Being a screen writer requires a lot of imagination and creativity, also being able to tell what viewers would like to see to create a most entertaining film that a general audience will enjoy, with your own twist of course. This is a particular role that I have been interested in for a while and started writing my own scripts in the hope to become apart of the industry in this specific area. To delve into this role in more detail and to look for inspiration for my own work, I’ve picked a writer to research, her name is Heidi Thomas.
Heidi was born in 1964 in Liverpool, she started her career with the National youth theatre, Liverpool playhouse and Royal Court. She made her break on ITV’s ‘Soldier Soldier’ and ‘Doctor Finlay’ before writing her own adaptation of ‘Madame Bovary’ for the BBC, and I Capture the Castle for BBC Films. She then created, wrote and executive produced the Liverpool-set BBC drama ‘Lilies’ (which I throughly enjoyed). She won several awards at the RTS for the BBC period drama ‘Cranford’, including Best Writer. I tried to contact Heidi to ask her my own questions, but as I have had no reply I’ve looked at previous interviews that she has done to find out why she wanted to be a writer.
When asked “what made you want to write?”, she replied with “I was thirteen or fourteen [when] I started to be able to write short pieces like poetry and entered local competitions and won some prizes” suggesting that her love of writing started from when she was very young, much like myself, however, this isn’t something that everyone who wants to write will encounter. People who are involved in the film industry somehow, whether being an actor etc, can easily write things themselves. Being a writer, you often have to start out being a free lancer, just like Heidi “I sort of thought, well why get a proper job really? So I waitressed for about a year and just wrote at night”. There is no fixed income for a freelancer, you can either have a good year or bad year depending on your determination, your ability to network and get your name known in the industry then that will lead you to a more stabilised job where you would probably start on a minimum of 20k a year. Freelancing gives you a chance to discover what genre you like writing in, who you would like to be working for, whether you want to write for television or film, the process will strengthen your skill and just get your name and work out into the world.
When writing about subjects that touch you, often come from experiences, people and social/historical events that you have come across in your life time. Heidi’s particular influences come from the past of britain, “As I say, there was a sense at the very beginning of wanting to write work of historical dimension, wanting to explore the slave trade and where that came from in Liverpool, and with the Irish famine in ‘All Flesh Is Grass’, my very first play. It was something about reaching back into a past that I connected with.” This particular method I do not use because I prefer to write dramas, something that will connect to an audience, based around one particular emotion. Heidi wants to draw that same emotion from her audience but based around one particular event. Every writer is different, that’s what makes this industry so diverse and why there will always be an ongoing attraction to films and other dramatic performances. Heidi’s particular view on this is “I think nowadays we’re terrified of the future. We don’t know where we’re going to be as individuals or as a society, but if you look at something like ‘Cranford’ … everybody is convulsed with similar fears, and you think actually a hundred and fifty years on we’re okay, we’re still worrying about the same things but we are still here to worry about them.”Playing on people’s fears and phobias is something one of my favourite writer/director used to do, he found it highly effective and he’s renowned for his work, even now. Alfred Hitchcock became very famous for his ability to manipulate his audiences by using the general fears that people had and used them against them to create a fantastic thriller.
Later in her career, Heidi started working on adaptations. This is an area that I am interested in as I read many novels (particularly contemporary ones) that I feel that an audience would appreciate if they were shown in a different way, also you can show people what you were imagining when you were reading the book as it is seen differently in everyone’s minds. This is Heidi’s opinion of what the essence of a adaption is: I think there’s a much more sort of spiritual issue of what do you seek to do when you adapt. The thing is, you have to assess what the essence of that novel is, what makes it magical, what makes it loved, what has made it last over perhaps a hundred and fifty years? And what you have to do is identify the sacred moments. There are some things in some books that you simply cannot leave out.” This is advice that I will certainly follow myself.
Heidi is apart of a minority of woman writers, here’s why she thinks that is. “There are a lot of younger female writers who get going, and you know they have great bursts of activity, but it is quite a hard life, it does not accommodate what goes on with a lot of women when they’re in their thirties and forties. They’re balancing time between their professional and their creative life and bringing up a family, which is a job in itself, and is also a creative act.” She is very right, you have to be writing for years before you get recognised and like most women, I would like to get married and have children so there’s only so much that you can do, so you either have to choose your career or having a family, so it’s definitely not because it’s a male dominant industry because they are better than women, it’s just that women often choose a different path to men.
After looking into Heidi Thomas’ life and career, she has inspired me to carry on writing and work hard to achieve. Being takes years before you are properly known, bringing to light the harsh reality of this industry.