How I write: James Graham


James Graham‘s acclaimed drama about party whips, This House, premiered at the National Theatre and is currently playing in the West End (until 25 Feb). Among other plays are Privacy, Tory Boyz, Eden’s Empire, The Whisky Taster, The Angry Brigade, Monster Raving Looney and the forthcoming Ink, about the birth of The Sun newspaper. His play The Vote aired in real time on TV in the final 90 minutes of the 2015 General Election polling day. He wrote the book for new musical Finding Neverland, and his screenplays include X and Y.

What time of day do you write?

All day. Deadlines will do that. But if I had a preference as to the best ‘time’, I’d say morning. Like 6 or 7am. It feels like you’re ‘ahead’ then, with the space to think clearly, to play…

Do you remember the first time someone described you as “a writer”

I don’t. But I still blush or feel like a fraud when I have to say what I do now to strangers. I don’t know why. No one should.

Where do you find inspiration?

The news. And the past.

Do you ever abandon a writing project?

Sometimes they take longer to materialise or fully form. Sometimes years, whereas others arrive on the page and then the stage and then they’re gone within months. But I never think of those that haven’t arrived yet as being abandoned. Just dormant.

Privacy (Public Theatre, New York)

How do you organise your writing time?

The next thing due in is always the current thing I’m writing on. I wish I could say something more romantic than that.

Where is your favourite place to write?

At home. But I’m always surprised how little time I spend there (rehearsals, meetings, castings, filming).

Do you procrastinate, and how do you combat it?

Turn the internet off. Even if you have to look something up for research, jot it down and find it later. I don’t take my own advice, by the way. I’m typing this to you now, when I should be writing. And I’ve just been on Facebook. And before that I watched a four minute video about something I didn’t need to. Twice.

This House (Headlong, National Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre)

How much do you use research?

Loads. I love it. I love interviewing people.

What do you do when you feel stuck?

Keep going. Writing’s hard, it just is. Stuck, to me, just means it’s hard, it’s not fun, you don’t want to suffer the shame of writing something terrible and feeling down about it, but you just have to get it out, get through it, accept it won’t be perfect the first time through that moment or scene, but the second time will be a whole lot easier if you just get it out now, in any fashion.

How do you know when a play is finished?

Because I’ve read of a review of it in the paper the day after we’ve opened. That’s the only time I’ll stop. And to be honest, even then…

Read more of the How I write series.