By Olivia Williams
30-year-old screenwriter Marnie Dickens is fresh from the success of her first drama, Thirteen, which currently features prominently on BBC iPlayer. Dickens' story revolves around a 26-year-old woman who escapes from a Bristol cellar that has been her prison since she was thirteen. Her new freedom is only the beginning of the series, as we watch Ivy Moxam return home, and struggle to fit back into the world that she has been deprived of for so long.
This year is looking even busier than the last for Dickens - her new series Forty Elephants, about a 1920s criminal gang of women, is currently being developed by the BBC, and she is also teaming up with Doctor Foster star Suranne Jones on a new project called Kit and Nim. Dickens explains how she has progressed from being a runner to calling the shots as a screenwriter in only a few years:
Did you write any scripts or stories while you were at Oxford - or earlier?
I never wrote any scripts while at Keble (below) as I had yet to realise I wanted to be a scriptwriter. Besides - there were always too many essays to write.
What did you do between graduating and getting your first script commissioned?
My first ever TV job was to be Jane Horrocks' stand-in, which involved me wearing a blonde wig and trying to stay quite still on the spot as they took their marks. From there I worked as a Floor Runner on a variety of TV dramas until I became a Third Assistant Director. A few events conspired to force me to take time off from assistant directing and it's then that I started to write scripts. Once you have a good agent for scriptwriting, you're off.
Which writing has had the greatest influence on your career?
It would have to be Joss Whedon's. I couldn't be prised away from Buffy The Vampire Slayer when I was younger. It's partly his characterisation, the high stakes of his worlds, but also the wit that he shoots through even the darkest moments .
Thirteen, Dickens' compelling drama about a 26-year-old girl coming to terms with life after abduction
What is your favourite book or screenplay?
I don't have favourites as such but my brother Max's book, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is brilliant. Obviously I am biased, but still - it's quite something.
What is your guiltiest viewing pleasure?
When I was younger I loved sneaking off to watch the Sunset Beach omnibus.
Writing heroes - Joss Whedon and Sally Wainwright. Life heroes - my Mum and Missy Elliott.
Are there any actors who you would love to write a part for?
Maura Tierney. I used to watch her as Abby Lockhart in ER and think - this is the real deal. Also - having just worked with her on Thirteen - I want to write Jodie Comer a part in everything.
A scene from Dickens' five-part drama on BBC Three
Where do you write?
I would like to say I am one of those writers who can pitch up to a cafe, plug in headphones and get scribing, but I'm not. I need to have a fair bit of solitude and quiet, which tends to mean my home.
Do you have a notepad or moodboard? How do you gather together your ideas?
I have both. The notepad is for the preliminary jotting down of ideas. The moodboard is a visual reference for whichever script I am working on. If it's a period drama then it will be a very busy moodboard - cut outs of weaponry and costumes and facial hair.
What did you do to celebrate your first commission?
Probably spent a lot of time checking whether it was true or not.
Thirteen is avaialble to watch on BBC iPlayer
Images: BBC, Oxford University Images