Helen Blakeman on lockdown, reading, and her substitute for travel

20 December 2021

Playwright and screenwriter Helen Blakeman was elected to the ALCS Board in November, alongside re-elected Board members, Di Redmond and Joanne Harris. Read on to find out more about your newest board member.

Helen Blakeman is a BAFTA and International Emmy Award-winning writer for TV, film and theatre. She wrote the TV screenplay adaptation of Dustbin Baby (for which she scooped both awards), acclaimed TV drama Pleasureland, and plays including Caravan and Normal. She has scripted numerous episodes of Hollyoaks and the much-loved series, Call the Midwife, and is also co-founder of independent publisher Heroic Books.

Helen talks to ALCS News about lockdown, why she finds it hard to read fiction and how TV has provided a welcome alternative to travel.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just delivered the second draft of a new play, which is a commission for the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse. And I am writing a new International Children’s animation series, which is set in a fictionalised ancient Sri Lanka. So that’s very exciting. And I’ve also just written a pilot for another international animation series for Xilam Animation, Paris.

How have life and work been the last couple of years, given the times we’re living in?
It’s been a remarkable time because I took this step into animation just before lockdown without knowing what was ahead. I also founded Heroic Books, which is a fantasy and sci-fi independent publishing company, and production entity, so I’ve just been exceptionally busy.

How was lockdown for you?
I’ve always worked at home [so] there’s been no change for me, whatsoever. It was quite difficult to get into the kitchen for a glass of water though, because my eldest was using it as her school room.

Because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, I do globetrotting via the firewall watch on TV, and I’ve made some exquisite discoveries there. Ethos has been my favourite discovery of the year. Brilliant.

What are you watching right now?
I’m watching Succession and waiting for that to drop every Monday. I’m reading a lot of self-development and business books for the business side of my brain. And in terms of fiction, because I’m somebody who adapts [books] a lot, I find it incredibly difficult to pick up a book and enjoy it without trying to disseminate or to have a view if it will make a brilliant adaptation. I battle the entire time with falling in love with fiction. If there’s any likelihood that I’m going to fall in love with it, I stop a couple of pages in and find out if the rights are available, before the emotional impact is too great.

Because of Covid-19 travel restrictions, I do globetrotting via the firewall watch on TV, and I’ve made some exquisite discoveries there. Ethos has been my favourite discovery of the year. Brilliant. There’s always something to find. I’ve also watched Call My Agent, Shtisel and Family Business for the shocking hilarity.

Are writers aware of how their work is being shared digitally? And how are those payments being made?

You’re a new ALCS board member; congratulations. What do you hope to bring to ALCS?
Being a working TV writer, as well as a theatre writer, and a small-business owner who is developing projects across TV and animation, it’s that whole 360-degree perspective on being a writer. At the moment, I feel really quite strongly that there ought to be a skills pathway between theatre and audiovisual. I think that so many creatives begin their lives in theatre. And I see that there really needs to be some joined-up thinking in skills progression.

I think that with the vast array of digital platforms, ALCS needs to be very nimble, with their finger on the pulse with regards to where work is being adapted, and what the trends are in, for instance, blockchain technology and NFTs.

Are writers aware of how their work is being shared digitally? And how are those payments being made?

What are the most pressing issues for audiovisual writers?
The digital potential and possibilities – for all types of writer, novelists, screenwriters, and all other genres besides.

Find out more about the current ALCS Board of Directors.