`I almost understood how transsexuals feel'

The time: August Bank Holiday, 1989

The place: Edinburgh

The man: Tony Warren, author and creator of `Coronation Street'

"Like a lot of my generation, the Seventies were lost to drink and drugs. I would consume anything with alcohol in it, while my drug of choice was morphine. However by the end of the decade, I got rid of first the alcohol and then the drugs - but it took much longer to get my head together. I was a monument to self pity; my brain was absolutely fried - and fried is not going too far. In the past when I had written scripts I could hear it all in my head. Other people when they turn barmy start hearing voices; when I went mad I could no longer hear them. It was very frustrating. So I almost wrote nothing.

I had just enough money to live on - Coronation Street was in those days supplying me with a small income, and I limped along on that. It was Melvin Bragg who finally got me out of my shell. He came to Manchester and asked to interview me for a newspaper piece. He wrote a very nice piece about me, and then he asked me to take part in a debate on soap operas at the Edinburgh festival. As Melvyn had succeeded in bringing me out of myself once, I hoped the miracle would happen again.

That evening everybody who was anybody in television was gathered together in the George Hotel. The other participants for my debate began to arrive - Julia Smith (at that time producing EastEnders) and Victoria Wood, who had been making much of satirising television soap opera. I asked Victoria if she would be speaking from notes and she replied: "I will just have a postcard." Julia added that she would have practically a postage stamp. I, who had been in show business since I was a boy actor of 12, believed these wicked women. So I went upstairs and reduced my notes to a postcard. I couldn't quite manage a stamp.

The next morning Victoria Wood came on to the platform carrying a roll of wallpaper and when she unravelled it I saw that it even had dot, dot, dot, for the laughs! On stomped Julia Smith with a folder that was marginally thicker than War and Peace - and I had only my postcard. So when it came to my turn to speak I tore my notes into bits, glared balefully at them and told the audience: `I can only speak from my heart and from my conscience.'

In the train on the way home I found myself sitting opposite Melvyn's wife, Cate Haste. She rounded on me: `Why don't you write any more?' I told her I'd done my head in. She was having none of this: "You stood up in front of the entire television industry and spoke without notes and got clapped heavens hard. Don't tell me that can't string words together - because I don't believe you!" Next she asked what I would like to write, and suddenly I found myself replying: `A great big provincial novel - that says it's okay to come from where you come from.' When we reached her stop, Cate's exit line was: `If you don't write your novel I will never speak to you again.'

Years before, I had had a very good literary agent called Carol Smith. Unfortunately we had parted company acrimoniously. But I decided to call, thinking she could only tell me to do the same thing she had last time. Amazingly, Carol knew I was going to ring. We had always had telepathic communication. She complained that it was a crime that I wasn't writing, so I told her about my idea for a provincial novel. With the most comfortable words you can say to a writer: `when you're ready', she asked for 100 pages.

I did what I always used to do and sharpened my 4B pencils, sat down at my desk and set to. I discovered I could pull the old witches and once again see what I was writing about being projected on to a screen in my head. In one ear was the soundtrack and in the other I could hear my own voice giving me technical instructions: turn that into a paragraph; lengthen this; watch out, you're going on for far too long; cut! It was incredible. I felt very new; at that moment I almost understood how transsexuals feel when they get their new body.

My agent introduced me to an editor, Rosemary Cheatham, who read my hundred pages and was brutally frank. You don't need someone to butter you up and tell you you're marvellous - rather, someone who can ride a cart and horse through your work and stop at exactly the right place. I had been waiting for this woman for 20 years. She told me that as a TV writer I used too much dialogue: "Dialogue is your jewels; be careful how you lay them on your velvet!" So I swallowed that one - she's absolutely right- and I went away to write The Lights of Manchester.

I've spoken to Victoria Wood on several occasions since the Edinburgh Festival and she called my last book the best yet - but I haven't ever told her how much I have to thank her for, and how she is responsible for all the books. Perhaps it's about time ...

Interview by Andrew G Marshall

`Full Steam Ahead' is published by Century, price pounds 16.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head