Script Development Success Story: Denise Deegan

This script development success story focuses on Denise Deegan, who did two TV Series workshops with us during 2021-2022 and whose career has since seen a meteoric rise! Denise is an Irish novelist & PAGE Award-winning screenwriter who tackles issues of loss and injustice, often through humour. She can be reached through her agent, Peter MacFarlane of MacFarlane Chard (Peter at

The video interview below was recorded with Denise on the 16th of April 2024. English subtitles can be enabled manually in the playbar if they don’t show automatically. A clickable index, a full transcript and next steps are available after the video.

Direct Links to Each Section of the Interview

Interview Transcript

Intro Script Development Success Story Denise Deegan (award-winning novelist and screenwriter)

[00:00:00] Emmanuel Oberg: Hi, Denise. How are you?

[00:00:03] Denise Deegan: Hey, Emmanuel. I’m great, thanks. How are you?

[00:00:05] Emmanuel Oberg: I’m very well, thank you. It’s great that you could take the time to have a chat with us today because I know how busy you are. You’ve been on a really impressive roll recently, and I keep reading about your achievements everywhere, so I thought it would be a good idea to invite you to share your success story here.

First of all, like most writers, I’m always curious to hear about how other storytellers work because we’re all different. We all work differently. So I’d like to know, can you tell us a little bit more about your methodology, how you like to work as a writer and what your creative process is?

What’s your creative process as a writer?

[00:00:44] Denise Deegan: Sure. So, I have discovered through writing lots and lots of stories that I’m drawn by certain themes. So, loss is a huge theme for me: loss, separation and injustice. But I think because I’m Irish, maybe, I don’t know, we tend to laugh in the face of things just because of our history and our weather, so I do tend to deal with these issues often through humour. And the way I work is quite instinctive, and in fact, every project is different too.

So for example, the very first script that I wrote is for a feature called “Tough Old Broad“. It’s an intergenerational story between an older woman and a teenager. I’m really drawn to buddy movies and stories like that. It came about after a Screen Ireland course on character. This larger than life, older woman just came bursting into my psyche, and I just started to write it down. This often happens with me, the story will just arrive.

Poster of feature film "Tough Old Broad"

It actually turned out to be a tribute to my dad who had just died. And so there are a lot of little things in it that only maybe my family will know. There are little tributes to him. And so that was a lovely, lovely thing to write.

And then sometimes an idea will pop into my head and I’ll just follow it. I don’t always know, or I’m not always sure that it’s going to become something. Often, my approach is to play with things. And certainly with novels, that’s the way I write. I just let them unfold. Obviously, with features and TV, structure is much more important, so I try and do a balance where I’m letting it all flow out naturally, because that’s really important to me, but I do all that before I sit down to write.

[00:02:48] Emmanuel Oberg: It’s always great to have a kind of intuitive process, whatever the tools you use and whatever works in the background, to just —

[00:02:56] Denise Deegan: I mean, it’s the way I live my life as well. I’m just a very gut instinct kind of person.

[00:03:03] Emmanuel Oberg: Great. Just to move to when we started working together, the first workshop we did together, I think, was my online TV series workshop, which was supported by Screen Ireland and Cultural and Creative Industries Skillnet. What made you decide to apply?

Why did you decide to apply for our TV Series script development online workshop?

[00:03:24] Denise Deegan: I’d been writing for a year in the visual world, I guess, with my feature. And one thing that attracted me to TV was just the level of control that the writer has in that medium. So that was interesting.

And I guess I was curious. I’m driven by curiosity a lot. And because it was a Screen Ireland course and I had done some amazing ones, I thought, well, I’ll apply. I don’t think I had a project at that point. I’d had that idea in my head for quite a while, but I hadn’t really thought of it in the visual medium, I’d started writing a novel about it.

So I just thought I would, you know, try it out, to see how it works. I mean, obviously we’ve all been watching TV since we were small and there’s certain things we’ll know. But I just wanted to, really, I suppose, do a deep dive into it because it was very visible from your course outline that this goes really deep and that was really intriguing to me.

[00:04:36] Emmanuel Oberg: Can you just tell us how you found the self-led course?

How did you find the self-led TV Series online course?

[00:04:42] Denise Deegan: Sure. It was amazing. There was just so much information. I mean, I don’t think you left any ‘i’ undotted. Everything was in there and I loved it. And also, in a former life, I was a marketing person, so I loved the way you didn’t just deal with the story using amazing case studies, which were super helpful, but you also dealt with how the story would fit in the market so that what we’re writing has a chance of being made. I thought that was invaluable. And even you bringing that into the actual structure of the story with Maslow and everything, which I was fascinated with… So amazing – I learnt so much. Yeah. Fantastic.

[00:05:38] Emmanuel Oberg: Great. Thanks. I’m going to blush… [Laughter] And to go back to your experience, because you were already experienced as a writer, what did you learn on the course? What was the most helpful, the most immediately applicable part regarding how you approach projects in general, but also how you approach TV series in particular after that course?

What did you learn in the self-led course that was immediately applicable?

[00:06:06] Denise Deegan: I suppose the great thing on a really practical level was just to figure out that actually you’re still using something I’m very comfortable with as a novelist and a feature writer – the three-act structure. I mean, some people use a five-act structure, but for me, just to see how it will fit over your series and over your season was almost like a relief.

I think that was important for me. It’s like, oh yeah, okay, I know where I start. And then you did a whole thing on analysing the story strands and how they weave together and what can tie them together and I thought that was brilliant. So they were the really practical things, but there was also the whole thing about making this have legs, making your story have legs and be relevant in the market. So all those things… and lots more, actually!

[00:07:16] Emmanuel Oberg: Great, thank you. And then also, because that was a live workshop, we had a few online sessions — you know, while you were going through the content of the online course — and that included group work exploring the concepts that you were covering in the course and also Q&A’s about the content. And so I was wondering what specifically did these live sessions bring to the process, to the workshop?

What did the group sessions included in the live workshop bring to the process?

[00:07:42] Denise Deegan: I think it was really good to know that at any time you knew that whatever questions you had, you’d be able to just ask them in these sessions. So that was great. Because I think, you know, getting all the information is one thing, but talking it through is completely different.

And then other people were bringing their experiences as well. So it just made it really interesting, actually. But also there was that sort of security that, you know, no matter how confused you get — if you get confused — that you have an opportunity to chat it through. But I mean, it was very, very digestible and easy to understand. Good to know, though, that you could ask anything if you wanted to as well.

[00:08:30] Emmanuel Oberg: Great. And then, I think it was about a year later, we did another workshop together. That was my TV series rewrite workshop. I call it “The Rewrite Stuff – 12 Ways to a Stronger Series”. And that edition was supported by Creative Europe Desk Galway, and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

As you know, it’s a six-month program that starts with an intensive one-week session, where selected writers workshop their projects, before defining a clear direction for a rewrite towards the end of the week — I’m just explaining this for whoever is listening to this, so they know what we’re talking about.

[00:09:11] And then a few months later, we have a follow-up meeting so that each creative team can get feedback on their rewrite before going to market with it. And so you took part in this workshop with your project “Killfluencers” along with your co-writer, Fiona Tuohy. So can you tell us why you applied to this rewrite workshop, just about a year after you did the first one?

Why did you apply to The Rewrite Stuff – 12 Ways to a Stronger Series a year later?

[00:09:37] Denise Deegan: Yeah, I found the first one really helpful. And then this was a more practical approach where you brought your project along. I wanted to explore it. I’d had the idea and I had pitched it to a few people. And what was actually kind of funny was I had written it as a horror, but when I pitched it, people would laugh and I thought, oh, this is hilarious. Not intended, but interesting. So I thought, well, it’d be really good to explore that in this setting. You know, how funny is it? Is it funny? Turned out it was hilarious. So I brought on board my co-writer Fiona Tuohy, who I’d met on a Screen Ireland scheme called “Spotlight”.

And so we had worked together for a long time with other people. I loved her project and I thought it dark, very dark, and very funny. And I thought we could work really well together. But then, the great thing about “The Rewrite Stuff” is that this gave us an opportunity to work for a week together, to explore, to see how we worked together, to see how funny the project was, to see where we wanted to go.

And I swear to God, you probably remember, we just laughed so much, didn’t we? It was just such a great experience. It was just brilliant. And because of it, you know, the project just — Oh, it just became a new project, it developed hugely and got optioned in the end. So we’re in development with that now, so thank you.

[00:11:12] Emmanuel Oberg: That’s great. You’re welcome. That was really the best outcome and really why the workshop was designed. So it’s great that it worked that way for you. You’ve already started to tell us a little bit about it, but how did that workshop go from your point of view and how did it help you move not only your project, but also your career forward?

How did The Rewrite Stuff help you move your project and your career forward?

[00:11:34] Denise Deegan: Yeah, so, after we’d been on the physical course, then we went off to write a new pilot and a pitch deck. So those were two very practical things we ended up at the end with, and then we came and pitched it to you. And your feedback was really great. In fact, I think you were very helpful as well in terms of putting us in the right direction to producers, so that was great.

The project has been picked up by Yellow Film and TV, which is a Finnish company with an Irish branch, and so we’re in development with that now. In two weeks time, we’re going to London for a “mad brainstorm” session. And so that’s been great. And I’ve been taken on by “Fair City” as a new writer. That’s a continuing drama that RTE, our broadcaster, puts out. So that’s great. And a lot of my other projects — another TV series. So, I wrote another TV series after and that’s a supernatural young adult called “Ghosted” and that’s been picked up by Wildcat Pictures. And two features have been optioned as well, one by Treasure Entertainment, and one by Zephyr in the UK. That’s the “Tough Old Broad” project that I was talking about.

[00:13:05] Emmanuel Oberg: Wow. So I would call that a successful outcome, right? [Laughter]

[00:13:10] Denise Deegan: I would. Yeah.

[00:13:14] Emmanuel Oberg: So, you’ve just told us about the outcome of the training, I guess both for you as a writer and for your project… Was it worth it and would you recommend it?

Was the training (TV Series workshop and The Rewrite Stuff) worth it and would you recommend it?

[00:13:27] Denise Deegan: Oh my goodness. 100%. Both of them. In fact, they’re a lovely combination, especially for someone who’s new to the whole world of television. I wouldn’t have two TV projects on the go now if I hadn’t done it.

[00:13:44] Emmanuel Oberg: You would, you would. I’m sure you would.

[00:13:47] Denise Deegan: I wouldn’t. But even from a confidence point of view, you know what I mean? It’s great to know that you are equipped and that you know where you’re going and it was wonderful as well to have the opportunity to explore bringing the project into a new genre, which, you know, would have been kind of awkward and also to explore working with a co-writer. Is that a good working relationship?

All those things we were able to do in Galway for that one week. And we also met other people with other projects, which was great. And we worked with them and on their projects, almost like a writers’ room type of situation. And that was great. So, yeah, I mean, there were just so many things… So I’d a hundred percent recommend!

[00:14:38] Emmanuel Oberg: Thank you. And did you keep in touch with any of the other participants?

Did you keep in touch with any of the other participants?

[00:14:45] Denise Deegan: Yeah, two of the other guys with the werewolf project [Daniel Butler and Mike Henegan] I’ve kept in touch with, and one of those two guys, I keep meeting at film festivals because I had a short film that was made. I like to go to the festivals, so I often meet Danny at those. So, yeah.

[00:15:05] Emmanuel Oberg: Great. Because I think one of the nice things when you do workshops like this is that you get to meet some of your peers and sometimes that can create some lasting relationships.

Right, before I let you go, can you tell us about what you’re working on at the moment, what we can read or watch if we’d like to find out a little bit more about your work, and also what you have in the pipeline for the years ahead?

What are you working on, what can we read or watch and what’s in the pipeline?

[00:15:33] Denise Deegan: Okay. So, at the moment I’m working on a few things at the same time. I’m working on an episode of “Fair City”, the continuing drama. I’m working on “Killfluencers” with Fiona, bringing that forward with the production company. I’m working on the young adult TV project with Wildcat Pictures. And so I’m just waiting to get notes back from Screen Ireland because that got Screen Ireland funding.

And the two feature projects are going out to directors at the moment. That’s “Tough Old Broad” and the other one is a young adult adaptation of one of my novels, and that’s the one with Treasure Entertainment, and that’s just about to go out to directors as well. And — oh yeah, I’m working on a psychological thriller feature, and so I’m editing that at the moment.

So that’s what I’m doing. I think the best thing in terms of watching — my latest episode of “Fair City” has gone off the RTE player because they only keep a certain amount on and so the next one will be coming out at a certain point, but I don’t know exactly when. It takes a while for them to come on stream, but if anybody wants to watch one of those episodes, I could just send them a link.

[00:17:02] Emmanuel Oberg: And anything we can read from your own work, you know, as a novelist, as a writer — because you have a great sense of humour, a great style. So anything we could read from you?

[00:17:14] Denise Deegan: Sure. Well, all my books are up on my website, I also — just to confuse everyone — write under a pen name and that’s “Aimee” the French way, A I M E E. But you can see that anyway on my website when you go on. So, yeah, thank you.

[00:17:36] Emmanuel Oberg: Great, thanks. Personally, I’d like to vouch for your little book about the Irish language, which is great when you want to learn a few expressions, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

The Little Book of Irish-isms and dramatic language vs. natural language

[00:17:52] Denise Deegan: Sure. It’s “The Little Book of Irish-isms”. So it’s just a unique way Irish people speak English. And some of it comes from, you know, the way our Irish language developed into English and just the quirky way we speak and how that says so much about us.

Like, for example, the way we use the word “grand”. It’s not necessarily a positive thing, you know? “How are you? I’m grand”. That’s just like, “okay, I’m just okay”. But if somebody was to, say, offer you something that you didn’t want, instead of giving them an outright “no”, which we probably feel is just a little bit too strong, we just say something like, “Oh, you’re grand. You’re grand”, which means “no”. So I just think, yeah —

[00:18:39] Emmanuel Oberg: It’s the opposite of the French. The French would just say, “no way”. “Non, non, non merci!”.

[00:18:48] Denise Deegan: No, we just go “You’re grand”. And it has so many different expressions. I think the very first time I thought of the idea of the book, I was in America and I was talking to a friend of mine and we’re speaking the same language. And then I say to her: “Oh, here, will you get me that yolk?” She’s looking at me and she’s like: “Why am I talking about eggs?” You know, it’s just, it’s the word we use for “thing” and we use it all the time. So I thought that’s so interesting and I just started taking down all these expressions. I didn’t know where it was going. And then it became a book.

[00:19:23] Emmanuel Oberg: That’s great. It’s a wonderful language. And it’s always nice when I go to Ireland — especially when it’s for a workshop or for an event that helps keep that language alive. What’s great about storytelling and screenwriting is that you can really work on the dramatic language, which is almost separate from the natural language you use to write your story, and strengthen the stories without hurting the language. That’s one of the things I love when I go to Ireland.

Thanks Denise and congrats!

Thank you so much, Denise, for all your time. I think what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved in the last couple of years is really, really impressive. And so thank you so much for sharing all this with us today.

[00:20:09] Denise Deegan: Thank you so much, Emmanuel. And thank you for the courses. They were amazing.

[00:20:14] Emmanuel Oberg: You’re very welcome. Thank you!

Next Steps

Contacting or Finding Out More About Denise Deegan

Denise Deegan's headshot used to illustrate her script development success story

For more information about Denise, please check out her websites at (Film & TV writer) and (novelist / author).

To get in touch with Denise, please contact her agent, Peter MacFarlane of MacFarlane Chard (Peter at She can also be contacted through either of her websites above.

Sharing Your Own Success Story

If you’ve done an online course, a live workshop with us or if you’ve used our script consulting and coaching services and you’d like to share your success story, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you and we’ll be delighted to showcase your achievements!

Finding Out More About Our Training

If you’d like to find out more about our training, why not start with a free online course, webinar or e-book on script development introducing Emmanuel’s innovative method?

If you’re an experienced producer or represent a studio, a media group, a film fund or a training organisation and if you’d like to discuss a possible collaboration, please book a free strategy call with Emmanuel.

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