The Long Story
I was born in London in 1988 and raised in Buxton, in the Peak District. I had a brilliantly creative childhood, with my two older brothers, Max and John, wading in rivers, creating sculptures from rocks and making puppets with my best friend Ronia. Above all, my earliest ambition was to act. After some painfully disastrous middle-teenage years, I returned to London at the age of 16 to study theatre at the BRIT School, the UK’s only non-fee-paying performing arts school. While there, I wrote my first play, Sugar the Pill, aged 17, shaved my head, and formed the theatre company, FAT CONTENT, with my dear friends Rachel Lincoln and Daniel Holme, who I continue to work with today.
After BRIT, Rachel, Daniel and I focussed on making new performance work together. Our first play, The Man I Cure, an immersive work about guilt and gender, set in a surreal 40s sanatorium, toured to London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, Theatre 503, The Pleasance in Edinburgh and venues around Somerset as part of a rural tour with Take Art. We five subsequent shows together, including a cabaret which we took to Glastonbury and Latitude Festivals, about three forest animals trying to make it big in human society, in which I played an ambitious squirrel.
I went to University relatively late, at 23. I hadn't managed to get into drama school aged 18, and sore from failure, stubbornly believed for a few years afterwards that making art – which mainly looked like working as a children’s party entertainer/cinema cleaner/tour guide/ticket-seller and taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe – was more important than studying it. I did learn a lot but eventually hit the wall of my own limitations. I'd also taken on more and more of the writing for my theatre company, and felt a growing desire to explore that more, to write fiction and essays and to make my way through a long reading list. So, in 2011 took a place on the Creative Writing with English Literature degree at the University of Westminster.
During my 2nd year there, my brother John died.
John was 25. He was an historian and one of my greatest allies, both in life and in art. He read much of what I wrote, and was the technician for many of my theatre shows. John was also a writer, mainly in his academic sphere but also, like me, a notebook keeper, a storer of fragments. Here's a poem he wrote, shortly before he died.
A month after his death, I began writing my first novel.
I finished my undergraduate degree with a fervor fueled by sadness. After graduating, I continued to work in theatre, but I no longer wanted to act. I had lost interest in pretending to be somebody else. I created a solo show, called Living Things, at Battersea Arts Center. There were stories, songs, glowing eggs and a spiderweb of sellotape. It was my first step into performing 'as myself' and the beginning of what I now imagine will be a life-long exploration of loss. This began my work as a storyteller and performance poet.
Between 2013 and 2017 I wrote and performed frequently, creating a series of stories after the Brothers Grimm, which I took to festivals and schools, and gigging all over the place at poetry nights and slams, making it the final of the UK National Poetry Slam.
I also worked as a playwright during this time. In 2014 I wrote, The Surplus, which was commissioned by Young Vic Taking Part and performed at the Young Vic in 2015 by cast of 60 young people. Rachel Lincoln and I developed early-years show Nest, together, and I wrote a play for FAT CONTENT called Skin of the Teeth. I read plays for Soho Theatre and worked as a dramaturg. And I ran dozens of creative workshops in schools and arts centers and led community projects from creating shows in hospices (which really are some of the most vital places one could ever spend time in) to performance and poetry projects with older people and disabled young adults.
In the background of all of this frenetic activity, the solitary space offered by writing fiction had become increasingly vital to me. It was somewhere to go - often at 5 in the morning while the world around me slept - to quietly explore all of the questions that had exploded within me in the wake of John's death.
Slowly, performance mattered less, becoming a vehicle for getting my writing into the world, and writing mattered more. Eventually, in 2017, two things happened. I finished a draft of Here Comes the Miracle, while staying on Michele Madsen's houseboat, Larkspur, in Mile End and sent it off to Jennifer Hewson who became my agent. And, I applied to MFA writing programs in the United States and was awarded a place to study Fiction at the University of Virginia.
I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia on August 13th 2017 (I will leave you to work out the significance of that date). During my first year at UVA, I sold Here Comes the Miracle, to UK publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson who will release it in May 2020 - a swift seven years since I wrote the first words. I'm currently working on my second novel and teaching fiction writing and composition at the University of Virginia. I also continue to make theatre, with my London-based collaborator Rachel Lincoln, through our company Akin. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia with my partner L.