Over the weekend JW and I attended an inspiring ‘masterclass’ with Peter Morgan, the writer behind The Queen, The Deal, and of course the incredible Frost/Nixon which I was lucky enough to see at the Donmar, and about which I now find myself in a state of heightened anticipation, as I await the release of the film in January next year.
It was a great talk despite some rubbish interviewing. Morgan clearly felt uncomfortable talking about his work – preferring not to reflect too deeply on what he does for fear of becoming self-conscious about it, or a parody of his former self. I was really struck by his view that you never know what you’ve written, until you’ve written it. For him, this was important: focus on the story and the themes will identify themselves. I am interested in this for writing in my own world. As I edit this publication currently, I am struck by how often people write to show how clever they are, rather than to tell a story to the audience. I suspect Morgan’s determination to tell a story first, themes second, is part of his appeal.
He also talked a lot about the fact that many people believe he’s written a sympathetic treatment of both the Queen and of Blair. He disagrees – arguing instead that all he did was strip away the assumptions people make about these characters – as he said, you need to detox the characters, and challenge yourself about all the baggage you bring to writing about such well-known public figures. Again, the idea of stripping away assumptions – and the need to actively do so, to know yourself and your own ticks – seems highly significant for my world.
Linked to this was another observation that Morgan made – about the fact that the more flawed he writes his characters, the more people seem to like them – the fact is that humans don’t trust ‘perfect’ people – they like to see that on the inside people are as incomplete and inconsistent as we all know ourselves to be.
Finally – despite my disappointment at how the interviewer handled this – Morgan talked about the distinction he makes between truthfulness and accuracy, arguing that people don’t expect transcripts from him, but rather a sense of the truth. I think this is really interesting when it comes to understanding individuals and communities: we can have a whole load of accurate data on any given area and still not understand it. Sometimes, empathy, pattern recognition and deep insight as opposed to mass research, can give us a better sense of the ‘truth’.