Tab Interview: Laura Watson

HOLLY STEVENSON talks thrillers and chilling murders with EastEnders scriptwriter LAURA WATSON.

Cambridge Eastenders Holly Stevenson Laura Watson naked stage new writing writeon

It was dark, it was raining, and I was interviewing Laura Watson outside the toilets at Ross Street Community Centre. There was a yoga class in the hall, you see, so it was unavailable.  Some of our conversation is still inaudible on my recording, due to some rather ill-timed flushes…

So, freelance writing isn’t exactly glamorous. But Laura Watson, who lives just 12 miles from Cambridge, is contagiously enthusiastic about her work; whether it’s script editing, writing, or teaching. She is especially passionate about the children she leads in creative workshops: ‘One thing I feel really strongly about is helping children to unlock their imaginations,’ she tells me. ‘It’s been really rewarding to be able to boost these children’s confidence. With TV and computer games, nowadays everything is pretty much done for them. I don’t know how much they read, but when I was a child, reading was a much bigger thing.’

Laura found her love of writing at an early age: ‘I used to write about these triplets called Nora, Dora and Flora. I was only about seven, but they had the most amazing adventures! I also wrote a story about a magic vest that went missing.’

Laura lived in London while she was a script editor for EastEnders, but when she started writing on a freelance basis, it was these memories of her childhood that brought her back to Cambridge: ‘Childhood nostalgia drew me here, as well as a lot of my closest friends from back then that I still see all the time.

Cambridge itself is so inspiring, because there’s so much going on. I live down in the Fens, and there’s something about them; they’re quite eerie, and really evocative for stories, because the land’s so flat and you have these great open spaces. Also, growing up here, I find so many stories that are part of the landscape; I find that fascinating.’

Laura’s most recent project comes as part of writeON!: a group of actors, writers and directors who produce dramatic writing in Cambridge. For writeON!’s annual series of staged readings of new plays, Laura produced ‘A Moment’; a 50-minute play that explores the relationship between a woman who has done time for murder and her daughter, who has just uncovered her mother’s horrific past. It was inspired by the true-life story of Mary Bell, who murdered two boys at the age of 11, and was imprisoned before being released some  years later and given a new name. Her daughter knew nothing about her mother’s past until Bell’s location was discovered by the press.

Laura explained: ‘The story really stayed with me, and I thought: Imagine you were the daughter, and you found out that your mother had done something horrific. That was the starting point, but also, as my mum is a foster carer, I wanted that dimension there as well. So the daughter in my play is adopted, and at the age of 18 wants to find out who her birth mother is.

‘Getting into the mindset of the mother was hard. She’s quite a tragic figure, but can you really sympathise with her? This sounds a bit odd, but I always get really annoyed when you watch dramas and somebody in it has committed a murder, and then you find they actually didn’t do it because they were just covering for someone else, or it was self-defence, or some other mitigating circumstances. I thought, why can’t somebody just kill somebody? They’ve done their time, and they’re not going to do it again, but there isn’t an excuse.

‘I was also very keen to do something about adoption, since people on TV either seem to get horribly rejected, or it can become quite sentimental. I wanted to do something that was different – a positive adoption story, where her adopted family are her family.’

However, this is by no means a finished piece of writing. Naked Stage, the project that Laura is involved with, invites its audience to give feedback and ask the writers questions once they have seen the performances. Laura appears to relish the challenge that this presents: ‘I’m very much aware that it is still very much a draft, and that it’s not very polished. That’s the point of Naked Stage: to work it out on the stage.

‘The feedback is really useful, though it can be quite nerve-racking! As a writer, you have to try not to be too precious about your work, though it can be hard and you feel really protective. So, it’s really good to see people who are coming at it completely fresh, because you’ll get more of an instinctive reaction from it.’

Laura plans to expand beyond set readings into bona fide drama: ‘I’ve received a grant from the Arts Council to write a play on the subject of missing people, and that’s quite a different starting point, as I’ve literally got just this one subject to write about.

Laura is completely unpretentious. She learnt her trade in the unforgiving world of TV soaps, and now, brimming with ideas, she shares her unflagging energy with as many people as she can. ‘I’ve been a freelance writer for five years now, and I’ve still got so much to learn! There’s nothing like that sense of achievement that you feel when you’ve finished something and seen it being performed in some way. It’s why I do it and why I love it!

Give me Laura Watson over Samuel Beckett any day. And not just because he’s dead.

For more information about WriteON!, click here.