After I finished my degree in Drama at Manchester University, I was at a bit of a loose end. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do next. But my tutor had an idea: he suggested I apply for the Post Graduate Diploma in Writing for Theatre course that the department ran, which came with a bursary that covered all the fees. The course would basically involve doing the writing course module I had taken in my third year again, and doing an internship somewhere relevant to see how writing worked in the real world. With no better ideas, I applied and was accepted along with two other students.
I didn’t, it had to be said, enjoy the course. But it did give me plenty of time for writing, and I had some hope for the internship when I was told it would be with the BBC. I lasted two weeks working as a runner on a day time magazine show that wouldn’t have even a hint of any writing done on it until they reached the studio floor. The department did seem quite put out when I told them the placement wasn’t suitable: a runner’s job at the BBC is the first step for any number of careers (including scriptwriter) and the other people to take the diploma – both past and present – had been glad of the opportunity. They had never had the situation where one of the students had been more interested in learning about writing than starting a career in television before.
For a while, it looked like I might fail the course because an alternative placement that actually met the requirement to teach me something about writing couldn’t be found. This would have been more of a problem for the university than me: having already worked as a writer, I knew that qualifications weren’t what producers and publishers were looking for. I’d started the course because the idea of leaving education scared me, but I knew the only way it could boost my career was if it made me a better writer. These days, it doesn’t appear on my CV.
But then, at the last minute, the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester started running a writers’ group. My recollection is that I brought it to the attention of my tutor and said it might be a good alternative to a placement, but it may be that the idea came from him. Regardless, it was the drama department who contacted the theatre and got me a place in the group. It ran weekly for two months, each meeting involving a number of writing exercises intended to lead us to producing a scene of a new play by the end of the course. The scenes were all to be showed in one night at the Royal Exchange Studio, and the writer of the best might be commissioned to turn it into a full play.