FIONA PEEK…worked for many years as an actress and director in Ireland, before returning to England and completing an MA in Dramatic Writing. Her first full-length play, Salt, was joint-winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Playwriting Competition, and was premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, in February 2010.
Until you’ve had a play accepted and produced, you can’t really refer to yourself as a ‘writer’.
In 2004 I took a leap, and with no previous writing experience started a 2-year part-time MA in Dramatic Writing at Sussex University. My background was in theatre – performance and a small bit of directing – but for a number of years I’d been doing other things. The MA was a potential route back and, in the course of it, I began writing Salt. It was my first full-length play and to an extent I regarded it as an ‘exercise’ in naturalism (any work I’d attempted up to this point fell into the lyrical/surreal category!). Because it never occurred to me that it might be produced on a real live stage with real live actors, and most significantly, real live stage managers, I didn’t worry overly much about the practicalities of conjuring a 4-course meal every night (which said real live actors would be called upon to eat).
So at the end of the course, I had a difficult-to-produce play, which I knew to be unfinished and no real sense of what to do with it. I sent it out to a couple of the bigger new writing theatres and had positive feedback. But none of them was in a position to take it further.
And that’s where Bruntwood came in. The extraordinary thing about the Bruntwood Prize is that it enables potential to be recognised and developed. What an amazing opportunity – to work closely with the literary team over a period of time to develop the piece to its fullest potential, to have one’s work produced in one of the most highly-respected regional theatres in the country, not to mention the possibility of one’s work actually being published through Nick Hern Books’ close association with the competition.
And then of course there’s the money, which often goes politely unmentioned, but which for me bought the time to pursue more writing avenues. Working at the Royal Exchange was hugely rewarding. Had Salt not been spotted by the Bruntwood team, I could easily still be touting it around – I almost certainly would not currently be writing for the BBC and working on my next play. So on some level, one could say that the Bruntwood Competition turned me into a writer… or at least someone who claims to be one!
Come back tomorrow for the final installment in our week-long Bruntwood Playwriting Competition blog special! Andrew Sheridan reveals why the Bruntwood is “the most important new playwriting competition in this country!” – and what it’s been like to go from being an actor to a playwright with his debut play and 2008 joint winner of the prize, Winterlong.