How I write: Lucy Kirkwood


Lucy Kirkwood’s plays include The Children, Chimerica, NSFW, Tinderbox and It Felt Empty When The Heart Went At First But It Is Alright Now, and she collaborated with Katie Mitchell on the National Theatre’s Christmas show Beauty and the Beast. She’s also written for TV, including Skins and Sky 1’s The Smoke which she created and wrote.

What time of day do you write?

Any time, but I find night to be when the good work happens, more often than not.

Where do you find inspiration?

Talking to people, reading, exhibitions, newspapers, public transport, music, holidays, dinners, babysitting, shoe shops, weddings, visiting relatives, walking, wasting time on the internet, meeting my accountant, planting tulips.

People talk about it like an event but I think it is more of a cumulative thing, the gradual synthesis of different ideas and emotions and ambitions until there is something interesting and concrete enough to provoke a play.

CHIMERICA by Kirkwood
Benedict Wong and Stephen Campbell Moore in Chimerica (Almeida Theatre/Headlong). Photo by Johan Persson.

Do you ever abandon a writing project?

Yes but it feels more like writing projects abandon me! Sometimes I have got five pages into something, sometimes 3 drafts, before I realise I am not able to execute the work as well as I would want, or the gesture of the play isn’t as worthwhile as I’d thought it was.

How do you organise your writing time?

I don’t live in London, and am strict about the days I will travel in to take meetings. Beware of the 11.30 am meeting – not enough time to get stuck into anything beforehand and by the time you get home it is 2.30 and half the afternoon has gone already.

I don’t have a smartphone and only check emails once a day – sometimes once every couple of days if I am really in the trenches with something. This isn’t something I’m proud of, I think other people find it easier to juggle things, but I find writing a mentally exhausting process and sometimes even working out what to eat for dinner is a bit much! So it helps me to compartmentalise in this way.

Where is your favourite place to write?

At my desk at home in Norfolk.

Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay and Francesca Annis in The Children (Royal Court). Photo by Johan Persson

Do you procrastinate, and how do you combat it?

Yes, and you can’t much I don’t think – combat it I mean. I mostly read books and plays and newspapers, which sounds better than being on Facebook for hours, but is in fact more dangerous because you can always convince yourself you are researching.

However I think if you are really a writer you will eventually write and I think of it now as simply part of how I work – like a plane circling an airport waiting for a landing strip.

How much do you use research?

It varies from play to play. For Chimerica, a lot, for The Children, very little. However much you do, you will only actually be able to put a baby’s fingernail of it into the work, but it does infuse everything you write.

What do you do when you feel stuck?

A lot of violent self-loathing, which is unhelpful, and discussions with my husband, which are very helpful.

How do you know when a play is finished?

On the closing night of the first production. It isn’t, necessarily, but it always feels like a funeral to me, particularly if I have been pleased with the production.

Read more of the How I write series.