My Life as a writer
When did you first realise you wanted to write for a living?
Writing and performing have always been a part of what I do and who I am. I loved writing stories as a child. One Christmas my main present was a cassette player and a music cassette. However, the tape didn’t arrive in time. Far from disappointed, I was thrilled with the recorder and short blank tape that came with it and promptly set about creating a story filled with a myriad characters to play!
I dabbled with writing over the years, until I wrote a site-specific play about Mary Queen of Scots for Bolton Castle in Wensleydale where she had been imprisoned for six months. The setting more than made up for my fledgling writing skills.
Which writer, past or present, do you most admire?
Shakespeare. I think it’s great that he created so many new words and phrases and that the strength of his stories required only the simplest of stagings.
However, it’s the heartbeat that runs through his plays and his supreme understanding of human nature that I love most. Language may develop and change, but the human condition remains constant, not least that we all have a need to be loved and to feel that we matter to someone we hold dear.
What was your first published (or performed) credit as a writer?
My first proper play to be performed was Marie Stuart – Fleur d’Ecosse, as mentioned above. It went through several stages of development because I’m always learning and so try to get my work in front of an audience at an early stage. Table readings help, but nothing beats a live audience. I’m a big fan of Scratch Nights.
Which piece of writing work are you most proud of?
That has to be To Freedom’s Cause, my play about suffragette Emily Davison, which began at Bolton Castle and then in February 2014 was performed in the House of Commons as part of an event in support of Emily Thornberry MP’s campaign for a statue of Emily Davison in Parliament, which was very kindly supported by Writers’ Guild member Emma Thompson.
It had been one of my long-term ambitions to get the play into Parliament, where Emily had made a number of protests. The evening included a discussion on the relevance of the campaign for equality with a panel of high-profile feminists: Dr Helen Pankhurst (great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst), Yas Necati (feminist activist), Chi Onwurah (MP for Newcastle Central) and Emma Barnett (broadcaster and Women’s Editor at The Daily Telegraph), which was chaired by Jane Garvey (BBC Woman’s Hour presenter).
It was very important to me that the event was a celebration of the progress made as well as a boost to those currently making a positive difference in the community.
I created a social media campaign (#Emilymatters) to ensure the evening wasn’t an exclusive event, but something accessible far beyond the walls of Westminster. Since then the campaign has grown to include #Votingmatters, which encourages young people and women to vote. I am very grateful to the Writers’ Guild for their support with this work.
There’s an exciting long-term project in the pipeline, which will feature To Freedom’s Cause, so please do get in touch, if you would like to get involved.
Who or what inspires you to write?
People and places. I’ve found that responding to a particular image can be a key into writing. For To Freedom’s Cause, it was Margaret Davison’s last letter to her daughter, who was lying gravely ill hundreds of miles away – in particular: “You have given your whole heart and soul to the cause and it has done so little in return for you.” She signed: “With oceans of love, your sorrowful mother.”
I must also mention director/writer Brian Astbury, who has taken my work to another level. Brian directed the House of Commons performance of To Freedom’s Cause and it’s his straightforward approach that has got me writing again.
How do you switch off when you’re not writing?
I’m not sure that I really do! Personally, it’s more about choosing to take up a moment, an image, an exchange and seeing where it takes me. All the world’s a stage after all.
Which one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I believe everyone can write. That’s not to put down anyone who toils day and night to create a masterpiece, but I believe creativity is within all of us. And all too often it is blocked by an increasingly intellectual education system. Intellect is important, but for me creativity is instinctive, in the moment.
So my advice would be:
Don’t think, just write. At drama college one director told us to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) and this approach has always appealed to me. Gut instinct has been a good friend to my work, whilst thinking too much tends to get in the way of my creative process.
If you’re looking for workshops, I would recommend North East writer (and WGGB member) Rachel Cochrane as well as London-based Brian Astbury. Both have simple but highly effective ways for reigniting your impulse to write.
Why are you a member of WGGB?
The WGGB is so important if you want make a career of writing. They are incredibly supportive to new writers and really helped me ensure that my first professional contract was watertight.
I’d like to give a special mention to former WGGB Deputy General Secretary Anne Hogben and Membership Officer Kate Glasspool, who have both been amazing. I wouldn’t be without my WGGB membership now. It’s essential.
Also, if you’re a WGGB member, you can access the FEU Training resources. The Federation of Entertainment Unions (Equity, Musicians’ Union, NUJ and WGGB) provide free, high-quality business skills, from marketing and social media to resilience and negotiation skills, which will enable you to have more time to get on with your writing.