- What is your earliest memory of writing? When did you know you were a “writer?”I remember writing my own Batman comics with my twin sister in Kindergarten; she was the artist. That is my very earliest memory of writing.The second (less) early memory of writing is from when I was 16 years old. I was sat down at my computer, determined to write my first ever comic book script. I’d spent weeks reading old comics scripts by writers I admired, like Alan Moore, to teach myself to do it. When I opened that first Word doc, I got three sentences in before I gave up, thinking ‘this is impossible. I have no idea what I’m doing’. A couple of days later I signed up to do a free, one night a week, High-school level English class at a local community college. I attended for a for a few months, but had to drop out after I was in a car accident and couldn’t physically attend the classes. Believe me, I tried! I was hobbling down the driveway on crutches when my mother caught me and told me to get my ass back in the house.
I was reluctant to call myself a writer for a long time. I think there is a mythos around who a ‘writer’ is. A ‘writer’ won their first writing competition in utero and was birthed holding a pen. (Their poor, poor mothers…) Having failed to achieve this miracle I couldn’t call myself a ‘writer’. I struggle with dyslexia and just didn’t know ‘how to write’ for most of my life. Telling people I wanted to be a ‘writer’ felt embarrassing, but for as long as I can remember it’s been what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, and I’ve done my best to learn the skills to do it, realizing that that in itself is enough.
When you started writing, or how long it takes you to have your work made or published, if at all, is just circumstantial. Your desire and your passion are who you are. I am a writer.
- What do you think makes a good story and what kinds of stories are you drawn to? I think a good story changes your perception of yourself or the world, even if only in a small way.My favourite stories have been ones I couldn’t stop thinking about, that affected my mind-set and future interactions with the world around me.
- What are some of your favorite books? Movies? I alternate between telling people my favourite book is My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, or The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, or Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer, but it’s actually The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn.My favourite movie is Little Miss Sunshine. My favourite movie I saw this year was Shoplifters.
Favourite graphic novel series is Y The Last Man by Brian K Vaughn. Favourite manga is A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori, and favourite video game is Mass Effect 2.
- What inspires you?
Inspiration for my own work can strike from anywhere. It can be an interesting article, a movie, or a lively conversation with friends. Perhaps I’m sitting upstairs on a bus going down Edgware Road and I look out the window and spot someone doing something incredibly strange. I’m always prepared to write things down.
What inspires me to sit at my desk and power through a scene I’d rather sell my kidney than write? Really good movies. I think nothing is more inspiring that watching a great film that makes me laugh or cry and ultimately think ‘Damn, I want to learn to do that too’.
The last film I saw was The Hidden Fortress by Akira Kurosawa, and man, I want to learn how to do that.
- Tell us about the script you just finished – what is it about and what was the writing process like for you?
The Carpet from Kunduz is about a young Afghan-American woman whose life is turned upside down when her mother decides to get married and move to a different country. She calls her estranged father and the two of them go on a quest to buy back a family heirloom, a carpet he sold previously. Over the journey, they try to get to know and understand each other, to bridge this cultural gap that they have, her father being born in Afghanistan whereas she was born and grew up in the West.
The writing process was very difficult. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, and I once had to write 5,000 words on Orlando by Virginia Woolf in a day, and I forgot to read the book. (I’ve read it since, it’s very good.)\
The story is very personal to me, so the difficulty came from how hard it was to write it with honesty. Writing something with what I think of as emotional honesty feels very vulnerable, and it was only in battling my resistance to it that I was able to make progress with the screenplay.
When I really struggle with this I like to go back and read a transcript from Charlie Kaufman’s Screenwriting Lecture at BAFTA. These words in particular inspire me to keep going:
“Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. […] But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope.”
- What’s the most surprising thing you have learned from writing?
The most surprising thing I’ve learned about my own writing is how many of my unconscious thoughts leak onto the page.I’ll start writing something that I think is about one thing, and when I read it back I realize it’s about something completely different. Then I’ll recognize it as something that I might have been struggling with, or something I didn’t even realize I thought or wanted, but subconsciously did.
- What is your interesting “writing quirk?”
I went to a lecture by Hilary Mantel during my second year of university, in which she described her writing process. When she writes her scenes, she mentioned that she is looking through the eyes of her protagonist: What do they see? What do they smell?Well, I thought that was just brilliant, and she is brilliant, so I started this ‘ritual’ before I write a new scene. I grab some note cards and a pen and lie down, close my eyes and try to be present in the scene with the characters and play the scene out as if I was watching it passively, then make notes. I’ve been told this looks very odd, and the notes end up hard to read because I’m writing them lying down…
- How do you juggle writing with everything else you have going on?
Poorly! I used to write from the couch or dining table, but it would be very difficult to avoid the millions of things pulling your attention away. Last year, I finally bought myself a proper desk and set up a workspace, so that when I’m at my desk I’m essentially in my office. It’s easier to tune everything else out and focus on what I’m doing.
- What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a homebody, so fun is usually watching movies and playing video games. My other hobby is badgering my husband, because he’s cute when he’s flustered. At the moment I’ve been playing a video game called Overcooked with him. It involves cooking and getting orders out of a kitchen in a timely manner, except the kitchen might be split across two moving trucks on the highway, in a haunted dungeon, or everything might be on fire. It’s good relaxing fun, everyone should try it!
- Any advice or tips for anyone struggling with writing?
Don’t write yourself off! You can do this, and you deserve to do this. I struggled, and still do, with not feeling good enough, or worrying that no one would care about what I have to say. That fear is stifling and I set myself back years worrying.Your voice is valid and your story deserves to be told. Even if just one other person on this planet reads and enjoys your work, it’s worth it. Don’t let anyone tell you differently! If they do, send them my way, I’ll have words!