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Questions, questions

Joy Wilkinson


In a slight deviation from writing directly about Doctors, I wanted to reply properly to some of the questions you asked on my last post. In essence these questions can be summarised as: "who on earth are you and what the devil are you doing here?" Excellent questions, as they're exactly what we want to know of any character as soon as they appear.

So to fill you in briefly on my writing background - I wrote plays as a kid, but had this odd preoccupation with having to get a job, so I became a journalist. I wrote fiction on the side and got on a short course at the Old Vic Theatre that made me realise that most of my fiction was actually drama. Happily relieved of writing pages of description, I wrote a play instead and shoved it through the letterbox of Soho Theatre on the deadline of the Verity Bargate Award competition. It ended up sharing the prize with two other plays and my life changed overnight.

It didn't really. My play did win, but nothing much changed. It still took me three years to get my first full production. In the meantime I wrote like mad, mostly for free, and took every opportunity going - readings, short play festivals, competitions, bombarding the Writersroom, lit. departments, and the rest. Gradually I found people who 'got' me - an agent, directors, other writers in the same boat - and eventually I got my production. And then everything changed.

Did it heck. It was great experience, but it was still back to the blank page, writing the next thing, knocking on doors again. Around this time, the first BBC Writers' Academy was announced. I wasn't going to go for it, after my rejection from Doctors, but I think it was something as fickle as hearing that another writer I knew had applied that set me thinking. I changed my mind, and I somehow managed to get in. That did change things a bit (so if you haven't applied already, do give it a go!).

Crucially, it gave me another chance on Doctors. Over the course of the Academy, I wrote two 'dummy' episodes to get into the swing of things and then a third that got made: my first broadcast episode - starring Ray Quinn! Everything changed... for Ray. X-Factor. Grease in the West End. Dancing on Ice. All thanks to my launchpad episode*. Meanwhile, I went back to my blank page, kept writing, knocking on doors.

Since finishing the Academy, I've written 16 more episodes of Doctors, as well as writing plays for theatre and radio and various other stuff still in the pipeline/drawer. At the moment, I'm working on a serial-only episode of Doctors, but when that's done I'll be back to putting stuff out there and waiting for the phone to ring. Everything and nothing changes. Like Mr Stack says, there are no guarantees, which is how it should be really. It's how life is, and story. From that opening scene when we meet our protagonist, the other question we all want to know the answer to is: "what happens next?"

PS: Is anyone else reading David Mamet's new book 'Theatre'? Very inspiring, I reckon, in the sense of being shaken till your bones rattle whilst someone yells at you to 'TELL THE TRUTH!'.

* This may not be 100% true.

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