Imaginary friends are the best: They’re always there when you need them, you don’t have to share them, and they keep life endlessly entertaining. Few know this better than Nick V. Murphy and Chris O’Dowd, creators of the hit Hulu show Moone Boy and now authors of the book adaptation, Moone Boy: The Blunder Years. Serving as prequel to the show, the book introduces Martin Moone, a young Irish boy in desperate need of a friend but lacking the imagination to come up with one himself. Thankfully, there’s a catalogue for that now and after some mishaps he ends up with imaginary friend Sean Murphy, played by O’Dowd on the hit Hulu show. Here, we chat with Murphy about the perks of adapting a show to a novel and the story behind the series’ iconic red hat.
Bookish: Martin Moone is a well-intentioned, if a bit dim-witted, 11-year-old. What were you like at that age? Do you think if you had met Martin then you’d be friends?
Nick V. Murphy: At that age I was also a well-intentioned dimwit. Chris often says that Martin’s personality is much closer to mine than his—although I’m never quite sure if he means that as a compliment or an insult. But if I’d met Martin as a boy, we would definitely have been great pals. We would have been a pair of bumbling, irrepressible eejits constantly coming up with ambitious and totally impractical ideas: building treehouses that would collapse, making rafts that would sink to the bottom of the river, and embarking on epic adventures that would always lead us stupidly back to our homes.
Bookish: This book is based on your hit show Moone Boy, which American viewers can catch on Hulu. What was the biggest difference when it came to writing a book rather than a television script?
NM: When writing a script, we’re always very aware that we only have 22 minutes to tell our story. So the script needs to be as short and efficient as possible, which means there’s lots of editing. This can be a brutal process as we inevitably have to cut jokes and scenes that we really like. A novel, on the other hand, is a looser format. We have more freedom to go on little tangents and enjoy scenes for longer than we can in the scripts. We still try to keep the chapters short and snappy, but at least now we don’t have to cut jokes to make room for commercial breaks.
Bookish: When thinking about the book, what was it that you were most excited to do that you couldn’t in the show?
NM: We’ve always felt that there was so much more to explore within the imaginary world, so we were excited to delve into that and see what the rest of Sean Murphy’s world looked like. We also thought it could be fun for the reader to discover how Martin and Sean ended up together, so the book acts as a kind of prequel to the show. It’s really the best way to begin the Moone Boy story. We like to think that we adapted the show from the books, but just wrote everything backwards.
Bookish: Is your exploration of the imaginary world going to continue throughout the book series? How did you come up with the idea of the magazine catalog of imaginary friends, where a friend is selected rather than imagined from scratch?
NM: I think that some books will focus more on the imaginary world than others, but it will certainly be an essential part of any Moone Boy story. In terms of the catalogue, we always like to mix the banal with the imaginative. So it seemed like a fun idea to have Martin flicking through something dull like a Sears catalogue while selecting something as fantastical as an imaginary friend. We also liked the idea that the IFs (imaginary friends) are all pre-existing, just waiting to be hired by some little kid.
Bookish: Chris has said that a lot of the show is based on his own childhood, is it also based on yours?
NM: Chris and I both grew up in the 1980s in rural Ireland. We were in opposite corners of the country, but we had a lot of similar experiences that we’ve been able to draw on for inspiration. For example, we were both altar boys, which was a fantastic job—we were able to skip school to serve mass and would get tips for funerals and weddings, so it was quite lucrative! The raft episode was based on my experiences with a buddy of mine, although our raft was far less seaworthy. There’s a storyline where Martin befriends Trevor just so that he can eat at his house because Trevor’s mother is such a great cook. I’m embarrassed to say that this is based on me too—a shameful, but utterly delicious, experience. There are lots of others too, we’ve mined both our childhoods pretty well.
Bookish: What’s your favorite episode of the show?
NM: That’s a tough one. We’ve made eighteen episodes of Moone Boy and they’re all like our babies. Obviously some of those babies are more handsome than others, but we don’t like to say that out loud. But between you and me, my favorite children are “Godfellas,” “Ghost Raft,” and “Gershwin’s Bucket List.” (Maybe I just like ones that start with “G.”)
Bookish: Your first collaboration with Chris was in 1999. What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from working together?
NM: I’ve learned a lot about comedy from Chris. He’s a naturally hilarious guy and he’s always looking for the funniest angle on a scene. It’s like he knows there’s always comedy there and we just need to snuffle it out—like a pair of wild boars searching for comedic truffles. And when we eventually find it we like to roll around in a muddy pit and squeal to our hearts content. Or else go to the pub. (I’ve also learned a lot about whiskey from him. And baked potatoes.)
Bookish: How far do you envision taking Martin in both the tv and book series?
NM: I don’t know if we’ll make any more episodes of the TV show. But we’re thinking of making either a longer TV special or a movie to finish the show. Part of the challenge of making a TV show about a boy is that the actor playing the boy is growing up much quicker than we’d like (selfish kid!). So while we experiment with age-reversing drugs on him, the Martin in the books can age as slowly as we like and can hopefully live on for many more years.
Bookish: Is there a story behind the iconic red hat and how it came into being? For example, there’s a sort of Steve Zissou (The Life Aquatic) vibe especially with Sean “Caution” Murphy’s beard, and then there’s Holden Caufield’s red hunting hat.
NM: The whole hat thing was quite accidental. Our brilliant costume designer, Leonie, had found the hat and chosen it for Martin’s wardrobe. There was also a practical reason behind her thinking: We were shooting in January in the west coast of Ireland, so it was flippin’ freezing. Having a hat on our main actor was a good idea. When we were shooting Chris’ first scene with him, Chris noticed that one of the crew was wearing a similar-looking hat, so he borrowed that for the scene. It really worked and became part of the show, much to the annoyance of our hatless crew-member. So we gave him a bunch of cash instead, which he knitted into a lovely cap.