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How I turned my book The Making of Mollie into a play – with a little help from some young innovators

Anna Carey on the inspirations and challenges she encountered in rewriting her 304-page novel The Making of Mollie into a play that runs for less than an hour

If you’re looking for theatrical innovators, you could do worse than consult the nation’s primary pupils. Back in 2019 I visited a school in the midlands to talk about writing in general and two of my books in particular: The Making of Mollie, which had been shortlisted for an Irish Book Award in 2016, and its sequel, Mollie on the March. Both novels are set in 1912 and tell the story of Mollie Carberry, who finds out that her older sister Phyllis is a suffragette. This leads Mollie to realise just how unfair the world can be, so she and her friend Nora decide to do something about it.

Many elements of Mollie’s world are utterly foreign to today’s young people – not least the fact that women and most working-class men were unable to vote in general elections. But she has to deal with the sort of problems young people still face – homework, annoying siblings, parents who expect her to do household chores – as well as her neighbour’s constantly barking little dog, Barnaby.

I talked about all of this with the pupils. I also had some news: I had just started turning the book into a play for the Ark, the children’s cultural centre in Temple Bar. The project was in its very early stages, but I was already wondering how Barnaby might be presented on stage. In one of the book’s key scenes, Mollie has to take Barnaby for a walk, only for the bold beast to escape and lead her on a wild chase through the streets of Drumcondra. How, I asked the class, could we effectively show that in a theatre? Luckily, one of the children had an idea that had not struck me before: “What about a baby in a dog suit?”

Five years later, I can say that capturing Barnaby’s chaotic magic wasn’t the only challenge I faced when trying to turn a 304-page book into an under-one-hour-long play. The Making of Mollie wasn’t my first professional scriptwriting job – I had written for Fair City between 2015 and 2017 – but it was a very different one. Writing for the theatre for the first time was a daunting task.


Luckily, I didn’t have to face it alone. The Ark had paired me with the director Sarah Baxter, and over the next two years she and I took part in three week-long workshops at the theatre with different groups of talented actors. The novel is in the first person, in the form of Mollie’s letters to her friend Frances. So it made sense for Mollie to address the audience instead, putting them into the position of her pal and confidante. Although Mollie becomes involved in a fight for justice, she and her family and friends are lively, funny characters, and it was important to convey that comic energy in the play.

Even if I’d wanted to fit in every scene of the book, we simply couldn’t; the limitations – of physical space, of cast size, of running time – meant that was impossible

In the first workshop we didn’t even have a complete script – but they were crucial weeks. Working with Sarah and the actors, hearing the scenes first read aloud at a table and then acted in the theatre, was the best training I could have got in writing for the stage. The workshops showed me what worked and what didn’t; what flowed on the page but not on the stage; what lines could be made funnier and what lines more dramatic. The first time I sat at the back of the theatre and watched the actors perform the script, pure happiness bubbled up inside me. I went to drama and dancing classes all through my childhood and teen years, but by the time I was at college I’d dropped my stage dreams. Watching performers act scenes that I’d written, based on my own book, was a childhood dream come true.

Baxter was the perfect guide and collaborator, helping me to shape the script around the practicalities of that particular space and the young audience. She enabled me to let go of the novel and focus on the play as its own entity. This is, of course, the tricky thing about adaptations; I’ve been disappointed by screen and stage versions of beloved books. Some are more focused on lifelessly reproducing as many beats as possible from the book than on capturing its voice or humour or emotion; others try to cram the original text into a form that doesn’t suit it.

No enactment of a book, on stage or screen, will ever perfectly match the versions readers have already created in our heads. And those imaginary versions probably won’t perfectly match the writer’s original vision of her work, because the rest of the creative team will bring something new to the characters and the story. So when adapting a book you love, the best thing you can do is create something that stands alone, something that isn’t a scene-for-scene rendition of the original text. After all, Clueless is a better adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma than any of the “straight” period versions. You can change elements and still make something that, crucially, captures the vibe of a book.

That’s what I tried to do with The Making of Mollie.

Even if I’d wanted to fit in every scene of the book, we simply couldn’t; the limitations – of physical space, of cast size, of running time – meant that was impossible. But those limitations became a wonderful creative spur, something to bounce off.

I had to pare the story down to the essentials. What was the heart of the book? Mollie herself: her voice, her friends and family, her humour, her discovery of injustice and her realisation that she had do her bit to change the world for the better. As long as we had those things, I could play with the rest of the story.

Seeing the brilliant cast bring the characters to vivid, hilarious life as the young audience laughed along was magical

I have to be honest: if someone else had written the script without my input, I would have clung to the original text a lot harder. But as I was the one in control, I happily ditched characters and incidents. In the book, Mollie has two sisters, Phyllis and Julia; in the play she has one. (Sorry, Julia.) Much of the book takes place in Mollie and Nora’s school, and their classmates Stella and Grace play key roles, reflecting the fact that women’s right to vote wasn’t self-evident to everyone in 1912. But there wasn’t time to explore all that in the play, so Stella, Grace and the rest of Mollie’s class got booted out too.

In June 2022, after a final workshop, a few scenes of The Making of Mollie were presented to an audience of children and parents at Still Loading, the Ark’s annual work-in-progress showcase. Alas, I couldn’t go – Covid had got me at last. So it wasn’t until rehearsals began in early 2024, when some primary pupils visited the rehearsal space to watch the actors run through a few scenes, that I finally got to witness a young audience’s reaction to the play.

Seeing the brilliant cast – Ashleigh Dorrell, Rowan Finken, Niamh McAllister, Éyum-Priscilla and Ian Toner – bring the characters to vivid, hilarious life as the young audience laughed along was magical. Between us all, we’d created a play that kept the spirit of the book but transformed it into something fresh and fun in its own right. And we didn’t even need a baby in a dog suit.

The Making of Mollie, for children aged eight and up, is at the Ark, in Temple Bar, Dublin, from Friday, February 23rd, to Saturday, March 16th