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EDITIONS
Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Writing for the box
Katharine Way
Convinced you could write TV dramas if only you got a break? Katharine Way, who writes for The Bill and Casualty, spent six years trying to get into the scriptwriters' circle.

I've been paid to write for the past seven years, but I've been writing since I was six years old.

Katharine's CV
10 episodes of Casualty
11 episodes of The Bill
5 episodes of Emmerdale
Also written for Family Affairs and London Bridge
As a full-time writer, I script five or six hours of drama a year. I'm generally working on two or three projects at a time, for all the major channels.

I work fantastically unusual hours - my computer will be on from eight o'clock in the morning until midnight.

But I'm not sitting in front of the screen all that time.

I'll make a cup of coffee, play with the cat, think about writing, make another coffee, type a few lines, listen to Radio Four, delete what I've written, go to the supermarket.

I do all my best work in Sainsbury's - it's valuable thinking time. No one cares if you walk around the aisles talking to yourself, so long as you don't break anything.

Long deadline

In 1988, when I was 24, I told myself that if I didn't get anywhere by the time I was 40, then maybe it was not to be.

Katharine Way
"I spent six years sending scripts to everyone I could think of"
I spent six years sending scripts to everyone I could think of, and got a pile of rejection slips.

Then I got a letter from a script editor from The Bill, who'd been to a reading of one of my plays. She asked if I'd ever thought of working for The Bill - which was what I'd wanted to do my whole life.

Now I'm an established scriptwriter, I've pretty much got a job for life. There's a fairly small pool of people - about 500 - who write nearly everything we see on television.

Character flaws

Like a lot of writers, I have difficulty turning work down.

Adam Osman [Pal Aron] marries his partner Rueben [Sam Barriscale]
Casualty: Katharine put a gay wedding in primetime
After years of trying to get someone, anyone, to look at my scripts, it's really flattering to be asked to take on commissions.

People think that writing for television drama must be formulaic because there's a given set of characters, a given world where emergencies - be it illness or crime - drive the storyline.

But it's up to me to create a story, create new characters that work within that world. I can start them off wherever I like, and show what impact these people have on the regular characters.

Sgt Matthew Boyden [Tony O'Callaghan] and Natalie Taylor [Catherine Brooks]
No Love Lost: The jailbait and the womaniser
One of my favourite episodes in The Bill involved Sergeant Matthew Boyden, who's a bit of a womaniser.

I took the weakness that has always defined that character and used it to give him a story.

In No Love Lost [which was shown in February 1999], he has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be 15. He's committed a crime - and if anyone finds out, he'll lose everything.

Learning the craft

I spent five years in higher education, including Cambridge, yet I didn't learn to be a writer at university.


Writers have this fantasy that they'll write just one script, which will get commissioned on the spot

Night classes, writing courses, that's where I learned the craft.

It's feedback that's important. If 19 of the 20 people in the class say, 'I don't think the ending works', you may flounce off thinking they don't understand.

But three days later, you realise they're right.

Nurturing talent

Competitions are great in that they encourage new writers, but can be a waste of time if there's just a few winners and thousands of "losers".

Buffy the Vampire slayer:
"Buffy is one of the best-written series around"
The organisers will just get talented messes from people who'll be able to do something brilliant in five years' time - but only if they're given a chance to learn.

It would be far better to offer bursaries to 50 entrants, take them on for a year as apprentice scriptwriters.

After all, every writer has this fantasy that they'll write just one script, which they'll send to just one company, where someone will read it on the day it arrives and commission it on the spot.

It just doesn't happen like that.


For details of BBC Talent, which is offering people the chance to write scripts for Doctors or Casualty, see Internet links.



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01 Mar 01 | Entertainment
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