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2016 · ISSUE 5

3

ACHIEVEMENTS

Your forthcoming project,

A United

Kingdom

, 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

Five

Minutes of Heaven

, I spent two years

talking to the real men played in the film

by Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, while

for

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.

Premiere of

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

screenwriter?

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.