How to move ‘The Faerie Thorn’ from the page to the stage...

Author Jane Talbot.
Author Jane Talbot.

It is entirely appropriate that author Jane Talbot has pulled her car over to have a chat to me...just ten metres away from her husband’s field in which stands a fairy thorn.

For it was at this fairy thorn tree, at an undisclosed Ballymoney location, that storyteller Jane imagined her first story for her collection ‘The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories’.

Now that book has been adapted for the stage by award-winning Portstewart-based Big Telly Theatre Company with the UK and Irish premier taking place in Coleraine’s Riverside Theatre on April 21 and 2 before embarking on a 19-venue tour.

Living in Scotland since 2011, Jane arrived on the north coast thanks to a “blind date with a farmer” whom she later married. “Obviously a farmer can’t leave his land so I came to live here, which I was happy to do so. My husband started to introduce me to his favourite places around the north coast.

“I’ve always been interested in folk tales and have been storytelling since the 80s so I really enjoyed finding out more about the local stories around here. I decided to make 2014 my ‘year of challenges’ and one of those challenges was to see if I could see an ACTUAL fairy.”

So Jane camped out in a van near the fairy thorn tree on her husband’s farm. “You are supposed to be able to see them at twlight but I didn’t see one at evening twilight. When I woke up at morning twilight though, I had the first story for my book fully formed in my head and I’m convinced that was the fairies!”

Jane set about writing a collection of dark and sinister fairy stories based around local landmarks and ‘The Faerie Thorn and other Stories’ was published by Blackstaff press in 2015.

Following a book launch in Waterstone’s in Coleraine, jsut two weeks after the national release, Jane received a message from Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director of Big Telly, asking if she would be interested in the group developing her work into an adaptation for the stage.

“That was the start of a very long conversation which has been going on ever since. It’s actually been longer bringing the stories to the stage than writing the book. It’s a rigorous process but it was really important for both of us that the relationship was right.

“It’s also very important for the writer to understand the artistic director’s philosophy.

“I knew Big Telly were very much into physical theatre and improvisation and their work was quite anarchic.

“So I went to see their production of Puckoon and as soon as it started, I knew they were the theatre company for me. It was important to me too that Big Telly wanted me to be part of the team and I have been very much treated as such, through the development workshops as it can be quite challenging moving it from the page to the stage.

“As a writer though you have to be able to put emotional distance between you and your book - which is easier said than done! Especially because this book was a part of me finding my feet here, of finding my home here, but you have to cut the umbilical cord and think ‘what is the best treatment to help it shine on stage?’

“The magical thing about working with a theatre company is that they bring their ideas so what we have got now is all the magic and energy of the book with extra bells and whistles!”

‘The Faerie Thorn’ will open in Coleraine on April 21 before moving to the Mac in Belfast and the Seamus Heaney HomePlace among other venues. Cushendall Golf Club will also host the play on May 10.

So now that opening night approaches, will Jane be behind or in front of the curtain?

“I want to be a troll!” she laughed.

“I would love to be in it but no, I will be in the audience. At this stge now, my role is done.

“The book was so warmly received in this area and I had such heartwarming support from local book sellers, that I’m really pleased that the first audience to see the play The Faerie Thorn is a local audience. That’s really important to me.”

Tickets for the RIverside Theatre, Coleraine, performances on April 21 and 22 can be booked now online at tickets@riversidetheatre.org.uk