The Monthly interviews writer and playwright Amanda Verlaque – Part 1 – Becoming a writer

Were you always drawn to writing as a form of self expression?

Writing is an intriguing way to explore and challenge how I see the world and my place in it, but I usually avoided committing myself to print, probably because I was too self-conscious and riddled with imposter syndrome. In the past I would’ve had discussions and debates about the things that mattered to me but it wasn’t until years later that I thought about harnessing these into something worthwhile.I’ve always loved tinkering with words and ideas so while it seemed the most obvious outlet it did take me quite some time to actually do it. I’m glad I did, because for all its frustrations and loneliness writing is so rewarding. I might not have much money but I’m the most contented I’ve ever been because I’m finally writing!

Did you get support at home or in school?

My parents didn’t push me at school but they did encourage me in other ways. My Dad took me to our local library every week since I was very small until I started to go myself in my early teens, and my Mum loved history programmes and talking about them, so in their own way they got me into quite a creative groove. I’ve always been a bit headstrong (not always a bad thing!) so I left school at 16 without sitting any exams. I absolutely hated secondary school. It was an uncomfortable experience for me, I didn’t feel like I belonged. When I was 19 I went back to school, part time to my local tech and got on track. I needed to because I had no qualifications and no prospects. I had a fantastic history teacher who believed in me and encouraged me to get to University.

How did you develop your skills as a writer?

I’ve always wanted to write, I always had ideas with worlds and characters, but with no direction I lacked the courage and commitment to do anything about it. It wasn’t until I was Deputy President in Queen’s Student’s union and I had to write for and edit the student newspaper that I began to exercise that creative muscle. It led to a freelance career as an arts and entertainment print journalist, which brought lots of experience although I still wasn’t committing myself to writing creatively. When I think about it, I created lots of obstacles to convince myself I was too busy. I do regret that sometimes.

You worked as an executive producer/producer and script editor with the BBC and other organisations for a number of years. Did you maintain your commitment to your writing during this time?

I’ve experience as a soap storyliner writing short and long form story arcs for established characters and creating new ones with complete backstories. It’s a roller coaster ride because soap chews up stories so fast and you have to really dig deep to stay fresh. It was such an epiphany; I was writing these storylines then passing them on to a team of writers. I was so close to script writing but still very far from where I wanted to be. I felt the same when I was script editing and producing for TV drama. I invested so much of myself in so many writers’ projects, from character and story development to problem solving due to budget and production issues, that I had very little left for me and my own ideas.

The desire to be on the other side of the table never left me. I’d been working in TV drama over 20 years when I finally answered the question: should I spend the rest of my life working 70 hour weeks or  should I sit down at my desk and write for myself. So I headed into uncharted waters. Mind you I had to completely change how I lived to make it happen. Sitting at a desk all day every day, working without a commission is costly, so I welcome any freelance consulting or training work (or funding – thank you ACNI!) that comes my way. The last 7 years have involved lots of writing, rewriting, doubt, despair, more rewriting, feeling better, getting there, having setbacks, emotional and financial insecurities, then more chinks of light.

What are the key themes you aim to address with your writing?

If I’m given free rein then I’m likely to be drawn to complex, flawed female characters and to stories and worlds that challenge misogyny and homophobia. I grew up without positive reflections of happy, healthy, fun loving lesbians on TV, theatre and in books, so it’s good to see that being addressed and I’m happy to contribute to a more accurate reflection of a modern society. Having said that I’m a writer for hire and I can’t afford to live work without a fee, so I’ll write to a brief if that’s what I’m paid for, but I won’t accept work that I feel is demeaning or derides women or the LGBTQ+ community.

Amanda Verlaque’s play “Distortion” will be screened at The MAC in January – themaclive.com/event/distortion-screening

Part two of this interview is here

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