1) If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be and why?
Buzzy, curious and noisy.
I was one of those manic, loud, nosy kids who grew up into an adult with some more sophisticated adjectives.
I love the world and people. There’s so much and you know you’ll never get your head around it in the time we have. I’m pathologically unable to keep that to myself.
2) What’s your background?
I was always writing as a kid – especially drama and comedy. But when I went to uni, I slipped on the very strange world of student politics and fell in love with that.
Politics became my life – I was a lobbyist during cash for questions, film unit co-ordinator at Millbank in ’97, even ran for Parliament in ’01. I got faster benefits for people with motor neurone disease, VAT taken off incontinence pads and global attention on Tibet when the Met Police stopped protests during the Chinese Premier’s UK visit.
At 32, I set up on my own as a communications adviser. All the while, the novel that was basically a screenplay-in-disguise kept growing chapters here and there. Then, one day, on my birthday, there came a call: did I fancy applying to be interim communications director at – the Royal Shakespeare Company?
Artistic Director Michael Boyd was hot on new writing, and their dramaturg, Jeanie O’Hare was an inspiration, When my 6-month gig there was over, I knew. I moved out of London, downsized and started learning how to write drama.
3) Tell us about your theatre work.
My first big success was a play called ‘Water’s Not So Thick’ – a dark family drama (with some very grim comedy) about the terrifying behaviour of a stifling mother in the run-up to her beloved son’s wedding. It was one of the winners at Bristol Tobacco Factory’s Script Space ’09 and went on to have a full run, and win me a place on Channel 4’s 4Screenwriting programme last year.
Another, ‘Away With the Fairies’ also started out as a competition winner and took us to Orkney where a biodynamic farmer’s hermitic escape was disrupted, for her own good, by an invisible troll. Think Jimmy Stewart in ‘Harvey’, with a hefty swipe at the dangers of not following your dreams. It had a two-week run at Bristol’s excellent Alma Tavern Theatre.
My latest biggy, ‘A Bit of a Song & Dance’, is a dark, often surreal comedy-drama about the sex lives of baby boomers and their fear of dementia. It did well in the readings at the Soho, but fell at the last hurdle. So it’s back into development for that, before trying to get it up on its legs again. Ah, the beloved unseens!
In between, I’ve been spoilt by the great guys at Theatre Royal Bath, who’ve commissioned three shorter pieces from me (a surreal short, a kids’/community show that opens up Shakespeare’s language to the fearful and their 24 Hour Plays), and by a range of great small theatre companies working on shorter, straight dramas in London as well as the South West. I love commissions; it’s the lobbyist side of me – take someone’s brief and turn it into action!
4) What’s your top 3 bits of advice on the industry for theatre?
This is a people business; meet them, ask questions, don’t pester, be thoughtful!
None of us finds that easy – the balance between wallflower and wanker can be tricky!
But stay in touch with what people are doing, and make sure you are always working on something. It’s not about “being a writer”, is it? It’s about making work that you believe in, which hopefully has the chance to affect other people.
5) Describe a typical day for you.
I have a two-year old, who is bonkers and brilliant. I’m a single mum, so it’s bums and breakfast then either a walk to the childminder or working out the best and most right-on way of tiring him out. This is an aspiration, rather than an accurate depiction…
Three days a week, it’s client work (I still run that communications consultancy) or work on a script, depending on the bank balance and client promises. The other days, it’s “lego ice-cream”, dens, trains – including actual train spotting – Bagpuss and canals.
Eventually, time for me to either go and see a show or most nights, catch up on those megabytes of recorded TV drama and films. A very serious business that I happen to love – as long as I’m not pressing “delete” fifteen minutes in.
6) What’s the ONE thing you wish you knew before you became a playwright?
New writing theatre is a vibrant and encouraging beast here in Bristol and Bath. I’ve been made very welcome by theatres, writers and then actors and directors, so I can’t say I missed out by not knowing A Thing.
What I can say to anyone a few paces back from where I am now, almost six years on, is that this is a collaborative industry, so get to know people, ask for advice and help, be open and generous and always listening and learning.