Hi There,

This week I’m continuing with the 2nd and final part of your answers to the question…

What world event \ news has inspired \ energised you as a writer, or has motivated you to put pen to paper? And why? (Part 2)

‘The Frank Slide – verifies that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.’

‘Palestine – I have a family connection and a keen sense of injustice so I’m compelled to write about it.’

‘Recent events in Greece have been quite shocking. Operation Zeus, a cleansing campaign, where migrants, immigrants,sex workers and other vulnerable minority groups have been forced into internment camps – threatens to lead Europe back into dark times. I’ve always been interested in the threat to an individual’s dignity within the scope of an oppressive social framework – from It’s a Wonderful Life to 1984, Missing and Schindler’s List. They’re definitely themes I’ll be investigating as I develop as a writer.’

‘The story of teenage scientist Jack Andraka working to further medical research, and win the $10 million Tricorder X prize. I love good ‘people’ stories like this. He invented a simple device for detecting pancreatic cancer based on an insight from his High School biology class. Now he and a group of kid scientists get together online and hope to cure disease, plus win $10m. There’s so much drama in the mix of lifechanging money, plus the great good they can do. They’re Google-age superheroes…! It made me think about who our heroes are in the modern world – maybe it’s geeks not soldiers or cops?’

‘The rape of public and private wealth by global bankers… and the fact that they’re getting away with it as we speak shows the futility of our time and the need for spiritual retrieve.’

‘The re-election of President Barack Obama.This event was significant to me as I was in the United States at the time of his election. The state I was in, New Mexico, was a democratic state and I got a chance to see first-hand the celebrations when he was elected. I was living next to a homosexual couple at the time and they invited me and my girlfriend over to hang out with them after Obama was elected. They confided in us that they had been really worried about the idea of Romney becoming elected. It really made me think about the differences between politics in England and the USA. Religion stays out of politics in England but in America a large per cent of Americans won’t vote for a president unless he is religious.  This event also inspired me to start writing a black comedy about a student who takes his Muslim girlfriend home to his Republican family for the weekend; which creates a lot of tension and also humorous consequences.’

‘The story about Jeremy Forrest and the girl he abducted, there is always more than one side to a story.’

‘I wrote my first radio play, 3000 (for Radio 4) when I discovered that 3,000 children turn up every year in the UK unaccompanied, completely on their own, and seeking asylum. At the time, all the media coverage of asylum seekers was (and is still) so negative that I wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are kids in this category too, many of whom didn’t even choose to leave their own country or know where they’d end up. And then they arrive in the UK. And then what? That’s what I wanted to find out.’

‘I watched a religious programme in which Ann Widdecombe (yes, the ex-conservative MP) explored the possible effects and ramifications of postmodernism on the church and faith based society in general. As a result I wrote a stage play ‘The Lost World of Malcolm Ridge’ about a man who is cryogenically frozen and wakes up 200 years later in the 22nd C to a world where all modernistic understanding is questionable and conspiracy ideas are rife. Won second prize in a playwriting comp so can’t have been too bad but I am now aware when writing young characters not to ascribe to them modern tendencies or behaviourism – I leave that for my older more staid characters.’

‘An article on ‘bussing’ – kids that spend all night on night buses because it is preferable to what they have at home.’

‘The Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, USA, 2010. 11 workers died from the explosion that dumped almost 5 million barrels of crude oil into the gulf. with all due respect for the lives lost, both human and marine life, and the untold collateral damage to businesses and the environment, the true travesty is the blatant and unending disregard for this entire planet and ALL who share it. It is only a mistake if nothing is learned – this was a HUGE mistake’.

‘Two very strong contenders are 9/11; and the formation of the UK Coalition Government in May 2010. Both events challenged the existing status quo and broke expected/accepted norms about how things are done and what could be done. They also uncovered some of the worst behaviour human beings are capable of, in my opinion. But I’ll pick the Global Financial crisis of 2007/2008 — it seems to me this is the biggest story of all, connecting the others, as it signals a fundamental paradigm shift in what we can expect about how we live on this planet, especially in the developed world. I tend to believe the financial crash is the canary in the coalmine which presages our future. I think it speaks ultimately to a personal level about the wisest way we should live on a planet with finite resources, and why greed (which is in all of us) is ultimately stupid. It works for the individual in the here and now, but threatens to trash the species in the long run. So, for me, it goes to the heart of the rules of life and our existence as living creatures.’

‘Another cop out? 9/11. Not so much for the terrorist event itself but for the conspiracy theories that are abundant in the background. True or not, the idea that there could be people/consortia/syndicates in positions of supreme power who care for nothing but furthering their reach to the expense of all else. I find this fascinating and frightening, and again have incorporated this into my TV project.’

‘I’m developing an idea about a teenage girl who attempts to solve the mystery of a missing schoolfriend because every year we are faced with stories of young girls who are murdered, and I am fed-up as a viewer of stories where the villain is raping/killing women. The latest series of Luther is apparently about a serial killer targeting women, and this is only a few weeks after The Fall ended with the premise of…a serial killer targeting women. Meanwhile, The Returned is showing on Channel 4 and it’s riveting, but…there is also a key storyline about a serial killer targeting women! Crime and thriller writers should really be more imaginative. Art imitates life, but it’s also not helpful to constantly project an image to society where females are only victims.’

‘The atrocious immigration system in the UK. While the mainstream politicians continue with their macho posturing as to who is the toughest when it comes to immigration, the real issue is ignored and that is that 1000’s of people are living in purgatory, not allowed to work, study or even volunteer and, contrary to popular belief, cannot claim benefits either. It will take another 20 years for the applications that are already in at the Home Office to be processed using the current system. Meanwhile, children that are born here become ‘overstayers’ at the age of 18 and families are living in poverty in overcrowded, ghettoised situations forced into criminal activity. It’s a disgrace. We need an amnesty and then a calm, considered debate as to future policy. We are shooting ourselves in the foot bt freezing out foreign students, too, just to look tough. It’s pathetic and tragic for those living in misery. The criminal justice system…well, this is not the place to rant. This inspires me to put pen to paper because I want to help remind people that these are human beings that we are talking about not quotas and I want to tell beautiful stories of the heroic mums and aunties and grans holding families and communities together and I want to remind people that they were young once, too. We need to stop this demonizing of young people but it’s part of this Government’s ‘setting everyone against each other’ strategy in order to rush through their ideology…and they’ve succeeded. Discuss!’

‘The Chernobyl disaster. The radiation was so widespread that traces have been found in the sediment of Loch Ness, and are still present throughout Europe today. It may be having insidious effects on our bodies without us realising. This perturbing knowledge was the basis for a drama/thriller I am writing.’

‘The past year’s British weather, particularly that “odd” snow patch we had. I was feeling pretty jaded about the kindness of modern society until a force greater than any individual brought many individuals back together to battle against it. That’s the stuff of uplifting screenwriting.’

‘Two true crime stories both national and local have inspired me recently. The first concerned three teenage boys who murdered a tramp in Liverpool just out of boredom. Looking deeper into the case, you see the troubled family behind two of the boys with prison convictions and poverty weighing heavily over their lives. It is also another case of the poor being demonised in the way the family and the neighbourhood they grew up in have been portrayed.
The second was a local story about an elderly man who was killed and buried in a suitcase. The crime is horrific, how the man was tortured and brutalised before his murder. Then it was revealed the victim was a convicted sex offender who has past convictions for sexually assaulting young girls. On top of this, it was revealed that the motive wasn’t some sort of revenge for the crimes the sex offender committed, but to do with one of the murderers extorting money and the offender wanting to stop.
In both these stories we have a horrific crime that has more layers than you expect. Also the sympathies of each “character” changes with the information provided, making me question who I should be rooting for. This balance is something I want to find in my own scripts, making the audience question the character’s motives and their own preconceptions.’

‘The 1988 Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, one of the great untold British stories on screen. My young cousin was in the army at the time, a teenage soldier, one of many sent to clean up that night after the tragedy. What he saw and did affected him profoundly, and the stories he told me deserve to reach a wider audience. If I had to choose just one of my projects to be made and no other, it would be this one.’

‘The Tories/coalition for the way that they are relentlessly attacking the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, while refusing to tax the wealthiest. The bedroom tax, changes to the NHS, and changes to disability benefit, alongside cuts to Legal Aid and the Citizens Advice Bureau meant that some of the poorest members of the society lost out repeatedly in financial terms while also removing their ability to get help or legally challenge those decisions. I made it the background to a short play, Orion, about a mentally unstable man who ends up sleeping in an abandoned van because he wasn’t able to cope with dealing with the bureaucracy. It questioned who should be responsible for a vulnerable person; the state or their former partner.’

‘The number of stories about rape and sexual abuse that have been on the news recently, when seen against the number of TV shows and films that use violence against women for entertainment and titillation – yeah, I’m sharpening my pencil in readiness for that one.’

‘Prompted by a discussion about the state of the economy – is it as bad as in the 1970’s? I started reading ‘When the Lights Went Out’: Britain in the 1970’s’ Andy Beckett. My memories of the 3 day week were vague but I was certain in that period there were many events and choices made which had relevance to issues today. I discovered the first pipeline to carry oil from the North Sea to the mainland became operational in 1975; after calling the 3 day week, Heath was forced into calling an election in February 1974; the tartan army were attacking pipelines in the early 1970‘s; and a report was written by an economist (hidden by successive governments until 2005) which calculated if Scotland was independent and claimed the oil in its internationally recognised waters it would be very rich indeed.’

‘The 2011 Summer riots definitely motivated me as there were so many angles and perspectives to be considered. Even within the one perspective of a ‘rioter’ there are sub-divisions of perspectives – why were they rioting? Merely a delinquent? No money and needed to get nappies for a child? Angry at the government? Kleptomaniac? Rebellion?’ I do have a good answer to this, but I don’t want to say as I’m still working on the idea itself – however, the event was a globally reported story, and one particular aspect of it struck me more than anything else – a real ‘what if?’ moment, and that’s exactly what you need for screenwriting. The “what if game” is a great way to put a central idea/fear/hope at the centre of your story from which you can develop everything else.’

‘Nelson Mandela’s health has energised to write. A whole country puts its hope and future in a courageous man who has fought his war and now is dying – what will happen to South Africa.’

‘The recent revelations about the activities of an undercover police unit during the 1980’s and 90’s. As a student during the early nineties there were aspects of the political side of things that I could relate to so I am in the process of developing a TV series incorporating some first-hand experience with some of the details of the undercover police story. I felt I could see the potential for a compelling character-driven police drama with a twist, but one where the focus is more on the individuals involved than the crimes committed.’

‘Margaret Thatcher’s Death. As a tour guide who has worked both in the UK and Ireland, I became overwhelmed at the reactions of different people on my tours as I discuss the difficult history of the two islands in the wake of Mrs. Thatcher’s passing. I myself do not hold strong political views either way, but I found myself having to daily ‘tailor my script’ according to the group, and this of course is something that a writer, particularly a playwright, must be prepared to do (though of course likely for more mundane reasons than a high profile death).’

‘World news stories that have inspired me is a good question because on analysis, I’ve realised that most of my plays have come out of local stories. However, looking further afield, the California wildfires in early May got me wondering about “What if someone started the fire deliberately? And what if that person was a friend of yours? What would make you keep their secret for them? How would that knowledge affect you? What happens when it starts to eat you up?” It’s early days but there is a plot growing……’

Once again, thank you all for answering this (and the rest of the questions) so fascinatingly. More to come in the next few weeks…

Until next week

All the best


Twitter: @philipshelley1
Nov 15th 2013