Patricia Forde – Writer, Playwright & Scriptwriter
Trish Forde has published 16 children's books, two plays and a number of TV series. Her first novel, the Wordsmith, was published last year and has been shortlisted for the CBI (Children's Books Ireland) Book of the Year Awards 2016.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how you got to where you are today?
I was born almost on the Salmon Weir Bridge; you couldn't be more Galway than that. We were living at the time in Ballybane, near the Racecourse. I'm one of six girls - all girls and we went to school in a little school in Castlegar, which is where I started school. It was all irish - my mother had gone there before me. We had three teachers, all coming up to retirement age. It was a big story-telling place. We spoke Irish all the time; we spoke Irish on the way home and we spoke English when we got home. I learnt a lot of stories there. I was thinking afterwards, I did a degree in Old Irish in the university and some of the stories I studied there, I had learnt first in Castlegar before I was ten!
We left there when I was ten. My father had a shop in Market Street - a paint and wallpaper shop opposite the Connacht Tribune, next door to Willie Conneely's, the undertaker - and we lived upstairs. So we moved in when I was ten and I went to the Mercy primary school, which was a big change. There had been six in my class in Castlegar and there were 36 in my class when I moved in. And it was the nuns, so I spent two years there and then moved into the Mercy post primary school. I had a good time. I didn't do a whole lot of work, I'd say, but I loved English and I loved Irish, because like all kids, if you're good at something, you like it. I kind of had a headstart because I came in fluent in Irish and so I always loved it. I went to school and then I went to NUIG, where I studied Old Irish and English.
You were living in town all the time? What was it like living in Galway City then?
It was incredible. There were a lot of families where we lived - in Bowling Green, Newtownsmith - a lot of kids, a lot of families. The streets were our playground. We played in the Mercy School yard, played hopscotch on the street - we more or less had the run of the town. People knew us in the shops; you'd go down to Griffins for the bread and you'd get a bun for yourself and Mrs Griffin would say, 'A neighbour's child, give them something'. We'd run through Naughton's, which is now Boots - it was a big department store and the back door was two doors down from us. We'd run through there to get onto Shop Street and Mr Naughton would give out to everybody for running through the shop. As soon as I could, I was 15, I got a job in Lydon House Restaurant, so I worked all through school and college there as well. It was a strange time, and a great time. We had great freedom. I remember when Roches got the escalator, my youngest sisters, who are ten years younger than me, spent the first week going up and down on the escalator - it was great fun. There wasn't a playground, so you had to do something! When I went to college, it was where I met everybody that I ended up working with. I met Pádraic Breathnach, and Ollie (Jennings), and Padraic Boran, who I subsequently married. I met them all there and we spent our time doing plays. I wrote my first play about Gráinne Mhaol when I was there. I acted in loads of plays - we did very little work, and again, there wasn't that huge pressure on us. It wasn't like now. You had exams in June, so everything would stop around the beginning of May and we'd try to swot up for the exams in June. But I had a really good time - it was the best time ever. It was the most creative time. There were no limits to what you could do, even though we'd no money. We toured, and I think sitting in the coffee shop chatting to people was how I got educated. People would tell you what to read and what to look at - it was great.
What did you do after college?
It was the 80s and everybody was leaving. Most of my sisters left and lot of my friends left - it was a very strange time and our gang, the arts crowd, stayed around. There were bits and pieces going on. Then I decided that I would do primary school teaching. I had to do a one-year course in St Pats in Dublin to qualify as a primary school teacher. So I did that and almost immediately, got a job in Renmore teaching. I taught there for five years, and then transferred to Taylor's Hill, where I taught for four years, but all the time I was doing that, I was running the Box Office for the Galway Arts Festival. By then, I was on the committee and I was up to my neck in it. Macnas were also starting up and we were doing stuff together. I remember you'd be so excited finishing school at 2.30pm and racing in to do stuff in town. I was very involved in Macnas too, in the early days, working a lot with Pádraic Breathnach, because he and I had been in college together. I wrote three plays for Macnas in the end - I wrote 'Circus Story', which is the first one we did for kids, and then I did the Ancient Mariner, which I co-wrote with Rod Goodall. I wrote Grainne Mhaol subsequently. During that time, when I was teaching, I was always writing plays and stories for the kids. I used to always say, anyone I taught, you could always identify them by the fact that they couldn't add or multiply or divide, but they'd be great readers. It was then I developed my real love for children's literature, which I had always loved. I had been a great reader as a child. I grew up beside the library; I was very influenced by that, but I really got into worldwide literature for children when I was teaching and I really enjoyed that. In 1990, I decided to take a year off to write a book for children. I had been working on a parade with Macnas all that year; Tir Faoi Thoinn - Land Under Sea, and I wrote a novel for children to go with that parade. I took time off to write it and Christmas of that year, Ollie Jennings came up to the house and said, 'Listen, I really want to run away with the Saw Doctors; We want to go on tour. I can't go if somebody doesn't do the Arts Festival, so I was hoping you could do it for the year'. The festival was on in July, and that was Christmas, so I put the book aside and said, 'OK, I'll do it'. Then I directed the Arts Festival for the next five years. Ollie never came back.
How did you enjoy the Arts Festival years?
It was fabulous. Ollie had set up a fantastic festival by the time I took it over. Even though the festival was small, it was hugely recognised. It was very well loved and established. He had had some fantastic groups over the years who would then recommend other groups to us, so I had an easy enough job taking the baton from him, because he had done a lot of the shovel work beforehand. But it was scary. Ollie was hugely successful and very well thought of, and I remember somebody said in the paper, 'Anybody taking over from Ollie would have to be stupid or crazy'. And I was worried about that. I knew he was a big act to follow, but I did enjoy it and I did loads of travelling looking for acts. It was like somebody giving you a license to shop - you go around looking for things and bringing them in. Even though there were times when it was really stressful and you'd be really worried that you wouldn't fill the programme in time or people would cancel. I did a lot of travelling that was a bit scary. I remember going to both Romania and Poland on my own at the time. I got great support here from the arts community. People don't talk about that much - people talk about support from the business community, but at the time, that support, while there, wasn't great. I always knew I had friends anywhere in town that I could ask for help and who would do things for you. That meant an awful lot. I think for somebody like me, thrown into the deep end like that, I don't think you can do it without support from other people involved in the arts.
After five years directing the Arts Festival I left and did a course as an RTE producer/director, which I never practiced, but as soon as I finished, I was offered the job as the script editor for Ros na Rún, the soap opera, which was an incredible experience. I had maybe 20 writers at the time and it was a lot of work. I did that for a couple of years and I did lot of storylining. I also did a little bit for Fair City at the time. So I was busy. Then TG4 was set up and suddenly, there was a lot more work available. I was writing on a teenage series called Afric, which did very well. It was great fun and it did really well. So last year, I wrote a 26-part series for preschoolers for a company called Fíbín, in Indreabhan. It's like the muppet show as Gaeilge and it's done really well. We did an app and a theatre show last year for Baboró, and we've just done the book. So somewhere in the middle of all that, about ten years ago, I thought, “I'm really going to write this book now', so I wrote a couple of small books for Egmont in London - I was lucky enough to have those published. Then Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin set up Futa Fata, which is a publishing house for children as Gaeilge out in Spiddal and I did three or four picture books and a couple of early readers with him. Then finally, last May, I wrote my first novel for young people called The Wordsmith and it's currently shortlisted for children's book of the year.
What is it about kids' writing that you enjoy so much?
People often say, 'You have two children, did you write it for them?'. I never wrote for anybody except for myself. I think that child that I was, particularly when I was about ten, when I came to live in town, I never lost that child at all. I was an avid reader too - my mother would say she saw nothing but the top of my head until I was 20, so I write for her, really. I write things I think she would have liked. For me, being such a reader, it's like a drug. I got used to being able to escape, to be able to step out of this world and into something else. So writing does the exact same thing. If I'm writing a story, I'm lost in that world. I was blessed; I had a great childhood - great parents, great family - so it was a really sacred time. I look back on it now and think it's a great space to be in, a great time. It's not that I think that there's a huge innocence about childhood; I think children are far wiser than people give them credit for, but I think it's a time of great expectation, great freedom, where everything is possible. I like that - I like that idea.
What's the drive behind what you do?
I love the arts - I really do love the arts. I love that whole slowing down and walking away from the every day and the quotidian. I like that idea of people being able to have another space in their heads that they can go to. Like Galway 2020 at the moment - that's encouraging people from the ground up to stop and look beyond the every day to see what else we could be doing - that drives me. I do think the arts are important. When you write, a lot of things you believe come up, things you may not be aware of. But in my book, the arts are banned - art is banned, music is banned, language is limited. Their language is called 'list', which is a list of 500 words and they're the only words they can use. I used to often think about that, about the arts being banned and if it were, would people suddenly really appreciate it and want it? If it all disappeared, and there was no music on the radio, there were no books, there was nothing, how would we feel? How would we feel that loss? Often, things that happen around us all the time, we don't appreciate them - we take them for granted. We think they can happen by some kind of magic. The arts, like everything else, is all about resourcing it and supporting it and funding it and I'm not sure we do enough of that. I often compare it to sport. Sports in our lives are very visible; every village has a football pitch. Every day I'm driving home, I see kids playing football, on their bikes. I'd love to see a Galway where there's a row of artists on the river painting and impromptu book clubs on every corner. I'd love the see the arts more visible, and more in the public realm. I worry sometimes that it will all disappear in behind closed doors. I'd like to see it more in our faces, part of our everyday lives.
I hope I'm very friendly and outgoing - I hope that's true. I'm certainly very dreamy; I've no sense of direction. I get lost even in Galway. I do live in my head a lot of the time, and that's probably for the best, I would say!
Who have been the people who have influenced you over the years?
Obviously, the arts community. I was very inspired by Garry Hynes and the work they were doing in Druid. She had been ahead of me in college, but had left her legacy there. I was very inspired by NUIG and our lecturers. I was lucky enough to have had Gearóid Mac Eoin lecture me for Old Irish and he was totally inspiring. He was a real storyteller, even though he was an academic, and he could really spin stories. We also had Hubert McDermott for English, who was fantastic also, but my inspiration came mostly from my peers - those who were there at the time and who had gone ahead of us.
My family is a big inspiration. Like I said, I have five sisters. My parents were very young - my mother had her first child when she was 22; she was married when she was 20. My parents were great - they were still going dancing to Seapoint. They eventually had six girls and there were always books in the house, there was always music, but particularly books. My mother was a great reader, is a great reader, and really encouraged us to read.
What is it you like most about living and working in Galway now?
I love Galway - it has kept its sense of a small town, even though it's a city. There is a feeling of being able to meet people when you walk down Shop Street. I love the market, I love the river, I love the sea, and I love the atmosphere here. I think there's a really friendly atmosphere in Galway, but I especially love the fact that it is a very cultural place. Maybe now with Galway 2020, we're really recognising that, but I think it's always been there. It's always been the pulse of the city, all through my life. When I was a child here, there was very little happening. It was a very quiet town. We had the Taibhearc and that was about that. With the Arts Festival and Druid, it changed things totally. We've never lost that. I love that about it - I think that's a huge part of Galway. It's not just spin. I think people's lives here are touched by the arts all the time. All we need is the weather!
Going forward, what would you like to see happening for the city and county?
I'd like to see the arts and culture out on the streets, in our faces more. I'd like it in the public realm. Given that we don't have the weather, I'd like to see more streets being able to be covered so that we could sit out, even when the weather is bad. I like the idea of getting us out from behind closed doors. We're great talkers in Galway and giving us more opportunities to talk would be great - more forums, more chats. Of course, I'd love to see us have some infrastructure. I love the museum building here, and I'd love to see more beautiful buildings. I'd love a fantastic library. I was in the one in Dun Laoghaire recently and in the children's section, the back wall is all glass looking out to the sea. I'd probably never leave it if we had one! I think we're a bit slow on that; we need to catch up with the people. Where other people had bricks and mortar, we had flesh and blood, but now we need the bricks and mortar as well. I'm not a great believer in having huge municipal buildings, but there's a few we need, like a beautiful gallery.