Ahead of its release in Irish cinemas this weekend, writer and Director of the award-winning film, An Cailín Ciúin, Colm Bairéad writes about how an unassuming publication became the highly acclaimed film and altered his life.

In the spring of 2018 I buy a book by an author I have never read before. I say 'book', but this is an unusually slim volume, 85 pages to be exact. On its cover is a photograph of a young girl, her back to camera, her hair a little wild, and there, out in front of her, a boy on a carousel horse, merrily going round. I’ve heard of the author whose name sits in serif print above this anonymous child’s head. I have some sense of her formidable talent, but I am certainly not prepared for how this unassuming publication will alter the course of my life over the next few years. The author’s name is Claire Keegan. Her story is Foster.

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The first thing that stands out as I begin to read, is that everything is being conveyed through the eyes and the mind and the heart of a young girl. As I turn the pages, I feel like I am this young girl, being sent away for the summer to distant relatives I’ve never met, without any understanding of what is to happen next to me. The story is being told in the present tense, so it feels utterly immersive, immediate. As a filmmaker, this draws me in, the surety of the telling. The medium of film is, with some theoretical exceptions, a present tense one. When we write screenplays, we always write in the present tense, it’s the motor of the filmed moment.

Éist le Colm ag caint faoin scannán nuair a bhain sé cúpla gradam iomráiteach i mBeirlin ar Morning Ireland ar RTÉ Radio One

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I feel, as I read Keegan’s prose, that I am watching a kind of film. One that is deeply-felt and beautifully observed and yet poised in a manner that never allows for sentimentality. I marvel at Keegan’s ear for dialogue, at the precision of her word-images, at the way in which she (via her young, nameless charge), sees and feels the world and tries to marry an inner turmoil with the sensory experience of being a child in an unfamiliar place. Harshness, tenderness, beauty, bitterness - contrasts that present themselves readily to a child’s predisposition towards binary thinking filter through the prism of this girl’s point of view and begin to shift and form a new and more complex understanding of the world. A summer passes, bonds are formed, a tragic truth is revealed, an inevitable ending is arrived at. By the final page, the final paragraph, I am weeping uncontrollably. And something has shifted inside of me, and I know that I have to try and make a film of this story.

Éist anseo le Colm ag caint faoin scannán ar an gclár Adhmhaidin ar RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

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I have, up until this point, only made fiction films in the Irish language. I’m aware of an exciting new scheme called Cine4 that TG4, Screen Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland have launched to produce Irish-language feature films. I can see how Keegan’s original can be transplanted effortlessly to an authentic Irish-language setting. I am not daunted by the prospect of adaptation. On the contrary, I feel protected by what I know is on the page. I feel connected to Keegan’s voice, to this nameless girl, and invigorated by the cinematic possibilities that are presenting themselves in my mind. I can barely wait to get started…

An Cailín Ciúin, an adaptation of Claire Keegan’s Foster, is in cinemas across Ireland today.