Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee: ‘We can never, ever go back to violence here’

Creator Lisa McGee says that if there's one thing she learned from writing Derry Girls it's that we would be crazy to jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland

I already knew, politically, where I wanted to go for Series Two of Derry Girls, which was the ceasefire and the beginnings of the peace process after the Bill Clinton visit in 1995. So the current political situation didn’t impact on where we were going in a big way. But it happened accidentally that the story of the show sometimes reflects what is happening now.

We can never, ever go back to violence here,

When I was writing it, there are certainly points I made that I may not have underlined so heavily – one being that we can never, ever go back to violence here. What I am trying to show is how much Northern Ireland achieved in the mid and late-1990s and how hard it was. I don’t think people, when they are talking about Brexit now, appreciate how miraculous it was that the Good Friday Agreement actually happened. So we are saying look at how hard that was and how brilliant it was that we pulled it off.

It changed my life and the lives of so many people of my generation for the better – and generations that came after me. It is so upsetting to hear politicians playing down the importance of the Good Friday Agreement. I find it unbelievable. I tried not to think about it too much while I was writing, though, because it might make me too angry and the show might not be quite so funny.

So much of the series is about that intense period when you lived in your friends’ pockets and you lived in their houses in that community where nobody locked their doors. A community where all this insane violence was going on but nobody locked the doors. The contradictions of the place were mad.

Derry Girls works because it was true. You had to be able to laugh. You had to somehow normalise these things that are insane. It is only when you move away, so for me it was when I moved to London, that you realise what we did and how we handled it was not normal. It was a survival thing.

This violence should never be the backdrop to any teenager’s life.

The young people were aware of it, they grew up around it, but they were protected from a lot as well and didn’t have the grudges. They are just young and silly and just want to live their lives.

This violence should never be the backdrop to any teenager’s life. But it was important to me that we ended Series One on the girls dancing on the stage, not the violence. The final thing we saw needed to be the hope.

It was a strange thing to turn into comedy. But if you are going to walk this line of light and dark you have to show why these fears are everywhere. It is because these things actually happened. You couldn’t hide away from that. All the jokes exist because this stuff happened.

In shows I loved growing up, like My So-Called Life, the losers were often stylish and clever and got the boy or girl in the end. So Claire Danes was supposed to be a loser in My So-Called Life, yet she looks like a fashion icon, everything she wears is amazing, and she gets off with Jared Leto. That was not my experience. That’s never going to happen to the Derry Girls – they are proper losers! These people are never going to get the hot girl or the hot boy.

But they do meet an equivalent gang of Protestant boys in Series Two. I was writing from my background but on Twitter, there was a response from people across Northern Ireland saying they wish there were more Protestant characters. There was the guy who you think is from Chernobyl but is actually called Clive and from Belfast. People really responded to him. So there are these four new characters in the first episode.

They meet on a Friends Across the Barricades weekend – which is a cross-community weekend we all got sent on to mix with Protestants. It was another one of those things I only realised was so strange after I left. We were forced into doing these weekends and of course it doesn’t work – all the Catholic girls were interested in was the Protestant boys, and not for peace reasons! It was funny that adults thought it was going to work when all the teenagers wanted to do was just get off with each other.

It is so, so lovely that Derry has taken the show to its heart. People here would have let us know if they didn’t like it. That is what I was terrified of – because that is the truest thing ever said. They are so forthcoming. I probably couldn’t have come home again because of all the people telling me what I had done wrong.

I hope it makes people from here laugh and reminds them there is so much good stuff happening as well.

Now I couldn’t imagine the place without Derry Girls because they have taken it so much to their hearts. It is so important to the city, it feels like we are all in it together. And if you walk around with the cast it is like being with rock stars. Everyone loves them, especially Dylan, ‘the wee English boy’. He is the favourite, which is hilarious.

I just hope Series Two makes people laugh. I hope it makes people from here laugh and reminds them there is so much good stuff happening as well. Despite people trying to stop us, and us being such a small country, there is so much talent here. I am probably biased, despite everything, including lack of government here, the creative industries are booming. That is an amazing, amazing thing and something I am really proud of.

People here have such a great sense of humour and such warmth, and we all need to laugh at the moment.

Lisa McGee was speaking to Adrian Lobb.