Interview: Derry Girls writer Lisa McGee: Season 2 ‘bigger.. but they’re still eejits’

Lisa McGee with Nicola Coughlan at the Derry Girls Season 2 premiere recently at the Strand Road Omniplex in Derry.
Lisa McGee with Nicola Coughlan at the Derry Girls Season 2 premiere recently at the Strand Road Omniplex in Derry.

When the cast of Derry Girls stumbled onto the small screen back in January 2018, series creator Lisa McGee said she could never have dreamed that one year on, the show would have fans everywhere from Sydney to Seattle.

And returning for the Series 2 world premiere along with the cast and the crews from Channel 4 and NI Screen, Lisa McGee is in great form.

l-r:  Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) and Jenny (Leanh O'Rourke) Photo by Peter Marley.

l-r: Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) and Jenny (Leanh O'Rourke) Photo by Peter Marley.

Speaking about her expectations and the show’s subsequent success, she said: “I hoped it would get enough of a following, enough audience so that Channel 4 might let us do it again, but I never dreamed it would take off the way it did. It was amazing. I still can’t really believe it.”

Channel 4, she said, ‘really put their money where their mouth was.’

“They do take risks. I don’t think this show could have happened anywhere else. It’s amazing that they took such a risk on it because it doesn’t sound that funny on paper does it? They just really trusted it, trusted me, trusted us, which was great.”

Lisa said she is delighted so many people from Derry and Ireland generally, have developed a real fondness for the show and its characters. She puts this down to people being able to “sort of recognise people in their own families.”

Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) and Erin (Saoirse Monica Jackson) Photo by Peter Marley.

Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) and Erin (Saoirse Monica Jackson) Photo by Peter Marley.

“It’s been really nice to hear people talking about the time that happened in their own families and their group of friends and people really identifying with it. It’s been lovely, and even seeing it in America now with Irish Americans, it’s lovely.”

And now that the comedy is on Netflix, it has piqued the curiosity of people in far flung places about the rapid fire Derry dialect and the political situation back in the 1990s, some of whom have taken to social media to express their bewilderment. “One of the things I am really enjoying is people around the world trying to get their head around the Troubles. Some girl in America Tweeted she started watching this show called Derry Girls which she thought was a comedy about teenagers and she has gone into a Wiki hole about the ‘Troubles’ and she has seven tabs open trying to understand it. I was just thinking ‘I love that, that this show has made people look stuff up’ - that’s amazing. But imagine if you didn’t know anything, your head must be melted.”

A former pupil of Thornhill College, grew up in the Ivy Terrace/Abercorn Road area (the family later moved to Prehen) and during filming for the new series she was able to go back to her roots. “We’ve actually shot a scene in my old street this series so that was really nice,” she said.

Describing how she came up with the weird and wonderful list of characters in Derry Girls, Lisa confirmed she drew inspiration from the people she knew during her formative years. “It’s like people stuck together, elements of one person mixed with another. They are all friends I had, teachers I had and the family . . . the grandad is exactly like what my grandad was like, so It’s definitely inspired by people that I knew growing up.

l-r:- Orla (Louise Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson),  James (Dylan Llewellyn) and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) Photo by Adam Lawrence.

l-r:- Orla (Louise Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), James (Dylan Llewellyn) and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) Photo by Adam Lawrence.

“My mum said to me, ‘I’ve never used a wooden spoon in my life!’ and I was like ‘It’s just a joke!’ She was like ‘Everybody’s going to think I was hitting you with a wooden spoon!’ and I was like ‘Naw they won’t mammy’.”

The odd episode of mortification aside, Lisa said her family has been very supportive and are delighted with the show’s success, as well as a little curious. “They are funny, they are obsessed with who’s based on who.”

And it seems like everyone in Derry can identify with that, with many having spotted traits of their own or of their relatives and friends. “I was in the hairdressers’ today and the girl was like, ‘I’m so Aunt Sarah’!” she laughs.

Lisa admits it was just a “wee bit” daunting when she came to begin writing the second season, which debuts on Channel 4 on Tuesday March 5 at 9.15pm. “But then you just have to crack on because there is no time to worry too much because I have only a few months to do it. I couldn’t just like sit going ‘aw God’, it just comes to the point where you have to get the computer out.”

And speaking of what viewers can expect, Lisa said: “I always knew I wanted to explore the Peace Process; the Clinton visit; so I had broad things in mind but then I had stories that we never got the chance to do in series one, sort of a list of ideas I suppose. Some of them are now in the new series and some of them I didn’t do in the end.

“I’m always nervous about what way something will go down. You want it to be as well received as last time. You don’t want it to let people down or anything, but I’m really happy with it so I hope it will be fine. The scale of it is a bit bigger, the ambition of it is a bit bigger, the dynamic of the group, the kids, the teenagers, they are just still eejits getting in and out of trouble, but I think some of the ideas are a bit bigger. We do some quite big set pieces. It’s different in that way. We wanted it to be bigger and better.”