Artist of the Month March 2018 – William Gallagher
This month’s chosen artist is William Gallagher.
William Gallagher writes Doctor Who radio dramas, is the author of 18 books and is Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
Photo courtesy of Lee Allen.
What William offers during his school visits in his own words
What I do in schools is talk about myself for, oh, about six seconds and then get everyone writing. We write everything. Scripts, short stories, poems, every single thing I can pack into the day and I try to make sure nobody ever gets quite enough time to finish anything. They regularly beat me on that and come up with complete stories but along the way they get the energy and the pressure and the thrill of what it’s like to be a professional writer with deadlines that never stay still.
William works with children from year 4 up through the whole of secondary school plus sixth form and both further education colleges and universities. He also runs CPD workshops for staff ranging from primary school teachers through to university professors. He does one-to-one mentoring with older children and teenagers plus he’s spoken to 300 at a time in assemblies. Most often he works with groups of between 15 and 25 pupils either in a single whole-day session or split into many sessions with different groups each hour.
Details of what activities William can offer for each age group are listed in detail on his author page of our website.
What Schools Have Said About William
“He was fab! We loved having him at our school – a lovely man.”
Teacher at Landywood Primary School 2018.
“Thanks so much for your wonderfully inspiring and enjoyable session” – Judith Kneen, Newman University.
“All of the parents of the children whose scripts I sent to you described it as the highlight of the year!” – Anne Cochrane, Putteridge Primary School, Bedfordshire
“We all had an absolutely splendid time. William was delightful and very much appreciated by all. We have even had feed back from the primaries saying some parents have been in to say thank you because their children haven’t stopped talking about writing since.” – Jane Peeler, Bridgenorth Endowed School
Interview with William
How long have you been with Authors Abroad?
You do a lot of Able Writers’ as well as author visits, what’s the best thing about each?
May I confess something? When a school asks for an author visit they of course want pupils to know what it’s like doing what I do, they want to know how I got into it. But I’d rather talk about them. I mean, I know all about me. So I will talk to assemblies, I will answer questions but the very first moment I can, I get everybody writing. We’ll work together and that’s how they’ll learn what it’s like being an author. I adore this and so even on a straight author visit I’ll draw on some of the things I do with the more intense Able Writers’ Days.
What do you enjoy most about visiting schools?
I used to go into schools for revenge. My own school laughed at me for wanting to be a writer – I’m not kidding or exaggerating, the careers teacher laughed aloud. I know that if someone like me, just an ordinary author, had visited my school back then, it would’ve shown me that it was possible. My career would’ve started a good ten years sooner than it did.
That’s still on my mind every time and it’s why I’m conscious of how much better schools are today. You imagine things are worse because of all the constraints, all the paperwork, but truly schools today are gigantically better than mine ever was.
There’s one more thing, too. Most of my writing takes at least weeks, usually months and on a couple of projects it has been years. But then you come into a school and the writing is immediate. The sheer bursting energy of a whole group of writers creating something right now is brilliant.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Have you always wanted to be a writer or did you have a different dream job when you were younger?
Writing was always something other people did, not someone like me. For all that I read everything and even though I wrote for every school magazine, it was so obvious that I couldn’t be an author that I didn’t give it any thought. I didn’t have any dream job at all and it was scary having to think about future careers.
At that time, though, there was a US TV drama called Lou Grant which showed journalists at work and was also so exceptionally written that I became conscious of drama and scriptwriting as a job.
It wasn’t much but it was enough that when I was asked in my one-and-only careers lesson what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said it. For the first time in public and I think the first time even to myself, I said I wanted to be a writer. That’s when the teacher laughed and got the whole class to laugh too.
That was a very damaging one minute in one class. On the school’s advice, I went into computers instead and had a perfectly dull few years until I managed to get writing in computer magazines and contribute to a BBC series about computing.
You were recently made Deputy Chair of the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain. How did this come about? What does it involve and what do you hope to achieve from it?
I was tapped on the shoulder in a Writers’ Guild meeting and asked to step outside for a moment. I’m standing there in this London office and all I can think of is what my bookish 10-year-old self from Birmingham would make of me being asked to do this job.
I’ve joined as the Guild is making big plans for the next few years and what I want to do is bring along other organisations with it, including Authors Abroad. Writing is a solitary job yet when we work together, we can do such a lot of good.
What writing achievement are you most proud of?
You ask this and a flood of memories come. Writing for the Los Angeles Times. Hearing my first radio drama broadcast. Seeing my first stage work. Going into my first school with Authors Abroad. I love it all and I especially love that there is so much to choose from. But I’m going to pick my first book.
It was a non-fiction book about a drama called The Beiderbecke Affair and it was published by the British Film Institute. What I can never forget is how it felt the day the first copy arrived. I can see me now, sitting in my living room, opening this parcel and there it was. Good or bad, successful or not, there it was. I remember consciously realising that there is nothing anyone can ever do now to take this away from me: I’ve written a book.
You’ve worked with some huge TV shows, which was the most fun to be involved with?
Doctor Who. It has to be, hasn’t it? I’ve written many radio Doctor Who dramas plus I’ve produced and directed a couple of short videos about Doctor Who and Torchwood for Radio Times magazine. There is something about that show that touches so many people, including me. To have even a little to do with it when it was a show I loved as a child is constantly and forever startlingly great.
What advice would you give to a parent wanting to encourage their child to read for pleasure?
Read yourself. I’m not a parent – I’m a civilian – so I can’t really imagine how ferociously busy and exhausting it is to be raising children. But if you can possibly read books for yourself, for your own pleasure, your children will see that and it will have a far greater impact than any of us telling them they ought to read.
Plus you’ll have a good time reading and while we’re at it, why aren’t you writing too?
Why, in your opinion, is it so important for young people to read?
We all tend to spend our days with the same few people: maybe you see a lot at school or work but really not that many and all doing much the same thing. Reading opens you up to different people in different places doing and thinking and believing different things.
If you read, you get that shared experience but you also become open and receptive to new things. You know that there is a world you’ve not met yet and you’ll race to find out everything you can. If you don’t read, I’m afraid your world is finite and limited and a bit boring so you become the same.
What book have you ever read that made a lasting impact on you?
There are countless books that have done this to me. But you ask this and my mind goes immediately to Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce. It’s on my shelf in front of me and I re-read it every few years. It’s a very simple, pared-down children’s story that I read in school and yet I can vividly see its influence on a book I’m writing right now, I can see how it unconsciously shaped part of a stage play I just had performed.
Do you think it is easier to write a novel, a play or a TV script?
I won’t lie, they’re all hard. Let me clear, there are harder jobs than writing but there are also a lot of easier ones and you will dream of those as you’re struggling to finish a novel, play or script.
I suppose scripts are written to be performed and they tend to be done quickly so maybe they’re easier than the very, very long haul of a novel.
Just to be clear though, there may be these easier and harder jobs but there are none better than being an author. None.
What is the most memorable encounter you have had with students whilst running a workshop?
Oh, come on, how long have you got? I’ve had pupils make me gawp with how clever and imaginative and just plain funny their writing is. I had one shy child who at the end of the day was on her feet and debating loudly which bit of a project she wanted to write. One girl threw in sign language into an exercise. One boy wrote a piece that included every person he’d worked with that day, even though he’d only met most of them that morning.
But, okay, there is one moment that meant the world to me. I’d finished in a school and was in my car, checking emails on my phone because things were happening with a writing project. A mother and her young daughter passed by in front of me, completely unaware I was there, and the girl was bouncing. Literally bouncing along and talking with such energy that it was contagious. I don’t know what she was saying but I caught my name in it all and I doubt I have ever been happier.
I phoned Authors Abroad right then and babbled at you about how much I love doing this. Some time you must ask me about the teachers and teaching assistants I’ve met: I’ll have a whole other list for you of memorable encounters.
What do you do to relax?
I don’t understand the question. Everything I do to relax has become part of my work so it’s often hard to tell when I’m working and when I’m not. There tends to be more tea when I’m working and chocolate when I’m not, that’s it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read and write. Have fun and take it seriously. Treat it as a pleasure and as a job. Start lots of things and finish them all.
Do you think there is enough recognition of the amount of careers with the creative and media industries? (Extra point if you can name a genuine and obscure job!)
The arts industry in the UK brings twice as much money to the country as is then spent on our national defence budget. It is a huge industry, it’s something we as a whole are very, very good at – and yet it always struggles to be recognised, it always struggles to get good people into it. I think there’s an element of what I felt, that it was something other people did, not someone like me.
Yet if you want an obscure creative and media job, try this: accountant. People forget that this is an industry and there is no job I can think of that isn’t needed in this world.
Paperback vs kindle
Paperback but it’s close and I read a huge amount of both
TV vs Radio
TV but it’s even close as radio drama is wonderful
The Weeping Angels (Doctor Who)
Would you rather be able to teleport or read minds?
Teleport – I’m always rushing everywhere.
What would be more useful, extra eyes or extra legs?
Eyes. I could read more at the same time.
Lie ins or early riser?
Regretfully, an early riser. Got to be to get the work done.
What’s scarier; a shark the size of a guinea pig, or a hamster the size of an elephant?
Hamster. Because the shark will be underwater where I don’t have to look at it and the hamster would smash its cage dramatically.
If you were Prime Minister for the day what law would you pass?
I’d get us back into the EU. If that’s too serious, try this: I’d make it illegal for companies to put tiny chocolate bars in big packaging.
Arranging for William to visit your school
To make an enquiry about William Gallagher, or any of the other authors, poets & illustrators listed on this website, please phone Trevor Wilson on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org