Ten Questions with Mike Harris

Mike Harris

 

1. How and when did you get started as a writer?

Teaching at a Manchester Comp in the late 70s and running a big, mostly female school drama group with a colleague and friend. Lots of good girl actors, very few (none, actually) scripts with lots of good female parts so we devised and wrote a play about the militant suffragettes and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe.

 

2. Where do your ideas tend to come from?

The pressure to have ideas in order to sell scripts and maintain myself in the manner to which I have grown accustomed. Otherwise, from books, news events, etc., rarely if ever from my own life, which is too unutterably dull to wish to inflict on the world.

 

3. Are there particular ideas or themes that interest you or that keep resurfacing in your work?

Dunno. Is humour a theme? I think detecting themes and so forth is a literary critic’s job and I wouldn’t want to scab on them. Otherwise, how would they earn a living?

 

4. Do you plan your writing?

Yes. Planning is essential if you are working to a deadline and neither you nor other people involved get paid if you don’t deliver on time.

 

5. Do you have a writing routine or any ‘rituals’ that you follow?

An intricate and finely honed system of work avoidance which includes making cups of coffee, rolling and smoking fags, replying to unimportant e-mails and answering questions about my routines and rituals.

 

6. Who are your favourite writers?

In no particular order: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Austen, Sterne, Chekhov, Beckett, Joyce, Dickens, Doris Lessing, Evelyn Waugh – I could go on. One of the best recent novels I’ve read is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

 

7. Do you have an ideal reader?

I’m a script writer, the only people who read my stuff are editors and producers and they do not inhabit the realm of the ideal. As for audiences: the one’s who turn on or turn up.

 

8. What are you working on now?

A play about gang violence for a TIE company. Think ‘The Wire’ for kiddywinks.

 

9. What are you reading at the moment?

Would you believe Derrida’s ‘Of Grammatology?’ Well actually, I just finished it. Not unlike mud-wrestling an octopus, except what an octopus would have to say while he squeezed the life out of your brain would be more sensible. My excuse is I’m doing a part-time PhD for fun, either that or I’m certifiable. Derrida is the very opposite of what any writing or thinking should be. Mystagogic, pretentious, opaque, untrue and buried deep within its own fundament.

 

10. What piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Don’t listen to advice from weary old writers. But if you really must:

1. persist.

2. don’t listen to the praise or criticism of anyone you don’t trust enough to tell you that your work is crap when it is.

3. don’t give up the day job unless.

4. you instantly get a new one teaching writing part-time in a university.

 

Mike Harris is a scriptwriter and theatre director with something over 100 scripts broadcast or performed. These include radio drama, TV drama, professional touring theatre, theatre in education, youth theatre and large scale community plays. He teaches script part time on the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam and has held writer’s residency at University College Cork, HMP Wakefield and The Lemon Tree Arts Centre Aberdeen. A script extract by Mike appears in Matter 8.