Scúp (Scoop), your upcoming eight-part series on BBC Northern Ireland and TG4, is set in a newspaper office in Belfast. Did you draw on your time working at the County Down Spectator when writing it?
It very much draws on my time as a reporter on a local paper, and that’s exactly what the paper in Scúp is. Most of the stories in the series are based either on experiences I had or articles I’ve read in local papers.
Have you seen the finished series?
Yes, very pleased with it. It’s not ground-breaking or earth-shattering in content: I think it’s just a nice, relaxed series people will enjoy, with a few laughs thrown in.
What can you tell us about the characters or plot?
Well, without going into too much detail, the series isn’t a soap opera, though it has some of those elements. It’s about life on a newspaper, so it’s set around the office, and a particular story of the week. It’s also about Rob, who comes home from England to attend the funeral of the paper’s editor, and is persuaded by its slightly shady owner to take on the job on a temporary basis. But he soon finds himself sucked into it full-time, and into a possible romance with one of the reporters.
There is also a character named Cormac, whose ‘life is west Belfast’, according to the press notes. Have you known people like Cormac, and do you think the Northern Irish people can be a bit insular in general?
Oh yes, we can be very insular, and Cormac is typical of someone from Northern Ireland who doesn’t like change, who never ventures far from home and has a distrust of outsiders. It’s not just a west Belfast thing!
Had you come up with the idea for the series before getting involved with TG4?
As I understand it, Stirling Productions had been asked by TG4 to come up with a newspaper-set series, and hired some London-based writers to come up with a pilot script and series outline, but their ideas didn’t go down that well. So, Stirling came to me to see if I could come up with a pilot script, with the idea that other writers would be brought in to write the rest of the series. Luckily for me, they really liked the pilot and decided I was the best man to write the other episodes.
It was written in English and translated into Irish. Did you collaborate with TG4 to ensure nothing was lost in translation?
Not really. I suppose I’m known for wordplay and comedy, and I was warned before going in that some of it would indeed be lost in translation, but I’m told it all works very well. And they use my script on the subtitles. I didn’t actually work with the translator, but there was no need. He’s very good and experienced at what he does.
How involved were you with the production once the script had been translated?
Scriptwriting is an ongoing business, so there are constant rewrites right up to shooting. The complication is that they then have to be translated into Irish. It’s complicated, but they’ve been making programmes like this for a long time and are used to it.
Did you speak any Irish before taking on the project, and if not has it inspired you to learn?
No, and no.
Did you immerse yourself in the Irish language while working on Scúp?
No, there was no need. Scúp isn’t 'about' the Irish language or culture – it’s a drama set in a local newspaper, which just happens to be in Irish. I know Northern Ireland well, and I was a journalist for the best part of 20 years, so that’s all the research I needed. I suppose I’m just in the business of telling stories. It could just as easily have been in Icelandic as Irish.
Could you see yourself tackling an equivalent project for the Ulster-Scots community?
Absolutely! But show me the money…
Your work has been widely translated into other languages. Have there been any memorable 'lost in translation' incidents?
There are all kinds of versions of the books and series out there, but probably the worst was the American edition of Divorcing Jack, which came complete with footnotes for those who didn’t get some of the local expressions. When I mentioned ‘the Falls’ in one paragraph, as in the Falls Road, they put a note in saying that I was referring to Wichita Falls.
Any news on the US adaptation of Murphy’s Law, or the remake of Wild about Harry?
No, and no.
Scúp will be broadcast on TG4 and BBC Northern Ireland in February 2013.