In 2011 I was still driving a cab, although my first full length play, Snookered was yet to be performed, it was well into development and I had written a number of drafts and we were tinkering with the final scene.
The fantastic Clare Malcolm at New Writing North had some months earlier sent me a link for grants available to attend an Arvon course at a centre of your choice. I applied and was successful and deliberated long and hard on which course to attend, I finally plumped for ‘The Mechanics of Theatre Writing’ at The Hurst in Shropshire.
My reasoning was that what would really help me at this stage was learning about the structure and the craft of what I was trying to do. The course was tutored by Simon Stephens and Graham Whybrow, some of the things that I picked up there were invaluable and I still use them in my writing today.
Both of the tutors had a mantra, “What we are about to tell you may not necessarily be true, but could be very useful” that has stuck with me. I’ve found that there’s no ‘right’ way of writing, there’s just your way and anything you find that makes it even slightly easier for you, you should cling to.
But my greatest lesson came from an evening chat with Simon, he told me that “one will only achieve what their ambition is and that one should set clear ambitions for themselves” (or words to that extent). It may seem blindingly obvious but it is a thought that had never occurred to me, I just wanted to tell stories and was pretty amazed that someone was prepared to pay me to do so.
I left Shropshire with a different outlook on my career and a very different way of thinking about what I wanted and how I would get it.
I’m glad to say that I’ve achieved some of the things that I wanted to do and there are so many still left. I have a very clear notion of what they are and what I need to do to achieve them and I believe I can put that down to that evening in Shropshire.
Earlier this year I was invited back by Arvon to teach at Lumb Bank as part of Mother Tongues, a fantastic project where children with dual language skills are encouraged to use them in creative writing.
It was an incredible week and the kids, as all kids do, had amazing imaginations and came up with fantastic stories.
I gave some of them Simon Stephens pep talk on ambition, it made me smile; one of my ambitions was to teach on an Arvon course.
Ishy’s latest drama Doughnuts was screened as part of Channel 4’s Coming Up season, watch it here
Read more about Arvon’s Mother Tongues project here