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HOW RULE-BREAKING LED TO THE OSCARS – City of Books Podcast with Emma Donoghue

Working with film maker Lenny Abrahamson was a highlight of her career and she learned a lot from him – including why some rules should be broken, says writer Emma Donoghue.

She has taken on more film and TV projects as a result of their collaboration on the 2016 Oscar-winning film Room, based on her novel by the same name.

That positive experience “wouldn’t be true of every writer’s who’s tangled with Hollywood,” she admits.

Lenny, who won plaudits recently with the series Normal People based on the Sally Rooney book, taught Emma to ignore the rules in screenwriting manuals. It proved useful advice when it came to adapting her story about a woman held as a sex slave for seven years, and how she tried to shield her rapist’s child born during the ordeal.

“Lenny was great for freeing me from the rules because he’s so steeped in cinema, he knows when you need those rules and when you don’t,” Emma tells the City of Books podcast. She won an Oscar nomination for her script, and Brie Larson won a best actress gong for playing Ma.

“Like any newbie to a genre you tend to learn the rules a bit too stiffly. So I had learned the rule that you should get into a film scene late and get out early. In other words, make the scene as short as possible.

“Lenny was like, ‘No, no that’s when you’re trying to impress someone and get them to buy your script but we’re already making this film together. In this case can you please write me long scenes like a wildlife documentary. I just want loads and loads of this woman and boy interacting and I will find the places to cut.’”

Lenny’s “extraordinary film brought out the cinematic qualities” of her multi-award-winning book, also turned into a play. Room won four Oscar nominations, while the novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Elsewhere in the podcast Emma talks about the coincidences in her latest novel, The Pull of the Stars. It’s set in a Dublin hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic, with parallels that sound a familiar note today.

Just as she finished writing it, the Covid-19 virus struck. Her publishers fast-tracked it because of how closely it chimes with the times.

For more on Emma’s book: Click HERE

City of Books is supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and MOLI The Museum of Literature Ireland.

They are available on the usual platforms including Apple and Spotify.