Writer’s Block With Lindsay J. Sedgwick

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author Lindsay J. Sedgwick about growing up by the sea, moving from FICTION TO ANIMATION and INSPIRING INDIVIDUALS

 

Lindsay J. Sedgwick is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright who recently dipped her quill into the fiction well. To date, the former journalist has nine hours of television and film credits. This experience includes WULFIE and the hugely successful PUNKY, which is the first mainstream animated series to have a central character with special needs – now shown in over a hundred countries. Lindsay has been a screenwriting tutor for over twenty years. The multi-talented scribe is a member of the Irish Writers Guild, the Irish Film and Television Academy and the Irish Writers’ Centre, as well as a founder of the Creatives in Animation Network which facilitates partnerships between writers and animators. In 2016 she was the Screenwriter-in-Residence at Maynooth University and Kildare County Council Library & Arts Service.

Earlier this year, as L.J. Sedgwick, the author greatly impressed the literary community with Dad’s Red Dress, a beautifully imagined, highly original story that has its finger firmly on the pulse. Children’s Books Ireland has said Dad’s Red Dress is “filled with vivid, genuine characters and complex, conflicting family drama, it is joyous, loving and truly unique among the vast canon of coming-of-age stories…a delight to read.” Lindsay’s curriculum vitae has practically reached bursting-point, with many new projects ready to rock readers’ worlds. Her new book The Angelica Touch is about a fourteen-year-old who blames herself for her mother’s single status, and discovers her ability as a matchmaker. Lindsay has also completed final drafts for Write That Script! – an immensely helpful manual which guides aspiring screenwriters in the creative process from start to finish.

Lindsay J. Sedgwick lives with her family in Marino, Dublin 3. The Angelica Touch and Write That Script! are due for release in November 2017. Her next screenwriting course in FilmBase, Dublin, starts in January 2018.

Dad’s Red Dress (€12.50 in paperback) is published by Janey Mac Books and is available from Amazon.co.uk and selected bookshops.

On roots

I grew up in Sutton, facing the sea. I love the sound of water, the waves crashing over the wall when my dad dragged us for the obligatory after Christmas dinner walk. Walking the ‘Dell Road’ with my mother, through St Fintan’s and down by the hill. We used to walk through the three graveyards and read the inscriptions. That stopped when she got older! My mother always made us swim in the sea. The phrases: “You’ll love it once you’re in” and “You’ll feel so good afterwards” were not compensation for walking inch by inch into the sea, but they were true. The taste of salt on your skin, bobbing up and down in a rough sea.

It was a big house. I was the youngest of eight and up to age thirteen, I was in a small room facing the sea. When my nearest sister married, I moved into a bigger room facing Howth. I remember writing very dark stuff about the hill I could see from my room when I was a teenager; but then I was always writing. I have so many memories of that room. It was big and cold, with up to fifteen leaks one winter (our house had a flat roof) but I loved the space.

On creating

I have a desk side-on to the window so I can see the world moving. I’ve a mother-child lamp that I use the up-lighter on when I’m at the desk. There’s a crystal lamp to my left and an elephant my daughter gave me on the desk to stop the mouse pad shifting forward. There’s a prism there too. My mother was given it by an elderly woman up the Wicklow mountains as a child in the late 1920s or early 30s. It used to be on my parents’ window sill, so I’d be allowed to look at the sea and storms through it. There’s a tiny fireplace opposite me. On either side of this there are bookcases full of photo albums, plants and books, art work by my daughter and sister, photos, another crystal lamp, a stack of my first book, Dad’s Red Dress, files of projects I’m working on and my new favourite toy – a guillotine! Against the right wall, there’s the old piano that was in my parents’ house. I don’t play much but I used to love just ad-libbing up and down the keys when I was alone in the house. It has plants, books I’ve yet to read, while snowflake bunting hangs above it, left over from last Christmas. The lid of it has piles of bits for different projects needing more immediate attention and there’s a printer hidden in the corner. I will also work in the kitchen and in my daughter’s room upstairs.

On routine

Al in Javaholics in Fairview does the best flat whites. I often bring work down there. It might be the coffee but I often find I work more productively, even more creatively on a section that’s bogging me down. In town, my favourite place to write is KC Peaches in Dame Street. I usually take the dog for a walk in the green at the end of the road in the morning. Sometimes I bump into other dog walkers. There’s a great mix of people, all nationalities and personalities and I love that interaction; it often spurs me into the work when I get home. Several of them have come to my plays or read my book and push me to say when the next one is out or on! But mostly, I pace around trying to un-knot something in a story or thinking I should be thinking about that. I go home then – cafetiere of coffee, avoid picking up the paper or the book I’m reading and then to work. I work on and off all day, usually juggling between four and six projects at any one time. I find if I can avoid checking emails until midday, I’m far more productive. I teach several evenings; I also do script and project consultancy work for private students. I’m doing a one year course on illustration one night a week at the moment. I wanted to be doing something that would challenge me and make me use my hands.

On bookshops

I love Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway. The only risk is that you can never leave without spotting some book you never realised you needed. And the staff are so into books and supportive of independent writers. I love Books Upstairs in Dublin for a similar reason, while the Gutter has that bookshelf with recommendations on cards and they’re hard to resist. I also like Chapters, but it’s so vast that you need time to explore it.

On cartoons

I grew up looking at cartoons like Tom & Jerry and Road Runner and loved the Three Stooges too. Drama and fun cartoons should make you laugh; maybe have kids on the edge of the seat but all in safety because the characters are not real and they can bounce back into shape. One of the reasons I looked at animation was because one of my features had so many characters in the first ten minutes that somebody suggested it would work well as animation. There was also a whale on the roof of the hotel, which might have helped too! Also, I was writing mainly family films at the time, probably because I had a small daughter. Story and character are as important as images on a screen. They all have to work. How a character behaves tells you how they feel and the truth, while dialogue tells you what they think and can often hold the untruths. I did a course with Screen Training Ireland. It was six weekends on writing animation and I felt like I’d come home.

On inspiring individuals

I had a wonderful school teacher, Mrs O’Brien, for my last two years in Primary. She loved my stories and my drawings and I’ve always felt a huge debt to her. After that, in Secondary, the English teacher we had hated the subject and kept putting notes like, “Please come back down to earth” or “This was meant to be a factual essay” on my stories. My mother, Kathleen, was a huge inspiration. She was one of the first female scholars in TCD and mad about reading, writing and theatre; all the arts really. She brought me to lunchtime plays in the Peacock Theatre from when I was six or seven and that is probably why I decided I wanted to write for the stage. I’d already written a book when I was nine and was writing poems constantly but she steered me towards journalism, which I loved. I was a freelance journo writing stage plays on the side for about thirteen years before I gave it up to write creatively full time. I now have writer friends who inspire me, some of whom are brilliant motivators and supports. We can sit and talk about all the projects that haven’t happened, about the difficulties of being a writer when none of us would ever be anything else and laugh about it all. I feel hugely privileged to be able to make up worlds and characters for a living – it’s madness! But also hard work.

On Dad’s Red Dress

As a child I was aware of an individual who was transitioning. There were articles, I think in the Evening Press, about the options offered to her. She was staying with her wife and kids and what fascinated me was wondering how the kids coped, how they told their friends, what it was like in school for them. That would have been the late 70s or early 80s. In 2002 I wrote Jessie Jones is Nearly 10, a screenplay of the story that became Dad’s Red Dress all these years later. It was about to go into production as a German-Irish co-production in 2004/5 when some of the funding collapsed. There was lots of interest after that but it never got made.

On what’s next

I’m talking to a director about getting Benjamin, my new stage play on next March, I have files of notes for the sequel to Dad’s Red Dress that I can’t wait to get back to and I have Candlemist, my pet novel ticking over. It’s enormous – about 110,000 words and a whole alternative world that I love going into. The main character’s father has sparrows in his ears and there’s a dragon in it called Sweetheart. Oh and clones being “grown” in an illegal factory of grannies, who want to make the perfect grandchild. Then there’s Snapshots, a memory novel inspired by photos I found of my parents on holidays in the 50s.

@SophieGrenham

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