In Celebration of the Bittersweet Brilliance of Willy Russell and Sally Wainwright

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them.  Most people don’t see any.

Orson Scott Card

There are many great writers of our time, but there are two who I am totally awe of and would rip out every single tooth in my head if I thought I could get anywhere close to emulating an nth of their talent.  Their work has made me laugh out loud, shed uncontrollable tears and totally empathise with the challenges each and every one of their characters have to face with every twist of the plot line.  The trade mark of a great writer, but the bittersweet brilliance of their writing just blows me away every time.

I fell in love with dramatist, lyricist and composer Willy Russell after I saw Blood Brothers on stage for the first time. Since then, I have seen the show many times and, as a self-confessed lover of the musical theatre, it is still the only production I have seen two nights in a row with the wonderful Linda Nolan as Mrs Johnstone.  I would have gone for a third night, but thought that would be downright greedy.

Blood Brothers is the heartbreaking story of a 25-year-old Mrs Johnstone who already has 7 children and finds out she is pregnant with twins.  Barely managing to feed the children she already has, she is forced to give up one of her babies to a wealthy, childless couple.  Russell still manages to weave humour into the heart rendering turmoil in the lives of his characters.

In an interview with Angela Levin for The Telegraph in 2012, 24 years after the first performance of Blood Brothers, Russell told her that spending a great deal of time with his mother, aunts and grandmother helped him develop his understanding of women and how to write convincing female characters.  How true.  Mrs Johnstone, Shirley Valentine and Rita are characters who will always remain close to my heart.

Sally Wainwright’s bittersweet genius first jumped out at me when she was writing for the bastion of British soaps, Coronation Street.   She then moved on to TV dramas such as Bad Girls, At Home with the Braithwaites, for which she was Associate Producer and Playing the Field.  More recently and just when you think she can’t get any better, she reeled off three brilliantly written TV series which captured the hearts of so many.  Scott and Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.  She was Executive Producer for all of them.

Sally Wainwright and cat
Sally Wainwright. Behind every brilliant writer there is one enormous cat … Photo Credit: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Life is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and capturing its bittersweet essence in the written word is far from easy, but I can only learn from the brilliance of Willy Russell and Sally Wainwright.  And who knows?  One day I might just write it right.

FROM LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX by Sally Wainwright

[the girlfriend of Alan’s grandson has just had a baby; Alan is holding it]

Celia:
Well we’ve got married and had a baby, all in just forty-eight hours!

Alan:
We’re on fire.

Celia:
We’re cooking with gas.

Alan:
There’s no stopping us.

Last Tango core four
The superb core cast of Last Tango in Halifax 2012-2016.  From left to right, Sarah Lancashire (Caroline), Anne Reid (Celia), David Jacobi (Alan) and Nicola Walker (Gillian) who got to deliver some of the finest lines in TV Drama history written by Sally Wainwright

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