What other writers have inspired you?
Brecht, first and foremost, and if I ever get blocked as a writer I often turn back to his work – in fact one of my plays The Wheel is a direct response to Mother Courage. I also love the plays of Edward Bond, Howard Barker and Sarah Kane – for their boldness, economy and raw theatricality. I also find Caryl Churchill’s work very inspiring – her playfulness with form alongside her unflinching look at humanity. But there are direct contemporaries doing great things too – David Harrower, and Jez Butterworth amongst my favourites.
What do you look for in a piece of writing?
I am always looking for theatricality in a play – that the writer understands the relationship between stage and audience and allows a space where we can infer, imagine and enter into the story without being given everything. Sometimes that might mean that the visual storytelling is as strong as the dialogue – indeed I sometimes ask students to imagine watching a particular play with the volume knob turned down, and to describe what they would see. But I can also think of plays – like Michael Fryan’s Copenhagan for example – that are entirely told by the dialogue between three people and yet is full of imagery. That is the curious thing about playwriting, no two plays obey the same rules. And I like plays that surprise us, that seem to do one thing, then do another. Good playwrights are very often writers who are experimental with form in my view, who having mastered the essentials can be playful, and take the art-form forward.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given by another writer?
To keep going! To understand that even the most successful career has moments where it all seems to be going backwards. That plays come in their own time. Simon Stephens once said “Write. Write. Fuck up a bit. Learn a bit. Fuck up again. Write. Write more. Never stop. Ever” and I love that.
Ms Zinnie Harris
Zinnie Harris splits her time between St Andrews where she is Senior Lecturer in playwriting and screenwriting and the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, where she is the Associate Director. Her plays have won her many awards, and are now performed in translation around the world. Her most recent, How to Hold Your Breath (Royal Court Theatre) won the Berwin Lee international playwriting award and stared Maxine Peake in the lead role.
Previous work includes The Wheel (National Theatre of Scotland 2011) which was joint winner of the 2011 Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, won a Fringe First Award and was subsequently produced at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. Further than the Furthest Thing, (National Theatre / Tron Theatre) won the Peggy Ramsay Award, the John Whiting a Fringe first and was specially commended in the Susan Smith Blackburn award. The National Theatre of Scotland / Citizens’ Theatre produced ‘This Restless House’ (a trilogy of three new plays based around Aeschylus’ Oresteia) which was performed in April 2016, and won Best New Play 2016, from the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Her trilogy Midwinter, Solstice, and Fall appeared at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Traverse Theatre in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Midwinter won the 2005 Art Foundation Fellowship Award for Playwriting and was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award. Other work includes Julie (National Theatre of Scotland 2006); Nightingale and Chase (Royal Court Theatre, London 2001); a version of A Dolls House (Donmar Warehouse 2009) and By Many Wounds (Hampstead Theatre 1999). Her television writing includes creating the series Partners In Crime for BBC1 and writing episodes 1 – 3, writing the two stand alone television films Born with Two Mothers, Richard is my Boyfriend (both Channel 4), and several episodes for the BBC One Drama Series Spooks. She was writer in Residence at the RSC from 2000 to 2001.
Born with Two Mothers (Windfall Films / Channel 4)
Richard is My Boyfriend (Windfall Films / Channel 4)
Spooks, Series 5, 6, and 8 (Kudos / BBC One)
Partners in Crime (Endor, Agatha Christie / BBC One)
By Many Wounds (Faber and Faber, 1998)
Further than the Furthest Thing (Faber and Faber, 2000)
Nightingale and Chase (Faber and Faber2001)
Midwinter (Faber and Faber, 2004)
Solstice (Faber and Faber, 2005)
Julie (Faber and Faber, 2006)
Fall (Faber and Faber, 2008)
Plus Loin que Loin (Quatre Vents, 2008)
Hiver : Suivi de Crépuscule (Quatre Vents, 2008)
A Doll’s House (Faber and Faber, 2009)
The Panel, in Women, Power and Politics Now (Nick Hern Books, 2010)
The Wheel (Faber and Faber, 2011)
From Elsewhere: The Message, in The Bomb: A Partial History (Oberon, 2012)
From Elsewhere: On the Watch, in The Bomb: A Partial History (Oberon, 2012)
How To Hold Your Breath (Faber and Faber, 2015)
This Restless House (Faber and Faber, 2016)