As a deeply immature, incredibly provincial teenager, I’d imagine myself as a ‘serious’ writer. It would involve me sitting in a café wearing a polo neck and smoking Gauloises, staring into middle distance wracked with ennui and occasionally scribbling furious thoughts, possessed by the need to say something important.
Happily, the smoking ban and a modicum of self-respect have stopped me from pursuing this image, though I do own a couple of quite nifty polo necks. And of course, as it turned out, writing was nothing like this. It was both more mundane and much, much harder work than my silly, pretentious teenage notions would have had me believe.
There is one thing I got right, though, was that part about saying something. We don’t like to admit it because, in all honesty, it sounds laughably pompous. But there are already so many words, so many stories out there. Why would any of us bother if we didn’t think we had something to say?
My first original TV series, Boy Meets Girl, premiered 1st May on ITV. It was an incredibly exciting moment and the culmination of many years’ sweat and anguish. Watching it go out live, I was trying to work out how it came about, why it worked when other ideas hadn’t, all that kind of stuff.
What dawned on me is that I think that, in many of the scripts I’ve had in development that never made the grade, I was trying too hard to ‘say something’, to hammer home a point of view. But the thing is, your beliefs, your values, the things that anger or amuse or disappoint you – they all come out in your writing anyway. For me, Boy Meets Girl isn’t really about a daft idea about a man and woman swapping bodies. It’s about the growing class divide. But that wasn’t necessarily what I set out to write – it’s just what it ended up being.
Boy Meets Girl was initially an exercise in developing an idea just to see what happened. I wanted to see if I could have a crack at a rather pat, Hollywood genre but write it in a way that wasn’t just a host of the usual clichés. I didn’t think about what I was trying to ‘say’, but once the characters of Danny and Veronica came to life, it became clear that this was going to be less about gender than class – because their status in life was at least as different as their sex. And I suppose that class is just something I’m interested in and it was therefore natural it would come to the fore when I was developing the idea.
If I’d sat down and started to think about trying to develop an idea about class divisions, you bet I’d have come up with something dry, boring and impossible to pitch to commissioning executives! So I guess what I’m saying is – don’t worry about what you’re trying to say. Worry about the ideas, worry about your characters. Make your ideas bold and brave. Ensure your characters are real, live people not a mere mouthpiece for your opinions. The rest will follow, because it’s being written by you, and only you believe what you believe; only you look at the world through your eyes. And only you can say what you want to say. That’s why you became a writer, right?
David Allison wrote and staged his first play in 1992. He started writing professionally for television in 1999. His first gig was on Hollyoaks where his finest achievement was undoubtedly creating a character called Bombhead. Boy Meets Girl is his first produced original drama. He is married with two children and lives in Leeds.