Playwright and composer Erin Murray Quinlan is the brain behind ‘Brain Hemingway’, which is coming to Greenside @ Infirmary Street this Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Here, she answers some frequently asked questions about her new show, Ernest Hemingway, and why she’s so eager to get him out of her head.
Why's Ernest Hemingway in your head?
I put him there; it was an accident. I read ‘A Moveable Feast’ the first time I went to Paris (like we basic Francophile bitches do) and having never read any Hemingway, I was surprised by his emotional, sometimes lyrical style. I expected it to be all about fishing and drinking and fighting bears with nothing but your fists. I was touched that he wrote it as a young man, put it away, and then revised and added to it in his last years. So he lulled me into a false sense of security and got in there. Two years of research later, I wrote a show about my findings. That was ten years ago and he still hasn’t left.
What is your favorite Hemingway book or short story?
I did like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, and not because it was the SHORTEST, check-out guy from Shakespeare and Co. I think Hemingway was at his best when he was writing exactly what he knew at that moment, and he wrote ‘old man’ as an old man. You can feel his desperation to get things done before he runs out of time.
What did your research entail?
Reading everything. I got to see a lot of cool archival stuff at the JFK Library in Boston, where they have a room done up like Hemingway’s office in Cuba. I went to Key West (pictured, at Sloppy Joe’s drinking a Papa Doble) and Paris. I interviewed some folks, one of whom gave me a line that appears in ‘Brain Hemingway’: “what does a little girl like you have to say about a big man like Hemingway?”
Is he a friend to you in the show, or is he an antagonist?
He is very much an antagonist. Over the last ten years, he’s become less of an accurate version of Hemingway, and more of a personification of every bad review, every insult, every stupid thing I’ve ever internalized, rolled up into a Hemingway-shaped package.
This show references some bad reviews about a previous show you wrote. Are those real?
Oh yes. And from memory.
It sounds like you might be exorcising some demons, here.
My hope is that in writing and performing the show, I will have exorcised myself of him. Just like in ‘The Woman in Black’.
Do you have any warm feelings left for Ernest Hemingway?
Listen… you know how when you’re a kid, you say you like koalas. And then, for twenty years, everyone gets you koala stuff, and you just have koalas everywhere, and yeah, you’re still fine about koalas, but you’re pretty sure you only said they were cute once, how did this happen? That’s Hemingway for me.
Your husband, Evan (pictured), is playing Hemingway in this. Is that weird?
Yes, mostly because he has this whole crazy idea that he’s going to cut his hair and his beard so he looks the part, and I will not live with actual Hemingway for a month. Really, though, some of the things Hemingway says to me are so cruel, so personal, that having someone I trust more than anyone else is the only way I think I can handle it.
What do you hope your audience will take away from this?
I can only help they get from it what I got from writing it, which is the idea that when someone says something awful about you or your work, they say it once, but when you internalize it, you are saying it yourself ad nauseum. I couldn’t believe some of the things I say to myself once I saw it in writing. I hope people see this and ask themselves which negative things they’ve internalized, and start giving themselves a break.
Why did you choose the Fringe for the debut?
So many acts I love and respect come from the Fringe. David Mitchell and Robert Webb, Armando Ianucci and Steve Coogan, The League of Gentlemen (Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Jeremy Dyson), Rhys Darby, Jemaine Clement, Emma Thompson, Natasha Demitrou and Jamie Demetriou, the Horrible Histories folks … That’s just off the top of my head, I could go on and on. Any origin story I read or hear involving someone I admire has a bit about the Fringe, so I need to go and quaff slowly of the deep-fried Mars bar that is Edinburgh that I too may be brilliant.