Derry Girls has become something of a phenomenon. Created by Irish writer Lisa McGee, the show centres on five friends navigating the emotional turbulence of growing up, amidst the politically tumultuous backdrop of 1990s Northern Ireland. The show has been hailed by audiences and critics alike for its ability to capture the feel of the 90s, as well as its engaging and relatable writing.
The show has also inspired Pauline Moore, Jeanie Messenger and Marie-Louise Muir - who themselves grew up in Derry in the 90s - to start their own podcast, Talking Derry Girls. What started off as a straightforward TV companion show quickly evolved into a wider discussion on the history and culture of Derry, and it won the trio Best Arts & Culture Podcast at last year’s Irish Podcast Awards. PodPod sat down with founding co-host Pauline Moore to talk about how Derry Girls spawned the podcast, how it’s grown, and their plans for the future.
How would you describe the podcast?
It's three old friends meeting up weekly to talk about our home city of Derry, and all the quirkiness and strangeness of it. The community has gotten bigger, and people have gone to visit Derry after listening to the podcast and watching the TV series.
People enjoy hearing us chat, but we've also now started to look at how the cast is doing now, the writers of other TV programs that were inspired by [Derry Girls creator] Lisa McGee to keep going, and it's changing. We're up to episode 86, so we're thinking about what we're going to do for our 100th episode - but it’s great fun and it's got a strong sense of community.
Why did you start your podcast?
It started off during lockdown, more than three years ago, as sort of a companion piece to the TV series Derry Girls. When it went to Netflix, it started developing a cult following and I began to think if there's a podcast about Derry Girls. I had a look and couldn't find anything, and then got the fear that somebody else would start one. So I got in contact with my two old friends, Jeanie and Marie-Louise, and said, do you think maybe we should start a podcast talking about Derry Girls and some of our own stories about Derry at that time?
So it started off as three women, near the ages of 50 and 60, just meeting up once a week to talk about an episode of Derry Girls, and it has changed a lot because Derry Girls has now finished. For our 13th episode, we had Lisa McGee on, and we found out that she'd become a big fan of the podcast. She said ‘you've got to keep talking about Derry’ and we took that on.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
As an indie starting from scratch with no public profile, it's really hard to get noticed - especially against the volume of celebrities and well-known names getting lots of coverage and attention. Social media is key to getting your podcast noticed.
I do wish someone had told us how much time you need to spend finding different places to get your podcast out there. It's not enough to just post something when a new episode comes out; you need to connect with different communities that have an interest in what you’re talking about. It takes as much time as making and editing the episode.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
Three, and that's it. The Big Light is a podcast network based in Scotland; I do some freelance work with them, and they very kindly host [the podcast] for us. I write the notes and deliver it, and then put it out so you can get it anywhere. It's just a home for it.
I sort of take charge; we know our strengths and we know what we do well. I’ll do the editing and hand it over to Jeanie, who listens across and does the words, I write the notes, Marie-Louise checks it off and we all listen to it and make sure that we're okay with things we say.
Do you monetise your podcast?
We have made approaches to people in Derry - businesses and things - and said there’s opportunities for advertising here, but none of them have come through. None of us are business people. We've talked to the Council and people in the tourism industry too. More than 50% of our listeners are in America, and we've a lot in Canada and Australia - and they're coming to Derry.
People want to come and see where [Derry Girls] was made, because it was so beautifully shot, in a different way than it ever had been shown before. We've actually had people who listen to the podcast come from America to spend time in Derry, and we've met up with some of them and they go to the places we mentioned in the podcast. So there's a good tie-in there that could maybe help us monetise a bit.
How do you promote your podcast?
We do it on social media and we’ve got a good presence there. We promote a lot of stuff that's going on in Derry and Northern Ireland, and we talk about this in the latest episodes. We get called to do commentary pieces or contributions, we’ve been on Five Live and other local radio stations when anything about Derry Girls comes up.
My co-host Marie-Louise is an arts presenter and producer in Northern Ireland, so she's well known in the whole art scene. She’ll get asked to do things on her work with the BBC but will also be representing Talking Derry Girls. We’ll also promote on forums that talk about Derry Girls and say ‘hey, there’s a podcast’ and rely on people to tell others just by word of mouth; that's a lot of how it's grown.
Who listens to your podcast?
Predominantly fans of Derry Girls and people who are curious about Ireland - because we have talked a lot about the history of Ireland. Slightly older, maybe in their thirties to sixties, and more than 50% of our following is in America.
Just going by people who engage with us on social media, some are keen to travel and are wanting more information before they come to Derry, because it's a very quirky place. It's got a long, troubled history and it has a very quirky, dark sense of humour. [Lisa McGee] has actually changed the narrative of the city a bit; Derry Girls has become part of the culture so people are curious about that.
What have you learned about yourself since starting your podcast?
That we still got it. We used to do this crazy little program, it was a 10 minute program covering all the events happening in the city and it was great fun. That was more than 35 years ago, and we've learned that we can stil do it. We could just chat and we're very comfortable doing it; we're still very close friends.
I'm nearing thinking of my BBC pension and bus pass, but we've still got something to say and people are still listening. I think you also learn when to step back and when to push on something. We don't bother the cast too much - some of the cast are friends and some of them listen to the podcast as well. We've learned that we're quite good at just knowing the boundaries, so we know when to keep our mouth shut as well. We've learned that it's a slow process and you just have to be patient.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
One that I was listening to just the other day was the The Tommy, Hector, and Laurita Podcast, which is hosted by Tommy Tiernan, who was Erin’s dad on Derry Girls and is a stand-up comedian; his friend Hector from school; and Laurita, who was a radio producer.
I love it, because it's just the Irish gift of storytelling; we swap stories and we interrupt each other's stories and listen to them do it as well, and it's very funny. I like three groups of three because one of you can be listening while the other two are talking. It's sort of that rhythm of the chat - and they have it.