Tag Archive: Inspiration


A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

Half term. I’m sat in the window of my apartment at a newly created workstation strategically placed so I can look out over the busy road, the commuters bustling through the train station and those handsome Welsh mountains in the background. I’ve been meaning to set this spot up since I moved in almost 15 months ago but only now have I managed to take action.

The last half term, in October, was a bit of disaster. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to half terms. Christmas, Easter, the Summer – they’re all great, but it’s these week long holidays in between that I can’t seem to handle properly. I always end up with cancelled plans or no plans at all. I just can’t do half terms! This was one, however, was going to be different.

For a few weeks I’ve felt myself bubbling. Frustration tightening a knot around my waist (but for more of that, see last week’s rant!) and I knew that this half term I needed to fix it. The most prominent activity in my busy schedule is ‘writing time’. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to grab quality writing time. A run of a few hours where I can lose myself in an idea. In fact, since September I have only managed to write for the odd hour here and there. And that’s not enough for me.

Saturday night, I settled down in my new spot and began to type. I’ve barely thought of anything else since. I seem to be having some sort of inspiration overload. Closing the gates on work for a week has unlocked a boxful of ideas and I am loving the luxury of time.

My first project to hit was the big one. Reset. I’ve been working on this since 2010 and I’m finally at the stage where its feeling polished. It’s ready. It’s my pride and joy and I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.

After a few re-workings of Reset, I bounced over to my second pride and joy – After Caitlyn. Shorter than Reset by a country mile and totally different in tone and style (hmm…perhaps I need to squeeze some poetry into this week) but I couldn’t be prouder of this story. Although it brought unwelcome reminders of the real-life elements that run through the story, I enjoyed being reunited with these characters and adding tweaks to the story here and there. This one is almost ready.

A project that has taken me by surprise this weekend is something I didn’t think I was ready to do. In September, I agreed to lead Performing Arts Club at school. We have lots of fun and the children are buzzing with creative ideas and energy. When the time came for us to consider our big production I was adamant I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write it. We’d have to order a script in. End of.

Well, here I am, 16 pages into an epic tale of Welsh Myths and Legends. I have to give credit to the children for their inspirational passion. I just couldn’t stop myself and I hope my script provides them with the material they deserve.

And on top of all that, I’ve even had time to re-visit that sitcom (the sitcom that’s not a sitcom. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as to what it is at the moment) I’ve been talking about for years. If I can get the pilot done by the summer, I’ll be very happy.

So, I’m at an inspirational peak. I find myself thinking about a Reset sequel in the car and those first stirrings of excitement leave my fingertips tingling. I listen to a soundtrack – RENT, some of the most raw, evocative lyrics you’ll ever hear – and I start to think about the characters in After Caitlyn. I look down at the road bringing people to and from my town, and I start to think about a new project altogether, the characters already having a blazing row in my head. I finish The Girl on the Train and I’m in awe of the storytelling. This is what I want to be capable of. My mind is bursting with ideas and I’m relishing the process of channeling them into words. I’m feeling creatively rejuvenated and after a very dry few months, it’s about time too!

With last week’s sad news about the brilliant Victoria Wood, I wanted to share my top five Wood moments. Writer, actress and stand-up comic – her talent was endless and she’s a huge loss to the entertainment world.

Number 5 – Dolly thinks she’s accidentally taken Viagra.

I loved Dinnerladies when I was growing up. I would sneakily stay awake and watch it quietly in my room. I loved the relationships between the characters and, although I was only around ten at the time, I would grow up to recognise those characters in everyday life. Victoria had a skill for creating characters that were so rounded and real. One stand-out moment – and there were almost too many to choose from – is from ‘Christine’ when Dolly thinks she has accidentally taken Viagra after picking up the wrong mug of tea, resulting in a hilarious, warbling, anxiety-ridden tirade from Dolly. I have had the pleasure of knowing a real-life Dolly and I always chuckle to myself and think of her during this scene.

‘What will it do to a woman? Where will it go? What will happen when it gets down there and finds there’s nothing to pump up! It’ll be like a range rover going top speed into a cul-de-sac!’

Brilliant performance from Thelma Barlow, and brilliant writing from Victoria.

Number 4 – ‘I might have to smash your face in with a tin of beans.’

Again, from the episode ‘Christine’, this deadpan delivery from Bren stands for Wood’s talent as an actress as well as a writer. In Bren, she has created a character who we can all empathise with. She’s witty and kind but not without her faults. Bren is down to earth. Everyone knows a Bren. She mixes up words and slips in ‘do-dahs’ and ‘thingmajigs’ like so many people I know (including myself). Bren is continuously thoughtful towards others, even those we who don’t deserve it, like her mother, who constantly takes advantage of her. Bren is the hub of the canteen and an underated comedy character.

Tony: So you’re not pregnant then.

Bren: Not unless sperm can get through a sash window.

Number 3 – The Large Woman in a Cake Shop

I chose Victoria Wood: At it again to study as part of my A Level English Language course. I had to watch the DVD over and over again and write a transcript of it. It was hilarious and even though I had to watch it so many times it never got old and I still laugh about it today. I still think about the following gag whenever I go into a cake shop.

If you’re big in this country, eating is a very shameful thing. You can’t imagine this scenario in England: Big woman goes into a cake shop and says ‘I would like a cake please. It is for me. I am going to eat it myself.’ It couldn’t happen, could it? She would have to go in and say ‘Erm…can I have a cake please? Erm…a woman has collapsed two streets away and, erm, I think it’s a diabetic coma. On the other hand it could be head injuries, in which case, I’ll eat it myself.’

Number 2 – Two Soups

I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s just brilliant. Written by Wood but with cracking performances. Enjoy.

Number 1 – The Ballad of Barry and Freda

Z and I were only singing this last week. Fantastic lyrics and a very catchy tune. Be prepared to have this stuck in your head for the rest of the week. Have a listen, it’s a treat!

It’s amazing how much Victoria has contributed to the entertainment world. She has made me laugh so many times and will always be one of my comedy heroes.

So regular readers of my blog will know that the theatre is very close to my heart. Last week, I came to a shocking realisation that it’s been two years since I was last on stage – that’s my longest break since I was 14! Coincidentally, I was talking to a pupil this week about their similar love of performing and it got me thinking about my early responses to drama in school. I bloody loved it. I remember taking part in several year 6 performances and then in year 7 things really kicking off when I joined the school drama club and played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol! My whole youth seemed to have been spent on a stage so why didn’t I pursue it further?

The simple answer is – I wasn’t encouraged. My family (grandparents, aunties, cousins etc) were supportive enough, but they were always going to be, they’re my family! So even if I was totally talentless they would still support me! My parents weren’t so keen on the idea of me being involved with the theatre.  I don’t know if it was the fear that I’d turn into a fabulous, sashaying queen or the worry that I’d enjoy the dressing up too much but neither seemed fussed on my early ambition to be an actor. I was gently steered towards a ‘more stable career’.

I could see their point. The world of performance is notoriously difficult to crack and if I wanted speedy independence I was going to have to be earning as soon as I could. But I remained enthusiastic, full of youthful gusto and naivety. I wanted to be on the stage!

This whole anecdote is relevant (I promise) because my first major knock in confidence in become an actor came from a teacher. Someone whose job it is to nurture and support our aspirations. I had a fantastic drama teacher in high school. Caring, passionate and encouraging – everything a drama teacher should be. The fact she is still in touch with so many of her pupils (myself included) is a testament to the impact she had on us and she remains one of my personal teaching role models. MG was always supportive, but it was another teacher who delivered the first slap. I’m hesitant to pin the blame entirely on him, but it was his delivery of some bad news which, I will always remember, left me feeling deflated about my hobby for the first time. I realised that drama just wasn’t taken seriously. In our third year of high school we had to choose which subjects we would study at GCSE level. My friends and I had waited for this moment for three years. We’d learned a lot about the GCSE Drama course and couldn’t wait to read plays, watch performances, explore methods and ideas, and, of course, do all that whilst having a great big laugh with each other and MG. However it was not meant to be. Eight of us were shuffled into a tiny room where this particular teacher – Mr P – carelessly and tactlessly told us the drama course wouldn’t be running that year and we should chose something else. Naturally, we argued back but the decision was made. For ridiculous reasons, I had to do Business Studies instead. Skills I have never used. Two years wasted.

At a careers evening, I excitedly shared with the careers adviser (aka Aspiration Destroyer) my plans to study drama, perhaps go to stage school and follow a career in acting. She shut me down straight away. ‘Oh no, perhaps a plan B. Acting is such a difficult industry to get into. Chances are you won’t go very far. What else do you like doing?’

Needless to say I left the school absolutely crushed. By the time I left aged 16 I had been totally convinced that my beloved hobby would be nothing more than that. I stumbled into college with little confidence in my ability and barely any sense of where I wanted my life to go. It took a long time to recover from that. Thankfully, I studied Drama and Theatre Studies at A level and my passion was rekindled thanks to two dedicated and encouraging tutors. But I still didn’t quite feel confident to make that application to drama school.

My point is, our time in education should be a time where we explore ourselves and our passions and begin to establish our ambitions, but instead my time in school turned out to be very damaging to my aspirations. I was not encouraged enough. I was aware that acting was a tricky career choice but I was passionate enough to want to give it a go. Perhaps it would turn out that I wasn’t quite cut out to succeed, but now, how will I ever know? It seems a career in anything creative is deemed too risky an option by schools. The same goes for writing. I have written stories from an early age, so why wasn’t I encouraged to follow that path? I must have had some skill to have done well in creative writing projects in school, college and university so why was it that the first real push I had to follow a career in writing was when I was 21? The day my creative writing lecturer took me aside and told me to consider forwarding my work to agent will go down as one of the proudest days of my life. I’d been told my work was good before but never by someone with so much experience. He believed in me and that belief has gone a long way.  Now, as a teacher, I know how important it is to be like Mr Lecturer and MG and how damaging it can be to have Aspiration Destroyer’s attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the career I have chosen, but I regularly wonder how different things could have been. I have friends in similar situations, who were dissuaded to follow their dreams and are now totally lost or totally miserable. I also have friends who have took the leap, trained at drama school and are now living in London or seeing the world. I just can’t help but envy that. Whilst I truly enjoy my day job, I live for those weekends where I can work on a writing project or sing with my friends or do impressions of Cher over WhatsApp. I love to entertain and, of course, that is partly a requirement of being a teacher!

So when a child tells me what they want to be when they’re older – policeman, dancer, brain surgeon, pirate – I tell them to go for it. I tell them that if they really want to do that then they should do everything they can do achieve it. We need to push arts in school and stop being so scared of those creative subjects. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand more times. It isn’t focused on enough. Yes, literacy and numeracy and digital competency are important but so is culture and the ability to express oneself. If we don’t encourage this generation then in a couple of decades our theatres will be empty, radios will be silent and TV screens devoid of artistic talent! (I’m dramatic. It’s been proven.) Seriously, it needs to start in schools. We need to be fostering a passion for drama and the arts and supporting those with a taste for it.

Isn’t it funny how inspiration can hit at any time?

After finishing Reset last summer, I found myself itching to start a new project. I’ve got a sitcom that has been on a slow burn for a three or four years (and has recently turned into a drama series), but I found myself craving prose. I needed to write another novel. I wasn’t looking for commitment as epic as Reset (which ended up at 62 chapters and is a bitch to edit) – I needed a quick literary fling. I’ve started three short stories over the last year but neither of them got finished due to the life-consuming PGCE but when the summer holidays came I had no excuse not to get writing.

Over the summer, I pledged to start writing again but, besides this blog and the odd adjustment to the sitcom/drama, I’d produced very little. Inspiration had evaded me. I sat for hours in front of the laptop but would get distracted by facebook, TV, reading, my dog….etc.

Until last week when – hallelujah! – Inspiration hit! I suddenly realised a story that had lurked at the back of my mind for months could suddenly work! Cue lots of late night planning and writing.

When I’m searching for inspiration I usually turn to three things:

  • Music – I have an eclectic mix of songs on my iPod which can fuel my creative ideas. From Michel Giacchino to Fleetwood Mac – anything works.
  • Walking/Driving – Sometimes I just need to get out and go. Whether it’s a drive around my hometown or a walk along the beach, staying put stifles me.
  • Setting the mood – Writing comes best to me late at night when I’m sat in my room, listening to some music and burning incense. Often with the curtains open so I can see the moon (romantic, right?)

But it wasn’t any of these that worked this time. I was visiting family in a wi-fi free zone. No distractions. I was thinking about a memory which rolled into an idea which suddenly grew into a story. Within two hours I’d written 30 pages. Within just a few days I’d finished a first draft which is such an achievement for me as I usually plod quite slowly through stories. So, for the next few days I will be disconnecting the wi-fi, turning off my phone and locking myself in my room with food and water until editing is complete! If anyone wants to buy me a writing retreat on a remote island you are most welcome.