AMIDST the movie stars, directors and media currently soaking up the glitz and glamor of the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival is Derry lawyer Niamh Hargan.
The entertainment attorney, whose job it is to “review movie and TV shows before they air for defamation, copyright infringement and other issues to minimize the risk of lawsuits,” regularly attends numerous major industry events and festivals.
“I go to all the festivals – Berlin, Sundance, Tribeca and London,” she explains.
“I’m mainly here to meet with our existing clients. Most of the time we work remotely. It’s nice to have some face-to-face time.
“It’s also good to meet up-and-coming filmmakers and get a sense of what’s going on in the industry.”
Niamh – too discreet to name names – admits having rubbed shoulders with a lot of movie stars.
“Once in a while, you might get an invite to something that has a red carpet or a boat or rooftop event,” she says.
“It’s very exciting and certainly a far cry from Derry.”
The Cannes Film Festival holds a special place in his heart. And when it was canceled in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, Niamh decided to write about it instead.
Her first novel, Twelve days in Maytells the story of Lizzy Munro, who works at the Cannes Film Festival for the Scottish Film Board, in a job that involves far more administration than red carpet glamour.
There, Donegal idol and director Ciaran Flynn is the man everyone is talking about.
Although they haven’t spoken in 12 years, when Ciaran’s film — all about a student romance that has uncanny similarities to their own college friendship — ends up in hot water, Lizzy is the only person who can come to the rescue.
That begs the question: is 12 days enough to save not just Ciaran’s movie, but the spark he and Lizzy once shared?
“I’m delighted that all the time I spent there over the years, surreptitiously listening to other people’s conversations, can now be called vital literary research,” the 32-year-old laughs. , currently based in Edinburgh. .
“Cannes is a unique environment, both exactly and totally different from what I might have expected, which I thought was an interesting starting point for a story.
“A solid 70% of the set, as I mention in the very first chapter of my novel, seems to be drinking rosé and talking about the need for strong female characters from morning till night, both of which I’ve always been pretty good at for.”
Although a former qualified solicitor and practicing in Northern Ireland, Niamh undertook further training in America in order to work in the entertainment industry.
“As part of that job, I ended up doing the bar in New York and was admitted as a lawyer in the United States. There’s so much more content being created there and especially what I do, it’s giving advice to the United States,” she explains.
Although the lockdown didn’t stop her “day job”, Niamh – who is used to hybrid work – returned home to Derry and found herself with plenty of free time and the opportunity to fulfill her dream of always to write a book.
“I honestly thought everyone wanted to write a book. I would have considered that a very standard goal, the same way you might want to buy a house or visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York.
“The problem I always had was that I was waiting for some kind of idea to come to me – a perfect, unique singular idea that one day arrives perfectly formed.”
Niamh admits that boredom pushed her during confinement to “just write something”.
“From the start, I wanted to write something that would have broad appeal. I didn’t know much about writing a book, so when I was googling I came up with this online course Curtis Brown Creative three months,” she said.
“The deadline to take the course was the next day and you had to submit a 3,000-word abstract.”
This submission, she says, remained almost exactly like the opening of Twelve days in May.
“The course was quite expensive and I was afraid to invest all that money and have nothing to show for it,” says Niamh, who landed a two-book deal with lead publisher HarperCollins.
“Obviously with Covid there was no travel or socializing and I thought it was a good time to invest in myself.
“The course really gave me structure and helped me learn more about the publishing industry.”
Like Lizzy, Niamh spent a year studying in Bordeaux under the Erasmus programme, but as she was inspired by her surroundings, she says: “I wouldn’t say that everything that happened in the book happened…”
While a heartwarming tale of second chances and miscommunication, the toxicity of social media, the intrusion of the press, and misogyny within the industry are all explored in the novel.
“It was Covid and I was in a state of mind where I wanted to write something uplifting. Twelve days in May is light, dynamic and romantic, but neither is it silly or without substance.
“I feel like the book is for smart women who are tired,” adds Niamh, who, in championing the romantic comedy genre, quotes the last line of her novel: “To be light, ultimately , is not necessarily to be fragile.”
As well as currently basking in the sounds and sights of Cannes, she’s been working on a second novel – this time using her insider knowledge of the American courtroom.
“It’s set in New York and about a lawyer and it’s tonally in the realm of romantic comedy,” she teases.
With contacts in the film industry, will we see Twelve days in May on the big screen one day?
“It’s been a really exciting part of the process talking to production companies and seeing interest from producers — so watch this space,” she beams.
And who would she play Lizzie and Ciaran?
“While I was writing the book, I didn’t have any particular actors in mind. With Lizzy, if a movie were to pick up the idea of her body dysmorphia problem, I wouldn’t want them to cast a model” , says Niamh.
“Similarly, with Ciaran, I wouldn’t want to hear a bad Irish accent.”
What about Jamie Dornan? “Jamie would be ideal,” she laughs.
Twelve Days in May is published by HarperCollins and is available now.