The idea for Herself came at a strange moment in my life. It was February 27, 2014. I had just been working with Phyllida Lloyd on the remount of Julius Caesar in New York as part of an all-female company where we actually played prisoners, putting on a play – a play within a play.
During our years on that we did a lot of workshops in UK prisons during which I learned that a large amount of people end up committing crimes due to being in a situation of domestic violence, and a lot of prisoners grew up in homes where domestic violence affected them hugely in their choices and relationships as adults.
Anyway, that day in 2014, my best friend – a single mother with three children – called me to tell me her hunt for a home over the past few weeks had been fruitless. She had been given a month’s notice and the housing crisis in Dublin meant queues round the block for the one or two viewings that would be available, and the properties would always go to professional couples with better-looking bank statements. My friend had to fill in a form declaring herself homeless in order to get temporary accommodation – a room in a hotel or B&B – while she and her children were between homes.
From just £3 per week
I was so angry at this injustice. My friend is a determined, hard-working, incredible mother with so much energy. Frustrated on her behalf, after I hung up from our chat I started fantasising. I wished she could just build a house – forget all this mortgage mentality and waiting in queues for some landlord to overcharge her. Surely it didn’t cost that much to build a house?
‘I spent five months studying how to write screenplays’
So I Googled ‘self build Ireland’ then added ‘cheap’. I discovered Dominic Stevens, a Dublin architect who designed and self-built a house for €25,000. A miracle. That night, just as my head hit the pillow the idea for Herself came in a flash. “A woman decides to build a home for herself. In her flight from an almost life threatening situation, a community and new group of friends begin to form around her and her life is transformed.” There and then my life changed. I knew I had to tell this story. I had to become a screenwriter and all I had done was a one-woman show five years before.
I flew home to Ireland. I found a way to live cheaply while I spent five months studying how to write screenplays, reading, researching and meeting people like Dominic Stevens himself, people from Women’s Aid, family lawyers and child psychologists, professors, economists living in eco villages – you name it, I did it. I visited the courts, secret refuges in small towns in Ireland, went to see Dominic’s house, and last but not least I met many survivors of domestic violence and also self-builders.