Kathrine Smith, writer of All I See Is You, National Octagon Prize winner, talks about her writing process.
I’d just been reading accounts of queer life in the 1960s when I saw the Octagon Prize advertised. The Octagon's 50th anniversary year coincided with the 50th anniversary of partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. This got me wondering what life was like for gay people in Bolton in 1967.
I did more research via The National Archives and the LGBT archives at the Bishopsgate Institute in London where there’s a good collection of crime reports from the period. I discovered that Boltoner Alan Horsfall was a founding member of the campaign to change the law. Until then men were arrested on the slightest suspicion of homosexuality and the police would routinely trick them into revealing any associates.
Although homophobia still exists it was alarming to read just how reviled queer people were and the horrendous actions many had to take to conceal or suppress their sexuality. Then I knew I wanted to write a love story that paid tribute to those who had the spirit and courage to overcome bigotry and be their true selves.
I love doing research but it can easily turn into procrastination!
I love doing research but it can easily turn into procrastination! The great thing about a competition is the deadline so with the clock ticking I stopped looking at news reports and focussed on creating the two characters. I gave them different backgrounds, ambitions and fears to make sure there would be inner as well as external conflict in their story.
Despite being drawn to one another, the pair deal with their sexuality very differently. Ralph is the first in his family to go to university and feels the heavy burden of their aspirations. In contrast Bobby loves working on Woolies’ record counter and once he accepts he’s gay, finds it impossible to hide who he is.
When I was happy with the characters I went back to the research and chose the events I wanted to include in the play. I usually write for TV where every plot detail is meticulously worked out through outlines and treatments before a line of dialogue is written. For this play I got Bobby and Ralph chatting in different scenarios and then couldn’t shut them up!
Over the next few weeks I scribbled all of the time – on trains, buses and waiting in queues. I listened to lots of sixties music especially Dusty Springfield who sang love songs while having to hide her relationships with women. The title of the play All I See Is You is in homage to her.
I finished the play only just making the competition deadline. A couple of months later I was blown away to hear it was one of the two winners. I first visited the Octagon on school trips to see Shakespeare and I saw Jim Cartwright’s Two with John McArdle and Sue Johnston when it transferred to London. It’s unbelievable to think All I See Is You is in production as part of the 50th anniversary season.
It’s been a fantastic experience spending time with the director, Ben Occhipinti and the actors, Ciarån Griffiths and Christian Edwards in rehearsal. Ben gets every nuance of the story and it’s very emotional to see how Ciarån and Christian bring such warmth and vulnerability to the characters. It feels like the play now has a life of its own and I can’t wait to see how audiences respond.