As her HighTide Festival-debuting play Mudlarks transfers to the Bush Theatre, we caught up with the young playwright Vickie Donoghue to talk about day jobs, writing exercises and the importance of listening…
I never thought I’d be able to be a writer. I don’t know why.
I enjoyed acting when I was younger but could never remember any of the lines; I’d always be standing in the wings, about to go on, holding and reading my script. Now I write the lines, which is far more exciting, but just as nerve-wracking. I get the same hideous feelings in my stomach.
I did an MA in screenwriting and playwriting at City University. It was a part-time course for two years and the best thing I’ve ever done. It taught me everything I needed to know to write a full-length play. The tutorials and meetings I had on that MA have prepared me for all the meetings and conversations I’m having now with directors. You need practice for those things.
Having a day job could be a burden, but I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve just resigned from Circus Space, where I’ve been working for 10 years. It’s an administrator’s role, but it’s just been incredible, creatively. It’s full to the rafters with creative, daring, risk-taking people. I work with the students, who continually surprise and inspire me. I’ve also had the fortune to assist and dramaturg with some of the directors who come in to work with them.
The time has come to stand up and say, “I’m a writer.” I want that to be my profession, I want that to be my job.
My parents are teachers, so having a steady job is a really important thing in my family. Saying you’re a writer doesn’t give them much to grip on to. It sounds like you’re just going to sit at home all day, which in a way is true.
I tend to lie on the floor with post-its and notebooks everywhere. Actually sitting at a laptop and writing the dialogue is quite a small part of it.
Mudlarks started with a very strong image: three boys doing something really, really naughty. I didn’t have a beginning, middle and end. I wasn’t even sure where that image would come. But I started writing act one and suddenly the ending came. Don’t not write something because you haven’t got an ending – just get it out, get it on the page. That’s often when the magic happens.
I sent the play I wrote on my MA around all the usual theatres and got fabulous feedback from the Royal Court. Then HighTide did this roadshow where they wanted to connect with writers from the east. I live in the east, write about the east and wanted to connect with practitioners in the east. So, I sent in 10 pages of Mudlarks and within a day [Literary Manager] Rob Drummer emailed asking to read the rest of it. It then went on to be one of the main plays at the festival. From there my life has gone completely crazy.
I love writing exercises. My favourite is to get up and, like having breakfast, you just write for a minute, or two minutes, or as much as like, and don’t stop. You don’t lift the pen off the paper, you just write. Some very interesting things have come out of that; some rubbish, but some really useful stuff.
In Focus: How to tune up your ear for dialogue
Your ear is a muscle. You have to sit on the train and just keep your ears open. I will miss my commute to London every day – it was just great fodder for dialogue.
There are these two girls I’m obsessed with, who get the bus at Aldgate. I should be walking to work, but I get the bus instead, just because I’m desperate to bump into them again. They’re my next play. I put my iPod headphones in and pretend I’m not just writing down everything they say.
To join Vickie Donoghue and Rob Drummer at the HighTide Bootcamp, apply to the brief.
Mudlarks will be at the Bush Theatre from 18 September to 20 October. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website. For a special under 26s discount, see the Facebook page.
For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Writing & Publishing hub.