Dublin writer FERDIA MAC ANNA was born in 1955. His works include The Last of the High Kings (London, Viking, 1991), which was made into a film in 1996 starring Jared Leto and Christina Ricci; The Ship Inspector (Viking, 1995); and Cartoon City (London, Headline, 2000). He has published two memoirs: Bald Head, a Cancer Story (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, Letters from the New Island series, 1988), and The Rocky Years: The Story of an (Almost) Punk Legend (Hodder Headline Ireland, 2006) and a stageplayBig Mom (Dublin, Project Arts Centre, 1994). Ferdia produced and was script editor on Custer’s Last Stand Up (BBC/RTE) which won the BAFTA for best drama 2001. He has produced and directed for RTÉ television, and lectures part-time at The National Film School, IADT. In the early 80s, Ferdia was also known as Rocky de Valera, lead singer with The Gravediggers and later The Rhythm Kings. He has written one poem.
Here Ferdia discusses his life-long passion for writing with Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair, talks us through his working process, his screenwriting ambitions and what films he would like to see written in Ireland.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew. I used to draw picture book stories as a kid. Man from UNCLE or Have Gun will Travel orJames Bond inspired fiction. Then I began to write prose fiction and got a bit of praise from my English teacher and it all went to my head and made me think – hang on, I can do this. Really do it. Even when I was in rock bands in the 70s and 80s, I kept a diary, which is, alas, un-publishable but a good source of, how should one put it, let’s say ‘nourishment’.
What writers would you say are your main influences?
Ray Bradbury (my Hero), Kurt Vonnegut. Joseph Heller, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Richmal Crompton (author of the William books), Richard Stark, Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler, Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, Spike Milligan, Flann O’Brien, Beckett, Joyce and Swift.
Facing the blank page can be daunting for many writers – what keeps you writing or continuing to write?
I go in and out of writing phases. I always feel the need. But these days it’s harder to find the time. After writing ‘The Rocky Years’, my memoir, I kind of ran out of things to say for a few years. But I’ve got the fever again now. Maybe I need to drop everything and become a full-time writer who doesn’t make films, form rock and roll bands, raise kids, pay mortgages or bills or make commentaries for a living. In other words, I feel a new novel coming on.
How often, as a writer, would you draw from life experience and real-life events?
Every moment of the waking day and every second of sleeptime.
How important is research to you before approaching a first draft?
It depends. I usually do a lot of research. Start the draft and then the research goes out the window once I’m on a roll. The trick is getting on a roll.
What does your current workload look like at the moment?
One novel: About half way through the first half of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first chapter.
One commissioned screenplay: Finished except for a pass.
One original screenplay: In progress. Needs work, inspiration…. and maybe a collaborator.
Who gets to read your rough work?
A pal, if one is brave enough.
Fellow writers who don’t feel threatened.
Are you working on anything interesting at the moment?
Are you able to elaborate?
I’m trying to write a commercial feature film that would have international appeal, a genre flick with plausible characters and no arthouse pretensions. Something that would get people talking and wanting to see it. Not as easy as it sounds.
On top of directing and producing, how do you make time for writing?
It’s fierce hard. I used to get up at four am and write for four hours before going out to do whatever freelance work I have on. Now I am lucky if I can get up at six. Still, early rising does it for me. It’s quiet and I get stuff done.
How do you feel about the range of contemporary Irish screenplays? Is there anything you would especially like to see written about in Ireland?
I would like to see more screenplays aimed at audiences rather than the arthouse. Not slagging off the quality of the work, just saying every film needs an audience in order to exist and communicate a vision. My ambition right now would be to write a commercial film.
And finally, what advice would you give a new writer about to start their first novel or screenplay?
The only real difference between amateur writers and professional writers is that the professionals never give up. It’s hard not to give up. I give up about a thousand times a year and then somehow or in some way, I come back to it. It’s harder – or at least I have found it tougher – when you get older, when you have kids and responsibilities and bills etc. but there is always a way.
If you are lucky enough to have someone who believes in you then the journey can be more rewarding and less lonely. We all need someone to believe in us. Writing can be fiendishly hard or it can flow like spring water. You just have to persevere. If The Dude can abide (as in “The Big Lebowski”) then so can you. It takes all the determination, talent and courage you possess and the writing process will still demand more. But it’s worth it. Just BELIEVE. Believe in yourself. God brought you to this place and gave you this talent so you need to believe in it and use it as best you can.
Ferdia is running a Comedy Screenwriting Workshop two Sundays in May (15th and 22nd) in Milltown, Dublin.
See the following link for more details: http://on.fb.me/fBjcZI