An interview with an author – Remie Purtill-Clarke

Remie Purtill-Clarke’s mini-play was published in Open Pen Issue Five, back in 2012. But Remie’s bow has many strings, and as busy as she keeps herself, we were able to catch up with the Dubliner last week to find out what she’s been up to.

Your mini-play The Ice-Cream Robbery of Sherkin Island remains the only play we’ve ever published in Open Pen. Had you written plays before?

The Ice-Cream Robbery remains the only play I have ever written. Having come from an acting background I was familiar with the format, but playwriting isn’t necessarily my first love. The snapshot in time that the play tries to capture was inspired by a mini break to Sherkin Island, off the coast of West Cork, a few years ago, so the mini-play seemed to me the most fitting way to capture it.

Have you ever written any standard prose? Are you still writing now?

Yes, I have just finished my second novel and I’m getting geared up to begin my third…

What’s the name of the novel you just finished, and what can you tell us about it?

It’s called The Horologist, and it is the story of John Lewidge, a once brilliant child math prodigy who turned his back on great prospects to follow his father into the family business, a household goods store and clock repair shop in a small Irish seaside town. Now an old man, John measures his life in the hours he has spent working. He’s watched the world outside the shop doors change over seven decades, but the clocks on the walls inside count the time and the structure of his days, the same as they ever did. When an unexpected customer brings him a clock to repair and he discovers, for the first time in his life, that it is one problem he cannot solve, time – as he knows it – begins to disintegrate, and the past, the present and the possibilities of the future become one. He reflects upon how he has allowed the mechanical instrument to rule him throughout his life, largely to his detriment, and he begins to question the value of an individual life in the vast, infinite and timeless universe.

Remie Purtill-ClarkeSherkin Island was a comedy piece. Is that a form you find yourself particularly drawn to?

I wouldn’t describe myself as a comedy writer, particularly; my aim as a writer is to capture life in its purest form through the filter of my own perspective, as honestly as I can, with this slippery language of ours. The comedy writes itself – as does all the work, really – as comedy is inherent in all human exchanges.

You performed the play at Open Pen Live at LXV Bookshop in Bethnal Green, London with a few actor friends. How’s the acting going? Do you see yourself more as a writer or an actor?

I am primarily a writer and voice over artist. Acting in front of the camera is something I haven’t pursued for a few years; I became a little disillusioned with many of the scripts I was sent, as the majority of characters I was seen for were flimsy and flat, propped up against the leading male for support. I hungered after a little more agency, which I feel I get from writing. The performance urge in me is satisfied by the voice over work, but I get to keep my anonymity by performing out of sight. Win win.

It’s a complaint I’ve heard before, in the acting profession. Female roles tend to be secondary, and existing almost as a prop for the male lead. How does your fiction writing depart from this?

Well, I’ve just written a novel in which the male protagonist does all the talking, so not very, it seems! The female characters in The Horologist are secondary, but their secondary nature is something that the protagonist questions himself. My first novel, The Glass Door, was the opposite. Most of the male characters were shadowed and secondary and the women told their side of the story. So, it has balanced itself out in the spirit of equality, or, in other words, feminism.

What are you currently up to?

I just finished recording an audiobook (not one of my own) and working on an animation and am about to start filming on a documentary called The Speech, where I use my skills on both sides of the page to help someone who is terrified of public speaking do just that. And that third book beckons now, too…

Does the documentary have a home at all? Where would our readers be able to catch it?

It will be on RTE in October/November of this year and can be caught online on the RTE Player if you don’t have the channel.

A question we always ask: what’s your favourite book?

How much space do you have for this article? I usually say John Steinbeck’s East of Eden because of its compassion; Steinbeck seems to hold to E.B White’s philosophy that a writer’s job is to lift humanity up, rather than push it down, and I love that about him. But I can’t leave out Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors for his ability to channel a character so honestly and absolutely, Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls for its otherworldly prose and its palpable atmosphere of longing and John MacGahern’s That They May Face The Rising Sun for the sense of peace it brings me. And the list goes on…

As it always does. East of Eden certainly is a book that lifts humanity, rather than push it down. Is that something you’ve tried to keep in mind in your own writing?

Yes. I try to love each of my characters without judgement. I spend so much time with them that I usually can’t help it. All of us, even the most seemingly monstrous, deserve to be loved.

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You can check out Remie’s mini-play The Ice-Cream Robbery of Sherkin Island performed live at LXV Books in Bethnal Green here. Originally published in Open Pen Issue five.

You can also follow Remie on Twitter @remiepurtill

Visit her website at:

Remie is represented by Simon Trewin of WME.

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