Irena Brignull Interview

Meet Irena Brignull, author of The Hawkweed Prophecy and The Hawkweed Legacy and screenwriter to MANY projects. She's an Oxford graduate with a hefty portfolio of critically acclaimed, sometimes award-winning, films and fabulous stories. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her Hawkweed series and was thrilled to get the chance to ask her a few questions...

The Hawkweed Legacy came out a couple of months ago. What has been the most interesting/surprising thought that has come up in a review?

Nothing too surprising yet. I’m sure they’ll come! Fingers crossed, it’s been pretty positive so far. The story has a past as well as a present day storyline running through it and multiple points of view, so I was a little unsure how readers would respond to this. Thankfully, they seem to have really engaged with it.

There’s such a strong feminine presence and feeling in the Hawkweed series. What inspired these powerful fictional women?

I’m so happy you picked up on this and asked me about it. It’s very important to me to portray dynamic, strong female characters. I think I was inspired firstly by the stories of women who were marginalised or persecuted over the centuries – like those labelled ‘witches’, or artists who refused to conform, or simply wives and mothers who had no agency over their own lives. Then there were the suffragettes who fought for a fairer world and sacrificed so much. And finally, the novelists and fictional women whose stories I read over the years – Jane Eyre, Tess Durbeyfield, Hester Prynne, Celie from The Color Purple, Cal from Middlesex, Lucy Honeychurch, Elizabeth Bennett. There are so many!

The romance is a big talking point in the series. How do you find weaving that into the storyline? Have you learnt any important lessons as a writer in creating romance?

It has been a talking point but I never really thought of it as writing romance – just how certain characters reacted to each other and how their individual set of circumstances motivated their behaviour. In The Hawkweed Prophecy, I was really interested in the idea of a female-only society and I wanted to examine the pressures on a friendship when a boy was thrown in the mix. It was actually more of a love square than a triangle. I hoped to show some different aspects of first love through three very different girls and one very particular boy. One falls in love as an act of jealousy and rebellion, another out of a romantic ideal, and the third has a connection that she can’t understand but finally discovers the reasons for. In Legacy, the love stories are simpler and perhaps less thematic, and as such, they were easier to weave in. But still these are not the defining relationships in the novel. The love between friends and mothers and daughters has an even bigger part to play.

Are you writing/editing book 3? How many books do you think will be in the series?

I’d love to write a third Hawkweed book but I’m doing a movie next and have already started a middle grade novel. I also have a picture book coming out. I think I need to go away and come back to Poppy, Ember and Leo if a story that I’m passionate about writing comes to mind. I’ve actually sold the film and tv rights to the Hawkweed books so perhaps it’ll have another life on screen first.

I was surprised to find out you’re also a screenwriter because it seems like such a different skill. How is writing for screen different than writing novels? Does your approach change?

It is different but, deep down, my approach doesn’t change that much. I still focus on character and motivation. I still see myself as a story-teller who needs to engage their audience. But with screenplays, I plan the plot more tightly and work very hard on structure. That’s less visible when you’re watching the movie. The dialogue is what fills the pages of a screenplay. When I was writing the novels, it felt like such a treat to be able to write description and use words to bring a scene to life. I liked to think of myself as director, cinematographer, actor, the whole cast and crew. But of course, it’s the reader’s imagination that brings the words to life.

Along the same line of thought, how does the editing process differ?

I do far more drafts of the screenplays than the novels. And many more people are involved. With the novels, it’s a close relationship between the writer and editor over a couple of re-writes. With screenplays, there’s the director, producer, exec-producers, script-editors, sometimes others too, all giving notes. The good news is that each draft is a lot quicker to write and, when you have a good team, the collaboration can be really inspiring. For me, writing a novel was like going solo from being a one of the band. I don’t mean to underestimate the work of everyone at my publisher’s who were involved in the novels – they were all wonderful.

If you could write the screenplay for the Hawkweed Legacy, do you have any ideas for how you would adapt it?

I have thought about it but I’m not sure whether it’s best left to another screenwriter. Adaptations can be a tough process – cutting down and re-shaping a novel, particularly if it’s your own! And I have so many other ideas that I’d like to write. We’ll see what happens. The main trick is to find a way to take all the internal dialogue in the book and reveal character through the choices they make – what they say and do.

When you’re creating - books or screenplays - how do you stay inspired?

I wish I knew! Ideas just pop into my head sometimes. I keep reading and writing and hanging out with friends. I also find holidays very important (and I’m not just saying that because I’d like to go on more). I really believe that you need a change of pace and scene sometimes. Ideas can’t be forced, but the more you inhabit your imagination, the more at home you feel inside it.

Do you ever have moments when you doubt yourself? How do you remind yourself that you CAN do this?

I doubt myself all the time! But writing is the cure. When I escape into the story, I forget all the stress. Starting is the worst bit. For years, I worked on other people’s screenplays because I didn’t have the confidence to write my own. But writing isn’t a competition. The only failure is not to finish (or so I tell myself) and I’ve experience plenty of those.

Finally, what have you read recently that you’ve enjoyed? Or seen?

I loved the tv adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. Beautifully shot and performed. Girl From the North Country at The Old Vic was a brilliant night out. Full of incredible singing and acting. And on holiday I read a lot of books and particularly admired Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (so skilfully observed and very moving), Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give (so warm and generous in its depiction of such a shockingly painful and revelvant episode) and Colson Whitehead’s utterly riveting and resonant The Underground Railroad.


  1. Aw such an inspiring and interesting interview, brilliant questions and answers! :D xx

    elizabeth ♡ ”Ice Cream” whispers Clara
    (I have a little Chip cup giveaway and following back on bloglovin!)


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