2016 · ISSUE 5
Your forthcoming project,
, tells the story of the
controversial 1948 marriage of Sir
Seretse Khama (a Botswanian prince)
and Ruth Williams (a clerk at Lloyd’s
of London). Are there particular
challenges associated with writing
about historical events?
This is my only screenplay set in a period
before I was born. I do a huge amount of
research on contemporary dramas, the
most important of which is travelling to
where the story is set and talking to as
many people as possible.
In Blood And Oil
written for the BBC and set in the Niger
Delta, I wrote a scenario in which a militia
group had kidnapped a white oil worker.
I wanted this to be as realistic as possible,
so went to the Delta and met a militia
group that kidnaps for ransom. For
Minutes of Heaven
, I spent two years
talking to the real men played in the film
by Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, while
A United Kingdom
I was fortunately
able to meet several people who had been
involved in the story in 1948 and who
gave me a fascinating insight into village
life in colonial Africa from the African
point of view.
But the real challenges in historical
drama are not for the writer but for the
producer and set designer. I can easily
write: “Seretse and Ruth get off the train”,
but it’s they who then have to find a 1940s
steam train in Botswana.
Eye In The Sky
at Toronto with Helen Mirren, Barkhad Abdi and team: Guy Hibbert is second from the right.
On Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise ship in the Arctic, researching a climate change script for (Lord) David Puttnam
What advice would you give a
young Dragon hoping to become a
I was not a successful pupil: I was close
to the bottom of every class, left my
secondary school pre-A Level and didn’t
go to university. I mention this because
it’s important for aspiring writers to
know that you do not have to achieve
academically to succeed as a screenwriter
or playwright. If the school is good, gives
you the right encouragement and teaches
self-development then you have all the tools
you’ll need to catch up.
However, you must have a passion for
writing, be prepared to work extremely hard
and be able to take criticism. I was rejected
literally thousands of times over 15 years; the
ability to “pick yourself up, dust yourself off
and start all over again” is crucial.
A relevant anecdote: a wannabe director
and I used to play club cricket. We both loved
the game, but one summer an opportunity
arose for both of us to either put on a play
(me to write, him to direct) or play cricket.
He chose cricket, I the play. He failed to make
directing his career, I succeeded. You have
to be prepared to give up what you love and
must be single-minded and highly self-
disciplined. It’s all about putting in the hard
work; the runner who gets up at five in the
morning to train is the one who wins gold.