I must be the only Irish person who spent the first few years of Ireland’s recession praying it wouldn’t end, just yet For it was around March 2009 that the idea for The Forced Redundancy Film Club came to me and I figured if things got better on the financial front before I finished the book, the concept would become redundant.
I was walking down Dublin’s George’s Street that cold March day with my partner, Miguel, when we bumped into his friend Lisa. She had just been let go from her job and in an effort to stay in contact with some of her other suddenly jobless colleagues had decided to form a book club. ‘That’s a great idea for a book,’ I said.
Later, when I started really thinking about it, I figured there were enough ‘book club’ books on the market already. What would be different would be a film club, and so, with the help of my 19 year-old son getting the title right, The Forced Redundancy Film Club was conceived.
I suggested the title and concept to my friend, Ciara Considine, an editor at Hachette Ireland who has worked with me on a couple of ghostwriting titles over the past three years. She said, ‘Write that book’.
The Insecurity of No Horizon
Ciara had often encouraged me to write fiction, and even before we became friends I did write another novel, which was roundly rejected by every publisher I sent it to. The experience left me unsure if I could ever do it again. Writing a novel is hard work and coupled with the insecurity that comes from not knowing if you’ll ever be published, it’s a bit like wading through muck with no horizon in sight.
However, with The Forced Redundancy Film Club I knew I had a good concept to get my teeth into. And I love film. So to begin the process I just sat down and watched lots of my favourite movies.
The first thing that occurred to me was that the reader had to know the films, even if they hadn’t actually seen them, so they had to be films that were part of the popular imagination. You might never have seen Casablanca, but somewhere you know hints of its story and its imagery, because it is such an integral part of our culture. So, obscure arthouse films were out.
The first film I was sure I was including in the book was The Wizard of Oz. That’s because it is my favourite film of all time. My mother told me its story when I was a child, remembered from her own viewing of the film as a child – the first time she was ever in a cinema. As I grew up in Sligo in the 70s and 80s, the colour of The Wizard of Oz in my imagination had the ability to transport me from what I saw as my grey surroundings. I was living in a world of my own over the rainbow, half the time.
Working With The Wizard
When I went to Art College after leaving school, The Wizard of Oz became my primary subject matter and it remained intertwined in my paintings for the five years I had a studio after graduating. I eventually segued into journalism after getting a job as a layout artist on the now defunct London magazine, City Limits and getting the odd gig reviewing books there.
In between I had many jobs in London, including working in the Chap Stick factory, cleaning the town-houses of the London aristocracy, manning a stall in Portobello market, and ushering at the Chippendales strip show, which is an experience I will be including in a future book!
My return to Ireland in the 1990’s was just before the Celtic Tiger began to roar. I got a place on a Fás Scheme with Gay Community News (GCN) and began to write regularly for the publication. Homosexuality had just been decriminalised in Ireland and there was a new visibility for gay people, so I decided to chance my arm and propose editing a book of short stories to Attic Press. This resulted in Quare Fellas (1995), the first collection Irish gay short stories ever.
And like an onion unfolds, this led to a comedy non-fiction book called Camp As Knickers (Marino Books), which was a guide for straight men about how to be fabulous. I doubt any straight men ever read it, but I did meet a gay couple in a bookshop in Galway once who said they had regular Camp as Knickers parties, based on the various chapters, which had titles like ‘The Joan Crawford School of Childcare’ and ‘Drinking With Style: What Would Sue Ellen Do?’
I only wrote Camp as Knickers because I wanted money to buy a car. I never thought anything would really come from it, but it was spotted by the books editor of In Dublin magazine at the time, who gave it to the magazine’s new editor, John Ryan, was looking for an editor for a new gay section. And so my career in Irish journalism began. Since then I have written for all of the mainstream newspapers in Ireland and many magazines, about culture, politics and gay social life in the country. I conceived with John Ryan, the gay lifestyle magazine, GI in the early 2000’s when the country seemed to be awash with money. It had a billboard campaign featuring two GAA players snogging the faces of each other. A woman in Dundalk, who had billboard hoarding on the side of her house, got a death threat.
When GI finished, I was asked to go back to GCN as editor, to make it a viable commercial publication, and that’s been my full-time job since.
The Casablanca Effect
The second film I knew I would feature in The Forced Redundancy Film Club was Casablanca. I came to Casablanca late in life, not ever ‘getting’ the appeal of Humphrey Bogart. One night it was on television about five years ago and I got sucked in. Since then I have watched it so many times I can’t count, and I always get something new from it. Although the main romantic characters from my novel don’t resemble Bogart and Bergman in any way, their performances in Casablanca were always at the back of my mind when writing about Katherine and Martin and the film underpins the entire book.
Apart from that, choosing the films to use was a long process and there were chapters using several films that I abandoned – The Godfather, The Notebook, Billy Elliot and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
As much as I love them, I couldn’t use those films because the movies I needed for the book had to simultaneously reflect where the characters were in their lives when they were watching them, and to move their stories on in some way. Strangely, once I had the films chosen, and had watched them lots of times, taking notes, I found that each of the characters were connected in ways I didn’t imagine when I chose them.
I have an idea for a sequel to The Forced Redundancy Film Club called The Sequel Seven, in which some of my characters form a new ‘sequels only’ film club, with some new characters along for the ride. But managing a cast of five in this book has been difficult enough. Managing seven? I’m not sure I could pull it off.
My second book, Knowing Me Knowing You features four characters, which was a little more manageable. As The Forced Redundancy Film Club plays on my lifelong love of movies, it takes in my abiding love of ABBA. You can read more about my thoughts on writing that book here.