Writer’s Block With Caroline E. Farrell

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to CAROLINE E. FARRELL about moving between FICTION and FILM

Author and filmmaker Caroline E. Farrell is currently basking in the joyous afterglow of creative recognition. Her hugely popular work Lady Beth recently won the Best Novel accolade at the Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors. The story follows protagonist Beth after losing her teenage son Jesse to a drug overdose. Torn and broken, she is determined to find answers – which means confronting her sordid past. Crime fiction powerhouse Liz Nugent has said of the addictive plot – “Sat down to read the first thirty pages of Lady Beth…and just kept turning the pages until I’d finished! Compelling grit-lit.”

As well as being highly active in Ireland’s close literary circles, Caroline is a prominent figure in the film business. Her feature length and short screenplays include Adam (2013) and the multi award-winning In Ribbons (2015). The latter, based on part of Caroline’s childhood, has travelled to over thirty-five festivals in Ireland, the UK, USA, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Lithuania and Germany.

In addition to her many creative endeavours, Caroline is a qualified librarian, and works as a freelance cultural event manager for both literature and film. She has a H. Dip in Adult Education and facilitates writing workshops. Caroline is a member of the Writers Guild of Ireland, the Irish Writers Union, the Irish Film and Television Academy, and serves on the board of access>CINEMA. 

Caroline E. Farrell lives in Lucan, Co Dublin and is now writing her next novel, along with working on numerous other projects.  

Lady Beth (€6.68, paperback) is published by CreateSpace and available from Amazon.co.uk, as well as selected bookshops nationwide.

On home

I am originally from Inchicore. We moved to Lucan when I was ten. Initially it was so different to the city life I was used to – I thought I was going to be living in the depths of the country! Since marriage, I have lived in other parts of Dublin, but eventually settled back in Lucan. I have been at my current address for twelve years now.

Lucan has changed so much over the years and is highly populated, infamous for the ridiculous number of roundabouts and endless arteries of traffic. It has however, some spectacular beauty spots. We have a park right beside us, but my favourite is Lucan Demense, a beautiful place for contemplative rambles alongside the river. It even has its own Fairy Woods! The town has managed to retain its very quaint village, complete with lots of fine places to eat and several pubs and small stores. In the centre of the village, Weir View offers a beautifully picturesque aspect of the River Liffey.

I still love to spend time in the city centre though, and will often pop into the Irish Film Institute, usually to meet up with writer, actor or filmmaker friends – or to watch a movie, either on my own, or in company. I love to immerse myself in the world of film and writing, and the IFI has such a laid-back friendly atmosphere, as well as great food, that it’s a joy for me to spend time there. I rarely write while out in public, though I can be a people watcher, and I do take notes as ideas present themselves.

On roots

I have mixed emotions about my early life in Inchicore, and very vivid memories, for some of it was spent in Goldenbridge Orphanage. Despite the sadness of it all, it is part of the landscape of my childhood, has shaped the person I have become, and certainly contributed to me becoming a writer. When I was younger, I was so ashamed of being there, that I rarely mentioned it, with the result that the experience festered away until eventually, it had to be dealt with. Once I made peace with the fact that my being there was through no fault of my own, and that it was nothing to be ashamed of, I used my gift of writing to decode those years, and to take from my memories what positive elements I could find twenty years ago. I wrote a story in the form of a letter – my version of a real event that happened in the orphanage. It touched many hearts, and even won a major prize that resulted in my invitation to appear on RTÉ’s Kenny Live. The experience was a catalyst for me in accepting the darkness as well as the light of those formative years.

On creating

When I was raising my children and working full time, I formed the habit of writing in my bedroom, the quietest space. The lads have moved out now, with families of their own, and I only work on a freelance basis, but I am still in the habit of writing in bed, or while sitting on it! I have lately transformed the box bedroom of our house into a library. At last, I have one beautiful space to store my book and film collections. It’s early days yet, but I may eventually settle in there to write as well. Right now, on my bedside table is a reading lamp and a pile of notebooks – I collect them and have some beautiful ones. I keep a trinket box, decorated with red and gold, in which I store keepsakes: a pair of tiny ceramic dogs from my mother’s wedding cake; two tiny black clay dogs I received from the inspirational author, Sara Baume; a jade rabbit I bought in China; a tiny Buddha that my husband bought me at the Great Wall; a miniature typewriter from my brother. Beside it, a vintage glass vanity set that was my late mother’s. When I was a child, she would store her perfume bottles on the tray. Now I do the same, and I think of her every time I look at it. A brass owl that doubles as a pen holder is close at hand, alongside my Kindle, filled with ebooks I’ve yet to read. I also have the latest copies of Books Ireland and Womankind, a gorgeous publication, free from advertisements and featuring articles on culture, creativity, philosophy and nature.

On bookshops

Wherever you go in Ireland, one thing you are sure to find is a gorgeous book shop. In almost every county, I have my go-to place to buy books. For instance, the last time I visited Wexford, I found the ‘Readers Paradise’, a treasure trove for second hand books at very reasonable prices. In Dublin, we are spoiled for choice, and I can’t pass any of them without popping in to browse or purchase something. If I have to pick just one, it has to be Chapters. So much choice from new and second hand, it’s like going on a treasure hunt. Totally absorbing and I never know what I might find. Time seems to stand still. I could bring a packed lunch and stay all day.

On her nightstand

I am a huge fan of all things dark and otherworldly, and currently on the floor beside my bed are a stack of books that include Deirdre Sullivan’s Tangleweed and Brine, a stunningly produced collection of dark fairy tales. I read a lot of biographies, pop culture and social history and have just finished Chrissie Hynde’s book, Reckless. Next to be read are Paul Howard’s, I Read the News Today, Oh Boy, about the short life of Irishman, Tara Browne, and Rory O’Neill’s Woman in the Making, A Memoir. I also recently treated myself to a copy of Winter Papers, Volume 3, an annual anthology featuring some of Ireland’s most talented writers, artists, poets and filmmakers. There is another TBR pile in my new ‘library’ that I will get to over time, though it tends to keep growing. Ever the librarian, I guess!

On escapes

My escape is to travel, my wanderlust perhaps due to the restrictions encountered in my early childhood days. No roots will grow from these feet! I don’t lie on beaches or stay in one place for very long. If I am in another country, I want to see as much of it as I possibly can. I would find it impossible to narrow down to a list of favourite places, as there are too many wonderful countries to explore. Neither could I contemplate visiting the same place over and over. I do have a fondness for the USA, and love to head out on road trips across the states, to somewhere different each time. Despite the current state of affairs, America is an amazing country with mesmerizing places to visit. I also went to China this year, and that really opened my eyes to another culture and ways of being which was very humbling. What I find too is that travelling to distant places gives me a fresh perspective on Ireland. It truly is a unique and beautiful country, with the best people and culture in the world. As a nation, I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for our resilience and compassion. It is great to get away from the familiar, but I always fall right back in love with Ireland when the suitcase is unpacked, and there is nothing quite like a road trip along the west coast to blow the cobwebs off, to be inspired and to refresh mind, body and soul. Try Malin Head to Mizen Head – highly recommended!

On fiction versus film

I find it easy to view the world through a cinematic frame and my thoughts and memories are certainly visual, stacked like screenshots. Writing fiction is all about freedom to explore and to chance different avenues of expression. It requires using all the senses to build story, character and setting. Nothing is off limits and there are no restrictions on style and format. Unlike screenwriting – which is all about restrictions. It is a very particular format, and the less words the better – each one used must count. I enjoy the challenge of the white space, lots and lots of white space. A good screenplay will tell a story with the sparest of narratives, and will let the subtext speak to the reader through carefully chosen descriptors, with all the prompts for the imagination interpreted through action and image. Film is such a collaborative medium and the script really is the foundation document. I do find that my screenwriting skills influence my fiction writing. I’m not a fan of wasted words. When I read a book, I get quite impatient when I find too much unnecessary dialogue or description, so in my own work, I write sparsely and can be ruthless in cutting down the superfluous. I continuously self-edit as I go, so I guess my books will always be short!

@SophieGrenham

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