Actor Ciaran McMenamin speaks to Fiona O’Brien about his debut novel Skintown, plugged as the Enniskillen version of Trainspotting, and how it has already secured a film deal
“It all started with a true story that happened to me as a teenager. It’s one of my favourite pub stories and I just went about developing it and Skintownwas born,” says Ciaran McMenamin.
The Fermanagh man, who has lived in London for the past 17 years, but is considering a moved out to the country, has made a living as a professional actor for the past two decades, but is preparing for the release of his first novel. Some would be forgiven for thinking that as an actor McMenamin was penning a story that he envisioned on the big screen or stage, but that is far from the case, and he maintains it was a book he wanted to create as opposed to developing a script that he could act in.
“At school, my strength was always creative writing, but then I got into drama and pursued my artistic projects that way.
“I always wanted to write and it’s only in the past few years that I started to seriously work on putting pen to paper. I’ve actually got my third novel near enough finished now too.”
Skintown follows the story of Vinny Duffy, a teenager looking to make enough money to get out of hometown Enniskillen. It is never overtly referred to in terms of the period it is set, but McMenamin cleverly uses the news and events around the main character to give a historical backdrop of The Troubles in the early 90s.
“It doesn’t affect the human relationships in the book, but it is , important obviously in how the characters interact with one another. It’s just there in the background.
“Growing up in Northern Ireland at that time was the same in terms of the music we listened to and that rave scene as others growing up in Glasgow, or Liverpool or Manchester had. We just had a bit more complication in the background.”
The book begins with Mc- Menamin’s own real-life experience, which he uses as an anecdote to this day.
As a teenager, he was approached by a girl he knew to pretend to be her boyfriend so that two older, drunk, hard-men Protestants could give her a lift home, but so that she would not be on her own.
“We’re in the back of a car belonging to the men our mothers told us to never get in the back of a car of. I close my eyes and wonder how many girls will come to my funeral,” it reads.
When the girl was dropped off, McMenamin started to fear for his life, but after the car crashed on the way home the drivers struggled to get out of the mess and started to be friendlier towards him as his comic relief and quick thinking made them warm slightly.
“It’s obviously been slightly exaggerated for effect, but that’s sort of how it was. When you share an experience like that, and also humour, that sectarianism gets slightly forgotten. I still see that girl from time to time when I’m at home. I’m thinking of leaving a copy of the book at her front door.”
The novel is very funny and very sharp. But while heavy on humourous and cutting dialogue it also has moments of quite pensive prose.
“Although it is dialogue heavy, it wasn’t my intention to make it as a film or TV programme or a play.
“I just wanted to get that brilliant Fermanagh quick wit in there. It is so sarcastic and so cutting how they speak at home, that it takes me a while to catch up with it when I visit the pubs back there.
“But once I’m back in it, it’s great. My wife finds it very strange. And the way that the people can say so much in the least amount of words possible.
“Why say five words when you can just use three to get your point across? “So ‘shut the f*k up’ becomes ‘f**k up’. It’s brilliant.”
It was only when McMenamin’s film-producer friends read the book that he thought it would make an ideal basis for a script.
“I couldn’t see it at all. But he’s convinced me and he is working on it and wants me to write the script which is nice.
“He didn’t want to lose Vinny’s voice by giving it to someone else and it’s nice that I will still have that control over it. And I think a story like this can only really be done as a small independent film. It wouldn’t work on a large scale I don’t think.”
The story follows Vinny, who is struggling on benefits after getting laid off from his job in the local Chinese. When his new hard-nut Protestant friends offer him a business venture, he does not let the aspect of a bit of drug-dealing come in the way of his vision to make enough money to avoid the terror he felt with sectarian rivalries in the town.
“Skintown was just a working title at first because that is the nickname we have for Enniskillen at home. But then it stuck because of all the other sort of metaphorical connotations with the word too.”
Vinny’s mother and father provide comic and historical relief in the book, and apart from a few references to casual relationships with girls, the book is really fraternal.
“One of the first reviews that came back said it was like a love story between a teenager and his best friend, and I suppose it sort of is.
“If you are a male at that age your best friend really is the main love in your life, and I think once the heist and drama side of the book is finished, that really shines through towards the end.”
• Skintown is published by Doubleday Penguin for £12.99
Check out the Soundtrack
Vinny, the main character in Ciaran McMenamin’s debut Skintown, has already checked out; he has a dead end job in a town that is going nowhere fast and he is living for the weekend and his next freshly rolled joint.
Music is one of his few escapes, a constant backdrop to his life when he has little else to hold onto. The publishers have released the soundtrack as a playlist on Spotify, in an ultra milennnial-savvy marketing move.
“When we did a few focus groups there was one reader in particular who could not comprehend the soundtrack, as it were,” says Ciaran. “She couldn’t get her head around the fact that teenagers in the early 90s would be listening to The Who, and said we should change it.
“But I held firm, I had to. You are inspired by your parents’ music. Vinny grew up listening to his dad’s Leonard Cohen LPs and his mother’s Neil Diamond records.
“And he was so like me as a kid in loving the rave scene, but not the music. He liked The Who and old bands like that. I listened to the Stone Roses over any of that hard dance stuff. It would be like saying that no one in the 90s would be listening to The Beatles.
“Me and my wife listened to the playlist through the other night. And it really works. It’s a brilliant mix tape of everything, and it really brings me back to that time of my life in the early 90s.”
1. Baba O’Reilly – The Who
2. Elephant Stone – The Stone Roses
3. Step On – Happy Mondays
4. Moondance – Van Morrison
5. Just Like Heaven – The Cure
6. Thunderstruck – AC/DC
7. Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen
8. Paper Thin Hotel – Leonard Cohen
9. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan
10.What Have I Done To Deserve This?– Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield
11. A Little Respect – Erasure
12. Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine
13. Nightswimming – REM
14. I Fought The Law – The Clash
15. Follow Me! – Jam & Spoon
16. Working For The Man – Roy Orbison
17. I’m Waiting For The Man – The Velvet Underground, Nico
18. Footloose – Kenny Loggins
19. This Is The One – The Stone Roses
20. Higher Than The Sun – Primal Scream
21. Time – Pink Floyd
22. The Great Gig In The Sky – Pink Floyd
23. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – The Smiths
24. Summertime – Billie Holiday