Tell us a bit about the story…
There are four stories that interlink and it’s all set on one ‘close’, so all the characters are neighbours. There’s ‘The Fighter’, an Irish traveller who’s trying to settle down and train as a boxer, and to keep all his fights legal despite family pressure. Then there’s ‘The Muslims’, who aren’t actually Muslims at all. They’re Sikh, but some of their racist neighbours refuse to believe that. The main focus of this story is one of the teenagers from the family. He bumps into an old friend from primary school and, at first, there’s a bit of conflict but they end up spending the day together and remembering that they get on.
‘The Farmer’ is Margie, a pensioner who’s growing weed in her attic and has a few problems when a local dealer notices what she’s up to. And finally, ‘The Drinker’ is a wheeler dealer character who enjoys a pint or two. This story’s about a man reconnecting with his son because of a knick-knack he picks up on the market that reminds him how important that relationship is to him. This is the weepy part of the story!
Is there a message you wanted to portray through the story or is it more straight-up, fly-on-the-wall?
I don’t think there is a particular message. There are issues in the story that I explore, like racism and the negative effects that alcohol can have on your life. I didn’t really think about it that way when I was writing it, though. It was more about the characters and the stories, and the issues come out of that. Mostly, it’s about ordinary people in an ordinary place. It’s not all drugs and violence like some of the other things I’ve written and that was a deliberate departure. I wanted to show more of the humanity of the characters than anything else.
Why is it important to highlight the issues within disadvantaged communities and working class Britain at this time particularly?
It’s difficult to come from where I do and have a voice. When I first started publishing my work, back in the mid-noughties, there was more openness to working class stories, both in books and film. Tindal Street had considerable success with regional voices and some of the bigger publishers took note and followed suit. And there were directors like Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold telling these stories for screen. I think it’s harder now. I’ve heard people from film agencies say they didn’t want to do any more gritty realism, because they’d funded quite a lot of in recent years. And I’ve been encouraged by literary agents to write about middle-class characters instead!
And, yes, the thing is that these stories are more important than ever. The gap between rich and poor gets ever wider in this country, austerity is hitting people hard and we have some real poverty. People needing food banks, for example. The country’s in a terrible state and yet some people still believe the standard of living is high! The war on drugs continues to fail. The war on terror, UKIP and our right-wing media reporting one-off cases of immigrants living in luxury as if they’re normal have caused deep divisions within our communities. And our government’s ‘divide and conquer’ narrative about scroungers and strivers has a lot to answer for too. We’re all being turned against each other and could do with a huge IV hit of empathy. That’s what stories can do, at their best. That’s why we need them.
Do you have a favourite character? A least favourite?
I love all the characters, even the bad ones! I think you have to have that. Or, at least, you have to have empathy for every one of them. You need that to write them and make sure that they’re three dimensional. You have to show their human side, their flaws and their strengths, their compassion or lack of it and all the shades of them. If I had to pick a favourite, though, I think it’s probably Margie, or ‘The Farmer’ in the story. She has a bit of cheekiness and irreverence about her that I find very endearing. I always like to think how the older generation now were young in the sixties. I think we probably underestimate what they might have got up to then, and now. We often think we invented being rebellious or cool and we didn’t. They did!
With multiple characters weaving into one narrative, did you have to work backwards? And what challenges did you face during the creative process?
I didn’t work backwards so much as from the centre out. I needed to plan quite carefully before I started writing the actual script. But, then, I always do that. Especially with script, I find it helps to know exactly what the storyline is before you start. For me, anyway, it saves a lot of time. I use a programme called Scrivener both for novels and scripts and this has a really cool index card functionality for planning which I find really helps.
To what extent did you draw your experiences from Nottingham city?
I drew a lot from my experiences. I always do. That said, it’s never really autobiographical. Like how I managed to find inspiration for a couple of horror stories from getting lost on a walk on my honeymoon! I get asked a lot about my first novel, which is set where I grew up, and if it’s about my own life. My publisher at Random House asked me if it was a memoir. I was shocked. The main character, Kerrie-Ann, is a drug dealer and kills several people in the book!
What else did you gain inspiration from?
There was an element of collaboration with this script, the way there often is for film. So I sat with Ash Morris, my director, and we talked about the possible character and stories. So his thoughts and ideas came into it too, even in the planning stages. One of the stories, ‘The Drinker’, is based very loosely on something that happened to my husband. I think I collect stories from the people around me in lots of ways.
What are the key differences in writing for the screen and for the page?
I’d say that writing for screen demands more discipline, in lots of ways. I can’t imagine a way of writing a script that wouldn’t involve lots of thought and planning before you actually start on the scenes. I think you probably can sit and write a short story without even thinking about what you’re going to write before you start. If you’re lucky and the inspiration is there that day, anyway. Not so much with a novel but, still, you can be looser in your process, probably. The other thing is the collaboration, from the outset. And that gets more and more extreme as you hand your script over into the safe hands of your director to do with as she or he pleases. A lot of writers find that quite scary but, personally, I think it’s exciting.
Have you ever dabbled in acting yourself?
Ha! No, not at all. I keep threatening to have a go at something amateur but I’ve never got around to it. I wouldn’t mind making very small guest appearances in things, like Tarantino and Hitchcock have. I don’t think I’m a natural at acting, though. My husband’s very good. He’s done some promo work for a friend and I was very impressed!
What are you most looking forward to about the project, provided the Kickstarter campaign reaches its target?
I think that bringing some of these household name actors to Nottingham will be very exciting. The idea of taking Brendan Coyle, for example, to the close where I lived when I was little is surreal but very cool. I like to think of the little girl I used to be, watching Planet of the Apes on the telly and waiting for Piercey (the local ice cream van) to come, imagining all this happening when she grew up. She had a vivid imagination but I’m not quite sure she’d believe it.
Why should people donate to the Kickstarter campaign?
To support the kind of independent British filmmaking that we all love and that Nottingham does so well. We need to get real stories about real people out there and have working-class voices heard. Shane Meadows’ recent This is England ’90 has shown that there’s still a thirst for these kinds of stories and people have been loving it. Getting actors like Brendan, Jodie, Steven and Richard here to film will be very exciting, and they’ll bring a lot of positive attention to the city in their wake.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Yeah, I’d like to tell folks to watch our short film Starcross to see just what my director Ash is capable of. It’s available here on LeftLion still. Some of the actors from that projects are likely to work with us on Close too. I thought they were brilliant.
Close – A Micro Budget British Feature Film Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday 18 October, with a goal of £30,000.