Writing ‘The Maiden Aunt’

Having written five one-act plays during the late 90s, a very good friend of mine, the late Paddy O’Donnell was telling me that I should write a three-act play.
So, I eventually gave in and decided to give it a try. I didn’t even know where to start. Back in the late 70s, I had written a short story called ‘Aunt Violet’ about a maiden aunt who comes to visit a family and I thought there might be something there on which to build.
I wrote the play in 1999 in the days when it was the few drafts were all done by hand before transferring it to an electric typewriter.
Lots of the details of writing the play have become hazy with time. I do remember that the maiden aunt was originally to be called Jane O’Toole or something like that until the name Gertie O’Grady came to me while sitting in a small cafe in Buckley’s supermarket in Mullingar.
I had two maiden aunts, both sadly now deceased. One of them used to visit us when I was a child and she suffered from a bad stomach and would have to have her tea strained. That’s a vivid memory from my childhood. So I gave the bad stomach and the tea strainer to Gertie.
‘The Full Monty’ had been a very popular film a few years previously – hence John Paul’s decision to go into the male-stripping business. I found out I passed my BA exams on the day Pope John Paul flew out of Ireland in 1979 so that’s why I decided to name the Murphys’ son John Paul.
‘Combine Harvester’ was a big hit the summer I did my Leaving Cert (1976) so I gave a few lines of it to Francie to sing.
The scene where Dan and Francie discuss women’s trouble and other manners featured in a failed radio play I’d once written called ‘Red Letter Day’, so I thought it would fit in well in this comedy and rewrote it.
The name Caroline Quinn was actually the name of a pupil at a school where I’d taught back in the 80s – and the more opposite to the Caroline in the play you couldn’t find.
I hate the electronic music which plays on phones in businesses when customers are left hanging on – so it became one of Dan’s hates, too.
The scene between Paula Moore and Francie dressed as Gertie was originally very short, but when I read it at a Granard Writers’ Group meeting, the members thought there was much more potential in it. So, I added to it, and have added to even more since.
I deliberately made the solicitor female so that it would be a strong role for a woman.
Originally, when I first wrote the play, Dan finds out from Pat Fleming on the phone that Paula Moore will be coming. I think someone pointed out to me that it would be better if Paula’s arrival took everyone by surprise. So, I rewrote that part of the play to accomodate Paula’s unexpected arrival.
The phrase “there’ll be picture and no sound now for the rest of the day!” is an actual phrase and came from a wife in a house I used to visit for many years.
While I was writing the play in August 1999, I remember going to see Bernard Farrell’s play, “Kevin’s Bed” in the Abbey Theatre, having won a voucher to the theatre the previous year at a one-act festival in Bray.
‘The Maiden Aunt’ premiered in Killala, Co. Mayo in February 2000 with a production by the Round Tower Players.
Tyrrellspass Drama Group staged the play in late March/early April of that same year.
Wondering how I’d write my first play all those years ago seems strange as I work on my twelfth..

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