Sophie Woolley is a deaf writer and actor well known for her quirky stage plays, such as When to Run, Fight Face and The Bee Detective. She has created a brilliant parody series called Deaf Faker on YouTube – well worth a watch. The most recent episode was aired a few days ago here. She agreed to do a short interview, taking a break from her busy schedule.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m a writer and actor. I write fiction, stage plays, radio plays and I’m dabbling in TV scripts. I act in my own plays and sometimes in other people’s shows, like Cast Offs on C4.
What kind of writing do you do?
My writing falls into the bleak comedy category. I write despicable characters you love to hate. Also sometimes loveable ones too.
How did you get started writing? What or who inspired you to start?
Reading books inspired me. My parents read to me. I watched a lot of TV, listened to radio and went to the theatre. I wrote stories and plays from a young age; I was always making my friends act in plays in the playground and then assemblies, and wrote the school play one year. Later I wrote spoofs for magazines and started performing, that brought me eventually to theatre and radio – and TV. My first character that was both fiction on the page and a performed character, was based on people I met in discos and the music industry. So I was inspired by youth culture, and wanted to satirise that. I didn’t just write, I made comics, collage and drew.
What has been the biggest obstacle for you?
The biggest obstacle is not having a plan. When you’re young it’s easy to think everything is taking too long and worry that you’ll never get anywhere. One of my main pieces of work was plagiarised by a big magazine early on and so I torpedoed my own project. But I went on to have other ideas and did okay. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself things would turn out alright.
How do you network?
I’m on the social networks but most of my most useful ‘networky’ interactions do seem to be face to face. I’m marginally better at real life conversations even though they’re more tricky, with me being deaf.
What inspires you? How do you find inspiration or ideas?
I write about what’s around me. Everyday things are fascinating to readers or audiences. People like to see their own lives reflected accurately. My work is observational. Also some everyday things that I find boring and annoying will ALSO be interesting to readers because they’re unusual. but not always. It depends how they’re written about. My own cringeworthy experiences also inspire me. One other strategy I use is if I see a phenomenon that I don’t understand, then I will research it, interview people, read about it, get as much detail as I can, in order to write something. When to Run was such a play. I ended up getting into running. Carbon Cleansing, my radio 4 play was based on a lot of research too. The ending for that came from a conversation with an activist.
Has your deaf identity helped your writing?
Yes recently yes. It took a long time to get an angle on that. I used to be hearing.
What does a typical writing day look like to you? Do you have habits or a routine?
Early to rise and to bed etc. Walking helps.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Plotting. Finding the right structure. With scripts, it’s very much a collaborative process. So a director, producer or dramaturg will help me a lot. What you see on the stage is not only written by me, it will have a shape that’s been panel beaten by a patient collaborator who pushes me to make changes.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
Creating new worlds and new people. If a script is going well the characters become your friends. When I finish the script it’s like I can’t hang out with my friends any more. Even if the characters are bad people. They are the best fun to hang out with. In my head. I’m not that sociable because I’m busy with my imaginary friends here okay.
What advice would you give to an emerging deaf writer or young writer?
It’s important to read and watch and have a distinctive writing voice. Courses can help. My first break came because I had ideas on my own, they were original ideas, which I then found places for. So I wasn’t trying to get published or produced. I was playing with ideas and learning. I did apply and get onto very good mentoring schemes like BBC Radio Spark, Soho Theatre Writer Attachment Programme, Channel 4 screenwriting course. If you can get onto these it will open doors. But you have to produce a body of work and get it out there first, to prove what your potential is, so that people can see your voice.
Do you have any favourite authors or books?
I have so many favourites – recently I’ve liked Helen DeWitt (Lightning Rods), Deborah Levy (Swimming Home) and Jennifer Egan – that’s just the novelists.
What is next for you? What are you looking forward to in the future?
I wrote a play which will be co-produced by Graeae and Plymouth Royal & Drum theatre and a Radio 4 sitcom coming up.
How can we contact you?
For another interview with Sophie Woolley, check out: Interview with deaf actor, playwright and stand-up comedian Sophie Woolley.