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Jonathan Asser’s Arvon Journey: From Poetry to Scripts

Starred Up Jonathan AsserMy script for Starred Up was drawn from personal experience running a therapeutic group for violent prisoners, and it got made into a multi-award-winning film. But this was no overnight success: I’d been enrolling on Arvon residential courses set in their beautiful rural locations for nearly a decade and half.

I did poetry for the first seven years, and with help back in London from poets Roddy Lumsden and John Stammers, a breakthrough came through their Arvon tutor colleague, Jo Shapcott, who published my collection, Outside the All Stars, for Arc in 2003.

Then a fellow Arvon student, Marie-Louise Hogan, encouraged me to try film and television. And so my second seven-year Arvon apprenticeship began in screenwriting, where I received massive help from Chris Dennis, Penny Woolcock, David Pirie, Neil Hunter, Olivia Hetreed, and Rupert Walters.

imagesNext, AL Kennedy, yet another brilliant Arvon tutor, showed my script to Sigma Films, and in 2010 director David Mackenzie drove down from Glasgow, while I was on holiday at my cousin’s house on the coast of west Wales, to tell me he wanted to make Starred Up into his next movie. Working with David over the next two and a half years was an amazing experience. And screenwriting has now become a full-time career.

I returned to Arvon last week as a guest tutor, and I’m already booked in for next year. Having received so much from so many for so long, it’s an honour to be able to give something back.

Jonathan Asser


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