Interview with Lucy Gannon
I was reading up on your credits on Wiki and can see where the interest in medical dramas came from. Being a nurse and a residential social worker, you must have experienced quite a lot of dramas in that, had it always been something you wanted to do – writing, or did it start as a hobby that gradually progressed, and do you ever miss the work as a nurse and that environment?
Lucy: Writing came to me as a complete surprise - we were broke and without work and my Dad saw a play writing competition advertised and said 'Give it a go - you're very good at writing letters.' Before that I had been to the theatre as an adult only once (we had free tickets) so I knew nothing about writing, or drama, and I didn't even own a type writer. I entered the competition (The Richard Burton Drama Award) and won.
I suppose that everything you experience feeds into your writing life, so nursing and the Army etc must have fed into mine but my first few series were a response to requests from the broadcaster (in this case ITV), rather than a decision of my own. No, I really don't miss anything in my past life, I don't believe in 'missing' things. Life is too full and busy indulge in nostalgia.
I love Frankie, I love dramas like that which is why I loved the initial stories on ‘Peak Practice’ and ‘Soldier Soldier’ because it wasn’t just about the work that they did, it also covered their everyday lives, but it wasn’t solely about their lives, although Peak Practice did become quite centred on the Practice than the patients at one point. Will the BBC commission more Frankie as this is a brilliant series and a breath of fresh air kind of show that I enjoy watching and like Doctor Who, the remote stays where I can see it, nobody must talk and all eyes focus on the screen.
Lucy: You ask about a second series of Frankie. We're still waiting for the decision. I think it's very much in the balance as our viewing figures have never been huge, although our Audience Appreciation Index (some clever way they have of gauging how much the viewer likes a programme) is high and climbing. Our figures took a massive fall in week3, when we were moved from our usual slot to another night but recovered in week4 when we went back to the usual night.
The episodes you’ve touched on in the series, the euthanasia and dementia were pretty hard hitting, how close to the truth were you able to get in these two episodes? Sometimes I’m never sure how much you can involve the audience into euthanasia without picking up on negative feedback from people not wishing to see things like that. Not everybody’s cup of tea of an evening. Me personally I thought it was fantastic, but sometimes when I’m writing something I often wonder how much I can cover without someone saying, that’s too close for comfort or that’s not something people want to see on a light hearted drama.
Lucy: The episode dealing with assisted suicide (which is NOT euthanasia) wasn't at all controversial. I think we're all getting a lot more balanced and mature about end of life choices, and we can come to a better and fuller understanding of the issues by gentle, non confrontational, angst free stories like this one.
While I was going through the list of credits, I saw Bramwell, and saw Jemma Redgrave stars, then realised I’d seen her as the doctor in Frankie. When you’re casting people for your dramas, do you tend to work with familiar actors, and when you’re writing as you had done for Rob Bryden and Eddie Marsan do you write with that person in mind?
When you wrote Frankie had it been with Eve Myles in mind?
Lucy: Casting is never easy and it's a huge huge mistake to write with an actor in mind unless you're absolutely sure you can get him or her. Actors are booked up months, sometimes years, in advance but often projects are green lit either late or early so the actor's schedule goes awry and you can never be sure if you'll get them. It's best to create a character and to let it breathe. For singles, or mini series, I have sometimes had the luxury of knowing a particular actor wants the part, but you never ever know that for a whole series (which gobbles up three months of the actor's life). I wrote all my characters in Frankie, including Frankie, with no one in mind at all. No one was cast until we had already written three eps.
There are some well known faces within the series, some really cracking characters especially the guy who plays the receptionist in the wheelchair, I love his outlook on life, will there be more stories featuring the cast in the District Nurse office?
Lucy: All of our regulars get their own strand in this series, and yes, you will see a lot more of Ben Owen Jones.
You’ve written for radio, how different does that compare to writing for a television drama, in terms of scripting?
Lucy: I've written for theatre, radio, and for TV and the three mediums are very different. There's a wonderful liberation in Radio - you can set a play anywhere, at any time, and it won't cost an arm and a leg to make it. With TV you are always limited by the budget and by the practicalities of shooting/weather/location. I've just recorded a radio play set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 19th Century and we made it in London, for no more expense than if it had been a modern play set in a radio studio! The other great thing about radio is that there's only you and the director between the script and the actors - with telly there's controllers, commissioning execs, exec producers, producers. In radio your script may go to the actors and three or four others (engineers, SFX), while in TV it will go to 70 people and they'll all have input (actors, director, 1sts, 2nds, camera, make-up, wardrobe, design, location, composer, etc etc etc).
Theatre is less restrictive than TV as well. I once wrote a play set on an archery field and it was produced in The Bush Theatre, just about the smallest space ever. We had a rake going up into the audience (like a second stage) and somehow the idea of a field was created. That's what the theatre does - it takes ideas and brings them to life.
With TV in order to get a commission you have to interest just three or four people in the UK, the heads of drama at BBC, ITV, Ch4, and more recently Sky. If those few people don't share your enthusiasm, forget it. And even when they do, even when you get the green light, you always have to work to an increasingly small budget which means shorter shoots, and that limits the stories you can tell. In some ways it's a great discipline - the best TV I've written over the last 20 years has always been for Whitby Davison Productions, a small, intense and passionate production team who - because they're small Indies - have to work with tiny budgets. Together we made Bramwell (3 series and 2 TV films) and The Best Of Men (last year) and the discipline of budget and time enhanced rather than damaged the drama.
On Wikipedia it says you’re developing a three-part drama for the BBC, a four-part drama, a radio play and a film, busy lady, can you tell us anything about them for Project: Torchwood?
Lucy: Work on my desk at the moment includes a new serial for the BBC, and a two parter for the BBC. There's a new series which doesn't have its broadcaster finalised yet so I'm saying nowt about that. The radio play you asked about is now in the can and should be transmitted in the Autumn.
Do you have a blog page of your own or a website for people to follow you, or are you just snug on Twitter at the moment?
Lucy: I don't have time for a blog page - Twitter is about all I can manage! With my time split between West Wales, London, Cardiff and Bristol, I can just about cope with a few succinct words.
Would you ever write and base a story in Scotland and film up there or are you firmly grounded south of the border? (Like SW Scotland)
Lucy: I'd love to film in Scotland. I'm also keen to work in Northern Ireland. Anywhere that will have me, really!
Where was Frankie filmed?
Lucy: Frankie was filmed in and around Bristol.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax? Or do you find writing often is what relaxes you, depending on the topic?
Lucy: Hmmm. Relaxation. I tend to write to relax. It's when I'm most comfortable with myself, happy in my skin as they say.
I wrote a 10 minute short film script – my first ever script for a course in Screenwriting quite a few years ago now, do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in film making, and putting their work in front of the camera?
Lucy: My advice to a new screen writer? Work hard, listen well, take criticism from those who are in the business, remember that the producer is your friend and ally. And if the producer really isn't your friend and ally, find another producer. Try to understand your director. If your script isn't getting the response you hoped for, look at it again - chances are the fault is with the script quite as much as with the person reading it. Be passionate about your characters, live in their world, have fun.
You've got one life, and if you're a writer you'll spend much of it in some fantasy world - try to enjoy it.
Ken Bruce. My gran used to listen to him of a morning, is he your favourite DJ? All the clips involving the commentary coming from Ken Bruce were these recorded or when the radio came on in Frankie’s car were these purely adlibbed for the moment?
Lucy: Ken Bruce questions! Ken is a consummate DJ. He's wry and witty and most importantly he knows his stuff. He doesn't have to prop his show up with a bunch of cackling hangers-on, or 'posse', and he doesn't speak to us as if we're all ten years old. He understands the medium of radio, the dip in and out nature of listening to Radio 2. I wrote his lines and he said them. Like a proper trouper. Next series (if there is one) I'm just going to write Frankie's response to the radio and he can do his own lines. This is a one-off. I won't be offering the same treatment to any other actor (so don't start, Myles).
Questions from the fans:
Karina Longman asks: Do you have any connections to District nursing and what gave you inspiration?
Lucy: I don't have any connections with District Nursing.
Mickie Newton: What are your inspirations when you’re writing?
Lucy: I always get my inspiration from the characters as they begin to sparkle off the page.
Thanks Lucy for a fantastic interview!
Lucy: And one last question...... but this time from me......can I have a photo of the weevil?