Interview: Dawn King, Playwright

Like all writers, Dawn King has a skill for procrastinating. We are chatting about getting into a regular routine, something of a challenge for anyone who has eschewed the regular nine to five. ‘You can procrastinate really effectively if you’re at home writing,’ King admits with a tinge of guilt. ‘You can clean your house, do the washing up and you think you’ve had this really long day of writing and you actually haven’t done anything!’

But she must be doing something right. Not only has King won the Papatango New Writing Competition with her play Foxfinder, currently playing at the Finborough Theatre, but she has also been announced as the recipient of a Pearson bursary. The bursary, intended to celebrate and support new writing, will continue her connection with the Finborough, where she will be in residence next year.

‘It’s been amazing,’ King says of her experience so far with the theatre. ‘Pretty much the first words that I actually spoke to Neil [McPherson, the Finborough’s artistic director] were when he phoned me up and said “Pearson. Do you want to be put up for it?”’

In the midst of all this success, it’s funny to think that King fell into playwriting almost by accident. Despite having written from a young age, she ‘hadn’t thought of playwriting as something that you could actually do’. It was only through a taster course at the Soho Theatre that King first tried her hand at the genre, an experience that led her to join the theatre’s young writing programme.

‘I decided that I would do the Royal Court young writers’ programme as well,’ King explains, ‘so I was doing both at the same time. The first play that I wrote was given a rehearsed reading at the Royal Court Young Writers’ Festival and I think that was it – I just didn’t stop doing it! It was very lucky that I decided to go along to this taster workshop and discovered that playwriting was the form I naturally suited.’

Workshops like the ones run by the Soho Theatre and the Royal Court have played a big part in King’s career and she is now also a playwriting tutor herself at the Richmond Theatre. She believes that ‘there’s something inside you that you can’t teach’, but also thinks that workshops can ‘brush up your dialogue writing skills and help you learn more things about yourself and how you write’. But she does admit with a laugh that she’s slightly biased.

The inspiration for Foxfinder, however, emerged from the natural landscape rather than from a workshopping process. King explains that the idea surfaced during a writers’ retreat in the remote countryside, a world not unlike the one inhabited by farmers Samuel and Judith in the play. Each evening King would go out on long solitary walks during which she explored her feelings towards her surroundings, all the while documenting her experiences in a daily diary.

‘One night a bat got in when we were all eating dinner and flew around the dining room freaking everyone out,’ King recounts. ‘I started thinking that could be some kind of sign or have some kind of meaning, so I slowly created this character who thought that things he was seeing in the countryside had a deeper meaning.’

This is the character who eventually became the foxfinder of the play’s title, a young man trained to look for sinister signs in seemingly innocuous rural scenes. In the unsettling space of the play, a Britain that is similar yet removed from the one we know, foxes are believed to be humankind’s mortal enemy. Explaining this odd world, King says that in order for her protagonist to exist without appearing ‘delusional’, she had to create a place where everyone believed in signs and omens – ‘then I just had to figure out what was going to happen!’

Following the success of Foxfinder, King has a big year coming up. There are two new projects on the way, the first for the West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of the BBC Writersroom 10 scheme, and the second at the Finborough funded by the Pearson bursary, both keeping her busy writing.

On the subject of writing, King explains that – despite the distractions of working from home – she tries to keep to a pattern of doing her most intense work in the morning, her most productive time of day. ‘I prefer to do the most creative writing in my room in silence, and then if I’ve got stuff that I need to read over it’s good to do that out of the house.’

As for passing on her wisdom, King is refreshingly straightforward, saying that ‘the best way to learn how to write is to write’. It’s about as plain and honest as advice comes and it’s a strategy that certainly seems to be working for King. ‘And of course,’ she adds as our interview winds up, ‘from a purely selfish point of view, do some workshops!’

Foxfinder runs at the Finborough Theatre until 23 December.

Find out more about Dawn King on her website.

Image: Matt Hobbs

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