Arts

Derry Girls fans can get a glimpse into the mind of Erin Quinn in Lisa McGee book

Jenny Lee speaks to Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee about extending the laugh-out-humour of the television show on to the page in a new book, written from the viewpoint of Erin Quinn, and the plans to get filming started again

Derry Girls writer and creator Lisa McGee

WITH filming of series three of Derry Girls postponed this spring due to coronavirus restrictions, it's been a long wait for fans itching to find out the latest antics of Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and Dylan.

To help ease the wait, the Channel 4 sitcom's creator Lisa McGee has penned the programme's first official book – Erin's Diary. Featuring 16-year-old Erin Quinn's inner take on everything that has happened so far, the book dives deeper into the events we have seen unfold on the screen as well as unveils brand new stories and never-before-revealed details about characters.

Complete with newspaper clippings, doodles, poetry, school reports, handwritten notes from her friends, and much more, Erin's Diary will transport readers back to the 1990s.

While The Troubles may hang over her home town of Derry, Erin documents her own troubles, like the fact that the boy she's in love with doesn't know she exists and that her second-best friend has "almost" had sex.

McGee admits that the character of Erin, played in the series by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, is the one she can “identify most with”.

“I find it really easy to get inside her head because she is quite similar to me when I was young. I like writing her because, like a lot of teenagers, she can have really strong opinions one day and the next day, have the complete opposite views. She is still finding herself, yet is pretending that she has got it sussed.”

Although McGee found herself getting into many embarrassing situations during her time at Thornhill College, which was also the location for the fictional Our Lady Immaculate College, she confesses she wasn't as brave as Erin.

“I was terrified of my teachers. I would have loved to have cheated in my Irish history exam, like Erin, but fear stopped me doing it,” laughs the 39-year-old.

Although approached to a do a Derry Girls' book on numerous occasions in the past, McGee never had time – until the enforced pandemic lockdown gave her the perfect opportunity. And she reveals that she got some divine inspiration when writing Erin's Diary.

Although they have now relocated to Belfast, McGee and her husband, screenwriter and actor Tobias Beer, and two children, four-year-old Joseph and Sean, who's one, spent lockdown in their London flat.

“I would watch the kids in the morning when Toby would work and then we would swap over and I would try and write in the afternoon, but we were getting tortured by the little ones.

“One day during our daily walk, we passed an empty church. I phoned the vicar and asked him if I could rent a room, so I ended up writing the book in this massive empty church. It's saved my sanity. It was amazing what you can get down with a bit of peace and quiet.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process,” says McGee who doesn't rule out further books in the series. “I'd like to do a Sister Michael book,” she adds.

Although she enjoyed making endless lists with her friends in her teens, just like Erin, McGee regrets never having kept a diary of her own.

“Just think of the amount of material I would have had if I've written it down,” she sighs. “Every year even to this day I say to myself I'm going to keep a journal but I never manage it.”

McGee found the diary format perfect for getting inside Erin's mind, as well as providing fans with new material.

“I used the two series as the spine of the book so that readers felt familiar with it, but I went a bit further and used the diary as a means to find out how Erin's thinks about stuff because, let's face it, she doesn't always have a great grasp on reality.

“Then there were some bits that were lost in the show – like when the girls all get jobs. We never followed that journey, so it was great to put that in the book.”

So will this signal the start of a spin-off programme for Erin?

“I'm not sure. I certainly have no plans to do any spin-offs right now, but she is a lot of fun to write. Erin is such a ridiculous figure and I hope the book brings people a wee bit of joy and a giggle.”

Proud of her Derry roots, McGee, who dedicates the book to the late John Hume, also enjoyed putting together the six-page glossary of colloquialisms.

“There are so many, those pages could have gone on for ever and ever.” And her favourite? “I love spoofing [which translates as being loose with the truth]. It's such a stupid word,” she laughs.

Despite the Derry humour and colloquialisms, Derry Girls, which was picked up by Netflix internationally, has translated into a global hit.

“It still surprises me. I suppose everyone needs a laugh,” says McGee when asked how she accounts for the success of the show. “Everyone loves the gang, but I've had emails from people living in Mexico and Brazil saying how much they love the mum. There is just something comforting about the nostalgia of it.”

McGee is hopeful that the third series of Derry Girls will be on our screens at some point in 2021 – but she isn't prepared to compromise production values by fast-tracking filming.

“The girls and Dylan [Llewellyn] and myself have gone through the scripts and we are ready to go, but we are just trying to figure how to get everything back on track.

“We've investigated various filming alternatives, like using green screen, but Derry Girls has a particular look. For a period programme like ours, that uses lots of extras and has school scenes, it would be a very different show if we changed that. So we feel we are doing the right thing by just holding off until restrictions are a bit less rigid.”

In June Oscar-nominated Irish actress Saoirse Ronan joined the cast of Derry Girls in a virtual sketch, written by McGee for RTÉ's Comic Relief.

“We were quite nervous rehearsing with such a great actress. But Saoirse is such a big fan of the show and she just found it so funny.”

So shall we expect to see Saoirse Ronan in series four? “We'd love to have her in it,” McGee enthuses. “But she's a movie star and these people's schedules are insane.”

Earlier this year, self-confessed Murder She Wrote fan McGee fulfilled her psychological drama dream with the airing of The Deceived on Channel 5. Co-written with her husband Beer, the contemporary thriller involved a sinister narrative of lust, manipulation and betrayal.

“We have learnt a lot from writing it and are doing another eight or 10-part thriller together. It's early days, but it's a big epic drama set in different time periods and in different countries,” reveals McGee, who has also starting work on a new comedy.

:: Erin's Diary: An Official Derry Girls Book by Lisa McGee is published in hardback by Trapeze and is out now. To celebrate publication, join Lisa and actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson for a hilarious, one-off event. The 'stream and book package' includes a ticket for the stream and a copy of Erin's Diary; see https://www.fane.co.uk/online-shows/erins-diary-an-official-derry-girls-night-in/about-the-show

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