Lisa McGee And Saoirse-Monica Jackson On The Return Of Derry Girls

The writer and actress have collaborated on a new book.

Derry Girls

by grazia |
Updated on

There is something special about Derry Girls. Its examination of a group of friends living in Nineties Northern Ireland – their quirks, foibles and wayward endeavours - is so well-observed that you can’t help but collapse into laughter. But moments later, as the show’s core quintet live their lives and face personal heartbreaks and setbacks amidst the chequered landscape of the Troubles, you’ll most likely be moved to tears too. The show has been a phenomenon. It is the most watched series in Northern Ireland since records began, and has a huge global following. In short, the world is impatient for a third series. But, while we wait, you might want to get your fix via Erin’s Diary, a new book that revisits the first two series’ action by recreating the beloved main character’s inner thoughts and feelings.

‘After series 1 we were approached by a few people about maybe doing a tie-in book’, Lisa McGee, writer and creator of Derry Girls, tells Grazia over Zoom. ‘It just didn’t feel like the right time, and I didn't have enough time to write it. But when Trapeze suggested Erin’s Diary, we thought “you know what, that’s the best approach.” It was a natural transition: I found the idea of her planning things hilarious, and thought “let’s give It a crack.” I thought people might appreciate something silly and uplifting.. I hope it brings laughter to people.’

Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who plays Erin, was thrilled to be brought on board and help extend her character’s story. ‘Even doing the audiobook was mad,’ she laughs. ‘The franticness and the madness of Erin is really captured and conveyed in this book. How much she changes her mind, even page to page, really lends itself to a book.’

Derry Girls

It really does. The book included diary entries that will be familiar to fans, with Erin reflecting on disasters like the escaped polar bear scuppering her trip to see Take That, or her all-encompassing blossoming love for Father Conway. But there are also visual souvenirs, as if she has made her diary into a scrapbook: poems, sketches, the list for the fateful trip to the fish and chip shop, and a letter to Chelsea Clinton. Like many of Erin’s experiences, this was drawn from Lisa’s real life.

‘We were obsessed’, recalls Lisa. ‘We always talk about it, me and my friends: she was our age, she was cool, and she lived in the White House. We didn’t care about Bill. I actually really admire her now, as a woman. She has become an inspirational figure.’

How would Lisa handle meeting her? ‘I’d try and not make a dick of myself’, she says. ‘Jamie-Lee, who plays Michelle, met Chlesea and Hillary Clinton and told them that I was so obsessed that I’d written her a letter. It never got sent, thankfully.’

Lisa didn’t need a deep dive into the scripts or a Derry Girls marathon to remind herself of the narratives: it is ingrained on her brain. But she has aids to assist in finding the Erin within.

‘I have 90s playlists’, she says. ‘They take me back, to being a teenager again., It doesn’t take much – I’m a teenager in a woman’s body – and it’s really lovely to do. It’s like time travel, being able to go back. It’s so cool.’

Saoirse doesn’t need such a tip: she credits Lisa’s work as being enough. ‘So much of it is just there in the writing’, she explains. ‘That’s actually such a gift as an actor, that you can just jump back into it. I remember going back into the second season worrying that it wouldn’t be the same, but the writing makes it so easy. And I was nervous about what it would be like to be Erin without the rest of the girls for the diary, but their personalities are in the book.’

Season 3, delayed by coronavirus, will find its way back to life eventually. Lisa and the cast have stayed in touch via WhatsApp throughout lockdown, and reunited for a Comic Relief sketch guest starring Saoirse Ronan. They will all, surely, settle back into their roles with ease and eagerness. But there will be changes. Lisa explains that she will inevitably explore the feelings that are clearly manifesting between Erin and James, honorary Derry Girl. It was shown most explicitly when he chose to take her to the dance rather than indulge his Doctor Who fantasies, and it is acknowledged inwardly on several occasions in the book. For Saoirse, season 3 will be an opportunity for Erin to grow.

‘In the second series we saw Erin step up in navigating, in figuring out who she is,’ she says. ‘I think in this third season I’m expecting more of that: more honesty. I think it pays off for Erin when she admits that she is wrong. She’s stubborn in her opinions, even though she flits between them a lot. It’s touching, and authentic.’

Derry Girls is a sensation, its placement of a comedy existing on top off history providing nostalgia, but also pain. ‘Iit starts with people talking about the funny stuff,’ Lisa says of the fans who approach both her and Saoirse. ‘And then it slowly moves to serious things. It’s been motional at times, talking to people from Northern Ireland about the past. It’s weirdly opened up a discussion about the trauma of the Troubles. But that’s what comedy does: there’s something about comedy characters: you feel like you know them.’

Erin’s Diary is out now

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