“Keep writing, keep doing what you’re doing”
Shelley writes for theatre, radio and television. Her stage plays include Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach (NYT/Soho Theatre), Falling (The Bush), Calcutta Kosher (Southwark Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East). Plays for R4 include I am Emma Humphreys, The Sound of Silence, Ink, Collective Fascination, Nothing Happened (with Luke Sorba) adaptations of Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet (with John Harvey) and Hanan Al-Shaykh’s novel Only in London. Current work includes a new radio commission, and she is developing (with Luke Sorba) a recently optioned TV comedy series.
“There is a definite discrepancy in the broadcast material for men v. women writers. We all know it, we are all trying to change it. Whether we can or not is another matter. About a quarter of TV writers (in the UK) are women, slightly less for radio. It’s shocking but true. And some men are aware of it and want to make changes, sadly it’s the broadcasters and producers and artistic directors who make the decisions. I was recently turned down for a TV job, because I was too old! So women, in particular older women writers (and older women in general, in life, in the world) have a much harder time.
“How do we change this? Never give up. Believe in your work. Keep writing, keep sending work out, make contacts directly with the people who make the decisions. Don’t pester them, but send emails, ask about work. What’s the worst that could happen? They say no? Big deal. At least they’ll have heard about you.
“I honestly believe meeting people is a real bonus, for them and for you, because we all have preconceptions about people, and often all they know of you is your work – which is not representative of who you are as a person. Getting to know directors/producers/script editors/ literary managers and starting relationships with them is I think, a way forward. And it is not impossible. They are human too, some of them at least! There are a lot of fantastic TV/Theatre/Radio people out there who are not ageist or sexist, who want great ideas and brilliant scripts, but often they face opposition from the decision makers. Every time I look through the Radio Times and see how many more men are writing than women, I sigh. So do most of my women writer friends.
“My ultimate advice is keep writing, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s good to see 17Percent campaigning for women writers, alongside the rest of us. Maybe, just maybe, we can all make a real difference.”