'A writer has to get used to rejection'

The Echo’s Summer Soap returns on Monday — a brilliant fictional story told over 12 episodes. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to the writer of the latest story
'A writer has to get used to rejection'

LITERARY AMBITIONS: Margaret Gillies, writer of the Summer Soap Droid, which starts its serialisation in The Echo on Monday and runs for a fortnight

A ROBOT developed at UCC that has the potential to change the world is at the centre of Droid, the second summer soap that starts in the Echo on Monday, August 2.

Now in its sixth year, Summer Soap is a daily fictional serial run over 12 parts for a fortnight in The Echo and online at echolive.ie. The Summer Soap is the result of a collaboration with the MA in the Creative Writing Programme at UCC.

The author of Droid is 24-year-old Margaret Gillies, from Kanturk, who moved there from London when she was four with her Irish mother and Scottish father.

From an early age, Margaret was writing. “I’ve written stories since I was a very young child,” she says. “I always loved reading and English was always one of my favourite subjects.

“At home, my interest in writing was always known and encouraged. But when I went to secondary school, I was a bit unsure (about a career as a writer) because it didn’t seem to be a realistic career option. But I didn’t really know what else to do. So I just kept writing, doing what I enjoyed.”

After her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at UCC, Margaret took a year out before doing the Masters in creative writing and writing the first draft of a novel.

“I’m happy with the story, but it needs some work before I send it off anywhere,” she says.

Initially, writing a novel seemed like a mammoth task.

Margaret says: “I set a routine for myself and forced myself to write a certain amount of words every day. There came a point when I was half-way through the novel and it became much easier and enjoyable. I was writing at least 1,000 words a day. Sometimes I’d write more.”

Her novel is aimed at young adults and concerns a girl who has had an unorthodox upbringing with two famous parents. She becomes estranged from her father, a singer, and is unhappy living with her actress mother and wants to reconnect with her father. “I’m hoping to do something with my novel within the next year or so,” adds Margaret.

At the heart of her soap story is a 19-year-old Cork boy from the poor side of the tracks. Lucca Grimes is doing a fictional Masters in advanced robotics at UCC. The robot he has built “causes quite a stir because it’s the closest thing to a human being that people have seen. It looks quite human and it can speak different languages”.

Lucca has his own reasons for building the robot. He feels “disconnected from his family and decides to build the robot because it is something he understands. He actually understands the robot more than he understands people”.

But the highly intelligent Lucca is a source of professional jealousy. Two academics want to take some undeserved credit for the creation of the robot.

“The academics fight between themselves over the robot,” explains the author. “This robot is like nothing anybody has seen before — and there’s a twist.”

Margaret isn’t really interested in the world of robots so she doesn’t go into any great details about creating one. However, the robot gives rise to metaphors “about prejudice and social class, stuff that I focus on.”

Writing the soap meant that she had to have a cliff-hanger at the end of each episode, while making sure that each section stands on its own. The Masters was an opportunity for her to write in a genre that she might not have otherwise explored.

“I think the MA has been really beneficial for me because it gave me the confidence to be more experimental in my writing. It gave me the encouragement to spend more time just being creative and trying new ways of writing.”

Margaret has been a member of a few different writers’ groups. “We would share our work with each other and get feedback. It gave me the confidence to keep going.”

At the moment, she is reading Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Lockdown gave her the time to read widely. Among the books she enjoyed were Trainspotting, Rosemary’s Baby and A Clockwork Orange.

“What I’ve been reading subconsciously inspired the soap,” she says.

Seeing it in print will boost Margaret’s confidence. She has had a poem published on a poetry website, ‘Dodging the Rain’ also also wrote a piece of flash fiction that has been accepted by UCC’s journal, The Quarryman.

“As part of the MA, we’re encouraged to keep writing as much as we can and to keep submitting work to different publications such as The Stinging Fly.

A writing career, in the early stages, inevitably involves rejection. “I think I’m quite used to rejection because I’ve sent a lot of things to literary journals which have been rejected. Sometimes, I might not hear anything back. At the start it was a bit strange and difficult. But now I’ve accepted it as part of the process.”

New Irish writing is having a field day. “I think maybe lockdown has encouraged more people to be creative and start writing. I think we’ll see a lot of references to lockdown in future work. I’m not interested in writing about it at the moment.”

Margaret has set her young adult novel in 2005. “I set it then because I didn’t want the whole element of social media in the story,” she says.

All too aware of the difficulties of being a full-time writer, Margaret says she would like a job as an editor, possibly with a publishing company.

Her Echo soap has been “subconsciously influenced by the way Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange”. It augurs well for this ambitious young writer.

Catch the first episode of Margaret’s story Droid in print and online at echolive.ie on Monday. For the first time this year, you can listen to the Summer Soap read by its author on a podcast — see echolive.ie for more.

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Called Droid, our next story is about a boy who designs a robot at UCC and chaos ensues. It was written by Margaret Gillies, from the MA in Creative Writing Programme at UCC.

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