WriteWords talks to screenwriters Dave Simpson and Diane Whitley, who are launching a sensational new writing course on the Turkish coast, Write on Holiday, featuring star tutors Willy Russell, Kay Mellor, Julia Darling and Jackie Kay.|
Tell us something about your background.
DAVE: I've been writing full time for over 25 years. I trained as a teacher but always wanted to write so all my school holidays were taken up writing. I was very focussed and determined even though I had rejection after rejection - I think I wrote over 50 plays before I sold my first one, which was a radio play for BBC. By then I'd left teaching to try a variety of jobs in order to gain a broader experience of life. My second radio play quickly followed then my third. It was soon after this that I was lucky enough to be taken on as Writer-in-Residence at the drama school attached to Manchester Poly as it was then called. That's where I met Willy Russell who was the writer-in-res the year before me - about 1978 - he'd just started to write Educating Rita. I continued to write for radio but also broke into tv - I had a short stint on Coronation Street - but it was in theatre where my heart really lay and my first stage play was performed lunch time at the Soho Poly (before it moved and became the Soho Theatre) - a group of us then started up a fringe company in Manchester to put on one act plays by new writers or writers new to the theatre. Then I got another lucky break - I was taken on as Resident Writer at the Library Theatre in Manchester. I was there nearly three years and wrote many plays for them and it was one of the happiest writing periods of my life - writing is so solitary, it's great you write within a theatre and feel you belong. This was the spring board for me to write plays for other theatres, then to move successfully into the commercial theatre. In recent years I moved back into tv - including five years on and off at Emmerdale - but I've always wanted to make a feature film - and that's where I am at present, with three of my films optioned (in development hell as they call it - and that's a fair description - two of my films have been so close to getting made up until the last minute - nightmare stories)
I originally trained as an actor and have worked at some of the country's leading theatres as well as on Radio, TV and Film. When Dave and I started a family, the allure of a season in rep started to wane somewhat so I decided to concentrate on my TV work round about the time my TV work started to dry up! I therefore found myself "resting" much of the time and so decided to write a radio play. I had expert tution from Dave and although I didn't manage to sell that first play, I did sell my second and have gone on from there. I still don't consider myself a "full-time" writer in the way that Dave does - the solitary life drives me mad after a while so I have always done other things alongside the writing - acting, directing, producing - and now, running a writing school. I have experience of running writing workshops during my time as resident writer at Contact Theatre and I have also taught creative writing on a part-time basis at Manchester Metropolitan University, and lectured at Salford University.
Tell us about Write on Holiday
Write-on-holiday has a very similar ethos to Arvon - but with the sun! We aim to attract high quality, high profile writers across a number of genres who can pass on their skill and expertise to new writers or writer with some experience And because the courses are in the sun, we aim to generate a relaxed, holiday spirit where the emphasis is equally on social interaction as well as writing. For instance there will be a complete free day to explore the Bodrum peninsular and the evenings will also be free.
Why have you made the move to running writing courses?
It's something Diane and I have talked about over the last few years. I've had such a broad experience in my writing career and though I've made a good living out of it, it's always been tough, hard work, I had to have a steely single-mindedness - but I've learnt so much - and I think it's time I passed on some of that to other aspiring writers. Also from a personal viewpoint, I've spent 25 years in a room on my own (apart from the residences) and when I ran Arvon courses I found them mentally stimulating, socially exciting, so actually running these courses is going to be a great boost to my social life!
You've got lots of high profile tutor names- how did you manage to attract such starry writers?
Because I've been around for so long (!) I know a lot of writers who work in the same medium as myself -and that's where I started. As I said earlier, I've known Willy over 20 years and he was happy to say yes. I've known Ken Blakeson even longer - we trained as teachers together - Kay Mellor and I shared the same agent for a number of years and Diane produced two series of Children's Ward which Kay originally created (with Paul Abbott who I also approached but who's too busy but wants me to follow him up for Autumn!). It was more difficult to find novelists and poets - and that's where you helped, Anna. I took up your suggestion of Julia Darling who was very keen - but also incredibly helpful and I couldn't have completed the rest of the courses without her suggestions. She suggested both Jackie Kay and Stella Duffy.
I also think I've attracted names because of the setting - writing in the sun, eating outside by the pool, it's very tempting.
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