Shelagh Stephenson: Writer And Playwright Talks Courage To TQC


Shelagh Stephenson, writer and playwright extraordinaire tells us about the ins and outs of day-to-day life, admiring Caryl Churchill in her 20s and her love of change

1.Tell us about you – what motivates you?

Deadlines, fear of penury, anxiety, tax bills. I write best when I’m in a state of wound up terror. Or at least I think I do. I quite possibly don’t.

2. What does a day in the life of you look like?

Get up, shout at The Today programme,  make coffee. Walk dogs, read digital version of The Guardian on line. Read it again just in case. Noodle about doing emails. Do a bit of work. Check The Guardian again. Read a book. Do a bit of work. Stare at the screen. Take phone calls about new drafts of scripts. Take phone calls telling me another project has gone down the tubes.  Read a different book. Stare at the screen. Do a bit of work. Make dinner for my husband and myself. Feed dogs.  Pour wine.  Drink it. Eat. Watch Masterchef/Grand Designs or BBC4. I hardly ever go out, and I do exactly the same in France as I do in London, but minus the TV. My husband and I mostly talk about scripts, plays, books, projects, and  how to pay off the mortgage. He works in the attic and I work in my study.  At the weekends we do the same but with wall to wall Netflix in the evening.  In January we watch all The BAFTA films. Sometimes I go to Pilates.  Sometimes I go into town for a meeting and the whole day  is ruined. Sometimes I call my agent and say I don’t know how to write and she says you’ve been saying that for 20 years. I go to bed and read till 2.a.m.  Quite often, just before I drop off, I have a mind blowing idea. But when I wake up I’ve either forgotten it, or it wasn’t mind blowing at all, and I can’t imagine why I thought it was.  Sometimes I think I’m brilliant and sometimes I think I’m a complete failure.

3. What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything remotely courageous. I don’t like heights, funfair rides, confrontation, or parties where I don’t know at least 2 people really, really well. I once almost went to a cocktail party thrown by my publisher, but bottled out at the last minute.

4. Tell us about your relationship to Change?

Change is good. I like moving house and slamming the door behind me and never caring about the place again.

5. Who is your role model and why?

My husband is much nicer than me. I guess it’s him. Before I met him I didn’t have a role model. I’m not sure what it means, really.  When I was in my twenties I quite wanted to be Caryl Churchill. I used to invite her to my birthday parties (she was a friend of a friend)  in the hope I might become her, by sheer proximity. Or osmosis. Or something.

6. What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve read, seen or done in the last month?

Probably the  translation of Karl Ove Knausgard’s 3rd volume. His books are the crystal meth of literature.  Oh, and my friend Leslee Udwin’s  extraordinary film about rape in India. India’s Daughter. It inspired me that she actually managed to make the bloody thing at all.