What author doesn’t dream of someday seeing a Hollywood actor utter their words on the big screen?
For Aislinn Hunter that fantasy has turned into reality.
A Richmond Kwantlen Polytechnic University creative writing instructor, Hunter will see her fictional novel Stay wrap up filming this month in Montreal, after filming in Ireland finished earlier this year.
Two big Hollywood stars — Taylor Schilling and Aidan Quinn — are headlining her story of contemporary Ireland.
It centres on Abbey, a 26-year-old Canadian (played by Schilling, who starred with Zac Efron in The Lucky One), who gets pregnant while living in a village outside Galway, Ireland. After she learns the father, an older Irishman named Dermot (Quinn) has no interest in keeping the baby, she returns home to her father in Canada to figure out her next move.
In 2002, Raincoast Books published Stay. A year later, Canadian filmmaker and producer Andrew Boutilier happened to pick up Stay in a Virgin bookstore and was “drawn to the cover.”
“He told me he liked the beautiful cover, which shows an Irish thatched roof and somehow he saw a film in that cover,” adds the 42-year-old Hunter. “He optioned it for a movie and it took years to get the funding.
“Every two years, Andrew sent me $2,000 just to secure his film option. I held little hope that it would become a movie because it’s difficult to get funding in Canada.”
Hunter received a phone call from Boutilier a year ago telling her he secured more than $3 million.
“Soon after, names of actors started rolling out,” she adds.
Initially, Sarah Polley was set to play the lead and then she got pregnant,” says Hunter from her home in North Vancouver. “However, when my students found out Taylor Schilling was starring, my students were agog.”
Cameras started rolling a few months later.
It only took Hunter a year to pen her haunting love story.
“I was writing the book as my Masters thesis at UBC,” she says. “I wrote every day for a year and then revised it for two years.
She’s often asked if Stay is biographical.
“I used to live in Ireland in my late teens and I feel in love with the landscape,” Hunter explains. “Every month I used to go with my girlfriends and sleep on the floor of a thatched house outside of Galway.
“The rest is all conjecture … like a painter gets stuck on esthetics, I got stuck on the west coast, north of Galway.”
To get a “decent draft,” Hunter took numerous trips to Ireland to learn about the bogs and other geographical details for the novel.
“For me, Stay was about dissecting Ireland’s culture; I saw it as a post modern, post colonialism examination of contemporary Ireland,” Hunter says. “But my editor saw it as a great love story.”
Writing books wasn’t something the young Hunter aspired to. She actually pictured herself as an actress.
“Yet, I remember my best girlfriend telling me when I was 17 that I’d become a writer,” says Hunter. “Writing … I don’t remember anyone telling me I could do that as a career.”
Hunter obviously picked the right profession.
Besides Stay, Hunter has written two books of poetry, Into the Early Hours and The Possible Past, a collection of short stories What’s Left Us, and a book of lyric essays, A Peepshow with Views of the Interior: Paratexts.
Stay was short-listed for the 2003 Books in Canada/Amazon.ca First Novel Award, and was described by the Globe and Mail as “one of the best books of 2002.”
“Being on set for the film version of Stay was a really wonderful experience,” says Hunter, who recently returned from the set in Ireland.
“It’s quite uncanny to meet the flesh-and-blood versions of characters that came out of your imagination and to walk onto sets built from one’s writerly daydreams. A good bit of the book was adapted for the film — but the spirit of the book is definitely present in every set and scene.
“I’m grateful beyond measure to the producer Andrew Boutilier, and the director/screen writer Wiebke von Carolsfield who have been working to bring the project to light for years.”
Hunter quips that she poked Quinn (“Dermot”) in the chest to see if he was real.
However, the only thing they changed about Stay was the ending — it’s more positive and conclusive, she explains.
Aislinn is currently dividing her time between Canada and the U.K. where she is finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh.
“I’ve also spent the last seven years writing a novel set in a British museum,” says Hunter.
Stay will be released in late 2013 or early 2014.