By David Hennessy
A London based Irish author is surprising the publishing giants with the success of her self-published novel, The Price of Experience. Mentored by a BAFTA winning screenwriter John Foster and Hollywood script writer, William Gray, Stephanie O’Brien’s debut novel has already sold out in Dublin.
“I’m delighted,” the author told The Irish World. “I’ve been trying to get my work out there since I was easily 16 so I think when I moved to the UK and I got a real sense of how difficult the industry had become. It gets to a point where you kind of have to take matters into your own hands.”
The Price of Experience is a charming coming of age tale that follows Meredith White who escapes her sheltered home life for university in the hope that there her life can finally start. She is then seduced by the mature, mysterious college professor Andrew Fielding who she finds to be harbouring a secret and one that could land them both in mortal danger.
Stephanie explains what inspired her tale: “I went to Trinity College in 2001 and I was still there by 2005, as a student and as a staff member, and I realised during that time that universities are whole worlds onto themselves. They are microcosms. I could be in Trinity College for a week and do everything on campus and actually never leave the place. It intrigued me that you could have this little world of scandals and secrets and things going on that nobody outside knew about.”
As a welfare officer, Stephanie helped Trinity students through various problems: “I realised the different fabric of students that go through university is so wide and you have this mix of people who are all brought together to this one place to spend years together, and I just found the idea of setting something in a uni environment really interesting.
“When I studied abroad in Paris, I spoke to some student friends of mine for whom it was quite normal to have these little flings with their teachers and they were very cool about it, they were like: ‘You know, it happened once or twice, blah, blah, blah’, and I thought: ‘My god..’. University is a time where a you get to know yourself as an adult, it’s a time of sexual awakening for a lot of young people, you’re free of your parents, you’re far away from home and people take risks, you experiment with things, you try things, so I thought that was really interesting as well.
“The other aspect of the book is obviously the war theme. War history has always been a huge passion of mine. My grandfather was a decorated war veteran of the first and second World Wars in the New Zealand army. I was really interested in the men who came back from the war different. Men who were traumatised by what they saw: by shell shock, by post-traumatic stress syndrome. The idea of the impact of war is of real interest to me.
“There was a whole combination of things that I really care about, that I wanted to instill in the story but thematically, I think people growing up and growing up surprised by how they turn out. I think that was quite key.”
Stephanie is the artistic director of JuSt Theatre Company and JuSt Films and will soon be exploring the war theme in Devil’s Sandpit (working title) a theatre production that contrasts the experiences of returning soldiers of the great war and those coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan now. Currently working on a pilot for British television, her follow-up novel is also one to look out for. Entitled A Single Year, it will arrive before Christmas.
When she gets the time, Stephanie plans to adapt The Price of Experience for the screen. “I always wrote the book and saw it in a filmic way. I do think it has huge potential for screen and that’s what we’re going to do soon,” Stephanie reveals.
So who would be Stephanie’s dream cast for such a movie? “I had always envisaged a rather rugged Colin Firth in the role of Andrew. Anyone in the industry will say: ‘Don’t write roles with certain people in mind because it never works out..’ I appreciate that. Whoever plays the role best, I would be happy with.
“I think young female performers like Carey Mulligan would be interesting (for the role of Meredith). Being an unknown, I would love if I could get any support for the project. I have a lot of actor friends who have worked incredibly hard for five, ten years in this city and they have all asked if the project comes to fruition not to forget about them. I promised I wouldn’t.
“In terms of directors, I think Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) is an incredibly exciting British director. By accident I ended up writing a very English story. I do think I would like someone like him to take over the helm. I don’t know if I’m dreaming but where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Colin, Carey and Joe, if you’re reading this…
The Price of Experience by Stephanie Frances O’Brien is available now at Hodges Figgis Dublin, Daunt Books in London and on Amazon. Also available to order at all good book shops. For more information on JuSt Theatre, go to: http://justtheatrecompany.co.uk/.