A character using public office to get something done was the initial idea for OCA creative writing student Keith Hutson’s latest play ‘The Champion’ in which a councillor makes the most of his position by setting up a boxing club for disadvantaged kids.
Earlier this year, ‘The Champion’ made it to the last 150 from 2,800 unsolicited submissions to the BBC writersroom, which aims to be ‘an open door to writers’. There it ended, though, as the play didn’t get through to the final 50 scripts that are taken forward by the broadcaster for further development.
Keith sees writersroom as ‘a bit of a lottery’. Just to get through to the long list, scripts have to go through five stages. The BBC stays in email contact during the shortlisting process. ‘You build up your hopes,’ says Keith. ‘It’s almost worse than falling at the first fence! What’s useful, though, is that you do get detailed feedback.’
Learning to deal with the kind of disappointment Keith has experienced this year is, arguably, as important a part of learning to be a writer as the writing itself. All writers have their own way of dealing with their work being rejected, and different ways work for different people.
Keith is quick to point out the positive aspects of his relationship with the BBC: ‘The BBC gave me really encouraging feedback and have urged me to keep submitting. It feels more ‘real’ than the feedback you get through studying creative writing because it comes from the jungle of the BBC and it’s their job to tell you the truth. I have been advised to think more about sub-text in certain parts of the play – quite a challenge as I’m not sure boxers have a lot of subtext in their lives!’
In the 1970s, when he was in his early 20s, Keith was set on a course to become a writer and had been writing since his teens. Then he came to the attention of Roger Hancock, brother of the comedian Tony Hancock, who was a literary agent. Roger took Keith on and secured him an episode of the ITV soap ‘Coronation Street’. That led to Keith writing story lines for ‘The Street’ for 12 months. He also had a poetry collection published by Outposts, publisher of the UK’s longest surviving poetry magazine.
Later in his twenties, Keith took over the family business, a wholesale nursery near Salford, and it became harder to find time to write. He carried on when he could, writing for actors and light entertainers including Roy Barraclough, who played landlord Alec Gilmore in ‘The Street’, and Michael Barrymore.
OCA has enabled Keith to return in a more fully to writing in his 50s, and fit it in with the demands of running a business. ‘Although I never stopped writing, I had stopped sending my work in,’ explains Keith. ‘OCA has given me back the discipline to write, revise and do something with what I’ve written, rather than just filing it away. ‘
Now Keith is working on his next play, about a boy who believes that by their own efforts children can make adult lives happy. ‘I’m paying attention to what the BBC told me about sub-text as I develop the character of the young boy. And yes, it will be going in the direction of the Writers Room.’
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