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Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee spills secrets behind success

Derry Girls creator confesses hilarious scenes inspired by (almost) true family tales

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Lisa McGee attends the Writers' Guild Awards 2020 at Royal College Of Physicians in January.

Lisa McGee attends the Writers' Guild Awards 2020 at Royal College Of Physicians in January.

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Eamonn Mallie with Lisa McGee

Eamonn Mallie with Lisa McGee

Lisa McGee attends the Writers' Guild Awards 2020 at Royal College Of Physicians in January.

Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee has confessed that a scene in the last series where Ma Mary takes a pair of earrings from a corpse had its basis in real life.

Lisa admitted that she draws much of her inspiration for the sitcom and its characters from her own friends and family and some of the stories they tell her.

She revealed: "The mum's sort of a version of my mum and a couple of my aunts rolled together, but it's more that there will be some things that they have done, that a version of it will have happened in real life.

"I probably shouldn't say this but there's one scene where the mum and aunt try to take earrings off a corpse and, they didn't do it, but my mum and my aunt considered doing something like that once at a wake because I think it was a piece of jewellery that belonged to their father or something, I can't remember the right way of it.

"But you just hear all these ridiculous stories and think, 'Imagine if they had gone through with that' and then I take it further in the show."

Lisa told presenter Eamonn Mallie in the latest instalment of his Face To Face series on UTV that her show is art imitating life - so much so that family members are guarded around her in case what they say ends up on screen.

She said: "Some are more like my family than others. Some are combinations of three or four people. The grandfather is absolutely my grandfather, there's very little I've had to do to that character to make him work, to make him come alive.

"There's a bit of caution now. Like my mum will start telling me something and then just go, 'No, no… that will end up in Derry Girls, I'm not telling you.'

"And of course I'd use it. I'd promise I'd never use it and then obviously if it's funny, I'm gonna use it."

Lisa told Eamonn that she knows she has a big responsibility on her hands writing a comedy series with the backdrop of Northern Ireland's troubled past.

She said: "I worry about it, I'm very sensitive with how I handle it. I also feel though, because it was my experience, I did live through that time, I did go to an all girls' convent school in that city and that was the world, that was what was happening.

"Everything that happened had an effect on the people that were living through it, but at the time I didn't know any better, that was my world and this was a reality so I didn't know there was anything strange going on when I was a child or a teenager really. It's only now, looking back, that I realise the circumstances that I grew up in weren't normal.

"I would say we were quite protected from it, my generation, because our parents lived through the worst of it, the 70s and the 80s.

"So there was a bit of sheltering that went on. You definitely knew there was something going on that wasn't great, that was dangerous, there were certain areas you didn't go into.

"I wasn't allowed out on the Twelfth at all, I wasn't allowed to set my foot outside of the house. But again, you don't know it's that strange - one of the executive producers on Derry Girls in London just couldn't believe it when I said the army used to check your car."

Lisa, who is a mum to two boys, Joseph and Sean, with actor husband Tobias Beer, said she is also mindful of what local lingo to include in the show so that people across the water and further afield can understand it.

She explained: "Words that are confusing I tend to leave out. There's a Derry word 'lured' which means really delighted, absolutely delighted. 'I was all lured,' you would say. So I don't tend to use that one.

"Or the word 'wile' to mean 'very', like 'It's wile cold.' That's a word everyone from Derry uses all the time but I wouldn't use it in Derry Girls because I just think it's not obvious in the context. So you just pick and choose very carefully."

Lisa, who said she has an ambition one day to make a big screen movie if she can find a "big story", said she did not know at this stage whether the next series - the third of the Channel 4 show - would be the last or if there could be more.

She said: "We'll have to see. I just take one thing at a time, they're quite tough to write. I'll just get to the end of this one and then see where we are. To find the four girls took us six months. I think they should be teenagers always - I think once they're not teenagers any more that's it done really."

The humble writer said that she is "still surprised" at its success and thinks "there's a bit of luck involved" because it just seemed to "hit the right time".

She added: "People think I must be loaded and I'm not, I don't make as much as people think. I get paid very well for what I do though.

"I'm extremely proud, I'm still a bit shocked. I'm hugely proud of the show and I'm very proud of where I come from, I wouldn't have had all those stories and all those characters if I didn't come from Derry - it's a very special place."

Eamonn Mallie: Face to Face with Lisa McGee is on UTV on Tuesday at 10.45pm.

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