Interview with writer Jack Thorne

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Explain a little bit about Kiri – what’s your new drama about?

It’s about a young girl going through the care system, and the story we start with is the story of her social worker, Miriam. Before Kiri is adopted, Miriam wants to arrange unsupervised visits with her birth grandparents, because she considers it culturally important for Kiri to have that access [Kiri is black and her adoptive family is white]. Kiri goes missing on the first of those unsupervised visits, and the world collapses around everyone.

Can you talk about your process for something like this? Do you come up with an idea first, and take it to a production company, or do you sit down with them and discuss various ideas before settling on something?

I did National Treasure with The Forge, which was the same group of people. Toby Bentley, who was my script editor on National Treasure and is the producer on Kiri, and I were just talking about whether it was possible to tell a similar story, that sits in the same universe, and is interested in the same ideas, that wasn’t a sequel. We started talking about social work, and because my mum was in the caring profession, it seemed very interesting. We talked about the news stories you hear about, relating to kids in the system. We wanted to find a way of looking at that, and then it grew from there.

Why was that such an area of interest for you?

Because of my mum.

Had she worked with adoption services?

No, she worked with adults with learning difficulties. The issues are sort of the same – the idea of being responsible for someone that is vulnerable, ad making decisions on their behalf, and being responsible for those decisions. So I grew up hearing lots of stories about the different things that were going on at my mum’s work. She worked in a day centre for a bit, and in residential care for a bit. Just hearing different stories about what was going on it always intrigued me.

What did you do by way of research?

I read everything, talked to people. The main thing you try and do is appoint people to read the scripts and to be giving you guidance through the process. We had a social worker contact and a police advisor who were particularly useful. The social worker not only talked through the facts, and how Miriam’s life would be, but also talked through the philosophy behind the profession, and helped us find the philosophical position for the show.

What sort of insight has this given you into the world of fostering and adoption and so on?

It’s hugely, hugely complicated, which I knew already, but you just get a sense of how vastly, vastly complicated it is. I have no no great answers, no great solutions as to how we deal with it. And even more so with the issue of transracial adoption. I genuinely don’t know what I think about it.I don’t think it is the dramatist’s job to provide answers, it’s to pose questions. I hope we’ve done that in an interesting way.

How long is the process from starting planning the story to filming?

It was relatively short – shorter than normal, because we already had a working relationship. My first draft was a mess, it was trying to tell everyone’s stories right from the start. George Faber (Exec Producer) said “This doesn’t work. Miriam’s the most interesting one at this point. Start with her.” And then the idea of the story being told as a sort of relay race, by the protagonist who is the most crucial at that point, came about.

Are you ever-present on set during the shoot?

No. God no! I’m there a bit, and I watch the first few weeks of rushes like a hawk, but Euros [director Euros Lyn] is brilliant. I don’t need to be there. Everyone knew the story we were telling. And I think sometimes a writer can be a hindrance in those circumstances, because there’s the idea of someone having the objective truth as to how a line should be performed or how a thought should be developed. And I can see the days that I’m there in the show, and I’m always a bit uneasy as to what influence I may have had on the days’ proceedings.

I would expect most writers to be absolutely intent on getting their own objective truth into the final edit.

I’m not sure. Maybe some. But when you’re working with the likes of Sarah Lancashire and Lia Williams and Lucian Msamati, you don’t want to sit on their shoulder. You want them to feel empowered to deliver a performance they believe in. I’m a big believer in co-authorship. Everyone had a story to tell on this show, and I’m just one voice among that.

Do you do any rewrites once shooting has started?

Yeah, huge amounts. You’re learning all the time, from the performances you’re getting, and they’re teaching you stuff and you’ve got to respond to that.

Is that quite a stressful time?

No, it’s an exciting time. The stressful time is the blank page at the beginning. When you’re starting to see things being made flesh, and you’re able to respond to that flesh, that’s really exciting.

Were you involved in the casting for Kiri?


Did you have anyone in mind when you were writing? Sarah Lancashire, for example?

No. It still amazes me that she would consider doing it. I don’t really write with actors in mind, I write with characters, and then hope desperately that we can get good actors to play those parts. But when Sarah said she was interested in doing it, I think all of us were a bit dumbstruck with gratitude.

The performances across the board are fantastic, aren’t they?

Amazing, just amazing. Lucian [Msamati] can walk down the street, and you just can’t take your eyes off him. I would watch him anywhere. He is so interesting, constantly. One day on set I was determined not to miss was when there was a showdown between Alice [Lia William’s character] and Miriam [Sarah Lancashire’s character] in episode three. Alice rips Miriam’s head off. And I knew Lia would just be amazing in that moment. They’re such an exciting cast.

You’re used to dealing with some pretty dark subject matter, and Kiri is no exception. Does that take a toll, emotionally, during the writing process?

This one was very dark. But I think the times when I’m difficult are when I’ve been writing badly. When I’ve written stuff and I just go “This is shit!” My wife would probably tell you I’m quite a dark person all the time!

How do you structure your day when you’re writing?

I just type and hope. I don’t have targets. I do like deadlines. I like knowing that I have to be at a certain point by a certain time, so I suppose I do have a daily target. I put my son down at 7pm, so that’s when I stop my day, normally. And then I cook my wife dinner. If I’m going back after dinner, it’s because I’m dissatisfied with my day’s work. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about hitting a word count or a page count. But it can be about not being shit.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to become a writer?

The advice I always give, which was the only advice I heeded, was “Find a reader. And don’t think that reader has to be someone famous you’ve spoken to on Twitter. Find a person who you admire, who lives nearby, and who can talk to you properly about your work. That’s the only thing you need – someone who can make you better. It might be another writer you’ve met in the local writing group, or someone that you’ve discussed books or telly with, who you know is clever. They will unlock something in you, and they will make you better.