The idea for Kenny's Story came from a real incident. A flasher in the park. When I spoke to Jimmy McGovern about it he said it was a story that had always interested him so, after talking it through with Sita Williams and Roxy Spencer, the story grew from there.
Having Kenny work in a crematorium was both a gift and a curse when writing the first draft. Jimmy & I spent an afternoon behind the scenes at a crematorium watching the procedure and taking in the atmosphere. What struck us was the camaraderie between the working men. They had managed to find the balance between keeping the atmosphere light and jokey (they were constantly winding each other up) yet entirely respectful. It made me realise the importance of rituals, the way we deal with our dead and the superstitions that exist around them. We wanted Kenny's job to be philosophically intrinsic to the story so it could be at the heart of a modern day morality tale.
But his job also got in the way. In the first draft Kenny's typical working day - in great detail -overshadowed the story (cracks appearing in the relationship between three men after they have committed a murder) the cremation ritual seemed vulgar and sensationalistic. There 'just for the sake of it' type thing. We couldn't understand why. We knew it could work and that it could be moving -it had moved us when we'd witnessed it-and we knew it had the power to highlight the drama but it was doing none of those things. In a second draft I tried to concentrate on seeing less of the crematorium but that felt wrong too. It didn't matter where he worked his job was immaterial. It was really frustrating for me at that stage because I knew there was something in his job impacting on the story but I was struggling hard to find it. Nor could I articulate what I was looking for.
In a TV interview with Mark Lawson Jimmy likened finding the story to the way a sculptor works with a block of stone...'chip and chip away until you reveal what you already know is there' (forgive the misquote)...that's a brilliant way to describe it because when it eventually appears, it feels familiar and obvious...it's the chipping away that's the killer.
We left that problem alone for a while and concentrated on others (there were many).
The crime...which happens very early on in the drama with the viewer in no doubt as to who commits it...allows for dramatic ambiguity because it is an emotive, complex moral dilemma. Which is worse murder or child molestation? But whenever we asked that question (despite the fact that it inspired a few lively debates) the majority of people seemed to think the murder less of a crime. We wanted to reflect that too, but it seemed too simplistic. Even when we made it a 'wrong guy' situation to up the ante in terms of whether or not one of them would confess....the story still felt too 'provincial'
The breakthrough came over the summer when Primark and M & S were in the news over selling padded bikini tops for children. It was clear that the sexualisation of children, for commercial purposes, is endemic in Western society. Our main characters do not exist in a bubble so we were able to look beyond the framework of our story.
Young girls dancing provocatively to Beyonce at a Holy Communion 'do'. The themes merged perfectly.
But individuals have their own moral compasses. Kenny's character has to be informed by the work he does. That led us onto cracking the problem of the cremation ritual.
If Kenny had to cremate the man he had helped to murder it would have a huge effect on him...and could be the catalyst for his confession. It seems an obvious thing now but placing the cremation ritual, in detail, in that point in the story shows it for the moving ritual that it is.
Before it had seemed gratuitous and vulgar now it offered Kenny the possibility of redemption.
Of course all of the above is purely reflective and also informed by time and the finished product and I did have Jimmy McGovern as my co-writer but...for all the re-drafting and hair tearing it's a piece of work I am very proud of.
Watch Kenny's Story back on BBC iplayer