Charlot speaks with Gillian Richmond...
I'm so excited to share this conversation I had recently with the hugely talented writer, Gillian Richmond. I have been a big fan of her writing for years. I was lucky enough to work with Gillian while at EastEnders and now enjoy listening to her entertaining writing when tuning into the well known BBC Radio 4 Drama, The Archers. Of course, Gillian is a writer of much more than both those shows and has written for other TV as well as plays for the stage. Without further ado, here is my conversation...
Charlot: What do you think made you start writing, and why do you write?
Gillian: I think I’ve never not written. One of my first memories is claiming that I had a stomachache so I could stay off school and write a story I had going round my head. I’d have been about six years old. I wrote all through school and university – poems, prose, drama – often at the expense of whatever academic work I was supposed to be doing.
Gillian: Here are some of the reasons (in no particular order) why I like stories.
When I left university, I took part-time work so I could write in the afternoons. My evening job was ushering at the National Theatre, and I became obsessed with the dramatic form. I submitted my work to producing theatres, had some stinging rejections and a few kind words. I began being invited onto writing groups, a couple of my plays were given rehearsed readings at London fringe theatres. The Royal Court commissioned a play. Cue huge excitement. They said they liked the finished draft but said they didn’t have space to programme it. Cue huge misery. The Soho Theatre did a rehearsed reading. The Director – Sue Dunderdale – came up to me afterwards and asked if she could programme it as their Christmas show. The play, a two-hander called THE LAST WALTZ starred Celia Imrie. It made people laugh, it made people cry, the reviews were kind and it played to sold-out houses in the run-up to Christmas 1986. By New Year I was under commission to two separate television series and The Archers. And that’s how my professional writing career started.
You ask why I write? Short answer - because I am always making up stories in my head. If pushed to analyse why I might say that creating narratives helps me make order out of chaos, but in truth, I don’t really understand people who don’t make up stories all the time and want to write them down. Having said that – the writing them down is rarely easy and often tortuous.
Charlot: Why do you think we all like to read stories?
- I like to be entertained, to be taken away from whatever is obsessing me or stressing me
- I like to be surprised
- I like to enter new worlds
- I like to meet characters I don’t meet in my ordinary life
- I like to learn things
- I like to feel my brain stretching
- I like to feel some hope that things might eventually work out okay
- I like to think there might be some order somewhere in the chaos
- I like to put off the moment when I have to get back to the story I’m currently grappling with.
Charlot: Can you remember the first book you bought?
Gillian: We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up and my mother, a greedy devourer of crime novels, was a big fan of free books from libraries. Also, she loved a tidy house and thought that too many books made the place look untidy. Consequently, the first book I can remember owning was The Collected Works of Shakespeare when I was about thirteen. I bought it with my Christmas money and read it cover to cover. I still have it on my shelves.
Charlot: Can you tell us about your favourite library you used as a child? And also, can you tell us your favourite place where you like to read now?
Gillian: I was an army kid. We moved house every two to three years, so – sadly – although my mum took us to the local library for six new books every Tuesday afternoon, I don’t have a clear memory of any individual building. At one stage we lived in Ghana. I can’t see the library in my memory, but I do still remember the smell of the books – warm and musty and tempting and delicious.
My working life is driven by deadlines, so these days I mostly read in bed. The moment of settling under the duvet with my current book is the best moment of the day. I’ve just finished Anna Burns’ MILKMAN and am feeling temporarily lost not to have it waiting upstairs for me.