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Charlot speaks with Lorraine Newman

I'm so happy to bring you this interview with Lorraine (photograph above). I worked with Lorraine while at BBC Drama, in fact, she was my boss. Lorraine was Executive Producer at EastEnders. I was merely a script editor. Not only was she super talented, but she was also the best boss I've ever had! Generous with her time, encouraging of other peoples' ideas, and really importantly, Lorraine was very kind to all. Despite it being a hugely stressful job, Lorraine was the calm in the room. What a leader! Lorraine chose to leave BBC Drama, and is focussing on her writing. At present she is penning scripts for EastEnders, and they are very lucky to have her. But, watch this space! I know Lorraine is going to be doing other things. I am so lucky to be able to call her my friend. Without further delay, below is the interview. Hope you enjoy!

Charlot: What led you into writing, and what keeps you writing?

Lorraine: Writing is the release valve for my overactive brain. It keeps me sane, allowing me to work things out, question everything and experience the joy of having characters say all the things I wished I’d ever said.

Charlot: Can you tell us more about your journey as a writer – where did you start and how is that journey progressing?

Lorraine: I started at the BBC at the age of 18, as part of the (now defunct) Secretarial Reserve and was lucky enough to be constantly placed within drama. At the age of 19, I successfully applied for the role of Script Secretary on EastEnders. From day one, I was utterly in my element, absorbing everything around me like a sponge. I rose through the creative ranks through Archivist, Researcher, Script Editor, Producer, Series Producer and finally to Executive Producer. During this time, I was lucky enough to work with some incredible writers. Tony Jordan, in particular, was generous enough to invest a huge amount of time and belief in me. When I left EastEnders, Sharon Batten, Series Producer, encouraged me to write an episode and I absolutely loved it. Fortunately, she did too!


Photograph above: Lorraine with a cat that shares her home.

Charlot: Do you remember the first book that stuck with you? And the library in
your formative years that you remember fondly?

Lorraine: When I was growing up, the library on our council estate was my sanctuary. It was pretty chaotic in our house, the only book we had was a VW Beetle Haynes Manual (but I do know how to change the fan belt!). The library was my place of calm, away from the shouting, I would literally hide there, delving into the world of literature where I’d escape into different worlds. My sister called me ‘Books’, we shared a bedroom, and she would often save me after I’d nodded off with a book on my face. The closure of so many libraries was an absolute tragedy, without it, I would never have had access to the range and number of books that I did.

I would read anything I could get my hands on, which is also the wonderful randomness of a library. I was totally hooked by Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Novels, the dysfunctional characters, the visual world created clearly inspiration for both Hill Street Blues and Homicide.
Photograph: A cat that shares their life with Lorraine

Charlot: Do you remember the first TV show that made you want to write TV?

Lorraine: EastEnders has always had a place in my heart, it was launched whilst I was at school and, for the first time ever, I was seeing characters on television that I could relate to, who actually sounded like me. Of course, there were a few working-class dramas on television, but it was all so dark, the majority of it an upper middle class take on the working classes. There has always been such snobbery around the soaps, but they play an incredibly important place in our society, their ability to both educate and entertain is invaluable.

Charlot: Of course, you are most well known as a writer on EastEnders. Can you tell us what that has been like?

Lorraine: I love writing for EastEnders. Prior to writing each episode, I receive a commissioning document, which is basically 4 weeks worth of episodes written in prose form. Each episode is broken down into 5 stories, and each story is given a basic shape, clearly showing where each story should start and end. There is also a research document attached which contains relevant information pertaining to current stories and a scheduling document which details which characters and sets are available for the episode. It also shows which characters cannot cross and which characters cannot be in certain sets.
This is where the fun starts. I then take the story material for my episode and break down the stories, in particular, to ensure that character motivation is clear. Once I am happy with this, I’ll break the stories down further into scenes and weave them into a scene by scene document, trying to ensure I adhere to the scheduling restrictions at the same time. Only once I’m happy with this document will I start to write the script. If the scene by scene is working as it should, the dialogue comes easily. If the writing isn’t flowing, I’ll go back to the scene by scene again and have a rethink because it’s usually that I haven’t fully unlocked a character’s thought process.

We deliver four drafts of each script over 6-8 weeks. After each draft is delivered, my Script Editor will respond with notes, which are a combination of editorial, production, research and archive. The Script Editors on the show are great to work with and work closely with the writer of each episode from the commissioning stage. They know and understand the show inside out and are a great help to ensure each writer gets the best from the story material. My next episode transmits on 3rd April, and I have had one that just passed in January this year.

Photograph: From Lorraine, taken on a walk near her home in Brighton (pic of West Pier in Hove)

Charlot: What is it like writing for Television?

Lorraine: Like any job, it can be rewarding and frustrating in equal measures. Working on something which is greenlit and in production is hugely exciting. Seeing your words come to life is obviously the aim, so to work on something like EastEnders is incredibly satisfying.

Development can be very slow, but you have to learn to take it for what it is. There will be far more rejections than successes. You have to learn to deal with this quickly, or you will never make it as a professional writer. So many factors come into play, having worked as a Development Executive at the BBC, I’m well aware that it’s often nothing to do with the quality of the idea, but even I have to stop and remind myself of that at times. It’s best to see development as an opportunity for your writing to develop and grow, that way even a rejection isn’t a loss.

Charlot: Any tips for new writers?

Lorraine: It’s one of the very few careers where you’re never too old. Of course, there are those in development seeking out the next young thing, but life experience emanates from scripts, and that’s something you really can’t cheat.
Charlot:  Why do you think the arts are important?

Lorraine: The arts are so important for our mental well-being. Everyone needs an escape, a way to explore, to reflect, to seek to understand the fundamentals of human nature. Life is complicated, it’s through the arts that we often find our answers.

Thank you so much, Lorraine, for sharing your really useful insights. You can Follow Lorraine on Twitter at @Max16characters if you'd like to keep up with Lorraine's posts.

The next newsletter interview is with the incredibly talented Jessica Fellowes, author of the Mitford Murder series, which has been described as Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie - with a special twist of Jessica's talent for creating fabulous and believable characters. A hugely popular and critically acclaimed series. You can Follow Jessica on Twitter at @jessicafellowes

In the meantime, hope everyone has a peaceful week,
Love, Charlot x
If you would like to read archived newsletters with interviews on other writers, actors and artists, please view the archive button top left once you open this newsletter in a browser.
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