20th April 2019
The Saturday Interview: 'McGillicuddy and Murder's Pawn Shop' podcast with Minerva Sweeney Wren
For people who’ve not listened to your podcast, would you mind introducing yourself and McGillicuddy and Murder's Pawn Shop?
Absolutely! I’m a twenty-five year old writer who comes from a family of stage actors. (Hence the moderate ability to perform an audio drama.) McGillicuddy and Murder’s Pawn Shop is set in 1921. Maude, the main character and narrator, gets a diary and begins to write in it. The only problem is, her life is boring. She types all day until her fingers are sore, and then comes home, sleeps, and does it all over again. She wishes her life was an adventure. And it isn’t. That is, until one day, when she discovers an unusual pawn shop. She finds a tiny fragment of china—with nothing on it but a bright blue eye. Maude takes the china eye home with her, little realizing that she’s cursed herself straight into a brand new life.
Your podcast is set in the early 1920s. Why did you choose a historical setting, rather a more contemporary one?
I knew I wanted to start a fiction podcast, but I didn’t know what I should do. I didn't have a lot of faith in my acting. So I sat down one afternoon and recorded myself reading from a novel, a script excerpt of Welcome to Night Vale, and an acting monologue. After listening to the results, I knew I should do something vaguely creepy, very old-fashioned, and diary format (not a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, and dialogue that you can forgive for having fewer character voices, since it’s still the protagonist’s voice.) The 1920s seemed like fun.
Why creepy then? Was Night Vale a direct influence in that regard?
I think my voice just likes sounding creepy. It plays to my strengths more than say, a rom com in the wild west or something. After hearing the creepy vibe of that Night Vale script, I knew it was the right stylistic fit for me.
The protagonist, Maude, has a pleasingly anachronistic turn of phrase. How did you achieve this?
So I grew up on P.G. Wodehouse and the Chronicles of Narnia. I called my twin sister “old bean” a lot. (And she hated it.) I’ve learned to talk like a normal person in real life, but it almost feels more authentic to get my “old-fashioned” on in this podcast. It’s like my true colors are finally uncurling and getting to talk.
Would the 1920s be a period you’d want to live in if you could?
Definitely. Anything from 1915-1950 or so. That’s where I’d have the Doctor take me. (That and Ancient Egypt.)
Ah! A Doctor Who fan! Have you been watching the most recent series? What did you think?
So, I’m lame and American, which means my only options are pirating, purchasing, or waiting until it shows up on Amazon Prime, and I’ve chosen the third option. ;) I have been rewatching in preparation, though! I could talk for six hours about Dr. Who, and the different writers, and the different themes of the show during all its evolutions… but I’m hopeful for the newest series. My fears are: preachy feminism and My hopes are: a Tennant-era feel with a Doctor who still feels like the Doctor. I’m excited about her being a woman, and I loved that actress in Broadchurch. I just don’t want the story to turn into a caricature of “strong womanhood” instead of a brilliant story where the protagonist simply happens to be female. Fingers are crossed.
What inspired you to create a podcast?
Oddly enough, it was a side-scheme initially. I’d just gotten on Radish, the serialized-fiction publisher that lets readers buy one chapter at a time through their app. I have two novels on there, The Renfield Murders and How I Rescued My Twin from a Cult, and I was daydreaming about marketing schemes, ways to get readers. I was like, “I can act. Kind of. I’ve acted in radio dramas. A podcast would be easy. If a couple people listen, maybe they’ll read my novels.” And then the podcast turned into my biggest project, way bigger than the novels, and I’m completely in love with it.
Creating a podcast solo obviously takes a significant time commitment in terms of writing, recording and editing. How long does it take you to make a single episode?
I’m a little ashamed of this. I wing it so much. I rough draft each episode in about an hour, don’t edit it, and then record straight from there (a few days/weeks later). The recording usually takes about 45 minutes. That’s still 2 hours per episode, but it doesn’t seem like much. In some ways, I used to feel like I was cheating listeners by not editing and practising more, but the longer I do this, the more I realize that “winging it” produces a really natural, from-the-gut quality that’s way better. It’s my own words in my own voice, and sometimes when I’m recording, I feel like I’m feeling those emotions for the first time, because it’s the first time I’ve revisited the draft. It keeps it really authentic for me.
Does 'McGillicuddy and Murder' have a defined arc and finish point or could it keep going for as long as you want to make it?
My loose plan is 4 or 5 seasons. I love discovering the story as I go, but I’m also a sucker for good story structure and compelling endings. I don’t plan on waffling. It’s going to keep building into something amazing.
Do you have any favourite podcasts that you listen to?
I love Welcome to Night Vale, Limetown, Girl in Space, all the old 1940s mystery dramas… sometimes I’m afraid to listen to my fellow audio-drama creators because I can get really intimidated, but I’m trying to get out of that mindset. I also love non-fiction like LORE, Dan Carlin, and stuff on psychology and the enneagram.
Would you say that becoming a podcaster had a steep learning curve then?
So much. Everything fiction I just mentioned, besides the 1940s radio dramas, I’ve listened to after producing the podcast. I love it now, but I didn’t even know audio dramas existed when I started. I just knew of Night Vale, and I thought it would be a cool idea to produce a story in ten minute bites. So I did.
Is it challenging outside the performance itself with the technical aspects?
I mean, I have a $50 mic named Velociraptor Tim, and that’s about it. (I’m going to buy real sound-foam and cardboard panels for Season 2. So snazzy.) That being said, I felt like I was pretty familiar with the basics (Audacity, minor sound editing--I recorded music in high school) when I started. THAT being said, I improved a lot as season 1 went on and I continued to learn what the heck I was doing.
(P.S. Velociraptor Tim is so-named because of his little velociraptor-like crouch, and because I love Jurassic Park and dinosaurs. And Tim is for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “....Tim?”)
What particularly interests you about the mind and the enneagram?
I read people really, really well. I think that’s a huge benefit as a writer, to have insight into what people are thinking, where their wounds come from… Studying psychology helps me hone that. I also think that, in order to write compelling character arcs, you have to have gone through some yourself. The more work I do on my own wounds, the better of a person I become, and the better of a writer I become.
If people would like to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
Oh, yay, great question--because I have some photos up on instagram of the “real” McGillicuddy and Murder’s Pawn Shop that would be fun for fans to see. I started the podcast in August, and then in September I stumbled across an antique store that had me wandering around with my mouth open for an hour. “I found the real one!” was all I could think. So #McGillicuddyandMurdersPawnShop pulls all of those shots up on instagram. People can also follow me @MinervaSweeneyWren on Instagram and Tumblr, and @MandMPawnShop on Twitter. I always respond and love hearing from people. My website can be found at https://www.minervasweeneywren.com/.