My First Musical: Liam O’Rafferty – ‘Don’t ever think of the money’

Liam O’Rafferty. Photo: Ross Martimer
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My musical Paper Hearts is set in a bookshop. It follows assistant Atticus Smith, a talented but lazy writer who lives through his novel’s characters. His world is turned upside down by the arrival of an efficient new manager – Lilly Sprocket.

I first thought about writing the musical back in 2013. As a graphic designer by day, I was organising a conference at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon. I found myself looking at the stage and imagined a ramshackle bookshop, sliding ladders, piles of books – complete with eccentric customers and staff.

I didn’t know anyone in the theatre world when I started, so it was tough getting it off the ground. After some unsuccessful encounters with local amdram groups, I managed to find Tania Azevedo, an extremely talented director from London. That’s when it got really exciting, but I didn’t realise how hard it would be. I had written only five songs when Tania suggested we take the musical to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which gave me three months to finish the script and six new songs.

It was performed at Edinburgh last year. As a new writer, I was fortunate enough to secure one of the top four venues: Underbelly. I was also lucky that West End musical director Michael Reed came to see the dress rehearsal. He absolutely loved it, so we knew we were on to something good.

Looking back at it now, I would have structured my songs around the scenes better. It takes two weeks to write a song, so it’s far less stressful if you can get it right first time. My advice for first-timers: go to as many shows as you can and read up on the subject. Don’t sit there waiting for something to happen. Finding the right team is very important.

Don’t ever think of the money – think of why you are doing it. I wanted people to leave the theatre feeling better about themselves and the world. And to be humming the tunes, of course.

CV: Liam O’Rafferty

Age: 52
Training: self-taught
Theatre includes: Paper Hearts, Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (full run, 2016); Waterloo East Theatre, London (preview, 2016); Wyvern Theatre, Swindon (gala event, 2014)
Agent: none

Liam O’Rafferty was talking to John Byrne. Paper Hearts runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London, until May 20