If Only I'd Known: Joel Horwood

If Only I'd Known: Joel Horwood

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 30/03/11

Playwright Joel Horwood has collected accolades like most of us collect empty biros. From his Cameron Mackintosh Award-winning musical Mikey the Pikey, to the Edinburgh Fridge First-winning Food, Joel has gone on to write the HighTide Festival hit I Caught Crabs at Walberswick, adapt The Count of Monte Cristo for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and is currently working with Channel 4 and Ecosse Films. We asked him what advice he wishes he could have given his younger self…

What is your name/age/job title?

Joel Horwood, 30, playwright.

What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?

It has taken me ages to work out that there really is no rush. The connections and relationships you form do not have a time limit.

In this business, among the rush, hassle and fervour of a theatre world desperately looking for the next big thing, it is easy to forget to take your time. They survive on your plays, not on immediately consuming whatever you can throw at the void in their programme.

I wish I had known to take my time, listen to the advice of my agent and focus on writing the best plays I possibly could. To write from the heart rather than the hip, and only to deliver them to companies when I felt they were ready, not to meet an arbitrary deadline.

If you could go back and give your younger self any practical advice, what would it be?

You never get a second chance at a first read. I would also say structure in time to be away from writing, to do something that inspires you. For me that includes travel, watching / seeing other art forms, walking a dog, long walks…

If someone had told your 16-year-old self that you would be a successful writer, would you have believed them? Or did you have other ambitions?

Believe it or not, at 16 I wanted to be a professional basketball player. My back up was to work in advertising. I have always been bullish and headstrong so I wouldn’t have believed anyone that told me any different.

Is there an embarrassing episode from your past that you wish you could edit out?

Just one? I’ve got hundreds… But I wouldn’t edit them out.

Is there a single thing that has shaped the way you work?

Seeing a lot of contemporary dance. Every time I go to a Pina Bausch, William Forsyth or Nigel Charnock performance I come out with a million ideas.

Is there a project of which you are particularly proud?

I think I have to be proud of everything I’ve ever done. It’s a combination of pride and a feeling that I could do better that keeps me writing. I’m excited about working with SpyMonkey and Peepolykus at Latitude this year and keen to get another straight play on its feet soon.

What would you consider your ‘big break’? And how did you get it?

My big break was Mikey the Pikey, a musical that would not have happened if it hadn’t been for a load of my friends rallying behind a fun idea. It was the continued support of those friends, Jenny Worton, Willy Russell, Alan Aykbourn and David Pugh, that made it happen. We put the first draft on stage and I rewrote the play almost every night; it was how I began learning what it is to write for the stage.

Finally, I would recommend any new writers to get their play put on. You wrote it to live and breathe. Beg, borrow and steal until you can sit in an audience and begin to work out what it is that you have written, where it soars and where it falls utterly flat. The really hard bit is learning from it and writing another one.


If you’ve been inspired by Joel’s story then why not apply for our NSDF Edinburgh Brief. You could win £1,000 to take your show to the Edinburgh fringe.


More If Id Only Known:

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Hayden Thorpe, frontman of Wild Beasts

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