed on.

“I was always going to be a writer, I think, though I didn’t know that back then. But writing was always what I wanted to do; it was at the heart of who I was. So worlds interested me and there were all these fascinating little worlds. And I used to just sit there, night after night, going up and down the dial.”

In fact, Seymour’s years listening to pirate radio partly influenced her move into advertising at age 21 and, from the off, she begun working within the medium.

“I remember on my first day [in advertising] my boss said ‘“Get your coat, we’re going to 2FM; we’ve won the 2FM PR account.”’, she recalls. “So by no great plan of my own, I went from a position- and I never married the two in my head at the time, but it’s only in hindsight when I look back- that I married the obsession with pirate radio as a teenager to suddenly, properly working for professional radio. And we had the Coca Cola account and they spent so much money in 2FM. 98FM and FM104 had just been launched…I was constantly in and out of those stations doing promotions, sponsorships, radio events.” All of which to say, that Seymour’s didn’t choose to write about radio- it simply chose her.

Seymour’s other childhood obsession was of course the written word. An avid reader as a child, she talks glowing of Enid Blyton’s novels before spending time in the company of Jilly Cooper and Joan Collins. She reserves her highest praise, however, for John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which chronicles the life of writer T.S. Garp and his feminist mother, Jenny.

“Nothing was ever quite the same after ‘…Garp’. No book was ever the same. I kept reading the girls books and they were just like ‘blah’. Like the books in school- Pride and Predjudice, Henry James…you know, they were good, but nothing excited me the way ‘Garp’ excited me; that was somebody with a real voice: a voice that spoke to me.”

She would later read two more books that leave a similar impression on her: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which she read as a 30 year old, and Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, a novel involving the music scene in Dublin which, like Seymour’s Beautiful Noise was Doyle’s first book and which he initially self- published.

Reflecting on her 17 years, in marketing and advertising, Seymour has, seemingly, no regrets. If anything, she seems to have enjoyed it.

“What I didn’t realize was that advertising was satisfying my creative needs, because it was “write a radio ad, design it next week”, “design a press ad…”, you’re constantly creating and it’s very instantaneous; it’s not “oh, I’ll sit in my room for five years and write a novel and hope that someone will buy it and put it out.” You see your work driving past you on trucks, you see it on TV., so it satisfied my creative needs for a long time. But somewhere along the line, something began knocking at the door about writing. It was just like “I’d love to write, I’d love to write and I just didn’t believe that I could leave my job and become a writer. I mean, how would I earn money? How would I live how would I survive?”

Eventually, at age 38, cynicism towards the notoriously cut throat, shark-infested waters of advertising began to seep in. After a gruelling three month interview process for a high- powered role with a British charity,  she was offered the role only for the job to fall through before contracts were signed. By this stage, however, she had relinquished control of her company and found herself ‘standing on the tarmac with my suitcase packed but with nowhere to go. She her mind up there and then to get out of advertising.

“I was gutted. That three month process ended my relationship with advertising. I had no idea where I was going, where I was going to go. A friend of mine lived in Martha’s Vineyward. I had some savings and I’d never taken any extended leave; it was always just the two week holiday. After 6 weeks, I did a four day writing course. I turned each one of my stories into a comedy. On the last day, I felt the electricity that I first felt when I started writing. My arm was on fire.”

After returning from the states in January 2007, refreshed and energised  she moved back in with her mum at her house in Howth and took a job as waitress in The Oar House restaurant in Howth, where her new co- workers had once recognised her as a regular customer. She describes it as a job that doesn’t drain her brain power as advertising did, leaving her with plenty of energy to focus on her prose writing.

On the Path to Publication

Soonafter, Seymour approached Marrianne Gunn O’Conner, the Irish based literary super- agent, who took her on under the condition of a title change from Studio One and that Seymour cut 30,000 words.

A deal with Harper Collins soon followed and Seymour’s path to literary glory seemed assured. It all came to sudden halt, however.

“After signing with Harper, they came back and suggested a title change: I’d already done one title change and didn’t fancy doing another at that stage. It was originally titled Studio One. So I started working with Harper. Then Harper gave me the first set of edits. Let’s say they gave me ten notes. And they way they give it to you is over the phone and through bullet points. I didn’t agree with any of their ten bullet points. None of them.

“And my agent, Marianne, said to me; “Look, I want you to take these and sit with them and think about them and come back.” So I took a month off work. A friend of mine was selling her house; the house was empty. I went in with a portable table and chair and did nothing for a month but sat and look and digest their edits. And I did about 50% of them. I knew, deep down, however, that I had to make my own book; it wouldn’t be my book if I took all their editorial suggestions. Edits are very important and it’s an art in itself. But it’s also so objective. I couldn’t let the book out there unless I was 100% happy with the overall product.”

Eventually, Seymour self published and her mix of DIY punk ethics and her expertise in design came to the fore. Within months, she had printed the book in Sweden at almost half the price that eight printers in Ireland had offered her. Gill & MacMillan took care of VAT, invoicing, distribution to bookshops.

Bono 

But Seymour’s success in publishing the book became more visible when she pulled in heavy hitters from her address book. Launching in 37 Dawson Street to the national media and a guestlist of 500 friends, family, writers and former advertising colleagues, Bono launched the book. The question on everyone’s lips, then, was how does a self published writer- without the publicity machine of Harper Collins- pull in such a name?

The connection is through the U2 singer’s wife. Seymour has been close friends with the U2 singer and wife Ali for 14 years, coming into contact with Ali after working with Gavin Friday on Muc, flying pig / money box aimed at raising funds and awareness for Kosovo. Seymour had designed Friday’s marketing campaign. Impressed with Seymour’s savvy marketing and advertising skills, he put her in contact with Hewson, who was similarly trying to raise awareness for Sellafield. It was through Ali that she became friends with the U2 singer.

It seems to be sensitive topic for Seymour; though she’s willing to openly talk about her friendship with the power couple, she’s quick to quash the idea that she simply pulled in celebrity pals to push her book.

“When it came to launching the book, it wasn’t about badging on a celebrity. Now, look, of course, from a publicity point of view: you get the frontman of the biggest band in the world, it’s not gonna hurt, but it actually made sense: he’d read the book, twice, you know? He’d been with me on the journey. So it wasn’t like “you’re my pal and you’re famous will you launch my book?” He also gave me a blurb for the back cover of the book. So it would have been stupid not to ask him to launch the book.

“Bono asked about this story from day one. He loved the story- the pirate radio story, because U2 got a lot of their early singles played on pirate radio; it was a big part of how they got started here. And he asked what the story was about. He was always very interested, y’know, he’s amazing and she is amazing and he asked me a lot about the story and so did she. And I was coming to the end of the story, we were out one day- I can’t even remember where we were- and he asked “how’s it going?” and I said “I’m nearly there.” And he said to me “Would you like me to read it?” And he just offered. “Would you like me to read it?” They had been friends for years- I had never asked for any favours; I wouldn’t because they get so many people swinging out of them for things and they do so much for their friends…I just love their company their great people. I admire them- I admire their work ethic, they’re two of the hardest working people I know, they’re so good to all their friends, not just to me, and to the wider world, and they’re inspiring- both of them. I look up to them- apart from being my friends, they’re people that I look up to, that I admire as people.”

From Page to Screen

Bono’s tip of the hat to Beautiful Noise has given Seymour a launch- pad from which to get her novel out. Also showing a strong work ethic, she has two other novels on the go as well as a screenplay for the film adaptation of Beautiful Noise.

Optioned by Dundalk- born director John Moore (who recently helmed A Good Day to Die Hard), the proposed feature has received development funding from the Irish Film Board and has Damien O’Donnell (East is East, Heartlands, Inside I’m Dancing) attached to direct.

Soon, though, the clock that Seymour had first position herself towards at 10 am is nearing 12pm. Though I’m sure the self described “yapper” would probably continue talking, we part amid excited chatter as to the film adaptation and with a firm sense that Seymour’s world- beating drive and Hollywood glamour may soon find her a million miles away from Studio One.