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Al Hunter Ashton Interview

Posted on 21 December 2005. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to screenwriter Al Hunter Ashton about his soapwriting, why writers shouldn't buy a coffee machine and how he made his brother laugh

Tell us something about your background.

As a kid I learnt to write late, so to amuse myself I actually wrote scripts as early as fifteen because I could only write the way I talked. I still have trouble writing letters because they’re just too chatty. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when email and I.M came in. My first script as a kid was about a Welsh Village called QuayTyllch – a name I made up - where everyone just died horrible deaths. Morbid stuff, but my brother read it and wet himself, the first and only time in his life I’ve made him laugh.

The serious writing started at drama school in Manchester where Willy Russell and Dave Simpson were resident writers. Dave got my first radio play on and Willy commissioned a half hour script from me called “Teaching Matthew” (a mickey take of Educating Rita) which we did for BBC schools.. . .. . seven years later. So you might say I was lucky.

Tell us something about your background.

As a kid I learnt to write late, so to amuse myself I actually wrote scripts as early as fifteen because I could only write the way I talked. I still have trouble writing letters because they’re just too chatty. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when email and I.M came in. My first script as a kid was about a Welsh Village called QuayTyllch – a name I made up - where everyone just died horrible deaths. Morbid stuff, but my brother read it and wet himself, the first and only time in his life I’ve made him laugh.

The serious writing started at drama school in Manchester where Willy Russell and Dave Simpson were resident writers. Dave got my first radio play on and Willy commissioned a half hour script from me called “Teaching Matthew” (a mickey take of Educating Rita) which we did for BBC schools.. . .. . seven years later. So you might say I was lucky.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Willy Russell and Dave Simpson for stage and radio plays, of course. Andrew Davies for adaptations (Any man that can make Bleak House interesting is a hero to me!) Bill Nicholson for Shadowlands and Life Story and others. (He was the original producer of my film The Firm) Kay Mellor, Debbie Bestwick for that kind of drama for which I have no generic name. Tony Jordan, Sarah Phelps, Chris Reason and Tony McHale for soap scripts. Actually there’s loads I like on soaps. John Sullivan for comedy. Etc etc. And the girl who writes the funniest thing I’ve ever seen which is “Two Pints of Crisps and Packet of Lager”.

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication?

Got interviewed for a script editors job at Emmerdale by Gilly Schuster at Cecily Wares Literary Agent way, way back. Got offered the job but liked Gilly and Cecily both so much just asked if they’d take me on as a writer which they were mad enough to for about twenty years.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Being on your own. I’m a party animal.

And the best?

The parties.

Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing

On the soaps I get none and so it doesn’t influence me. You have only one person to please on soaps and that’s the Exec. It’s cruel but it works.

I am aware just recently that “The Firm” -the film I wrote about football hooligans with Gary Oldman in and not the John Grisham one with Tom Cruise in (which I like a lot) - is now cult status and taught in film schools and on psychology courses etc. But very few people know I wrote it as Alan Clarke’s name is plastered all over the front and my name is on the back in small letters which pisses me off as Directing is easy - I know I’ve done it. However, back to the question!! Occasionally people compliment me on that film and that’s very rewarding; but I did recently ring up Radio Five Live on Air and correct them when they attributed it to old Clarkey. If he was alive he’d be laughing his head off, because he was most unassuming man I’ve ever met! Another thng! The fact that it’s sold thousands of copies and I get diddlly shit for it does grind with me. I make more off one eps of Holby City than I have off all the dvd’s and video’s of The Firm.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I’m still waiting for it. I spent a year writing a film for Wesley Snipes and John Goodman called “Hoops” and it was pulled. If that had gone on maybe I would have gone to America but I don’t dwell on it. . . ..well not much. . . the bastards what the ^%$ do they know about films in Hollywood.. . .. .. . . .. .



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.






Comments by other Members



old friend at 12:42 on 23 December 2005  Report this post
Very nice interview... full of interest. I have the feeling that there is quite a serious guy behind the facade and I also feel that he is a very pleasant guy Thanks.

EmmaD at 13:28 on 30 December 2005  Report this post
Very interesting interview, thank you. It's obvious why dialogue comes so naturally!

Emma


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