Thursday, October 11, 2012

TV times

Face 2 Face with Sally Wainwright, Wednesday 10th October, 7pm, University of Salford, MediaCity UK

Words by Alex Joynes.

The huge popularity of Sally Wainwright as a writer is evident even before the event itself begins: a steady stream of audience members means that every seat is soon taken. When Kate Rowland, Director of New Writing at the BBC, introduces a montage of Sally’s work, it soon becomes clear that we are in the presence of one of the greatest television writers of her generation. Such is the breadth and diversity of her writing that it is difficult to know where to begin, but Kate conducts a whistle-stop tour, taking us from the heart-breaking Unforgiven through to the phenomenon that is Scott and Bailey. Throughout Sally’s career, the one constant in her output is her voice, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is to define the discussion as a whole: from how Sally discovered her voice to how an emerging writer preserves their own.

The realisation that she wanted to be a writer came to Sally with her disinterest in reading as a child, instead rushing to the dialogue, which truly interested her, and creating her own plays with her sister. This interest was sustained through to university, when she decided to write and produce a stage play as part of her degree at York University. Interestingly, Sally admits that at this stage in her writing she felt that she lacked a voice, and it was only with a role on the writing teams of serial dramas (most notably Coronation Street) where she discovered what the message was that she was trying to convey. Sally believes that the ability to create convincing characters and write authentic dialogue is something that comes naturally, but that the story itself is something which takes time and patience. Indeed, the power of research in order to craft a believable story is something which Sally prizes highly, with those in Scott and Bailey being shaped (or rather re-shaped) with the input of former Detective Inspector Diane Taylor. Sally talks about her personal interest in the creative processes beyond writing the script, with a sense of being pushed out replaced by involvement on her projects as executive producer. The idea of protecting the writer’s voice also serves as Sally’s main tip to an aspiring screenwriter in the audience, especially if it ever falls under threat from an overzealous script editor!

Luckily for us, Sally’s voice remains intact, and a buzz of excitement passes through the room as the audience is shown an exclusive clip from her upcoming series, Last Tango in Halifax - an electrifying scene between Sarah Lancashire and Tony Gardner. As with many of Sally’s programmes, it is a show rooted in her own experiences, or in this case her mum’s, whose venturing onto Friends Reunited led to marriage with an old schoolmate, aged 75. Above all else, the series is a celebration of love, and is anchored by a cast led by national treasures Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi. A theatrical play (her first since university) is also in the process of being created, Sally reveals, and she states another future ambition as a desire to direct. I shall certainly be keeping an eye on the Royal Exchange and television listings for what sound like more exciting projects.

After the kind invite for anyone who wants to to stay behind to chat - which I grab, desperate to find out about the ins and outs of writing for Corrie - the audience emerges from the auditorium uplifted and thankful that a writer like Sally Wainwright is among us. Her voice is a distinct one that is defined by its humour and warmth, and which is, above all else, real and authentic to the end. Let us hope that we continue to hear it for many more years.
Alex Joynes is an aspiring writer from Risley, Warrington, currently a member of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Young Writers' Programme.

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