When film-maker Maya Derrington’s Pyjama Girls opened this year’s Stranger Than Fiction documentary festival in Dublin, it played to a sold-out theatre. The tender-hearted observational doc about two young teens feeling their way through life in the flats of the inner city has been brought back for a week’s run at the Irish Film Institute from August 20-26.
Derrington co-founded Still Films, which produced Pyjama Girls and the IFTA-nominated Seaview. She moved to Dublin from London in 1997 and has worked with Tyrone Productions and Blueprint Pictures, as well as co-founding Cow’s Lane Fashion and Design Market. She lives with her partner Julien and two-year-old daughter Sylvie.
What’s the first record you ever bought?
My mother took me to Virgin in the centre of Bristol to buy Specials by The Specials in 1979 for my ninth birthday. It was like entering a completely new world, populated by towering two tone teens. It scared me but, God, I liked it.
What’s your favourite smell?
Rain on concrete in summer.
Have you ever had a nickname?
Yes, a very twee family one which I won’t repeat here, then various twists on Maya and Derrington over the years – Dezza, Derro, My, Madge: all equally hideous and unglamorous. Very embarassingly, I tried to instigate a nickname when I started at secondary school – Ziggy – because of my then-obsession with David Bowie. It never took.
What is your favourite room in your house?
My daughter’s bedroom. It’s the smallest room in our flat but it gets the evening sun and has a lovely calm to it. We transformed it into an edit suite for Pyjama Girls and I spent weeks on end locked away there with my colleague Paul Rowley, who edited the film.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Eastenders and Natasha’s Living Food raw cacao tart – the former calms my brain and the latter makes me nicely manic.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I’m a local history nerd. Or maybe I’m underestimating my obvious nerdishness.
Who is your closest female friend?
That’s difficult as I am lucky to have about ten really close female friends, but it’s my sister Tara who I turn to about everything, big or small. The poor woman spends about a quarter of her life on the phone to me.
Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
Two piercings in one ear and one in the other, done in a dodgy gold bullion shop in Peckham. I was 22 at the time but my mother was still heartbroken.
Where would you most like to live?
Here in Dublin, in Lisbon, Berlin or Little Venice in London, or maybe Bristol or Cork or Barcelona or Paris or Marseille. Not in the country though, the quiet makes me nervous.
Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?
I’d better not say as I didn’t like him and I broke away to join my friends, laughing with disgust. It was in Bristol in the ’80s and I was a mean teen.
What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
For my hand in marriage by my partner, Julien. I never imagined that would happen to me somehow.
What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
What is your favourite word?
I can’t decide. Succour, trilby, garage, diplodocus? I’ll think of twenty more tomorrow.
Who was your first love?
My friend Joe, who I knew since I was a baby and who I wanted to marry and live with in the wendy house in the school playground.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
I worked in publishing for two years but somehow found myself stuck in the publicity department. I was a hopeless publicist, couldn’t remember the names of any literary editors and had no sense at all of what publicity was about. This week I read that Liz Calder, the brilliant co-founder of Bloomsbury, where I worked, had started out in publicity too, before going on to head up the fiction department. Why didn’t someone tell me that at the time?
Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
The Cloudspotter’s Guide.
What happens after we die?
After my granny died I dreamt that she told me “don’t be sad, Maya, I’m young again now” and was blissfully relaxed, floating in lovely nothingness with her parents and brothers. My other grandmother told me she could see her birth family waiting for her when she was dying. I hope we are reconnected with all the love we’ve ever given or been given.
What female historical figure do you admire most?
I read a lot of biographies of women and I tend to sympathise with all of the subjects, despite their failings. Through reading about them, I’ve come to love Jean Rhys, Maeve Brennan, Phyllis Pearsall, Muriel Spark, Frida Kahlo and Vanessa Bell, to name a few. But I really adore Charlotte Bronte and Mary Shelley, for their literary and emotional brilliance and for their steadfastness despite all they endured.
Sum yourself up in three words:
I am Maya. Almost a palindrome.
And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?
I’m a vegetarian and an accidental continuum parent. Down with cruelty, up with love!