Get to know… Sue Dawson

Writing: letters or characters that serve as visible signs of ideas, words, or symbols.

Room: a space within a structure, in which something can be done.

Conjures up a whirlwind doesn’t it? How do I use the space within the structure, to communicate ideas, to make them concrete, give them heft, so I might share them with you?

See, I’m a splurge girl: get it all down, get it out of the head and onto the paper, never mind it’s rough and ready, just begin. The tone, the redraft, the edit, the honing, the finesse, that can come later.

I started out as an actress, mainly in theatre and radio, spending many happy years on the BBC Radio rep and supplementing my salary by doing voiceovers (claim to fame: I was the sound of a bouncing ball behind a wall, a squashed tomato, a clucking chicken in the Wizard of Oz and all 3 pixies on the Rice Krispies ad).

Then I got promoted to Telly: highlights included children’s presenter on The Really Wild Show, airing on the same day, same channel, as my character Gill Fowler, was dying of Aids on EastEnders. Weird but true. Gill’s death on such a high profile soap led to unemployment, ‘Too well known at the minute, love,’ the agent said. ‘Won’t last, you will get work again I’m sure. But for now? Not a lot, it’ll take a couple of years, that’s how it is, unless you want to go to America.’ I didn’t want to go to America. Ouch, single Mum, a mortgage and a kid, life wasn’t great.

I formed a production company and started to make my own telly. We focussed on documentary, engaging with vulnerable and ‘at risk’ young people. Those on screen had a right of veto before the programme went out. I think it was because of that, that we were trusted. We were given access to high risk environments, including prisons and secure mental hospitals. Our aim was to try and change the thinking, from hopeless to hopeful. We formed a charity, teaching filmmaking and literacy to prisoners. People started to tell their own stories and it was an enormous privilege to be part of that process.
But it quickly became obvious that those leaving jail were often left unsupported, homeless or broke. So we started work on a project called Fly Me Home. The young people designed, made and flew a hot air balloon, using it as a fundraiser to help others in similar situations.

Too much work, too much emotion and I burnt out. I ran away to the coast and started writing. Needless to say bits of the above have found their way into my debut novel The Chaos Woke Him Up.

Sure you need the inspiration, the dedication, but you also need the craft. That’s where Writing Room comes in. Working with them, both tutors and members, I’ve found, and this is a rare thing, that, wherever you are, experienced or novice, whatever genre you are writing in, whatever you want to achieve; you are totally supported. Their approach to your work is to help make your voice, your way of communicating, better. This is invaluable.

Don’t go anywhere else, stick to the Writing Room, a space where dreams become reality.

Here’s a bit of me, from the middle of my novel, Sam is in jail awaiting trial, his first visit is from his ex, Fliss:

Extract from a novel…

One Monday evening just before Corrie, we had a lockdown, no reason given. I was snoozing when the door was slammed open, it pinged against the metal toilet and bounced back. My least favourite filled the frame.
‘Oy, you, Mother Teresa. You got a visit.’
He shoved a form under my nose. I took it, politely. It was filled in, black biro, lower case and a couple of words misspelt, scribbled through and rewritten, each letter using up too much space on the line, no room for a comma or a full stop. Could only be one person.

11.23 am Thursday
The gate into the visiting hall opened and I was patted down by Emily, screw No. 1 in my book. She gave me a sweet, nervous smile and glanced across to my visitor. I counted the ten paces it took to get to the table. Smuuh, smuuh – a smudge of pink lipstick deposited itself on my right cheek.
‘Can you believe it? You! Take a look! Grown a beard, getting pudgy, look at you!’ She grabbed me round the middle, squeezed my love handles. ‘Don’t they give you no prison clothes? I wanted to see you all dressed up, baggy trousers, stripes and arrows like the movies.’ She was wearing a Brooklyn accent, I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or not. ‘Oh, but you’re cute; I’d forgotten how cute you are. As ever.’
‘Hello Fliss.’ I felt a bit shy.
‘I’m excited.’
I didn’t say anything. Didn’t know what to say. She filled the space.
‘Go on, tell me, go on, how is it? In here?’
She did a quick head turn, like a ballerina pirouetting. Ever noticed? The heads don’t go round smoothly with the body, they jerk in order to prevent dizziness and falling over. She was staring at Duval, pack leader, Guatemalan, white teeth, 3 gold, boxer’s nose, steroid muscles; an inked in teardrop below his left eye. His nickname was Lightning, one strike and you’re out.
‘Fliss, please don’t look at him.’
‘Look at him! Now that’s what I call a real con, get a load of him, work out does he?’
A second head turn, then an excited tremor of her lips as he looked straight at her. He held her gaze, eyes narrowed, an eagle watching a mouse. She gave him a wink, a lip pout and a shoulder shrug then turned her attention back to me. Leaning over she whispered, ‘That’s 50 cent isn’t it? The rapper? Amazing.’
‘No what?’
‘No it isn’t 50 cent.’
‘Oh, like him anyway, his brother probably.’
‘No. His brother’s straight.’
‘OMG! 50 cent is gay? Wow, that’s something. Ok. Bro. I hear yo.’
Where did this language come from? Where? She continued…