Wednesday, July 07, 2010

TV Writers' Fest: Face to Face - Kay Mellor

Kay Mellor [KM]: I can’t write unless I’m angry or passionate about something. The first thing I wrote was about a special needs boy and how he got treated, I felt like I could be his voice. I don’t think of myself as being a Northern writer or someone who only writes Northern characters – I write who I know. It’s writing, not Northern writing; people first and foremost. Yorkshire runs through me, like a name through a stick of rock.

I structure things simply – set-up, development, conclusion – otherwise I’m driving aimlessly. I need to know where I’m going. I use three-act structure because I can go where I want. It’s the old dog up a tree analogy. I put a character up a tree and throw stones at them until they come down. A big development period can make things over-complicated.

[KM cited an example from earlier that week, when she’d taken two ideas to a meeting. One she had spent many hours honing, getting to know the characters, everything about them, to create a ten-page pitch document. The other was a new idea she’d just jotted down, only a page and a half. It was the fresh idea that won the day.]

I like to work the characters. I’ll choose my pilot, concentrate on that story. What am I saying? What’s it really about? I’ll have a loose idea of the ending. [Her intended endings often get junked or superceded during the writing process.]

It’s the idea now they are looking for, delivered with absolute clarity. You can over complicate. Be too anxious to please and you don’t get your idea across. Don’t worry about ticking their boxes because you won’t be passionate.

I had the idea for Band of Gold, sold it to TV and then did the research. Even when I did Brookie, I spent a lot of time in Liverpool to get the voice. When I pitched Band of Gold, they weren’t interested in stories about women, prostitutes, Northern working class characters, let alone written by a woman.

But Hilary Salmon at the BBC believed in it. A script editor at the time, she totally believed in it. Michael Wearing was another champion for that project. [KM talked described how Salmon supported her in meetings.] When Hilary said we in meetings, we was Hilary and me back then. Now when someone says we in meetings, they meet the script editor and the executive. [Band of Gold ended up at ITV. KM said it was a great sadness Salmon could not move with the project.]

[On avoiding writer’s block:] If stuck, don’t sit down, don’t stay there staring at the screen. Get up, go for a walk. Another way to avoid starting cold is the stop in the middle of a flow the previous day.

I love to bring new writers into TV, to give people a break. It’s the one thing that makes me want to do a long-running series. [KM’s returning drama series Fat Friends gave writers like Lisa Holdsworth and Ruth Jones a doorway into the industry.] It’s very difficult to get somebody’s voice on that’s new.

Writing is bum to seat and doing it. [How does KM balance running a series and writing a series?] I have protected writing time, a personal assistant to bat things away. [One recent TV project for KM was based on her mother’s experiences.] I do burgle stories, and apologise. Most people love it, or don’t recognise themselves.

I started as a writer trying to save Albion Market, a failing series. I learned so much from that. If I read reviews I would never writer again. I’m sick of cops and docs. Married, Single, Other was a non-genre drama series, but didn’t get deemed to do well, so it didn’t get recommissioned.

Sometimes you can be talked into something to fit a slot but it has a natural home. As a writer you have to protect your work. It’s always about character.

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