Ahead of her appearance at Féile an Phobail, the actress and author takes time off from writing to talk pigeon racing, dialogue and admiring Joan of Arc
Will you have a little read, Father? Ah, ye will, ye will, ye will…
Actress and author Pauline McLynn can’t wait to come to Belfast to appear at the Scribes at the West event, alongside fellow authors Alexei Sayle and Ann Zell, as part of the Feile an Phobail festival. Of course she'll take the opportunity to talk about her latest novel, Missing You Already, a tale of memory and identity set in small town England. But McLynn will arrive with a hidden agenda.
‘I wonder if anyone in west Belfast knows anything about pigeon racing,’ she muses.
Currently on a two-week break after shooting the first episode in the new series of Shameless (due to air in January 2010) McLynn is taking the time to research and write her eighth book. Evidently she needs all the help she can get.
‘But that's what these appearances are all about,' she adds, 'talking with the audience, getting ideas going back and forth. Someone on the Falls Road is bound to know something about pigeon racing. Won’t they?’
Known for playing roles like the ever-suffering Mrs Doyle in the classic Channel 4 sitcom Father Ted and, most recently, Tip Haddem in the all-star BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem, McLynn took to writing late on in her career.
Working her way into theatre whilst at university studying Art History, McLynn thereafter began jobbing as a television and theatre actress. But it wasn’t until she landed the role of Mrs Doyle that the idea of writing came to mind.
‘I had never much thought of writing before we started filming Father Ted,’ McLynn admits. ‘We filmed in London, and it seemed like every actor I met there was collaborating with someone else on a writing project. Between scenes and after we would talk about ideas, and of course everyone asked me if I had any. So that’s when I started considering writing. Writing for television didn’t interest me, though. When the idea took hold, I only ever wanted to write novels.’
After a brief pause in our telephone conversation (during which time she lets a workman into the house and answers the door to a delivery man declaring ‘It’s one of those days!’) McLynn contemplates how her acting background helped when it came to making the transition from the stage to the typewriter.
‘I guess it helped a lot, really. Being an actor is a very schizophrenic existence, so the idea of ‘character’ was something that I could handle. When you take on a new character, often you have to develop a back story of your own to help flesh the character out. So I was used to making up stories in that way. And dialogue was never something I was scared of. When you act in a film, for instance, a lot of dialogue is improvised. So much of the word count in my books is taken up with dialogue.’
McLynn has always been an admirer of the writing on the BAFTA award-winning Shameless. Created by Paul Abbot, and set on a fictional estate in Manchester, it’s as gritty and cocky as they come – very different to Father Ted, but equally madcap and inventive. ‘I love that show,’ she beams. 'I just hope that acting in it won’t put me off watching it. Actors never like to watch their own stuff.’
McLynn is set to star opposite David Threlfall as the librarian, Libby, Frank’s new love interest. ‘Playing Mrs Doyle was a fantastic experience, and as an actor you never think that lightening is going to strike twice. But Libby is another of those characters that you just love to play. She’s my age or younger, vaguely glamorous, so it’s refreshing not to have to draw on a moustache and apply side burns before every shoot...’
Evidently McLynn isn’t dismissive of her most famous role. I put it to her, however, that another actress (the French starlet Audrey Tautou) has gone years and through numerous roles in an attempt to distance herself from her own career-defining character, the introspective Amelie, by playing the likes of fashion legend Coco Chanel and a ruthless gold digger in 2008’s Priceless. If McLynn were ever to get tired of Mrs Doyle, what role might she assume to reinvent herself?
‘Probably Joan of Arc,’ she concludes. ‘Let’s face it, she’s the opposite of Mrs Doyle in every possible way. And I’d get to wear chainmail. How cool would that be?’