Armagh writer Daragh Carville talks about his new ITV crime drama The Bay

Co Armagh writer Daragh Carville speaks to David Roy about the real life inspirations behind new ITV crime drama The Bay, which focuses on the essential role of police family liaison officers

Morven Christie as police family liaison officer DS Lisa Armstrong in The Bay
Morven Christie as police family liaison officer DS Lisa Armstrong in The Bay Morven Christie as police family liaison officer DS Lisa Armstrong in The Bay

STARRING Movern Christie as police family liason officer Lisa Armstrong, new ITV crime drama The Bay focuses on the hunt for two missing teenagers in the northern English seaside town of Morecambe – a location not often seen on our screens.

However, Co Armagh-born writer Daragh Carville explains that this is exactly why he decided to set the six-part series – which starts tonight on ITV1 at 9pm – in the faded former holiday hotspot just up the road from his adopted home of Lancaster.

"When I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, if ever you saw Northern Ireland represented on screen it was on the news for all the wrong reasons," says Carville, who won the Stewart Parker Award for his debut play Language Roulette in 1996 and whose other screenwriting credits include TV's Being Human and the movies Cherrybomb and Middletown.

"There were a few thriller-y things but it was rare to see ordinary people's lives in Northern Ireland shown as family drama – that's why The Billy Plays were really special. That has stayed with me and it's part of the motivation for wanting to set this story in Morecambe.

"Seamus Heaney said a brilliant thing about how, if you don't see your own life represented [in art], you become disenfranchised – that being shown your life gives you your own life back to you. He was talking about reading poems by Kavanagh for the first time and suddenly realising 'oh my God, he's writing about my world'.

"I think that's really important in drama, especially on TV where there are such potentially big audiences with such an intimate medium that's in everyone's home."

As well as finally putting Morecambe on the televisual map, The Bay is also one of the first TV dramas to focus on the sensitive role of the police family liaison officers, law enforcement's 'point of contact' with relatives of crime victims: in the series, Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong is shocked to discover that she has a potentially compromising connection to the father of the two missing teens.

"It always starts with character for me," explains Carville of his inspiration for The Bay, which has been shot in Morecambe and Manchester.

"I heard this news report where the family of a murder victim mentioned their family liaison officer and said that, without her, they wouldn't have got through this really traumatic process.

"That stuck in my mind. It just struck me as a really interesting job: a police officer who tries to help a family through the worst time in their lives, but at the same time is investigating the crime.

"That's what excited me, because I felt like that's a person who has a foot in both camps and allows us to go in and out of those different worlds."

Soon, Carville was meeting with police officers who had taken on this unique and demanding role, which is when the character of DS Armstrong began to take shape.

DS Armstrong realises she has a problematic personal connection to parents Jess (Chanel Cresswell) and Sean Meredith (Jonas Armstrong)
DS Armstrong realises she has a problematic personal connection to parents Jess (Chanel Cresswell) and Sean Meredith (Jonas Armstrong) DS Armstrong realises she has a problematic personal connection to parents Jess (Chanel Cresswell) and Sean Meredith (Jonas Armstrong)

He tells me: "I did some interviews with family liaison officers, or 'FLOs', as they're called, and I became very interested in the kind of person who puts themselves in this position.

"It's a voluntary thing, you're not paid anything extra – you get a bit of training and then you're put into these extremely emotional situations. It takes a very particular kind of person, a very particular kind of cop, to do that.

"FLOs tend to be fearless, because they're putting themselves in really exposing and difficult positions, but also deeply empathetic and really good at working with other people in emotional extremes.

"So that then began to suggest the character that became Lisa: I knew she was going to be tough, but also very sensitive. I had this notion that she should be someone who was really brilliant with other people's families but not necessarily so brilliant with her own family.

"Lisa is great with going into another family and supporting them and understanding them, but she doesn't have the same professional distance from her own two teenage kids and ageing mum – so she's not quite as on the ball with her own family as she is with the others. I was really interested in that.

"It's probably rooted in some of my own experiences with my own job and family. As a writer you're always a bit 'in' the stories you're telling and I think that work/life balance is something we all struggle with."

And, when it came to casting an actor to portray Armstrong on screen, it seems that Morven Christie (Grantchester, The Replacement) immediately impressed everyone involved with how she took the role and made it her own.

"I didn't have a particular actor in mind," admits Carville, "but now I can't even remember what Lisa was like before Morven came onboard, because she has just embodied her so extraordinarily and with such richness.

"She's taken her off the page and made her a living, breathing human being. I'm really thrilled with the character, with what Morven has done with her and with the story we're telling. And I hope we'll have the chance to tell more stories in this world."

Indeed, having so thoroughly enjoyed creating the fictional world of The Bay for its first six episode run, the Armagh writer tells me he's already eager to bring DS Armstrong back for more family liaison-related intrigue in the future should the show prove to be a hit with the viewing public.

"That's in the lap of the gods and the audience now – and if it doesn't go again, it was written as a complete story and I'm still very proud of it," he enthuses.

"But I hope people will watch it and take it to heart."

:: The Bay, Wednesday March 20, ITV1, 9pm . Catch up via ITV.com/hub.itv