Emer Kenny discusses bringing Karen Pirie into 2022

WORLD PRODUCTIONSFOR ITVKAREN PIRIEEPISODE 1Pictured: LAUREN LYLE as DS Karen Pirie and CHRIS JENKS as DC Jason Murray.This image is under copyright and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes in your print or online publication. This image cannot be syndicated to any other third party.For further information please contact:Patrick.smith@itv.com 07909906963
WORLD PRODUCTIONSFOR ITVKAREN PIRIEEPISODE 1Pictured: LAUREN LYLE as DS Karen Pirie and CHRIS JENKS as DC Jason Murray.This image is under copyright and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes in your print or online publication. This image cannot be syndicated to any other third party.For further information please contact:Patrick.smith@itv.com 07909906963 /

Emer Kenny is the showrunner and writer of Karen Pirie, now streaming on BritBox. She talked with us about bringing the story into 2022.

Emer Kenny is a showrunner to look out for—just like Karen Pirie actress, Lauren Lyle, is a star to watch. Eastenders fans will remember Kenny as Zsa Zsa Carter, but she has come a long way since then. You can see her in PramfaceFather BrownThe Curse, and much more. She also plays River, Karen’s best friend, in the new drama series, pulling multiple duties on the show!

She’s also turned to writing and now showrunning. While working on Save Me, she was given the opportunity to create the Karen Pirie series. Why this series? How did she work on bringing it into 2022 (when the “present day” part of the books is in 2004)? We talked with her about all of that and more in this exclusive interview.

Why Karen Pirie?

Precinct TV: Why did you decide the Karen Pirie books were the ones to adapt into a TV series?

Emer Kenny: I was writing on another show called Save Me, and the producers sent me this book and they said, ‘Would you like to have a look at it? Does it appeal to you?’ And I read The Distant Echo [by Val McDermid]. There were two things that really appealed to me about it. Karen felt really different to any other detective that I had seen on British TV for a while because, well, simply because she’s a lot younger. At the time of starting writing the show, I was her age. She felt really refreshingly normal and lacking in baggage that a lot of detectives have had recently. You know, dark stories about drinking problems or divorces.

The problems that she had, were quite relatable, but still really interesting and compelling and things that I felt like I could dig into because I had experienced that myself. She’s massively underestimated and undervalued by the men around her in her workplace, and she’s quite alone in that she’s young and female in this in this place that is dominated by mostly older men. I’ve experienced spaces like that in my life, and I know that lots of women have. I just felt like that was a story to be expanded upon from the book, because she’s only in the book kind of towards the end, and she’s not the protagonist.

Then the other thing that I loved about the book was it was set at the university. There was this group of friends at the heart. And yes, it’s around a really tragic murder, but the kind of friendships between the suspects and how what happens in St. Andrews, and what they’re witnessed here and what they are potentially involved with, how that affects them for the next 25 years, really interested me as someone in their 20s. You can kind of remember what it’s like to have those friendship groups, and I really wanted to dig into their relationships.

So it felt like a great opportunity to, like stay true to what Val had done, but also bring a little bit of myself to those stories as well. And yeah, I hope we did that.

PTV: The book is set in 1978 and 2004. You’ve set the series in 1995 and 2022. You’ve modernized it with the podcast and DNA website. Did you have any conversations with Val about bringing the series into 2022?

EK: Those are two big things. [We also modernized the] crime-solving elements, because in 99, in 1978, and 2004, just how you would solve those crimes would be different. And the podcast, this kind of true crime explosion, felt like something that had to be touched on. And again, the genetic genealogy aspect and these kinds of things, they just feel very current.

But then I think it was about finding, what about Karen’s character felt timeless that I should keep the same and things that would maybe make her feel really rooted now and I also to do with the men and River and just that those kinds of regular characters and things that they talk about the things that they’re interested in.

With Karen, just looking into her dating relationships and her and Phil and how she talks about that with River and all that kind of things. They were the bits that I really liked writing, and they were the bits that made me feel like I could draw on my own experiences. In the book, Karen’s a young woman in 2004, which is, you know, a kind of a half generation before. But at the same time, I really wanted Val to love her and recognize her. So I kept a lot of her character traits the same, I just tried to imagine what they’d be like 17-18 years later.

PTV: As I was talking to Lauren about the development of Karen and I just love that she does have a sex life. It’s real and I can see myself on this screen. Lauren mentioned that for developing Karen, you had Miss Congeniality in mind. Can you talk about that?

EK: I mean, there’s a lot of me in Karen. And there’s a lot of Lauren and what we took from the book. I think there’s a lot of Val in Karen as well. And it’s like we’ve been quite honest about ourselves. I feel like I’ve seen many times a kind of glossy, sexy female detective who wears a pencil skirt and a silk shirt, and I always think about Gillian Anderson in The Fall. I think that’s an amazing performance and Gillian looks gorgeous. But she swims in a pristine white swimming costume with like a pristine white swimming hat, and that’s just not how I feel about it. That’s not how I dress or I how I act in my life.

Val is very clear in her writing, and is brutally honest about Karen’s appearance. She says she wears ill-fitting suits and gets food down her. Lauren and I had that reference of Gracie, Sandra Bullock’s character, from Miss Congeniality in that she’s just vanity free. She’s not glossy, she’s not trying to appeal to the men around her (or anyone around her). She’s just trying to do her job.

PTV: It also looks more comfortable, like she could actually run around.

EK: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And then practical. She’s got a bum bag [fanny pack for everyone in North America!], not because she thinks it’s cool, but because she’s like, well, this makes sense. Like, I’ve got my hands free. I don’t have to carry a bag. I can put my phone in. I mean, that’s like Karen all over.

Karen Pirie — Courtesy of BritBox
Karen Pirie — Courtesy of BritBox /

Adapting the ‘dead girl trope in Karen Pirie

A lot of crime dramas have the “dead girl” storyline, and it can end up being tiresome. At the same time, it’s real. Women are still constantly more likely to be a victim when walking home from work or a night out. We discussed a little about that and avoiding the tropes of these storylines.

PTV: We’ve got this like dead girl storyline, everyone’s doing them but this one, it does stand out. It’s there’s all these unique elements of a group of friends who you’re trying figure out what’s going on. How did you go about making sure this dead girl trope didn’t become, well, a trope?

EK: It was something that I was really, really aware of right from the beginning because it’s in the book and so I thought about it right from the off. There has been, with good reason, criticism for how many women we see hurt, killed, and raped on camera. I find watching that stuff uncomfortable, so I wanted to approach it with sensitivity and I wanted to be informed. I wanted it to feel like at no point gratuitous or uncomfortable.

At the same time, in the UK, we had a lot of really notable cases that were happening of women who are going missing or being killed. It felt important to reflect that young women are afraid, they do walk home at night with their keys between their fingers, and they do call a friend to make sure that they get home. We do text each other ‘Yes, I’m home safe.’ You can’t ignore that. So it was about walking a line with that, trying to put those words into the podcaster’s and Karen’s mouths.

Then when as you go through the series, and you find out what happened to Rosie. [I gave] Rosie a chance on screen as the victim to have a voice. [I found a way to help] articulate what Rosie may have felt or what she may have experienced. It was just about giving the women in the piece the opportunity to say what they felt about these things.

That’s how I kind of always want to approach these things. If something worries me or keeps me up at night, I put it in the writing. Let’s talk about it on screen, rather than just trying to avoid talking about it at all.

PTV: Finally, there are six more books in the series. Have you got plans? Is this something you’re interested in continuing?

EK: Well, there’s absolutely scope for it, because as you say, there are six more books and I think Val is currently writing another one. So it’s just about whether there’s an appetite for it. Then it’s just about finding the next book and the right way to tell that story. This one took me four years and I felt like we found a great way in. I mean, I know that Lauren would be up for it and I would be up for it.

Next. 10 best TV crime dramas on BritBox right now. dark

Karen Pirie is now available to stream on BritBox.