Interview with Rose Byrne: Writer, Playwright and Screenwriter

Rose Byrne

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m from Dublin, Ireland, but I’ve been living down in County Roscommon for twenty years now with my husband and family. 

2. What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m busy with family life and I love watching television dramas and good comedies.

3. When did you first start writing and what was your first success?

Although I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in primary school, as I loved English and writing essays, I didn’t start writing properly until around 2002. I joined a six-week writing course in Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, to get to know people to be honest. I made some really good friends there and we’re still friends to this day. I found the whole group had such interesting things to write about. I held back, feeling I’d nothing interesting to write, but the tutor, Martin Dwyer, encouraged me. So, I thought back to a funny childhood incident and then fictionalised a lot of it. When I read it for the group, I got a few laughs and was delighted with myself. So, for me, that was my first success getting a story down on paper. Something I hadn’t done in years.

4. How did you choose the genre you write in?

I started with short stories and always enjoyed creating characters and writing dialogue. I naturally went on to write plays and screenplays. I enjoy all three genres even though they are all so different from each other.

Rose’s play, “On The Edge Of A Blade”, with actors Arron Byrne and John Kelly, performed in King House, Boyle, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, in December 2016. This was supported by Roscommon County Council. Photo by Sally Martin.

5. Where do you get your ideas?

I always find this question difficult to answer. Sometimes an idea just comes to me for an interesting character, story or situation. Then again, I can overhear a snippet of conversation or be inspired by a picture or painting. It’s great when you invent a character that sometimes nearly presents themselves with an outline of a story. The fun and sometimes frustrating part is filling in the blanks. That can take you in all different directions. I can spend months deciding which way to go. 

6. Do you ever experience writer’s block?

 Yes, plenty of times. I just take a break often for a few months and then go back.

7. Do you work with an outline, or just write?

It depends. If it’s a story I usually write a few ideas I might have rumbling around. I always start writing old school with a pen and paper. When I type up on the computer I add in more details. It’s a similar process for plays and screenplays. It’s best to have even a rough outline if you’re writing a script. But I have written scripts before with just a few notes jotted down. 

8. Is there any particular author/book/play that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

I loved reading Enid Blyton’s books when I was a child. Then as I got older the likes of Roddy Doyle, Dermot Bolger, John McGahern, Claire Keegan and Carolyn Wall.

9. Is anything in your work based on real-life experiences or is it purely all imagination?

 I mainly write fiction, but some of my work touches on real-life through its themes. Such as my short film, “Expiry Date”,  which is about elder abuse but the characters are completely fictional. I have written historical fiction with facts touched upon, but again, all the characters are created. I also like writing humorous pieces. Two such plays I wrote, are complete fiction. One is called “Double Dealing” and the other “Murder, They Wrote”. That’s the beauty of writing fiction, it frees me up to create characters, events, stories that sometimes you might never write if it was a true story. Having said that, I have written factual pieces for newspapers and some interviews I conducted with filmmakers for Film Ireland.

Actors, Maggi Mckenna and Niall Brewster on the set of Rose’s short film, Expiry Date (January 2020)

10. How did you come up with the titles for your plays/stories?

Sometimes the title is the hardest piece of the puzzle to fall into place. I try to connect the title to the meaning of the piece I have written.

11.  Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?

Yes, there are some of my characters I feel have more to offer. One fifteen-minute play I wrote, set in a psychiatric recreation room had such a character. Evelyn, I called her. I knew she had more in her so I have since developed that into a full-length play. I have other characters I love that I will go back to in the future. I would also like to delve more into homelessness, and there are a few other social issues I’d like to explore.

From Rose’s play, “Extraction”, a comedy in the Cruthú Arts Festival, Longford. Actors: Sorcha Ross, Margaret Dunne and John Kelly.

12. What is your role in the writing community?

 I’m a member of Longford Writers Group, SLR filmmakers, Film Network Ireland, and The Paper Cup. The Paper Cup is for filmmakers and Colin McKeown is our facilitator. I’ve also been involved a lot over the last few years with Cruthú Arts Festival in Longford, Ireland. They have produced a few of my short plays, and this year I was particularly happy to have my first produced short film, “Expiry Date”, receive its Irish premiere screening in Longford Cinema as part of the Cruthú Arts Festival. Gene Rhatigan, the chairman, introduced short films as part of this festival for the first time this year.

Left to right, Evelyn Moran (First Assistant Director), Rose Byrne (screenwriter), Christine Braithwaite (Director), and Dmitry Lebedev (Camera Man) on the set of “Expiry Date”.

13. What do your plans for future projects include?

 I plan on going back to some projects I already started and developing them further. For the moment I’m concentrating on some of my screenplays and plays. My short film, “Skylark”, which I wrote and produced was shot with the director Christine Braithwaite, this year in locations in Roscommon and Mayo, Ireland. At the moment it’s in the Post-Production stages. The film will be ready early next year for screenings and film festivals. The film is due to have its premiere screening with Cruthú Arts Festival in 2022.

From left to right: Damien Lumsden, Rose Byrne, Malie Mo Copnall and Sonya Macari Devlin. A still of Rose Byrne with the three main actors on the set of Rose’s short film, “Skylark” (July 2021).

14. What cultural value do you see in writing/drama?

I think drama and comedy/drama have a lot to offer. As a writer, I can explore social issues or historical events and bring such pieces to an audience or reader. My hope is always to entertain, and hopefully in some of my pieces bring a smile or a laugh to whomever my work reaches.

15. Have you any advice to give to aspiring writers?

The only advice I can offer is to find your own voice as a writer. We all have our own style. Take feedback about your work from other writers/mentors but keep in mind at the end of the day, you have to make a call. The more you write the more you learn to trust your gut instinct. And above all, stay true to yourself.

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