I have just finished the laugh out loud debut novel, The Chancer, by screenwriter Fiona Graham. It is such a great feel good story that it comes as no surprise that the novel has won the Bronze Medal for Comedy Fiction at The Readers International Book Awards 2023. A brilliant accolade indeed 😊. And I was even more chuffed that Fiona agreed to chat to me about The Chancer, her films and what lurks in her wardrobe, of course…. but first, here’s a book summary…
In 1989, in the west of Ireland, Donnie McNamara, tired of being a family disappointment, buys a one-way ticket to Tinseltown to pursue his much-ridiculed dreams of acting.
Abe Nelson, a fallen Hollywood legend, now wallows in LA’s dive bars.
When their worlds collide, Abe becomes an unlikely mentor to Donnie and is catapulted into his fantastical plans to become a Hollywood actor. But will the journey to stardom end in red carpets or red faces?’
Hi Fiona 👋 Welcome to the blog
Hello, I’m Fiona Graham , an award-winning author and screenwriter based in County Galway, Ireland. I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but I have lived most of my adult life in Ireland. I live with my husband, daughter, and three dogs, Guinness, Skye and Pirate.
Although you are a screenwriter, this is your debut novel – so who or what inspired you to write “The Chancer”?
William Goldman, who penned many films and books, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once said that if you only write screenplays, it will rip your soul apart. I found that amusing, but there’s definitely some truth to it – a screenplay has a long journey to reach the cinema with big investments and so many people involved, and the majority of screenplays never reach the cinema. There is something wonderful about writing a book and people being able to read it as soon as it is complete. I originally wrote The Chancer as a screenplay and decided to also try my hand at writing a novel – I thoroughly enjoyed the process as I was able to tangent in different directions, and backstories and relay the inner thoughts of the characters, which is much more difficult in a screenplay because it’s all visual.
“The Chancer” is a hilarious story set in the 1980s about an Irish lad from the sticks having the dream of being a famous Hollywood actor, a dream much ridiculed by most people he knew. I liked Donnie – he made me giggle but I wanted to shield him from those who put him down ! His brother in law was just obnoxious and I wanted him to get his comeuppance from the very beginning! Did you base a lot of your characters on you and people you’ve met in life? Which character did you enjoy writing about the most? Which character was the hardest?
The funniest thing about writing fiction, whether a novel or for the screen, is that people always ask who the characters are based on. A few people have told me that they fell in love with the character of Summer in The Chancer and asked me who she was based on – they were very disappointed to discover she was entirely fictional! Having said that, I often do use people I know (maybe even just an acquaintance) and use some of their traits or quirks and mix them up with other people I know, add a large dollop of fiction and that might create a character. The character that was the hardest was Abe because I wanted him to be more than just a fallen Hollywood legend, sinking into despair. We’ve all seen characters in films and books who have fallen from pedestals so I wanted to show more depth to him. I hope I achieved this through his relationships with his sister and with Donnie.
Were there any aspects of writing the novel that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
I loved the freedom of writing a novel, not being constrained by the limiting structure of a screenplay – you have more time to describe things and dwell on the inner thoughts of characters. On the other hand, writing a novel is a much bigger piece of work, requiring a lot more writing!
If you could visit any country/place in the world, to base a future novel in, where would you go and why?
I’m always more comfortable writing about places and situations I know well to ensure authenticity, and I also feel comfortable in the genre of comedy/dramedy. However, I also love a bit of sci-fi and watch every program on the paranormal and UFOs! So, it could be helpful to be abducted by aliens and taken to another planet and then I’d be able to write authentically about it – failing that, I’ll just have to make some stuff up.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
When we were growing up, my sister used to always say to me, ‘You’re such a bookworm! Always got your nose stuck in a book!’ I love reading but would like to have more time to read the growing pile of books next to my desk! I usually carry a book with me if I’m going to the hairdresser or the dentist or anywhere I know I might have to wait. I’m old school and often carry a notepad too in case I want to write an idea down. I do have books on Kindle on my phone in case I’m stuck without an actual book but I much prefer paperbacks. There are lots of genres and a variety of different authors I enjoy but my all-time favourites would be Nick Hornby, David Nicholls and Helen Fielding. I’ve also really enjoyed Gail Honeyman, Emma Heatherington and Noah Hawley. I enjoy a good biography too.
Is “The Chancer” available to purchase worldwide?
Growing up had you always wanted to work in films, be an author/screenwriter or did you have other career aspirations?
Growing up I wanted to be an actress or a writer, which was sort of the inspiration for Donnie in The Chancer wanting to be an actor. As I got older, I had no interest in being in front of the camera and very much wanted to write the story. When I was about ten, my father was setting up a business from home, and he had a word processor (days before Microsoft & Apple took over the world – I am that old). I created a school magazine on his computer, which I tried to sell in school for 2p per copy but it was confiscated by the headmaster, and my father was appalled as I had used so much of his paper, he couldn’t believe I was only charging 2p! A couple of years later, I wrote a book on his computer – it was awful, but I had the bug for writing. I also love films and could watch my favourite ones over and over again, so screenwriting was always something that really appealed to me, combining writing and film.
You are the producer of the award-winning feature film, “Songs For Amy” , working in the film industry and the hustle bustle of Hollywood… and yet you reside in Co Galway in Ireland which has a completely different vibe! What do you miss about Galway when you are on a bustling film set ? And vice versa, when you are in Galway?
A lot of Songs for Amy was filmed in Galway, so I didn’t get a chance to miss it! However, I spent a good bit of time in LA, and we also shot some of the film in New York and had several trips to London and Dublin, so there was a lot of contrast between Galway and the other places I was going. The city of Galway is very arty and also fashionable – when I moved to Galway from Glasgow, I dressed up a lot more. Now I live outside the city near a small coastal town called Kinvara, which is so relaxing, and I can walk the dogs off the leads in wide open spaces and wake up with birdsong or walk along the beach. I do love the buzz and excitement of the city, but it’s always lovely to come home.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
If I’m at home, I’m usually in jeans and a Fairisle jumper in the winter and jeans and t-shirt in the summer, but if I’m going out, it’s usually floaty skirts and denim jackets.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
Yes, I love Hush and Mint Velvet. I also enjoy small boutiques where you find something unusual.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I can never have enough winter boots – I usually wear suede boots from Celtic & Co, and so far have never owned a pair of Uggs, but I can see the attraction to pulling something on your feet in the winter and running out the door.
Boots or Shoes?
In the summer, I live in flip-flops and sandals, but in the winter, it’s always boots. I think they look better with jeans and can make most outfits more relaxed. Being only 5”3, I always prefer a heel on my boots so that I can see over small children’s heads.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Thank you Fiona. I’m 5ft 3” myself so I fully understand the heels on boots reason … although nowadays all 5 of my offspring tower me whether I wear heels or not! By the way, Pirate is so cute 😊
Thank you to both Fiona and Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for the copy of The Chancer for reviewing. All photographs have been published with the kind permission of Fiona Graham.