Interview: Playwright Tamsin Rees On… Subtext, Angry Women, And The Infinite Potential Of Plays

Tamsin Rees is a playwright and artist. She is currently an Associate Artist at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, and was a member of the first Royal Court Writers Group North. The stories told through her work are rooted in the North East and explore sexuality, class and power.

We spoke to Tamsin about people-watching, writing characters you want to have a drink with, and finding the beauty in the mundane.

How did you first realise that writing plays was something that you wanted to do?

I didn’t do amazing in my first year at uni – I’d dropped out of art school, and worked and travelled for a little bit before going back to uni, and I was really embarrassed that I was doing quite badly. I just couldn’t sit still, my concentration was really bad. So I did a creative writing module, because I hadn’t done any since school but I remembered enjoying it. I was going to choose prose but lots of people were signed up for it, which made me a bit nervous, and everyone doing poetry seemed a bit wanky, so I thought, “Let’s try script!” (laughs).

I didn’t even realise it was a thing that people did. I thought there was Arthur Miller, and then Shakespeare, and I thought, “Well, I’m not either of them, am I?” (laughs). But my first script class was with playwright Zoe Cooper, who’s now supervising my PhD, and one of the first things we were shown in her class was The Kitchen Sink by Tom Wells. That play made me realise, “Oh my god – plays can be fun, and normal!” So that was my first introduction. I didn’t even know how to write a play – I don’t even think I turned up with a notebook, because I didn’t even realise how it worked. 

The way I think about it, when I was at art school there was a pattern cutting tutor, and he said that for him pattern cutting and fashion was the best vehicle for him to express what he wanted to say. I realised that wasn’t the best vehicle for me. I started doing illustrations, but a lot of it was words, comics, and typography. When I did the script workshop I thought, “This is the vehicle! This is how I can say all the things I’m trying to say.” There are so many types of plays, and so many ways of writing a play; there’s such variety and potential with it.

Your work often digs into the themes of sexuality and class. How do you explore such vast and complex topics in your plays?

I’ve realised that I’m always character-driven, rather than structurally driven. I went to a workshop a couple of years ago with the playwright Sam Potter, and she said that if you put it into a binary, there are two types of writers. The first type is a worm, who will find a nugget of inspiration and they will bury their way forward with that and create the story somehow. And then there are eagles, who will have everything as a bird’s-eye view; they will see all of the plot points and exactly where everything clicks. And I thought, “I’m definitely a worm!” (laughs). I’m always interested in interesting characters. So rather than thinking, “I want to write a play about class or sexuality,” I think of a character who interests me, someone who I want to have a drink with, and see what happens when they’re in this situation and how they react to it. I’m interested in everyday stories, where the small is important.

“Whenever I write about queer characters, I never want their queerness to be a source of conflict.”

Tamsin Rees

What interests you about writing around these themes? Is it down to your own personal experiences?

I like to write characters that are queer, because that’s just how it happens. I find that different to writing about queerness. Whenever I write about queer characters, I never want their queerness to be a source of conflict. This might change in the future, as I grow older and my writing changes, maybe I’ll have more confidence to be able to tackle queerness in different ways. But I think there is an element of writing what you know. For me a lot of it comes down to writing the world as I see it and experience it, or maybe would like it to be; and then I show it to other people, and I want to see if that’s also the way they see and experience the world.

For the play I’ve just finished writing, set in Newcastle, there’s a girl who’s twenty-three from the Midlands who comes into a clinic for an examination. There’s a nurse there called Julie from Peterlee who’s fifty-four. And they’re making small talk while they’re waiting for the doctor, talking about what the girl is doing at uni. The girl says she’s doing fine art, and starts to explain what a tutorial is to Julie – then Julie is like, “I know what a tutorial is.” The subtext of what’s not being said is what I find interesting in terms of talking about class and sexuality, and those assumptions. Like, just because Julie’s got an accent that she won’t know about fine art or university. For my PhD I’m looking at the possibilities of silence, and how female desire and anger operates within contemporary narratives through silences. That came from noticing in my work that what’s said is when things aren’t explicitly said – when it’s said through subtext, or when there’s space for the audience to understand what’s happening. 

A photo from Tamsin's play "fledglings" being performed o sage, featuring two characters sitting on the floor talking to one another.
“Fledglings”, directed by Emily Collins, photo by Ali Wright. LFX: Dan Saggars, SFX: Annie May Fletcher, Design: Verity Johnson, Producer: Holly Mitchell.

How do you come up with and develop your characters?

It always depends on the play. Usually they just come from little nuggets which I make notes of in my phone, and eventually I’ll put them in a Word document and keep adding tidbits. Some are from real life; people that I find fascinating, strangers that I’ve met in the street, or whatever. I’ve always liked quite radgie women (angry women, for those not from the North East!). It seems that I keep coming back to women who smoke a lot and have a lot of tinnies.

I think there’s something about female archetypes that I find interesting, because all of the stories I write are female-driven, with very few male characters. It always makes me laugh when I’m on a dating app and a guy finds out that I write plays, and he says, “Why don’t you write me into your play?” I’m like, “Mate, I don’t write male characters! Sorry hun, you’re an offstage part!” (laughs) I think again that comes back to writing you know; what I write isn’t autobiographical, but I do borrow from interactions and experiences of my own.

“I like finding the beauty in the mundane, but I also like outside spaces because they’re very neutral, and no-one has ownership within that space.”

Tamsin Rees

How do you write dialogue that feels authentic and realistic?

When I was younger, I wasn’t good at maths or science at school because I couldn’t remember any of it. I remember when I was thirteen or fourteen, getting so cross with myself because I couldn’t remember shit. And thinking, how can I remember all of the conversations I’ve had with people – all of the gossipy stuff about who you fancy, which seemed like a really big deal, or the embarrassing stuff that you fixate on because you’re young – I can remember all of that, but not all of this science bullshit?

I think it’s how my brain works – I’m not good at remembering information. I forget details and it’s about the feeling. And I think that’s how I write dialogue; it’s not necessarily about the content. It’s not subject-driven, it’s about the characters and their interaction with each other. I love stuff like Gogglebox, even rubbish reality TV, because I love watching people’s awkward interactions. Or when you’re at the supermarket and you can see people flirting with each other at the checkout. I love people-watching.

How do you decide where to set your plays?

I like writing about places that I find interesting, somewhere that is also appropriate for the characters, and a space that will help the story to unfold. I always like writing outside spaces, because I think they’re the most interesting – a park, a field, a bus stop. I like finding the beauty in the mundane, but I also like outside spaces because they’re very neutral, and no-one has ownership within that space. There’s also a tiny element of danger – if you’re in a field in the middle of nowhere, what does that do to the story? Or if you have to wait in one place together for a bus, how does that then affect how you talk to each other, if you have to be stuck in this same small space together for twenty minutes? 

A photo from one of Tamsin's plays "My Mate Ren", featuring a young woman in the centre giving a monologue.
“My Mate Ren”, directed by Holly Gallagher, photo by Davey Poremba. Performer: Jackie Edwards, SFX: Mariam Rezaei, LX: Katharine Williams.

What message do you want your audience to get from seeing your work?

I don’t usually write with a specific audience in mind, but it definitely depends on the story. When I wrote Cheer Up Slug (Live Theatre), it was about challenging the stereotypes of this ditzy young woman, and about sexual assault without actually calling it an assault. Because of that, I wanted people who have experienced that to feel seen, or to recognise this behaviour in their friends or family, and realise that they need to have a conversation. I think with everything I write, I want people to question their own relationships – to check that they’re healthy and ok. And also to see queerness talked about casually and openly, and to know that that’s fine.

What’s it like to have a play put on, and to see your writing performed on stage?

It’s amazing. That’s the thing I really miss, working with other people; because it’s such a team sport. You have this thing that you present to other people, and they add in their vision and how they see the world. It’s so beautiful. I’ve made so many friendships and connections, and I really do miss that. And then seeing it actually onstage – it’s the dress run that I find so exciting, when you see it all properly put together. But when it’s in front of an audience I get so nervous. I have to run outside to have a cigarette and calm down because I get so anxious (laughs). But it’s like a dream. I’ve dreamt up these characters, and amazing people have brought them to life. It’s incredible, and I’m so lucky that I get to do it as a job.

“The most important thing to remember is that only you can write the play that you are going to write. Only you can write that play, and that’s what will make it special.”

Tamsin Rees

Which playwrights have you been inspired by most in your work?

That’s such a hard question! I love Tom Wells. I think he writes humour, and tenderness, and really heartbreaking stories all at once – and they are so beautifully crafted. I also think Annie Baker is absolutely magic; I love the way that she writes relationships, and the dynamics between different characters are really interesting. They’re probably my top two.

What top tips do you have for people who want to start writing plays?

I did a workshop years ago with the playwright Ali McDowall, and he talked about filling your tank – if your tank is empty, and you’ve got no ideas, you need to read and watch things to fill that tank up. Your subconscious does a lot of the work. Read and watch as many plays as you can – fill up the tank, so you can see how plays are done and the different types there are.

Do your research around it – what theatres and workshops are near you. Start making connections, and look out for submission windows; there are a lot of opportunities out there. Start sending your work out, and get other people to read it. I think the most important thing to remember is that only you can write the play that you are going to write. That’s a little bit scary – but it’s also great, because you can’t go wrong. Only you can write that play, and that’s what will make it special. That’s what’s so exciting about it.

For more about Tamsin and her work, visit

Interview: Artist Hash Kodithuwakku On… Creating Communities, Turning Your Hobby Into A Career, And Why Other Artists Aren’t Your Competition

Hash Kodithuwakku is an artist and the creator of online shop Sofftpunk, which they run with partner Ish. Exploring both the political and the personal, Hash’s art often centres queerness, community, and minority perspectives.

We spoke to Hash about engaging with other artists, creating accepting spaces, and the joys and pitfalls of turning your hobby into your career.

How did you get started with your art, and how has your style developed since?

I think, like a lot of artists, I started off as a really creative child. Then when I got older I had depression, and I lost my interest in a lot of things; things like art fell away. So I was really happy to finally reignite that interest when I moved away to university. When I got back into art, it was mainly through art journaling. I was making art that was very personal; I’ve kept diaries since I was a kid, and it started off just being words. I eventually started doodling my thoughts, and that evolved into art journaling. 

What actually got me interested in properly learning how to draw – rather than just doodling – was anime. I was one of those kids who’d draw fanart and that kind of thing. It really grates on my nerves when people say that fanart or anime isn’t real art – because not only is the style entirely valid in itself, but it’s also a wonderful introduction for children who are interested in art. There’s some elitist idea that there’s a “real” art and “fake” art, and there’s some kind of higher meaning to the “real” art. I’m not saying that art isn’t meaningful, but my point is this: your art doesn’t have to be “good”, it doesn’t have to tell your entire life story to have a value. The value is simply that it’s a human behaviour – just like birds make nests. It’s just a thing that we do. No-one can gate-keep that.

“You know when you see someone else on the bus who has a queer flag on, don’t you just have that “Woo!” moment? That’s the feeling I want to give.”

Hash Kodithuwakku

What is it like running the Sofftpunk store on a daily basis?

The day-to-day is mostly taken up with packaging and labelling orders, and getting things ready to post. That’s a really fun mundane task – I’m the kind of person who gets very into the flow of doing a repetitive task, so I really enjoy doing that part; it’s very anxiety-relieving. Often I wake up super early in the morning, rush up to my studio and do it with the rising sun.

The harder stuff was changing the style of the art I did, and preparing things to manufacture requires a lot of formatting. My style has definitely developed – especially now I’ve switched from what used to be traditional mediums to digital mediums. All of my anime drawings and my diaries were all pencil and paper – but then when you want to try to manufacture designs it’s so much easier with digital, which will obviously change your style. The style change that I’ve noticed is that my art is a lot more bright and blocky. 

Once I’ve got my design and drawn it up, that will need to be formatted in a way that can be printed at the manufacturer. For example, if I have areas with foil on them, I might have to make those areas transparent to let the manufacturer know which areas are foiled. I need to add borders, change the size of certain elements, and make sure that the colours are translating correctly to the printer. So these are all the things I need to consider.  When I started this, I didn’t realise how many jobs this actually was. In my head I was just like, “I want to draw things!” But the number of jobs I actually have to do is way more than I had intended. My partner Ish helps out with a lot of it, but we don’t have any experience or training in this. Every single step of this is just winging it entirely. 

Art from the Sofftpunk store - a wall hanging illustration and two paintings.

How did you first come to set up your own brand?

The way that it first started was honestly not with enough foresight! I was all very spur of the moment. The very first design that I ever released was before we even had a name, or a brand, or a shop. I made a tweet at some point along the lines of, “It’s really frustrating to try to find feminist products, but shop ideas of feminism are all, “Girl power!” when really I’m looking for something that says, “Guillotine the rich!” And a lot of people commented saying, “Yes! We’d buy that!” And I was like “Wait… you would?” (laughs). That design was my first time drawing digitally. That was how this all started. So for it to come here – I hadn’t planned all of this, or all of the work that’s come with it. 

A lot of people talk about the issues that come with turning your hobbies into your source of income, and that’s something I hadn’t considered. When I first created the Sofftpunk brand, I wasn’t someone who took art as a career seriously enough. The difference between liking drawing as a hobby and trying to make it your career – when it’s your career, even when it’s not what you feel like doing, it’s part of your job to put out designs, or hone your skills, in a way that’s different to if you’re just doing it as a hobby. So that change was what allowed me to go from just doing it as a hobby, and just doing designs as a whim in my diary, all the way to creating designs that are formatted and prepared. 

“We, as queer people, as minorities, know that there are too many vocal opinions that say horrible things about us. I wanted to create a space that’s vocally accepting. Silencing out the hatred by being much louder with positive messages.”

Hash Kodithuwakku

What has the response been like from your customers?

I have been amazed by the response. it was just something I did on a whim, and I was blown away. I think it’s because a lot of the time with the things I draw, I’m not someone who has a design education that will allow me to think about things like the target market – it’s just me drawing things that I like. On one level I’m incredibly shocked by the sheer number of sales, but what I’m truly grateful for is that so many people have stepped up to help me along the way. With my very first design, I had no experience with manufactures, and I got hit with some hidden fees. I didn’t have the money – I didn’t have any seed money or funding, I literally just put in the last £200 that I had left from my student finance into it. Somebody reached out to me and offered to cover the fee, and I was so amazed. You can’t get anywhere without other people’s help.

What’s the best part of your job?

There are two key factors that make this little shop my ikigai. It’s more than a job to me; it allows me to be active in and give back to my community in a way I never could before. On top of creating designs to help my community express themselves and raise their voices, I’ve been able to make much bigger donations and mutual aid than would ever be possible by myself. It’s a lifesaver to me as well – being disabled makes holding down and working a “normal” job pretty difficult; most workplaces simply aren’t accessible to someone with chronic pain. Being self-employed means I can make all the adjustments needed for my physical and mental health. It’s a real privilege.

“It’s really important to see the work of artists as motivation rather than demotivation.”

Hash Kodithuwakku

What sort of messages and themes do you incorporate into your designs?

The ideal in my head is that I’ve made something I resonate with and believe in, and when I have that feeling of shock – “Oh my god, this other person also agrees with me!” whenever somebody retweets that drawing I’ve done, or buys that product – I hope that feeling can be replicated, when people get to express these things about themselves and have someone else say, “Hey, I like your pin!”. You know when you see someone else on the bus who has a queer flag on, don’t you just have that “Woo!” moment? That’s the feeling I want to give.

The stuff I draw – even though it’s political – it’s not about the politics, and it’s definitely not about the opposition. It’s not about attacking anybody. A lot of artists are trying to have debates, but that isn’t what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to create space for people that I love and let them know, “I see you, I agree with you, and I care about you. It’s not about them.” We, as queer people, as minorities, know that there are too many vocal opinions that say horrible things about us. I wanted to create a space that’s vocally accepting. Silencing out the hatred by being much louder with positive messages.

I’ve had parents messaging saying, “My child just came out as trans – what should I give them as a present from your shop?” Pre-Covid, one of the best things was doing markets and seeing the reactions from people. At a market event I did, a young person with their dad came up to my stall and was looking through a bucket of pronoun badges, and their dad asked them, “Which one do you want?” And they picked one out with the help of their dad. It was wonderful.

Packaging and stickers from the Sofftpunk store.

What aspects of your work are personal to you?

Art was always personal to me; through art journaling, I started with drawing things that happened in my day-to-day, which progressed into demonstrating the emotions of the everyday. And I think my ability to express emotions in my art is what has resonated with some people. There is a lot of me in there – I think that’s true of every artist. Your soul is in your art – even if you’re not trying to express yourself, whatever you draw will say something about you.

Even my shop is very personal to me. This isn’t an Amazon situation with a random person wrapping a random package; every single step of packaging an order, from me and my partner dancing because we made a new sale, to putting the box together, writing the handwritten notes, picking extras to put in – a lot of time and thought goes into it. I do think that what I do is a very personal job. It’s literally just me in my house doing this – it’s like sending a care package to my friend, that I’ve put a lot of love into. I hope people can feel that in the packages that they receive. 

“Consuming other media as an artist is a skill – we can’t consume it the same way as just a viewer. As a viewer, you can just say “That looks good,” and move on. But as an artist, you want to learn from that.”

Hash Kodithuwakku

How do you stay motivated to create art every day?

I have a lot of creative energy and a lot of ideas that I want to make at any given point, with a list of what to draw next. But the big thing is energy. I’m still a student, and I have to run my household – before the pandemic I worked three jobs including this one. I can’t just keep pushing and pushing. You have to give yourself rest, and have some discipline in not pushing yourself. I know a lot of self-employed artists who have an issue with their work-life balance – even though it seems like creating for hours straight is a good thing to grow, it can mean that you strain yourself and burn yourself out.

On the flip side, sometimes I have no artistic energy or inspiration – but it’s still my job, and I take it seriously; it can’t just be something that I do whenever I feel like it. So it’s about having a balance. I think what keeps me able to create is remembering that this is something that I’m learning, and taking active steps to train. I might not have the energy to draw – that’s fine, because I can do a training exercise, and that day it’s not about being creative, it’s just about practising. Sometimes I’ll draw the same shape over and over just to get a better understanding of that shape.

What gets you inspired?

I’m so grateful to Instagram’s explore feed! The power of surrounding yourself with art and inspiration cannot be underplayed. Even in your everyday life, trying to make your space beautiful will give you a beautiful aesthetic sense. Your brain is an algorithm that can be trained to understand art. One of the wonderful things about social media is you get all these new and fresh ideas – I’ve had so much inspiration, so many techniques I’d never even thought of; just looking at the way different artists do things gives me so many ideas of new things to try. It’s really important to see the work of artists as motivation rather than demotivation. 

A photo of Hash and partner Ish.
Hash & Ish

How do you engage with the work of other artists in a way that’s helpful to you?

I think it’s about remembering that other artists are not your competition – not in any way. If somebody is going to buy something from you, they come to you for you, and there’s nobody else selling what you sell. So your engagements have to come from a place of not being competitive, not trying to one-up anybody, and understanding that you have to put yourself out there as much as you can and find other people who vibe with you. Not viewing other artists as competitors, but as motivation and inspiration is a great mindset to be in, because every single piece of art I see is inspiration. 

Consuming other media as an artist is a skill – we can’t consume it the same way as just a viewer. As a viewer, you can just say “That looks good,” and move on. But as an artist, you want to learn from that; you have to get past the stage of, “Oh, that’s so much better than what I could draw!” Ask yourself, why is it good? What is it that you like about that piece? I always try to do this as an exercise – whenever I see an art piece that makes me feel bad about myself, I always try to think if I was the artist, what would I be unsatisfied with? What would I want to work on? I have to remind myself that every artist will be unsatisfied with their work.

“It’s fine if it’s not perfect, it’s fine if you don’t have products lined up and you just have one drawing, it’s fine if you just have £10 to invest. Stop putting it off, stop waiting until it’s perfect. Just start.”

Hash Kodithuwakku

You’ve built up a loyal following online with the Sofftpunk brand – what advice would you give to people who want to turn their art into their career?

It is a big thing to do – especially if you want to make a big thing of it, it’s something you’re going to be investing a lot of time and money into, and it’s scary. But that’s true of anything worth doing. I think the most important piece of advice I can give to anybody is to just start. It’s fine if it’s not perfect, it’s fine if you don’t have products lined up and you just have one drawing, it’s fine if you just have £10 to invest. Stop putting it off, stop waiting until it’s perfect. Just start. 

I think the difference between me and a lot of other artists I see is that I have products available on sale, but it’s not that what I draw is better than what they draw, it’s just that I put myself out there. Worrying, and over-preparing, and comparing yourself to others isn’t going to get you anywhere. When you look at successful artists, it’s not only the best or most talented who are successful – you don’t have to be Vincent Van Gogh. A lot of designs are actually very simple – the designs of mine that sell well are doodles, rather than pieces I’ve spent hours on. 

If you have started and got past that first step, I would say: don’t forget to do all the other parts of your job. You can’t just be the artist; you have to be the photographer, the social media manager, the strategist, the involvement analyst, the marketer! I think it’s important to remember that engagement is a two-way street. Maybe because of influencer culture, we have this idea that a following is one-way – trying to build up numbers, putting content out there and waiting for it to be liked, without engaging and creating communities ourselves. The people that supported me weren’t strangers – they were other artists, other queer people, people who knew me on a more personal level just because we’ve engaged with each other and supported each other’s art. 

How do you navigate the world of social media when you have a creative business?

It’s important to be available – a lot of artists just post every three months, they’ll post one finished piece, and to be honest I used to be like that as well. Social media is difficult and you may not always have the energy for it, but if you want this to be a job, it is part of your job. The only way you’re going to create a social media following is if you’re consistent, if you’re engaging, and posting a variety of marketing.

I’m not the kind of person who understands the algorithms – what I’ve always found is that if you’re putting out art that resonates with yourself, you’ll find other people who resonate with it, and that’s your target market. Who do you know better than yourself? If you make the things that you want to make, you will find the people who vibe with that. You don’t have to hide your identity, and not make queer content – but you also don’t have to only make queer content. You don’t have to hide yourself or tokenise yourself. Just put yourself out there as honestly as you can. We’re not a huge viral company, but the people that resonate with what I do believe in it in a very real way. Support and community means so much more than fans and followers.

You can find Hash on Twitter at @sofftestpunk and on Instagram at @sofftpunk.

Visit the Sofftpunk shop here: 

Interview: Videographer and Photographer Stéph Bosset On… Documenting Volatility, Making Connections, And Following Stories As They Unravel

Stéph Bosset is a filmmaker and broadcast journalist, with a background in photojournalism. Stéph has freelanced for the Associated Press, NBC, CNN, and HuffPost UK, and loves telling the stories of trailblazers and local heroes.

We spoke to Stéph about filming riots and protests, being open to changes in storytelling, and why she loves working on subjects she knows nothing about.

How did you get into your field of videojournalism and press photography?

I did my MA in TV Journalism in 2014, and that was after being a press photographer for about five years on and off. Having done photography since I was a teenager, it was sort of creative at the beginning, but it slowly moved into more documentary-style work. One time I was on holiday in Barcelona, staying in an Airbnb-type place. I thought my host was so interesting, and her flat was full of weird stuff, so I just asked her if I could take her portrait and take photos of her flat. I did loads of projects like that. 

I moved into press photography after the G20 in 2008, and that was my first taste of rioting and protesting. And I carried on from there, because I really enjoyed documenting that volatility. I had contemplated television journalism for some time, without knowing how to get into it. One time after a protest I was covering I chatted to another group of photojournalists there, and then a domino effect of events led me to someone suggesting doing a masters to get into TV news. I did that, and I loved it. It was so much fun.

What is it about covering rioting and protesting that appeals to you?

Some of it is selfish – wanting to be at the scene of the action, where things are happening. With the small protests, you want to document them because most people aren’t even aware that they’re happening, because they’re not always covered by television news. And with the big ones, you want to be in the mix of it on the ground; because again, a lot of people might see pictures taken from further away, but you need to see the conflict at play. To see why people are out there, to see the emotion on people’s faces, and understand that it’s real and that people are angry. I think it’s important for everybody to realise that there are people who need to express their disappointment with the way things are. It’s satisfying to do – you’re in the middle of it, and it’s quite enveloping. It’s not always scary, sometimes it’s weirdly comforting. It’s very bizarre.

“I love working on things I don’t know anything about, because it’s a whole new part of life that I get to involve myself in.”

Stéph Bosset

What other story subjects do you like to pursue?

I’ve realised what I enjoy is when I’m offered something – whether that be a collaboration, a commission, or whatever – that I might not have come across, or that I know nothing about. Something that’s not on my radar. I love working on things I don’t know anything about, because it’s a whole new part of life that I get to involve myself in. You sort of get swallowed up by subjects when you’re filming for a documentary. I love to expand my knowledge of what I know, with things that I wouldn’t have pursued myself. It’s easy to pursue things you like, and your passions, but I like left-field stuff.

When you work on a new project, how do you approach it?

Basic research always helps, but I find that if I’m learning while I’m shooting or producing, it means that I’ll end up asking questions which the viewer might also be asking. So you get answers that shed light on the subject in a way that the viewer will understand, because we’re going on that same journey of discovery together. We’re both discovering this unknown subject at the same time. Maybe if you know too much about something you’ll ask questions that you want to know, or that only someone with your amount of knowledge would be able to ask, but if you’re at the same level as the viewer you’re unraveling this content on that same level, which makes for a more interesting approach.

A photo of Steph holding a camera.
Photo Credit: Kate Elliott

How do you find unique stories to pursue?

Social media is always an easy one, but there are other creative ways to go about it. Before social media, it was all about getting out there. Look at the classified ads people put in their corner shop windows. Read the local papers, because there are always stories that will never go beyond that, but have potential. Definitely get involved in the community that you want to report on. Collaborate with other people who are interested in the same topics. You’ll find that you’ll chat to one person, and then it just snowballs so easily sometimes – it’s amazing who you end up meeting and talking to because of one conversation. So be open and chatty.

What creative decisions need to be made when working on a video project?

There’s so much that needs to be considered creatively. The aesthetics of the shoot – how you decide to frame something, and the look and feel you want to give something. Even the kind of camera you want to use. And then there are creative decisions in the story structure, and when you edit. There are so many levels of decisions that all have to marry up. The way I prefer to work is to see it all from beginning to end – to work on every aspect of it, from the shoot to the editing.

I think it’s a case-by-case basis of what creative style will do justice to a story – you want it to look good, but the story structure is almost more important. Take A Syrian Love Story (2015 documentary/drama), for example – there’s nothing especially creative about the way it’s shot, but the story is incredible. I think about that film a lot – every few days it pops into my head. Sometimes if a story is so strong, it doesn’t matter what you do with the rest. I try to make something with a good story structure, but also as beautiful as it can be, because I love filming – but I’d say aesthetics are important, but not vital.

“Before and after that one photo, there will be fifty shots on either side of it. The best ones are where you really embed yourself with whoever you’re documenting.”

Stéph Bosset

How do you structure a story in video work?

If you know your subject or the topic, do your research so initially you know who you’re going to be talking to and you can structure it around that. You need your structure so you know what you’re talking to people about. But sometimes the best thing is when you’re talking to someone and they tell you something you didn’t know about, or they want to introduce you to someone else, and then you have new characters in the story. Then you’re following a story that’s unravelling in front of your eyes, and you have to roll with it. It’s important to have a story structure to begin with it, but be prepared to follow where the story goes.

I find story structure quite difficult. It takes quite a lot of skill, and it’s one of the things I ask for the most help with. I think it’s always good to have more brains on a story than just mine, because you can get stuck in a story.  I like to have a person to look at the editing, a person to look at the story, and then a person to just watch it as someone who’s never even heard of the story. You have to be open to changes. There are things I’ve worked on where people have suggested things, and I haven’t always agreed, but when they’ve put stuff in it’s totally worked. 

A photo of Steph leaning against a pillar with her arms folded.
Photo Credit: Kate Elliott

It’s incredible how experienced photographers can capture so much in a single photo. How do you approach photography projects?

Before and after that one photo, there will be fifty shots on either side of it. The best ones are where you really embed yourself with whoever you’re documenting – really getting to know them, and listening. Be interested in them, until they want to show you things because they trust you. Whoever you’re with, they need to trust that you’re there to show them their story, and to do it truthfully. And they will take you in and show you things because they want you to see them – that’s how you get the best shots. 

You also need to know what you’re doing with your camera, because sometimes you don’t get a second chance to get that shot. People think they need to get all the kit when they’re starting out with something. They think as long as they spend money, get all the attachments and gadgets, it will turn out fine. But they’re pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them. It’s easy to fall into that trap. Start with one camera, see how you work with it, and then you can get accessories.

“It was amazing to see the work that people are doing during this shitty time – to see people coming together to help others. That’s one of the best aspects of the job – where the work can take you.”

Stéph Bosset

Is there any work you’ve done recently that stands out for you?

At the beginning of the pandemic I had lost loads of work, and my girlfriend suggested I come and do some short films for all of these amazing food projects at the charity she works for, that needed a spotlight of some kind. I absolutely loved it, because it was amazing to see the work that people are doing during this shitty time – to see people coming together to help others. That’s one of the best aspects of the job – where the work can take you. It can be uplifting, eye-opening, and humbling.

What would your advice be for beginners looking to get into video work?

I think it’s worth doing a course of some kind – it doesn’t have to be a long one, but something that gives you the technical know-how. And then after that, you need the contacts. There are different online groups of filmmakers, documentary makes, events and stuff like that, so that’s one way of doing it. Otherwise, watch the documentaries that you really love, wait till the end and see who the production company is and get in touch with them; places are always looking for interns.

You can find Stéph on Twitter at @39_Stephs and on Instagram at @stephoid.

Visit Stéph’s YouTube channel to see her video work:

For more about Stéph’s work, visit

Featured Photo credit: Kate Elliott.

Interview: Actor EM Williams On… Empathy, Equality Monitoring, And Discovering Who Your Characters Are

EM Williams is an actor and movement director. They have worked with theatre companies across the UK playing a host of characters onstage, and are currently developing their own Arts Council-funded project.

We spoke to EM about creating a backstory for every character, the relationship between acting and empathy, and why it’s not enough just to find “the best person for the role”.

How did you first get into acting?

My parents were both working full time jobs, and they desperately needed me to be in some kind of after-school activity. Nothing really stuck, until my mum accidentally took me to the wrong night of youth theatre once, just because there was a free taster session at the Castle Youth Theatre. I was twelve at the time, and instead of going to the night for eight-to-thirteens, I went to the night for fourteens-to-twenty-ones. But it was the only night my mum could take me, so she spoke to the theatre and was kind of like, “Can we just leave them here, that’d be great?” (laughs).

As a kid I was really bubbly, and then I started being really insular – looking back on it, and thinking about it, it’s easy to see that my identity was happening. To be able to step into other people’s shoes, and not necessarily the same gender I’d been brought up as, or been assigned at birth, was very exciting to me. I thought, “I’m enjoying this, pretending to be someone else, it’s really helping me.” It was the only thing I wanted to do; I kept going every week. It breaks my heart to see so many community centres and youth theatres around the UK not getting funding and closing down now. I just loved everything about the theatre – I did onstage, offstage, a little bit of directing and writing. I knew it was the world I wanted to be in. There’s a certain level of empathy that comes with people who work in the theatre I think, because they’re dealing with a lot of stuff all the time.

“You might suddenly think, “Oh, this character really likes cherry pie!” And you’ve no idea where that came from, it wasn’t in the script, but it just feels right – that’s the magic of theatre for me.”

EM Williams

What’s your process of getting into a role?

You have to realistically figure out what someone’s perspective is – even it’s a tiny role, you still have to give all that backstory and make it work for you. I feel like every kid should go to some drama or youth theatre workshops, because it really kick-starts your empathy drive – and I think that’s missing from a lot of humans. 

I play a lot of animals and other-worldly creatures. You have your method actors who get really into a role of another human being who’s existed – but for me, because the characters I generally tend to play aren’t often human, I try to anthropomorphise them in terms of their base wants or needs. Just like with people – we all want to be safe, we all want to be loved, we all want to find a source of warmth and food. And then you get into the nitty-gritty of likes and dislikes – what are the reasons you’re drawn towards things, or pulled away from things.

EM Williams

How do you go about developing that backstory for your characters?

You know that whole trope of 90% of your brain is unconscious? Your brain is like a sponge; it’s picking up so much. So if you can get yourself to a state where you’re answering these questions about your character, but not necessarily thinking too hard about answering them, your gut reactions – your inside self – comes out. You might suddenly think, “Oh, this character really likes cherry pie!” And you’ve no idea where that came from, it wasn’t in the script, but it just feels right – that’s the magic of theatre for me.

You have to look at the text, and you do hold it in high esteem, but there’s so much more once you get into a room – which is what I’m really missing at the moment – with other bodies and the energy that they bring. A text is a text – Chekhov is always going to be Chekhov – but Chekhov with the specific people who are cast and brought into that room with that director, is something that’s never been done before. So you really have to look for those connections, and that’s what makes the performance new and fresh and exciting. Because that combination of people has never existed before in this time, with the given circumstances around them.

Are there particular roles that you look out for?

Being a transgender non-binary human, I always ask the question: if you’re telling that story, who in the cast and who behind the scenes has created that narrative, and why are they exploring it? You might have a transgender person on stage, but someone cis might have written it, and there’s so much of that going on right now because it’s become a little bit of a flavour of the month. 

I managed to play a non-binary teenager that was written by a non-binary writer, and I was so thrilled – it was directed by someone who identified as queer, and I was just like, “Yes!” It was with a writer and performer called Charlie Josephine, with a company called Theatre Centre and directed by Rob Watt (“Birds & Bees”), and it was about sex and consent for children, with a non-binary character.

EM Williams

On the subject of who gets to tell these stories – there’s been a lot of ongoing conversation around the importance of having gay roles performed by gay actors, trans roles by trans actors, etc. Why do you think it’s important that queer stories are told by queer people?

The way I look at it is that you can say, “Ok, gay people should definitely play gay roles,” and I completely agree with that statement, because the problem is at the moment that if you are gay, you’re less likely to play what is stereotypically a straight role. And the same comes in a lot with trans men and trans women – there are so many trans roles that are just played by androgynous humans, and it makes my skin crawl. And the problem is that those trans performers are never seen for cis roles. Until you’re seeing trans people for cis roles, I don’t think you should be seeing cis people for trans roles. 

“There are so many people in massive institutions who just don’t think they can be the person that they are, because the institutions haven’t done enough yet.”

EM Williams

What’s been your experience of seeing that representation – or lack of it – in the theatre world?

I remember a time when everyone was an eighteen to thirty-year-old cis female with brown hair and blue eyes – like the Zooey Deschanel effect – and everyone we saw in the media was like a carbon copy of each other. It’s just not representative of anyone’s world. It’s detrimental, because for all of the people who don’t fit into that mould, it just becomes so toxic. Often I’m sitting around these tables, and their utopian rhetoric is, “We just want the best person for the role!” But the thing is, when you look at the casting director and their breakdown on Spotlight, they’ll have ten non-Disabled skinny white cis people, and they might have one of each ethnicity.

Acronyms like BAME and LGBTQIA are on the way out, because the problem is when people who are the majority holders of power think, “Ok, I need something to represent those groups,” they’ll stick with the easiest one to grab. So the B in BAME is often represented, or the G in LGBT, maybe one in a cast of seven, but that’ll be it. And they’ve done their work – “We’ve had a Black play this year!”, or, “We’ve had a gay play this year!”

Arts Council do equality monitoring forms, which is basically a tick-box to say who you’ve auditioned, and there are some castings where you really feel you’re the one who’s been brought in to be part of that tick-box – in terms of sexual identity, gender identity, and racial identity. I’ve felt that often, and it’s a fucking hard place to be in. Those gatekeepers don’t accept that they’ve got a lived experience of inherent bias. No human being is neutral – if everyone in your office looks like you do, talks the way that you do, watches the same things on Netflix that you do – you’re going to have a similar opinion.

And you can’t just sit back and hope that representation happens naturally, because there are so many stages that someone has to go through to even reach a position where they are able to audition; and to have the opportunity to access each of those stages in the first place is a matter of privilege.

Exactly. It boils all the way back down to drama school – when you look at drama school intake. A lot of students after the BLM marches just went to town on their drama schools and started writing case study examples of the racism they experienced. And I applaud them all for it. It shouldn’t have to get to a point where the students and the young people of our country have to write out their trauma. Their voices have been squashed, and they’ve been continually oppressed by those institutions, so what can they do? Plus, only a handful of non-white students get into drama schools in the first place.

It spans right across the board of the entire production – my partner is a theatre designer, and when I hear about the lack of diversity in the design world it’s even worse, because it’s not forward-facing. I went on a massive tour of fifty different venues around the UK and Ireland, and I went backstage and into the offices, into the marketing departments, and apart from the casual front of house staff, I only saw three people of colour in the offices. That was 2018 – and two of them I knew from other jobs.

I only came out properly a couple of years ago, but something that I think will stick with me forever is when I was backstage at the National Theatre, and somebody dropped a card in my dressing room. There was this gorgeous drawing inside of all of these different things from the show, and it basically said, “It’s such an honour ro see someone who’s non-binary and out on the stage; it means the world to me. From an anonymous, not-out-yet, non-binary staff member.” It just made me think I’m in the right place. No matter what’s going on, it’s not about me. There are so many people in massive institutions who just don’t think they can be the person that they are, because the institutions haven’t done enough yet.

EM Williams

The past year has been particularly difficult for theatre – what’s the impact of lockdown been on you and your work?

I hadn’t stopped working for about three solid years, and when it happened I was just about to start a new job, which then didn’t happen for six months. So it was the first time I’d actually stopped; and in a way I’m really grateful for it, because I was on the verge of absolute burnout. My mental health was appalling. I threw myself into my work, and just kept going and going and going, until I’d probably have a breakdown. But I was grateful for the pause – for about two weeks, and then I started going mad, because I realised that I’d really defined myself in the capitalist lens of making a career and working my arse off.

I started to think about my spiritual stuff, and going a bit more creative – I started doing more creative groups with a group called KaiFlow, who are doing creative drop-ins and meditation practice. I also joined a really great Facebook group called QAF- Queer As Fuck – we did movie nights, and cook-alongs. They really saved me – I don’t know what I would have done without that group. 

And then what happened out of those things is that I started making a lot more of my own writing – because I’m a poet as well, which I wouldn’t have been able to say last year because I wouldn’t have had the confidence. Long story short, an idea in my head turned into an Arts Council grant, which I got successfully granted at the beginning of this year and will be doing this summer. So that’s what I’m doing! Usually as a freelancer, other people are in control of your income, and other people have the final say on what you’re doing design-wise. You’re answering after someone – which isn’t a bad thing, I love it. But this is my first venture into being the lead artist, and I’m going to make a show, so I’m really excited about it!

You founded Stitchin’ Fiction, a platform for creatives to come together where writers can see their work performed by actors who want to stretch their skills. What would your advice be for beginners who want to put themselves out there more?

It’s really hard to do – it’s easier right now, because you can turn your camera and mic off in a Zoom room, it’s fucking great! Of course, some days you think, “I really cannot. I just want to watch Netflix. I’m not going to go to that thing.” And by all means, if that’s what you need to do, do that. It is important self-care. But if you can try and make yourself go for at least twenty minutes to something, even just commit fifteen minutes – you’ll find someone in there, I’m sure, who’ll say a sentence, and that sentence might inspire you to be creative for the day. 

It’s all through energy – and the amount of energy bouncing around right now is so open, and vulnerable, and honest. No-one’s bullshitting about how they’re feeling at the moment. I’m sure there are enough people out there to reach out – even four people getting into a room for an evening and chatting about ideas they have, or sharing poems that they’ve written and getting some feedback. It’s scary – it’s really fricking scary, and some days it’s much scarier than others. But what have you got to lose? Somebody might say they don’t like it – cool. The end. It’s not the end of the world, it really isn’t.

“If you can try and make yourself go for at least twenty minutes to something, even just commit fifteen minutes – you’ll find someone in there who’ll say a sentence, and that sentence might inspire you to be creative for the day.”

EM Williams

What’s been your favourite acting experience so far?

One of my earliest started as an unpaid gig. It was a version of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. This company – I’m so impressed every time I think about them – they somehow managed to get a letter to (Hayao) Miyazaki’s desk to get the rights to do a non-profit stage version of Princess Mononoke. I remember hearing about it and trying to buy tickets, but the whole run sold out in less than seventy-two hours, and I was like, “I’m never going to get to see it!” And then my brother was like, “Have you seen this? They’re casting!” I remember getting it, the part of a villain – well, Miyazaki doesn’t have villains, everyone is a well-rounded person with lots of different perspectives, but a role that ostensibly seems like a baddie with their own motivations – and being thrilled, because it’s not a role I play very often.

I was doing my Masters, studying and doing all of my classes and essays Monday to Wednesday, then I would get the train to Leamington Spa to rehearse Thursday to Sunday and sleep on the director’s floor – all of my student loan went on those train tickets. And then as rehearsals went on, we got another phone call from the director, and they were like, “By the way, Studio Ghibli’s been on the phone,” – as you do – “And it’s looking like they want to take us out to do this in Japan.” So basically what ended up happening was by taking a punt on an unpaid gig in Leamington Spa where we were rehearsing under train track tunnels, by saying yes to my gut feeling, I got to go and meet Miyazaki in Japan, and do a show in a ridiculously gorgeous Tokyo theatre.

You just have to follow your nose with these things. You make your own luck – you bring your own positivity and your own energy towards you. If you take care of yourself and you believe in yourself, that energy will come back to you, and people will see it glow from you.

You can find EM on Twitter at @ThEM_Williams and on Instagram at @HelloThemWilliams.

Visit EM’s Spotlight profile here: 

You can find more details about Stitchin’ Fiction here:

Interview: Author Rexx Deane on… Sequels, Self-Publishing, And Creating Brand New Worlds

Rexx Deane is a science-fiction author. The first book in his “Synthesis: Weave” series was self-published in 2015, and he is currently adapting it into a screenplay.

We spoke to Rexx about disability representation in sci-fi, weaving a sense of wonder into his stories, and creating believable characters whose motivations can sometimes push events off-course.

How did you first start writing?

Back at the end of 2012 was when I first started talking about writing. I met my husband in 2011, and he wasn’t all that into sci-fi things, so I bought a box set of Babylon 5 DVDs. He got kind of hooked onto that, and as I watched it I thought I’d love to attempt to write sci-fi with a setting like that, on a space station. 

My partner is disabled, and one of the things that he kept talking about was getting his legs amputated. He’s got a degenerative condition, and one of the things he’s always thought about was that if he had his legs removed, he’d be able to do a lot more because he wouldn’t have the pain from having moved his legs the previous day. He’d be able to do more with less, so to speak. And that gave me the idea for one of the characters, because one of the things that’s often missing in sci-fi is disabled characters that don’t get fixed; they just get on as they are. So I started writing notes, ideas for little scenes, a line here and there, and started reading books about how to write novels. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before. I wasn’t really into writing that much from an early age, so I had quite a late start to it, really. But I learned the techniques and the ways of structuring novels from books. 

How did you get to a stage where you were able to then publish your first book?

I didn’t properly start writing until the end of 2013. But then I churned out the first book in about six months, with all these long weekends working on it. I paid for an editor, and then I self-published that in 2015. It didn’t do amazingly, because the trouble is when you’re self-published you’ve got to put a lot of effort into marketing. Of course, you don’t have to do quite so much if you’ve got a publisher, because they’ve always got the weight behind them. But I wrote it, published it, and had quite a good reception from it. I’d originally had a target for the size of the book, but as I was writing it I thought, “I’m approaching the target now… but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be finished!” And it ended up becoming a trilogy. So it’s been a labour of love, really.

“The way that the characters drive the story might push things off course slightly, so you have to have that adaptability to follow how characters react to things in a way that makes it more interesting.”

Rexx Deane

What is the process of writing sequels like?

It’s a bit weird, because when I wrote the first one, it took me about eighteen months from start to finish – and then there’s still quite a lot of editing and re-editing, so by the time you’ve finished the first book, it’s quite a long time before you actually get to start the second one. And then you’ve got all the ideas of what you want to happen in the second one, but nothing set in stone. It gives you a chance to jump ahead and start something relatively fresh, but referring back to previous events. 

The way I closed the first book was a bit of a cliffhanger, which might leave people with one or two questions, and that was the jumping-off point for the sequel. There’s always an issue of how much do you recap, and do you have to re-describe everyone who’s in the first book in the second book – and I did a little bit of that, but I didn’t worry too much about it in the end. By the time you get to the third book, there’s hardly any description of the characters. A few events refer back to what happened in the first book – there might be a paragraph saying this is what a character surmised from such and such, so you can get the gist of what’s going on if you start at the second book, but it’s quite a difficult balance.

Rexx Deane

What is your drafting and editing process when it comes to your novels?

I tend to have random ideas of situations that don’t necessarily fit into the plan of the book; eventually I’ll get to the point where I’ll make notes of different scenes on the computer, and then I often print them out on strips of paper and cluster them together so that they seem logically connected in groups. Then I try to divide it up into act one, act two and act three, and put it into an order that makes sense. So it’s more like a roadmap of events or ideas that need to be explored, rather than a scene-by-scene list. I know some people do break it down by chapters, but I like having more of that structure just in case I haven’t thought about something; and the way that the characters drive it might push things off course slightly, so you have to have that adaptability to follow how characters react to things in a way that makes it more interesting.

What I tend to do is write the first draft, which is basically to get it down and not worry about it too much. Then I’ll read through it several times again to make sure events all make sense and there aren’t any logical inconsistencies, that the grammar is ok, I haven’t doubled words up or anything like that. Then I might read it aloud to my partner – which is actually a really good way of editing, because it forces you to go slower, so you tend to catch some of the clunky grammar or spelling mistakes. The other thing it makes me do is that if I feel embarrassed reading something out loud, I know I need to change it or cut it. It’s that peer pressure that makes you go, “Oh, that part’s a bit naff!”

“I try to convey a sense of wonder about the universe – that it doesn’t matter how much we learn about it, there will always be things beyond our understanding.”

Rexx Deane

Writing science fiction or fantasy often involves building a whole new world. How do you approach that?

It’s about trying to decide on systems for things – because mine is a blend between sci-fi and fantasy. I think one of the first things I had the idea of was a mineral in my universe that people can use to do magic. I want it to be mostly sci-fi, so it feels believable, but have people be able to do some really weird things. So it was about trying to work out the things magic might be able to do, and have it be a process that makes it feel quite tangible to the reader.

The other thing I was trying to work out was a space travel system that allowed characters to get from A to B quite quickly, but have some element of risk involved so it wasn’t just as simple as getting on a bus. I think I agonised for days and days about how far apart different planets were, and things like journey times. I worry about things like that a lot less now, because I think 90% of people don’t care about it. As long as the thing feels consistent, then that’s the most important thing.

Do you find the conventions of science fiction liberating, or difficult? What advice would you have for new writers when it comes to operating within them?

I think you can actually get away with very little detail when it comes down to creating something that’s interesting, because one of the rules I find almost everywhere is that the most interesting fiction arises from conflict. And that can either be physical combat, or a character’s conflicts between what they want and how they feel, or between what they want and what another character wants. I think the setting for most things is kind of irrelevant, as long as you can think of the core motivations of characters and create characters that are more realistic, then you can always fill the world with more detail afterwards. So come up with something that’s original, with characters that are believable and act consistently, and anything else to do with the setting and world-building you can always worry about later once you’ve got a core set of events.

Rexx Deane

Are there particular themes or messages that you like to weave into your work?

I always try to build most of the ideas in my books about logic, and understanding the universe. One of the things I try to convey is the notion that everything’s connected – not necessarily in a spiritual way, but more in a cause and effect kind of fashion. I try to convey a sense of wonder about the universe – that it doesn’t matter how much we learn about it, there will always be things beyond our understanding. Even if we think we understand everything there is to know, it doesn’t mean that we have to lose that sense of wonder.

The main character is a programmer, like me – they say write what you know! – so the idea of things being connected and logical comes from his view of understanding programming and systems, and how things all interact with each other. One of the things is that the characters come across some Romanesco broccoli – it’s like a natural fractal, so every spike has this swirl of little points, and every swirl of points has a swirl of points. So there are little details like that, where they’ll come across something and the character will briefly muse over it. It’s difficult to weave things in without making it feel contrived, but because they get into lots of different situations, it’s a good opportunity to slot these things in.

“The most interesting fiction arises from conflict. And that can either be physical combat, or a character’s conflicts between what they want and how they feel.”

Rexx Deane

Your novels are self-published – how did you go about the process of self-publishing?

I had enough skill to be able to edit the documents and actually typeset them myself. I used a company called IngramSpark, which is one of the biggest self-publishing print-on-demand producers. But most of it I had to learn how to do myself. I had to learn a language called LaTeX, because that produces really nice book layouts. I had to do the cover artwork, and you can get templates for where things need to be positioned. Then it was a case of uploading all the files to the printers, and getting a test copy printed. It’s not too expensive; it costs you about £40 for you to set up a book, then about £10 again to buy one so you can see what it looks like. There are people you can pay to get this stuff done, but it tends to be quite an expensive process. 

It’s more about taking the time to make it look professional – for example, you can use Word to format your book, but it might look terrible because it’s not a printing format for books. The most expensive part of the process is paying an editor. You definitely need someone who knows more about language than you do to look over it, and do the edits that you basically can’t do yourself – either because you’re too attached to it, or because there are just things that are outside your knowledge.

Do you have any tips for writers on how to keep the inspiration flowing?

A lot of people just tell you to keep writing every day, but the trouble is if you’re not in that mindset then it can be quite draining. I think the important thing is just to always think about it – not necessarily to act on it – and to be aware that if you’re writing a book, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t involve actual writing that is still about the book. It’s thinking about stuff to do with the book – plotting, characters, and that sort of thing. It’s helpful to write down observations or notes that you might come across, even though they might not fit into the current work. Or even just researching stuff – anything that keeps you thinking about it. Not necessarily plugging away at doing the hard work all the time. I think just having lots of different things occupy your mind, to give you that change of pace, is the key.

To read more about Rexx and his books, visit

You can find Rexx on Twitter at @RexxDeane.

Interview: Musician EJ Lee On… A Lockdown Album, Lyric-Writing, And Expressing Your Identity Through Music

EJ Lee, also known as Half-Boy, is a musician and songwriter. EJ released their latest album in December 2020; written and recorded during the first national lockdown, it explores themes of queerness, anxiety, and friendship.

We spoke to EJ about the process of writing lyrics, recording a whole album on their phone, and using their music to help come to terms with their identity.

How did you come to be so interested in music?

I’ve played music since I was a kid, and I was in a band in high school – but once I moved out after college, I sort of just needed something to do. I started a project just to learn how to song-write; I wanted to mimic the style of my favourite musician at the time, and I wrote music about where I was from – my home state of New Hampshire. It took a long time – a few years – to do it, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. But from there it really took off; once I got to the UK I joined a band, and that really inspired me as well. A whole lot of people inspired me to make music.

You write your own songs – where do your lyric ideas come from?

I need to write based on a place, and how I feel about a place. My first album was about where I grew up, and then I wrote an EP about California when I lived there for a while. My most recent album is more broad, but it’s still keeping to the same theme of songs about people I met here in the UK; it’s more about identity, and it’s more personal, but still based in real stories and locations.

“It’s so different now – but it’s a different way of doing things which has allowed me to learn a lot of new things that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned.”

EJ Lee

How does the process of writing lyrics go?

When I was learning, I used to play a lot of covers just to try to figure out how chord structure and progression worked; because I was studying a particular musician, I studied the type of chords and instrumentation he used. Sometimes it just happens within an hour, and I’ll write a whole song – I don’t know where it comes from, it just happens and I can’t write it down fast enough. Other times it’s like pulling teeth. I’ll work on a song for a few months, and rewrite or adjust it as needed to make it make sense. I want my songs to be personal to me, but also something that can be related to.  

It’s different every time – sometimes I’ll know from the lyrics the way I’m going to play it, and I’ll write the music to fit the lyrics. Other times I hear a melody first, and then I have to try to figure out what chords work best, and how lyrics can fit in. I’m not that good at music theory anymore, so I can’t necessarily always write down what I hear, but it’s interesting to keep trying things and mess around with it.

EJ Lee

How did things change for you when lockdown hit?

It was really different. I used to play drums with my band once a week, and I haven’t played drums in a year. It’s so different now – but it’s a different way of doing things which has allowed me to learn a lot of new things that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Because of lockdown I was on furlough, so I just worked on my music 24/7, and I never would have done that otherwise.

You wrote and produced a whole album during lockdown – how did that happen?

I don’t know if this album would ever have been made if it hadn’t been for lockdown, because it was just a way of coping with all of the madness going on, and was a product of this different environment. It was all recorded on my phone. I did as much as I could with my guitar, and then the rest of it was electronic instruments. 

It started when my best friend said to me, “I want you to write me a love song,” kind of as a joke. I hadn’t written music in a long time, but it was the easiest song I’d ever written. I wrote it in an hour. And after that she said I needed to keep going, and writing. I was with her during lockdown, so all of these songs started coming out, and I was just recording them in my bedroom. It was something to keep focused on during the first lockdown, where there was so much uncertainty and fear. A lot of my anxieties came out in the songs, because I couldn’t put words to them in reality. 

How do you stay motivated to keep making music, particularly with the world as it is right now?

It’s hard, because there are some weeks when I just can’t do anything because of too much anxiety. But I have to be doing something all the time, or multiple things at once. That’s how I can get through difficult situations. Having a project that I could work on during lockdown was a life-saver, as something to focus on rather than worrying. It’s so hard – I’m lucky because I’m on furlough, but if you’re not, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to get through this situation, let alone try to be creative as an artist. If I wasn’t on furlough, I wouldn’t be doing this. 

“I felt like I needed to embrace it and claim it in a joyous way. I like who I am, and I like being this person that feels half-boy sometimes.”

EJ Lee

The lyrics to your songs are very personal – how did you explore your identity through your latest album?

It was originally based on my experience of working in London, and all the friends I’d met there; how I became able to express myself more freely and come to terms with identifying as non-binary, and grappling with what that means – how that affects me personally and my relationships. And how I can navigate the feelings associated with feeling trans, and feeling unsure of myself and my own body. So there’s a lot of anxiety around that. The rest of it is based around how I had a lot of internalised homophobia that affected how I felt about my relationships to female friends, or how I felt how they might see me. This learned behaviour was affecting my mental health a lot, so a lot of that anxiety is present in the songs as well. But there’s also a lot of joy in there, because I think it’s a very joyous thing to be who you are, and to be able to be who you are with a group of people – so it’s not all sad!

Is the name “Half-Boy” also a part of that expression?

Yeah. It was a lyric first, and when I first wrote it it was kind of an insult to myself; it was this self-deprecating statement. But then I felt like I needed to embrace it and claim it in a joyous way. I like who I am, and I like being this person that feels half-boy sometimes. I wanted to make something mine that I had previously used in a self-deprecating way, and express my identity through that.

EJ Lee

Do you find it helpful to express your feelings and anxieties through music?

I think it’s almost the only way I can get them out sometimes. When there just aren’t words for it, music is one of the only ways that I can express it. I honestly never really expected anyone to listen to it other than some of the people I know, so I don’t really write with other people in mind. I probably should, because it’s a very grim tone sometimes; but I think at least if I was listening to it and I hadn’t written it, I would want to feel like I could relate to someone going through what I was going through, and hopefully that is true for people listening. One thing about being in the queer community is that you can feel quite alone and isolated. When I was a kid, it didn’t exist to be non-binary – it wasn’t a concept that I’d ever heard of. So I just think, if I had known about this, I would be such a different person now.

Do you have a song that feels most personal?

I think Nighthawk was the most difficult one to make, and it took a very long time to figure out. I’m very proud of how it ended up, because it was a mess when I first made a demo. It came a long way, and I feel like it’s the most honest track. The lyrics are more honest than I’ve been on songs before; the idea of the nighthawk speaking about anxieties, and how my brain swirls around questions, was a bit honest for me. I also think the orchestration was different to anything I’d ever done. I had a friend (Hannah, also known as SPIKE) come on and help with adding a lot of synth, and a flute; she’s someone I play in a band with when there’s no Covid, so it was really exciting to have her contribute to it – it wouldn’t be the song it is now if she hadn’t. It was very much a group effort in that way, and I’m very proud of it because of that.

EJ Lee

What advice would you give to queer creatives that are just starting out?

I guess I would say just write things and accept that they’re going to be bad the first hundred times, and that’s ok. It’s going to be bad for a while. It might take a while, but you’re going to learn with every new song you write. The way I went about it, of studying artists that I was inspired by, really shaped my sound; so I would also say really study who you admire. There are so many amazing queer artists out there right now, and there are more and more every day. Just play their songs. It will teach you what you like to hear, and from there you can create your own personal sound.

Who have you been inspired by musically?

It’s all about the lyrics for me – if I don’t like the lyrics I’ll find it hard to get into the artist. I was most inspired by an artist called Sufjan Stevens. He is a folk singer who writes a lot of queer-coded songs. Troye Sivan is an amazing gay pop star; King Princess has great songs. And honestly, I’ve loved Taylor Swift since I was eighteen. I think she writes incredible songs. The woman can write a bridge, and that’s really amazing. I love her work.

What do you want to do next?

I’d love to write more songs and make another album. I have a friend who wants to help me produce one in real life this time, which would be amazing. But really what I’m most excited about is going out and playing drums again, because I really miss it. I’m looking forward to getting in a practice room with a drum set and playing with my band.

To listen to and purchase Half-Boy’s latest album, visit their Bandcamp page:

All proceeds from the album go to the charities Mermaids UK and Say It Out Loud Club.

You can follow EJ on Twitter at @EJ_Lee1 and on Instagram at @EJ_058.

Queer Creatives Creator Cathie Swan Talks Queer Stories With The Storyteller Podcast

“As a queer person, as somebody whose voice isn’t represented in mainstream media… you have this urge to create your own work where you can put your identity into it and express your own voice – because no-one else is going to do it for you.”

Cathie Swan

Queer Creatives UK Cathie Swan was invited onto the Storyteller podcast to talk all about developing story arcs and rounded characters with host Lisa Golden. In this special bonus episode, Cathie discusses why she set up Queer Creatives, what it means to see your identity represented, and the queer stories she wants to see.

Listen to Storyteller below:

Storyteller Podcast

“There is a truth in (traumatic queer stories). Telling that part of the story is part of the queer experience – but it’s not the whole story. There’s a lot of joy and celebration to be had in finding your identity and being comfortable in it.”

Cathie Swan

You can find Storyteller wherever you get your podcasts. Follow them on Twitter at @StorytellerPod1 and on Instagram at @storyteller_pod.

Interview: Artist Julian Gray On… Creating Comics, Making Characters People Care About, And Representation Done Right

Julian Gray is an illustrator and comic book creator. His art has been featured at a number of exhibitions and events, and weaves in themes of equality and representation, featuring minority characters that are rarely seen in mainstream media.

We spoke to Julian about developing rounded characters, creating movement in still images, and the rare joy of seeing representation that doesn’t affect a storyline.

How has your art style and content evolved since you began drawing?

Like many artists, I don’t remember a time I wasn’t drawing. I think every kid draws and then they get to an age where they decide to give it up – sometimes that’s into their late teens. I’ve watched some of my old school friends stop drawing, and it makes me a little sad. I’m entirely self-taught. My parents weren’t keen on me studying a creative subject, so I did psychology at university. I drew on the side – it wasn’t until I was 22 and dropped out of university for health reasons that I really looked at art as a career. 

I think when you approach art from a professional standpoint, you start pushing your skills in a way you wouldn’t from a hobbyist standpoint. I stopped drawing my original characters for fun and started looking seriously at what viewers like to look at and consume. I also started the long process of filling in the gaps in my basics – anatomy, lighting, composition; things that you’d be forced to learn at art school, but that you have to guide yourself as a self-taught artist. 

“I want to see stories about fantasy worlds, space travel, mysteries – all of that – where being queer, trans, disabled, or whatever, is incidental to the story.”

Julian Gray

What do you love most about drawing?

Simply put, translating an image in my head into a form that other people can see. As my drawing skills have improved, my ability to put an image in my head down onto paper has gotten better. The main frustration I get from drawing is when I can’t get it to look like what I have in my head! 

When I drew as a teenager, I drew my characters. I used to roleplay with my friends, and I wanted to depict my characters so my friends knew what they looked like. I didn’t always get as close as I’d like. Now when I draw, I like to think my teenage self would be chuffed with what I can produce. I’ve even gone back and drawn some of my old characters, to achieve the things I never could at that age. 

That’s really what I love about drawing. The better I get, the closer I get to being able to come up with something in my head, and a few hours later, be able to show people exactly what I meant. That’s honestly amazing.

One of Julian's illustrations. It depicts a man in a brown sweatshirt and round glasses, standing outside with his hands in his pockets, smiling up at two birds in the tree above him.
Credit: Julian Gray

How do you keep yourself motivated to keep drawing?

This is a tough one! I have ADHD which wasn’t diagnosed until 2020 and motivating myself to draw regularly has always been difficult, but medication has helped me. Everybody is different in how they get motivated, but I find I really thrive off showing the different stages of my process and receiving positive feedback from friends and family. Sometimes when you spend a day drawing you don’t end up with a finished project at the end of the day, and that can almost feel like you’ve not ‘accomplished’ anything, so showing the drafts to people can help reassure you of that progress. Some people really enjoy seeing the process behind the creation of artwork! 

This isn’t something I do daily, but I also find it helps to immerse myself in good and bad media, books, and other art. If it’s something inspiring it’ll get my creative juices flowing and I’ll want to draw what I see in front of me. If it’s something I’m critical of, that can actually inspire me to think, “I can do that better!”

What other creative work have you been inspired by lately?

I’ve recently been reading webcomics again after more than 10 years! Now that I’m uploading my own webcomic to Tapas, it gave me the motivation to check out other comics on the site, and there is some truly amazing work on there. It’s especially mind-blowing to think that so many talented artists put their work out there for free, so if there’s anything you enjoy and you can afford it, do consider supporting them with a couple of pounds here and there. Anyway, I would highly recommend the webcomic “Drugs & Wires” by Cryo and Io, a cyberpunk-style webcomic with comedy moments that had me laughing out loud. I’d also recommend “Kingfisher” by Skulkingfoxes, a 1920s occult mystery webcomic. They’re both available on Tapas.

“We have to understand who a character is to know how they would dress, or stand, or style themselves, and what effects that their life may have had on their appearance.”

Julian Gray

What is the process of making a comic like? What aspects do you have to consider, and how do you approach them?

Different creators have different processes, but mine is pretty simple. I come up with an idea and write the script for it. I then draft the pages by first figuring out panel layout, then sketches, inks, and finally shading and colour.

One of the most crucial aspects I have to consider with my comics is how I’m going to turn my idea into static images. Normally I have this visual in my head of a moving, flowing scene – how do I translate that into panels and create that flow and movement without just drawing arrows all over the page? The answer lies in looking at how other comic artists have done it, and looking up reference photographs and videos.I’m currently working on a comic called “The Witch and the Warrior”, a wlw romance one-shot between a female knight and a witch she’s sent to kill. Sword-fighting makes up a huge part of the comic, and figuring out how to depict a dynamic fight in a static image has been a new challenge for me. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to go to YouTube and look up sword-fighting videos and take my own screenshots as reference images. That way, my drawings will be true to life but capture that motion of someone mid-step or mid-swing.

I see a lot of comics – even by professional artists – fall prey to having stiff figures. With comics, the sense of motion is so important. Use reference images and look at how the experts have done it; that’s my advice for just about anything.

Another of Julian's illustrations, which shows an anthropomorphised wolf in a detective costume, standing in a dark alley and looking towards a neon sign that reads "Bar".
Credit: Julian Gray

How do you explore and develop the personalities of the characters in your art?

I’m a very character-oriented creator. You can tell some people are invested in the world first and the characters second – writers like JRR Tolkien, for example. I’m very much the reverse. 

I nearly always begin a story by thinking of a character or characters who interest me, and build the world around them. I think if you’re not interested in your characters, you can’t understand their motivations, and that stifles a story. I’m not just talking about comics; the best illustrations have stories behind them that can be read and understood through just that one image. 

From an outsider’s standpoint, the visual elements of a character are what tell you about that character: their features, clothing, the way they hold themselves. From a creator’s standpoint, we have to understand who they are to know how they would dress, or stand, or style themselves, and what effects that their life may have had on their appearance. Sometimes you get a sense of a character while you’re drawing them, rather than starting out with an idea in your head, but in my experience you always end up knowing the kind of person they are by the end of the picture.

You weave themes around equality and minority rights into your artwork – why do you feel that this representation is important?

I tick a lot of the minority boxes – I joke sometimes that I would win the “oppression olympics”. I’m queer, trans, disabled, neurodivergent, and a person of colour. It’s nearly impossible to be who I am and not have those themes work themselves into my art, because every artist uses their own experiences as a reference. Not only that, but as a member of those oppressed groups I often begrudge how little representation there is for people like me out there. 

When I sit down to think of a story, I think about what I want to read. Most mainstream representation of LGBTQ or disabled stories is about the identity itself, whether it’s a tragic story about someone coming to terms with their disability or a heart-wrenching tale of a trans person coming out. A lot of us are tired of this kind of content. I want to see stories about fantasy worlds, space travel, mysteries, all of that, where being queer, trans, disabled, or whatever, is incidental to the story.

Thanks to the internet, we’re seeing creatives like myself putting out their work with these themes. They don’t need to rely on a publishing house or a big studio to take them on to get it out there. And I think the more this kind of indie content gets lifted up and noticed by audiences, the more the mainstream studios will start to pay attention.

“My goal is to get people to care, and to bring them into this world I’ve made, and if they learn something along the way, all the better.”

Julian Gray

What do you want the impact of your work to be on its audience?

I really honestly love when people are invested in my work. I love seeing people react to my work, especially my comics; they feel sad when they read a sad scene, they feel joy when something good happens, they rage against the unfair circumstances facing the character. I find that amazing! I made them feel that way. I made them care about the characters I created, and through that, they often learn something about the realities of minority life they may not have thought about.

My goal isn’t to educate. For some people it is, and more credit to them, but I would quickly find that boring. My goal is to get people to care, and to bring them into this world I’ve made, and if they learn something along the way, all the better. My current comic, “The Invalid’s Valet”, is a romance between a disabled Victorian aristocrat and his valet. It’s inspired by my own experiences with chronic illness. I’ve already had a couple of comments from people who, through my comic, have expressed sympathy about how hard it must be to live with a chronic illness. The comic wasn’t made to educate people about chronic illness, but because they put themselves into the shoes of the main character, they learnt something. And I think that’s amazing.

The cover artwork and a page from Julian's comic, "The Invalid's Valet." The cover depicts a bearded man holding a smaller blonde man in his arms. The page has panels which show the blonde man saying to the bearded man, "All of this... for me?" He reaches his hand to touch the bearded man's face, and he initially flinches away, but then allows the touch.
Credit: Julian Gray

Do you have any tips on getting your creative work in front of an audience?

There is an element of luck to getting noticed out there, but there are a few things you can do to make yourself look more professional. Come up with a handle and use it consistently across all social media. Make sure you have a portfolio. There are many free websites that’ll host portfolios for you, but if you can at all afford the £10 or so to buy your own domain for a year, do that. It really makes a difference to your professionalism. Even if you’re using a free hosting service, at least have a website address you can point people to. And for the love of art, make sure it’s well organised and easy to read; people won’t bother if it’s not easy to access. 

I wouldn’t recommend entering competitions. Most of them are just ways for corporations to take advantage of free labour, and it’s very unlikely you’ll get noticed. Instead, engage with popular art challenges or hashtags, like the “draw this in your own style” challenge or the various Inktober-and-related challenges. Join Facebook groups for artists and share your artwork there. Don’t be afraid to re-share old work on your social media from time to time (just be honest about its age); nobody can produce a new piece every day and it’s unlikely people will even remember that piece you did from a couple years ago.

“There’ll always be someone better than you, and there’ll always be someone worse. But you are running laps around the person who never even got off the couch.”

Julian Gray

For people who either want to start or get better at drawing, what would your advice be?

My advice would be this: first and foremost, welcome constructive criticism. Yes, it can feel like a personal attack, and it can take time to divide yourself from your work enough that you can accept that criticism without feeling destroyed by it. But I honestly cannot overstate the value of having other eyes on your work. Even if the critics aren’t artists themselves, they can often have some useful feedback because the human eye is excellent at detecting discrepancies in visual artwork. Think of it as a customer eating at a restaurant; they may not know how you made the food, but they know it tastes damn good. If you can manage it, especially seek out critique from professionals, as they will be able to notice things a layperson may not notice. There are Facebook groups where you can post your work and ask for feedback.

Secondly, study the basics. You have to learn to walk before you can run. Practice anatomy, buy anatomy books if you can afford them. Websites like Line of Action can help you practice poses in a rapid-fire exercise. Study perspective. Take classes and follow YouTube tutorials; there are so many free resources out there if you look. Draw from life, whether that’s a nude model in front of you – not feasible at the moment for obvious reasons – or just sitting in the park and drawing what you see around you. 

Finally, draw what you enjoy. So many creatives, myself included, get sucked into this idea that you have to draw what will be popular and what people will like to see. I’m still training myself out of that belief! If you draw for other people, then art will become a chore. You need to enjoy it or you’ll never keep going with it, because art is not an easy thing to do and you never stop learning and improving. Remember, there’ll always be someone better than you and there’ll always be someone worse. But you are running laps around the person who never even got off the couch.

You can find Julian on Twitter and Instagram at @JulianGrayArt.

For more of Julian’s work, visit

Interview: Poet Andreena Leeanne On… Feeling The Fear, Speaking Your Truth, And Coping Through Creativity

Andreena Leeanne is a poet, inspirational speaker, and the founder of Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night. Andreena’s first book of poetry, ‘Charred: A Survivor Speaks Her Truth To Inspire’, was published in 2020 by Team Angelica.

Andreena was shortlisted for the Positive Role Model Award for LGBT at the National Diversity Awards in 2020, for her dedication to the LGBTQ+ community since coming out as a lesbian in 2003.

We spoke to Andreena about stumbling across poetry by accident, the impact of Poetry LGBT nights, and her advice on how to get started writing and performing poetry.

How did you first begin writing and performing poetry?

In February 2014, we (Andreena and her fiancée Germaine) went to my very first open mic poetry night in Dalston, Hackney. I was queuing for the toilet at the event, and someone said, “We have spaces on the open mic if you want to have a go?” And I said, “No! No way!” At the time I was thirty-three, and I said to him, “I haven’t written a poem since I was about twelve years old!” But as I sat down and was enjoying the night, I found the guy again and said to him, “If you can find me a pen and paper, I’ll write something. And if I think whatever I’ve written is good enough, I’ll have a go on the open mic.” So I wrote my poem – I actually wrote about the night, and then I performed it on stage that same night. I just remember getting a massive round of applause, and feeling really accomplished. I felt like, for once in my life, I was appreciated. 

“I want my poetry book to let people know that there’s resilience in the face of adversity. That everyone is courageous.”

Andreena Leeanne

What a way to start! Where did you and your new-found love of poetry go from there?

That one decision to go to the event has changed the course of my life. I spent the whole of that year going to all these poetry events in London, trying to get that feeling again. I’d write some more poetry, go on the open mics – I even tried a few slam poetry events. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, to be honest. Looking back at it now, I went on stages with some really well-known poets – and there was me, just writing how I feel. I didn’t write in a particular style; I just wrote however it came out from the heart. 

I was comparing myself, thinking, “Actually, my poems aren’t really good enough,” – but I felt the fear and did it anyway. Because along the way, it was helping me; things that were annoying me, I’d write about. So if I was angry at something, or if I was upset at work, I’d write about it. It became a coping mechanism to help me deal with my feelings.

The cover of Andreena's book - "Charred: A Survivor Speaks Her Truth To Inspire."
“Charred” by Andreena Leeanne / Team Angelica Publishing

You published your book of poetry, ‘Charred’, in 2020, six years after you first started writing poetry. What was it that led to you putting your work out into the world?

I was going to all of these events at the start of 2020 before lockdown, and every time I went to these events where I’d read a poem, people would always come up to me and say, “Where can I find your work? Where can I find your poetry?” And I didn’t have anything to show or give them. I made a list of what I needed – a LinkedIn profile, business cards, a website, and a book. And an Instagram account! So when lockdown came it was the perfect time for me to focus on a book, so that when I do go to events when lockdown is lifted I have a physical copy to give someone. 

Because if someone wants my book, they want a piece of me – they want something that I’ve written that can encourage them. That’s why it’s not just a poetry book – it’s almost a self-help book, or some people have described it as a journal-type book, because at the back I’ve got a space for people to write their own poem if they feel inspired by my poetry, and then I’ve got some notes on what I do for self-care, and useful organisations to contact if the reader feels triggered by what I’ve written. I’ve never seen those things in a poetry book before, so it was quite unique in that way. 

Your poetry in ‘Charred’ focuses heavily on deeply personal and traumatic experiences. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I want people to feel free to know that they can write their truth, because it’s theirs. Everyone has a journey, and a story. They have things that affect them, and writing is one of the ways that can help to get those feelings out on paper. I want my book to let people know that there’s resilience in the face of adversity. That everyone is courageous; we all are, we’ve all been through stuff. And we’re not alone in our struggle. 

My poems appeal to lots of people because I write about my sexuality, my struggles with my family, friends, mental health, homelessness, and childhood sexual abuse. People who have read it have contacted me to say, “Oh my gosh, I remember when I went through that”, or, “That happened to me.”

“Don’t worry, “Is it right?” or, “Is it any good?” It doesn’t matter. Who’s the judge of that?”

Andreena Leeanne

The idea of putting your creative work out there can often feel intimidating, particularly when it’s personal. What advice would you give to those who want to start writing?

Write it down in a style that feels comfortable to you – write down how you feel, and how it impacts you. It’s all about you. Don’t worry, “Is it right?” or, “Is it any good?”, or anything like that. It doesn’t matter. Who’s the judge of that? 

I don’t follow what other people write, and the style that they write. There are different ways of writing in the creative writing world, and I don’t care about that, to be honest. I don’t want anyone to think they can’t do it because of any barrier. I never left school with any qualifications, and that hasn’t stopped me. I haven’t said, “Oh, I haven’t got a GCSE in English, so I don’t think I can write.” I think I appeal to people who don’t usually write – people like me, who stumbled across poetry by accident. People who haven’t got a degree in English Language or English Literature.

When we go through life, we go through with all our stuff. We’ve got loads of stuff that we carry around with us, and that all has an impact. If we find an outlet to express ourselves, then it helps. Creativity is really important – I’m sure we’re all creative at something, and inspiration can come from anywhere.

The Poetry LGBT logo, with a microphone and the text "poetry LGBT" on a rainbow flag background.
Poetry LGBT

You set up Poetry LGBT Open Mic Night in 2015. Why did you feel that you needed to create a dedicated space for LGBT poets?

I felt it was really important to set up Poetry LGBT, because I spent the whole of 2014 going around lots of poetry events and open mic nights in London, and I found that there weren’t any LGBT events specifically; other than a poetry event that I later discovered called INCITE, which was run by Trudy Howson. I thought we needed our own space, where we can write and share our experience; because there were some events I went to where I didn’t do any of my LGBT-related poetry, because I didn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to be outwardly gay in a straight space. So, we needed an event where we could write whatever we wanted, and just be ourselves.

In January 2015 we were in a basement bar in Hackney, and we had 125 people come to our first event. It was massive, and it was definitely needed. We charged £5 on the door at our physical events, and we run our virtual events on a pay-what-you-can basis. We’ve never applied for, or received, any funding. It’s one of those events that always had a big audience – because it’s non-judgemental, it’s welcoming. 

Poetry LGBT has been running for six years now – what has the impact been on the poets of having that safe environment?

As much as Poetry LGBT has helped me, it has helped others immensely. The feedback I’ve got over the past six years is that it’s helped people feel a sense of belonging, it’s helped people to feel like they’ve got a chosen family, it’s helped with relationships – people have got into relationships as a result of coming to the events and meeting people. It’s helped people to start writing, or continue and develop their writing. It’s helped with confidence and self-esteem. It’s helped people to say their words to people – strangers – for the very first time. Even though we do get quite established poets, we also get a lot of people who just write in their bedrooms and don’t want to be on stage. They might not want to have a poetry book or anything in the future. They just want a place where they can express themselves.

“There’s nothing that should stop you from doing what you want to achieve – and if writing poetry is what you want to do, then do it!”

Andreena Leeanne

For those who want to try performing poetry, but might not have the confidence or know how to start – what would you suggest?

I’d say come to Poetry LGBT, because it’s a welcoming space! I’d also say search for LGBT events on event sites – Outsavvy is a really good place, as it’s an LGBT platform for events – or search poetry groups on Facebook. Nowadays, there are lots more spaces to be able to be heard, to share your work and get inspiration. 

Go to poetry events, see how it is, and then pluck up the courage to do it. Because we spend so much time making excuses as to why we shouldn’t do stuff – but do it, and see what happens. Then decide whether you want to do it again. If you’re thinking, “I’ll wait until I get better,” you’re wasting a life. There’s nothing that should stop you from doing what you want to achieve – and if writing poetry is what you want to do, then do it!

You can find Andreena on Instagram at @survivor.andreena.leeanne.

Poetry LGBT events are via Zoom on the first Sunday of every month, as well as the Clubhouse app every Wednesday at 7pm. Follow Poetry LGBT on Instagram at @PoetryLGBT to keep up to date with their latest news and events.

‘Charred’ is available on Amazon.

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