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On October 4th, The Manchester Grammar school welcomed renowned scriptwriter Russel T Davies for a Talk on his life and career. The Swansea born writer made his name in the late ’80s and ’90s with hits such as Queer as Folk. He went on to establish himself in 2005 when he spearheaded the relaunch of Doctor Who, bringing us the 10th Doctor in the form of David Tennant and expanding the Whoniverse with beloved shows The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.
I went along eager to meet a writer who has been a huge inspiration to me and, having regarded him as an almost Godlike figure. I certainly hadn’t been expecting someone so charming and down to Earth!
Dressed in a simple shirt and jeans and instantly offering to stay after and answer any questions, Davies immediately gave off an air of warmth. It was fascinating to hear his experience of attending a school which was dismissive of his passion and arts in general. Luckily, he wasn’t discouraged and soon developed an impressive writing portfolio. He went into screenwriting and children’s TV in 1985 after completing what he felt was a rather unnecessary English degree at Oxford!
When questioned if he would do anything differently looking back, he replied “Yes, not go to university! Complete waste of time”. For Davies, writing is something in the blood that you can’t teach, “I don’t think there’s such thing as a first draft, I don’t hand anything in until I feel it’s perfect”.
When asked his tips for budding writers, he advised simply to start! “There’ll always be someone who’s ahead of you so get on with it! Set aside a time every day when you can write”.
Watching Davies answer some difficult and pointed questions, I was struck by his balanced replies. He was proud of his work without being self-aggrandising or overly modest. When asked if he found specific projects more difficult, Davies explained “writing is a lot more taxing than people think, despite sitting at a desk you use an awful lot of energy because you have to be every character”. Writing the Doctor, for example, he explained, was hard because “you’re the cleverest man in the room”.
Psychology he feels, is simple, “solving psychological problems in real life can be hard, but understanding people is not as difficult as you’d think”. Davies, some would argue, has always been political, putting forward gay characters and rights, yet, he explained, this wasn’t a conscious decision but more to get people’s stories out there and portray the realities of life.
He candidly spoke when questioned on his most recent work, dystopian drama Years and Years, saying that he didn’t intend to write a Dystopia, but a depiction of what he believed could be a near-future Britain.
Watching The Sarah Jane Adventures growing up, it meant a lot to have such a fearless female role model who was a Journalist like I wanted to be. I asked Davies about his inspiration for the show, and why in particular he chose to bring Sarah back, to which he replied, “quite simply because I love her” and explained what a highlight of his career it had been.
The evening ended with a chance to chat individually, and I was thrilled to get a picture and an autograph. When he asked what I thought of Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor, I replied, “she’s great, I’m not so keen on the script though, I want you back!” I was rewarded with a laugh and left the building with a wave feeling thoroughly uplifted.
They say don’t meet your idols, but mine didn’t disappoint!