Interview: Writer and Filmmaker Lucy Rose On… Cathartic Horror, Problematic Directors, And Why You Should Write What You Know

Lucy Rose is an award-winning writer and director, specialising in horror and fantasy. Lucy’s prose can be found in a range of publications, while her most recent film, “She Lives Alone,” is currently on a BAFTA and Oscar-qualifying festival run.

We spoke to Lucy about the catharsis of horror, the importance of writing what you know, and changing what it means to be a film director.

We can’t help but acknowledge what a tough time it’s been for us all over the past year. How has lockdown affected your creativity?

I think the main thing that’s come out of lockdown for me is that it’s given me time to focus on understanding what my voice is, and what it is exactly that I’m trying to say, without the pressure of the industry. I feel like the industry is further away now, that I’m not in amongst it. It’s been really difficult, but the main thing is – it sounds so cheesy – working on creative projects that stimulate me and excite me has got me through.

Because we now have so much more time to ourselves, there’s absolutely nothing to distract us from what’s actually going on inside our own heads. I think it’s the same for a lot of people, where they’ve actually had to confront their own issues, flaws, or traumas. Having to engage with that has evolved the way I use my creative voice. So a lot of the work I’m writing now is quite different – I’m writing lots of horror, but the horror has changed. It’s so much more internal; not forces from the outside at work, but forces from within, which is maybe a reflection of our situation.

“I don’t like happy endings – they’re so unrealistic. Happiness isn’t something we are, it’s something that comes and goes as it pleases.”

Lucy Rose

What is it about horror that appeals to you?

Firstly, I think horror is about to have a massive boom. I think, both as a world and as a country, we’re going through something that’s quite traumatic, and whether you watch it or write about it, horror is such a cathartic way to experience that in a safe space.

I’ve had a lot of trauma in my personal life – it’s such a dramatic way for me to cope with it, going into an entire career just to learn how to cope (laughs) – but it is really cathartic. I wrote an incredibly personal piece over the first lockdown which got published in December (“Fragments”, as seen in Boshemia Magazine), a creative nonfiction story with strokes of horror, and one of the things that really spoke to me is how many people got in touch to say either, “Thank you for sharing,” or, “I’ve been through this too,” and just hearing that someone else has gone through it makes me feel less alone. Every creative is doing it for themselves, but they’re also doing it to try to connect with other people and share lived experiences.

What themes do you like to explore in your work?

A lot of my work is about coming to terms with things you can’t fix. Whether that’s a situation, or a quality you have that’s part of your personality, it’s about coming to terms with accepting that our lives and stories are all flawed, and that’s fine. I don’t like happy endings – they’re so unrealistic. Happiness isn’t something we are, it’s something that comes and goes as it pleases. 

The trick is knowing how to conduct tension. Story is conflict, and conflict is tension. Knowing when to introduce the tension, and then how to mould it as the story goes – and then deciding whether you relieve the tension for the audience, or leave them with it. And again, that’s about being realistic. I feel like most people feel a lot of tension day-to-day, and that’s part of life.

Lucy Rose looking at footage on a monitor on a the set of one of her films.
Lucy Rose

What is the biggest lesson that you would pass on to other writers?

If you’re going to write, write honestly. The idea of “own voices” is a really controversial subject, and I’m not sure why. To write something good, you don’t need to tell anyone else’s story. 

Firstly, morally, it’s right to let people tell their own stories. And secondly: there are lots of films, for example, about Black people – but Get Out is one of the best ones, and that’s because it’s authentic. It’s not something someone has had to learn, or research, it’s inherent to their lived experiences. 

It’s the same for Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. I can’t tell you how many LGBT films I’ve seen where I’ve gone, “This is so obviously written by a fucking straight person!” When you watch Portrait, you think, “That’s it. That’s our identity.” For me, that’s one of the big lessons – just write about you. If you haven’t experienced something you’re writing about, it’s never going to be your best work. Why wouldn’t you give yourself the chance to talk about your own experience?

How do you motivate yourself to write?

One of the things I do is stagger my work time; for example, I schedule in a month where I’m going to work on something. With my novel, I wrote my first draft in two weeks. I was writing upwards of eight thousand words a day – which was insane. And to do that, I literally set a timer every five minutes, and I had to write 250 words by the time the timer went off, until I hit my goal. But after those two weeks, I took a month off from writing.

I believe the idea of creative inspiration is something that’s totally not within our control – the best way is not to force it. Often it’s not that you’re being lazy, or unmotivated, you’re just not ready to write things down. We all have days like that. You just need to wait it out, and come back to it when you’re ready. 

Or you could try doing something different that’s also creative – I do a lot of singing in the house. If I really can’t write I sing a few songs, or dig out some old sheet music. Sometimes you’ve got that creative vibe, but writing is one of those things where you really have to use your brain, because every word you put down on the page is specifically chosen. You have to be really conscious of those micro-decisions, but also what you’re saying on a mass level. So just take it easy, and go at your own pace.

“One of the hardest things to overcome as a creative is understanding that your creativity, and everything it makes, will be imperfect. And that’s fine!”

Lucy Rose

What’s your approach to drafting and refining your work?

It totally depends on the project – some projects just happen so easily, and I think that’s because they’ve been ruminating for a while, even if I didn’t know it. I’m not one of those people who writes perfect drafts the first time around – the first time I write, I’ll be honest with you, it’s total garbage (laughs). But that’s just part of the drafting process.

I’m not an Einstein – I’m somebody who works really hard to make something polished. People want to be some kind of mysterious genius, but there are a lot of people out there who have to work really hard to get what they want – and yes, it’s frustrating, but I think there’s such a joy in taking that time to craft something.

There’s often a lot of shaming in writing communities around the different ways you should approach your work – you know, “That should have taken you fewer drafts” – or the other end of the spectrum, “Are you really only going to redraft that once?” You do you! Whatever works best for your approach, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Lucy Rose talking to a crew member on the set of one of her films.
Lucy Rose

How did you start out making films?

The way I started making films was to make them every weekend – just crap things that I made in my flat, that I’ll probably never show anyone. Those scripts weren’t deep or introspective, they were just experiments for me to be able to figure out where I wanted to go, and what films I wanted to make. 

When I was developing scripts, I had three freelance jobs. I was teaching painting classes, writing letters for somebody, doing spreadsheets; nothing exciting, or creative, but it was just something that supplemented me. When you’re working-class, it’s shit, but it’s the bullet that you’ve got to bite. I was working really long days – anything to pay the bills, so that I could just have time on a weekend or an evening where I could commit myself to being a creative person and exploring that part of my identity.

The mistake I think lots of people make is that they don’t write about things they care about. They’re just so desperate to make a film that they make anything – and I’ve done it, you just want to make something because you love movies – but you can spend a long time writing scripts. It’s ok to take your time, and it’s ok if something takes longer than you think it should; work on it until you think it’s right.

One of the hardest things to overcome as a creative is understanding that your creativity, and everything it makes, will be imperfect. And that’s fine! At some point, you just have to let it go – let it fly the nest, and be proud of what it became.

“There’s nothing like seeing your vision come to life on screen exactly the way you’d pictured it.”

Lucy Rose

What sort of legacy do you want to leave as a director?

Directors have a really problematic history, so it’s really hard to find titan directors that you can look up to; because most of them are rapists or abusers. We’ve been making films for a hundred years, but actually we’re still developing; even though we’re really influenced by films that have come before, our actual technique is something that’s in a state of change.

We look back to auteur cinema in the ’70s as a time of artistry and exploration – and that’s true, some films were great, but in terms of my professional heritage, I look back on that time feeling quite ashamed of the way that a lot of directors treated crew members and actors. Some of the things they got away with were really disgusting and inhumane. Me and a lot of other directors now want to be part of that change. 

It shouldn’t even be a rule, but everyone deserves an equal amount of respect on a film set. When I was a runner, I was treated like dogshit on so many different sets. And I don’t want any runner to ever feel that way, because it’s a workplace – they should feel welcome, and they should feel like part of the team.

Every director is going to have a totally different approach of how they work with actors and how they bring their vision to fruition. The only way you can learn what that is is by making films, and that’s why I’m happy I made so many crap films. Really, directing is just communicating with people and problem-solving; there is obviously the creative aspect, but ultimately what you’re doing is asking people to help you bring that vision to life – you can’t do it on your own. So it’s just about treating people with respect, in my opinion, and being a nice person. And it’s such a rewarding experience. There’s nothing like seeing your vision come to life on screen exactly the way you’d pictured it.

What work have you been inspired by lately?

I have to mention her, because she’s my queen – anything that Shirley Jackson has touched, or been involved in, inspires me. If you’re emerging into horror, she is the cream of the crop. She’s incredible. And people deny it, but she was definitely a queer woman. You can just tell by the way she writes women. 

In terms of newer writers, one of my favourites I’ve been reading at the minute is Carmen Maria Machado, and she is flawless. Just the most raw, beautiful writing that I’ve ever read. She writes so honestly, so it’s really inspirational to read her work. 

Something I’ve been doing over lockdown is going back and watching a lot of classics that I’ve missed, and one of the pieces of work that I watched in the first lockdown is called The Innocents by Jack Clayton, which came out in 1961. If you love that gothic vibe, it harks back to the original gothic stories of Ann Radcliffe in the 1700s. It’s just stunning. 

You can follow Lucy Rose on Twitter and Instagram at @LucyRoseCreates.

For more of Lucy’s work, visit

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