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Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, a diverse, creative city that’s certainly shaped her, Lynsey trained and worked as a theatre actress for a few years before moving into screenwriting full time. As a screenwriter, she is currently in progress with BBC/Blazing Griffin Productions on an original TV drama. Lynsey was also chosen for the EIFF Talent Lab with her project LITTLE HAZARD which is now in development with Inceptive Films.
Repped by Imagine Talent and Zero Gravity Management, Lynsey is also an award-winning playwright, and her work has been exhibited at venues such as The Arches and the Tron Theatre. In this interview, part of Zaftyg’s series, the screenwriter known by her punky and percussive style, opens up about her career and how she wants to help moving humanity forward through her scripts.
Tell us a bit about you.
I trained and worked as a theatre actor for a few years before moving into screenwriting full time. I’ve been lucky to have travelled the world which really opened my eyes to different cultures and ways of living. I meditate daily and I’m a big advocate for it; it’s really helped with my anxiety and also my ability to focus. To relax I draw with ink which is fun – you never quite know what the ink is going to do…it’s quite meditative now that I think about it in that you have to go with the flow and trust. Sometimes it doesn’t work out but that’s okay. I’ve been learning to play piano again over lockdown which has been a joy.
Tell us about your career and your journey.
I met my UK agent Christina Pickworth at Imagine Talent through Women in Film and TV (WFTV) when I helped organise their writers group. She read my plays and short film scripts and took me on from there. That’s when the real work started: I wrote two TV pilots that got me meetings with production companies. Getting shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe Film Showcase was a great confidence boost and recently I was selected for the BBC Scottish Voices program. This year, I gained representation from Sarah Arnott at Zero Gravity Management in the US which is hugely exciting. I’m looking forward to coming to LA for meetings once the world opens up again. Where’s good to eat? I’ve heard the restaurants are amazing.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working with screenwriter Caitlin McCarthy (Top 10 highest scoring women, 2019 Academy Nicholl Fellowship) on TV show set in Scotland and Massachusetts during the 1800s. It has a modern and punky edge even though it’s a period piece. It’s been wonderful to research, create the characters and world with Caitlin; she’s a joy to collaborate with – and so talented: I’ve learned a lot from her. I’m also working on two social thriller/horror features with a production company and a director. I’ve always got projects cooking away – every one is a joy.
What’s your career highlight?
My career highlight so far has got to be being accepted into the Edinburgh International Film Talent Lab in 2019. I gained a really supportive group of writers, directors and producers whom I now can’t imagine being without. We talk regularly, read each other’s work and many of us are now collaborating. It’s so great to see them moving forward in their careers. I know we’ll support each other forever and that’s golden.
Tell us about your project LITTLE HAZARD.
It’s based on the real life place of Austin, Indiana, nicknamed Little Hazard, a small town that’s been ravaged by the opioid crisis. A teenage girl and a female social worker fight to have a community parade come through but the psychological and emotional effects of generational drug use threaten their every move. It sounds heavy but there’s moments of lightness and laughter, I promise. Humour naturally comes through in my writing and I felt it was important to show the people; the light and darkness that’s part of all of us. It was shortlisted for the BAFTA Rocliffe Film Showcase and it’s now in development with Inceptive Films, the producer of which I met on the EIFF Talent Lab, and we’re going to be sending it out to directors soon which is exciting.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
To be gloriously happy.
What originally attracted you to screenwriting?
We never went to the theatre when I was a kid but trips to the cinema and couch potato-ing in front of the box: yes. It was a means of escape, a window into another world… I remember watching an afternoon soap at my grandmother’s house and having a strong feeling that I wanted to do that. I like the subtlety of a screenplay, you can say so much with a look, a twitch of the eye…and it has the potential to go out to a large audience in a way a stage play can’t; it’s more accessible and cuts through a lot of social economic barriers.
What’s a typical work week like?
Every day, Monday to Friday, at 10am I log onto Zoom to do pomodoro writing sessions with fellow screenwriters Raisah Ahmed and Caitlin McCarthy. Caitlin is from the US so her start time is 5am – her work ethic and commitment is an inspiration! I work for a few hours in the afternoon and in the evening. I’m trying not to work over the weekends, but I usually dive in anyway. I love the writing process, although I have hard days like everyone else, but generally, it’s one of my happy places.
What writers have influenced you and why?
Jordan Peele for sure. His scripts have a real pertinence and resonance with big societal issues while also being entertaining: it’s something I want to achieve in my own own work. Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Michaela Cole have made me so much braver in my own writing, they’re so bold. I often think of Phoebe’s quote on creativity which I shall paraphrase here for you right now: ‘What would you write if you weren’t afraid.’ I try to remember that and do the same. Novel wise: Maria Popova, Daphne De Maurier, Rebecca Solnit and Carlos Ruiz Zafón: the writing in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books quadrilogy is so gorgeous, it’s like being under a spell. I’ve just ordered ‘The Disordered Chaos’ by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein which I’m so looking forward to reading. There’s always a pile of books to be read beside my bed.
What makes a great story?
Characters. I always start with the characters when I write a new thing and really flesh them out – then they tell you the story in a way. Also a good story subverts expectations: audiences are so sophisticated now, they know all the conventions and tropes so it’s good to play with that and surprise them. That’s my favourite kind of story: something that’s familiar but surprising.
Who is your favorite character?
I’d say Marisa Coulter from the His Dark Materials trilogy. She’s fascinating: so complex, so hateful yet she cares so deeply for her daughter. I admire in her in some ways. She’s an intelligent, curious woman who’s had to carve out an existence in a patriarchy that won’t even let her study. I wonder if she’d been any different in our world?
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really…only that I like to change where I write; I don’t have a fixed office or even desk space. Before the pandemic I’d do a few hours a day at different cafes mixed with a few hours at home. I’m so used to writing while jobbing about; doing an hour on a bus or the train, that the thought on a fixed space to write scares me a bit.
Do you have any tips on how to overcome writer’s block?
Get away from it. Go for walk, watch something, read, phone your Mum – anything to get your mind off it and let your subconscious work it out. Also napping is a great way to ‘reset’ your mind but not everyone can do that, especially if you work from an office. It’s another reason to make beds in offices a norm, isn’t it?
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in screenwriting?
My favourite piece of writing advice is from Ray Bradbury: ‘Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens.’ That could be for fifteen minutes, an hour, two hours… When I read that, a valve opened in my brain, I thought I can do that. It’s so simple and it takes an expectation out of the equation which can render a writer inert. Also, I’d say cultivate lots of ideas: this is how you’ll build relationships with producers. They may pass on the first project you go to them with but if you have more then you can go back. Also, don’t be afraid to love it.
Who you are as a writer and how did your career experiences help shape you and make you the kind of writer you are and will be?
I’m a politically minded person and that certainly comes out in my writing. I grew up in a political household, my Dad was a postman and would go on strike and protest for better working conditions. It planted a seed early on in me so I always look at the political climate of the story world, it might be a subplot or it could be part of the main plot but normally, it’s there. Through my career experience so far, I’d say that I’ve become bolder about saying that I write predominately for women; there’s lots of spaces made for male skewed stories so if I get a space I’m going to fill it with a female gaze.
What are the struggles in the industry for a female screenwriter? Is it still a “boy’s club”?
Yes, unfortunately I think there still is although things are changing: the Oscar nominations this year certainly spark hope. My wish is that it trickles down to the commissioning and development level so that more diverse stories are picked up. Women have been asking for change and equality for centuries, centuries and we’ve only taken baby steps: when do we get it?
How do you want to help move humanity forward?
Through my scripts, I like to challenge the status quo and our societal norms: they don’t benefit the majority of us so why do we have them? Stories are so powerful: just about every person on this planet would recognise the tropes, conventions and stock characters that are continually recycled into stories, especially within film and TV because it’s a global market. If we change them, if we challenge them…then can we change the world?
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