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Paul Abbott

Paul Abbott, writer of Shameless, State of Play and Clocking Off is the most feted TV writer of his generation and has recently been given the South Bank Award for outstanding contribution to the arts.

He was born on a sink estate in Burnley in 1960, one of seven children who were left to bring themselves up after first their mother, then their father, deserted them. One of his first writing experiences was with NWP . . .

‘In the very early 80s, my first paid-for stage play was partly funded by the North West Playwrights' initiative.

Without question, this was one of the most gruesome, exposing events of my writing career.   A dozen or so charitably low-paid actors doing a rehearsed reading of something I should never have been allowed to get away with.  

It was a...  I nearly can't type this bit without chewing my own testicles in shame....It was a stage musical about nuclear disarmament. North West Playwrights gave me a bursary for expenses, etc., and another thing I'd neither heard of before, nor asked for  - a ‘dramaturg'.   Which sounded like a threateningly exotic enema...

But no, it was Peter Flannery.  You know - Flannery the titan dramatist responsible for Savage Amusement, a brilliant piece of urban stagecraft, one of the first and finest stage plays I'd ever read.  I crapped myself  when he joined the first meeting and said,  "You know your play wasn't selected on the merit of its writing... They only gave you a slot ‘cos it's about left wing politics."

For a man of few words, he taught me tons that year, did Mr. Flannery  - firstly, that if you were cringing when you typed it, then you seriously deserve to cringe when you watch it from the stalls... and secondly, that writers can be unforgivably peevish and unhelpful to other writers.           

Two glorious facts of life that I'm delighted to have learnt sooner than later. 

When my NWP read-through rolled out on the stage of Manchester's university Contact Theatre, I squirmed in self-inflicted shame. 

It was the worst thing I've ever churned out - like a CND version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Almost every other writer in the room glowed with relish as they, and the audience, pounded into me with critical assassination. 

I love, love, love remembering that night.

I love remembering the ride home in a £50 taxi because I'd had to get completely twatted in the pub afterwards, to cope with the onslaught.

I love remembering arriving home, shooting straight into the back yard, shredding the script, steeping it with Turps, and burning it ‘til it looked like jet-black Kleenex in the rain.

I love knowing that you're allowed to go through all that, and react like that, and loathing yourself for being such a gormless, formless twat as to think that words on paper, if there are enough of them, typed neatly in a manuscript format... is actually a piece of work.

I created a little bonfire in the drizzle.

I learned earlier and more convincingly than most writers , that... never mind ‘no smoke without fire'...  but there's often no fire without smoke first.

I learned how to write with more respect for my own instincts, in relation to the audience I was serving.

I learned tons that night.'


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