Introducing the writers behind COME TO WHERE I AM Series 7: Cumbria

Theatre by the Lake. Photo by Cactus Creative.

COME TO WHERE I AM – Series 7: Cumbria, is in partnership with Theatre by the Lake, who are based in Cumbria. Theatre by the Lake has brought the magic of theatre and the excitement of the imagination to one of Britain’s loveliest and remotest counties. The theatre, hailed by The Independent as “the most beautifully located and friendly theatre in Britain”, opened in 1999. It is set a short stroll from Derwentwater on the edge of Keswick, amid the magnificent western fells of the Lake District. COME TO WHERE I AM Series 7 will be available to watch on our YouTube Channel from 7pm on Wednesday 01 July. We caught up with the writers this week and here’s what they had to say:

Daneka Etchells

Please could you introduce yourself in a couple of sentences?
I’m Daneka Etchells, I am an actor and writer and I am absolutely delighted to be part of this project about my home county! As an actor, I’ve worked with the Royal National Theatre, Northern Stage, Theatre by the Lake, CAST Doncaster, Northern Broadsides, The Customs House and most recently on feature film, set in the Lakes, Supernova due for release later this year. I’ve only recently came to playwriting, and this is my first professional play commission.

Where in Cumbria are you from?
I am from Carlisle. I spent my childhood splitting my time between Carlisle and Caldbeck where my grandparents lived. 

Could you tell me a bit about your writing journey?
I’ve always loved stories. As a child I was obsessed with books and writing (still am!). However, my acting career took precedence for a while while I focussed on drama school and the first few years of working, before I came full circle back to writing alongside my career. As a teenager, I won the Young Film Critic of the Year award in association with BAFTA and had poetry published in national and international poetry magazines. I’ve written two one-act plays which are currently under development, and I’m attempting to collate lots of my poetry together into a collection.

What encouraged you to enter a submission for Come To Where I Am/ what attracted you this project?
Working in the arts, stories about my home are very, very few and far between. I’m extremely proud to be Cumbrian and champion it whenever I can. I’m determined to ensure that my county is put properly on the map and has its identity heard. Plus, I’ve never heard of a play/tv show/film in my entire life set in Carlisle!

Could you tell us a bit about the process?
We had to submit three drafts before filming the final reading, and on each draft we were given feedback from our designated dramaturg – mine was Charlotte Bennett, the co-AD of Paines Plough who’s been so supportive of the piece and its evolution. I spent a lot of time researching what exactly I wanted to write about. I did a lot of writing streams of consciousness, spending time looking through photos, and looking at what memories made up home for me. I also asked my family to mind-map their thoughts on Carlisle which was super useful, and we talked together about how we felt about the city. I then linked up my own thoughts, other thoughts, facts and its history and came up with the narrative I wrote.

What advice or tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
A great way in is to write about what you know and what inspires you. It’s not hard to talk about what you’re passionate about; so instead of saying the words out loud, speak them to your keyboard or your pen instead. Don’t be too harsh on yourself either, treat yourself with kindness and love. The process is gruelling but extremely rewarding; and your voice deserves to be heard. This comes easier to some more than others, I myself am dyslexic, but the same things that can be challenging, are also a gift. Discover what works for you, everyone’s processes are completely unique, as *you* are. Have those conversations with people on the train, ask people about their lives, watch anything you can, people watch… And read read READ. 

Imogen Barnfather

Please could you introduce yourself ?
My name is Imogen Barnfather, I live in Cockermouth.

Could you tell me a bit about your writing journey?
I began writing at seventeen, forming ‘Wyldwood Theatre Company’ with friends. Over three years we produced six plays, and it was a beautiful adventure. Somewhere along the way, I realised I was entirely addicted to sewing costumes at ridiculous hours of the morning and wholly in love with the process of watching my writing grow into theatre. I couldn’t imagine living my life any other way, so I decided to start a new journey and made steps towards founding a travelling theatre company; ‘Wayfarers Theatre’. So far this hasn’t exactly gone to plan, with some impressive hiccups cropping up along the way, but I am by no means deterred, and I eagerly await the day I can officially get things off the ground.

What encouraged you to enter a submission for Come To Where I Am/ what attracted you this project?
Recently I have had a rather hefty dose of writer’s block, so I was quite surprised when I found myself tapping away at my submission for ‘Come to Where I am’. I was inspired by the idea of writing about the place I call home; I grew up in the Embleton Valley and I can’t imagine living anywhere very far from the North Lakes. (I’ve also always been rather in awe of Theatre by the Lake, so the idea of sending them a submission was very appealing). My piece is inspired by a very moving encounter I had while working in a Keswick café, ‘Daisy’ has already made her way into the first draft of a script but this project has been an opportunity to present a more in-depth exploration of the event.

What advice or tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
If I have any advice for other aspiring writers, particularly those who are struggling to put pen to paper, it’s to not give up. Even if you’re feeling uninspired, or life just keeps getting in the way, think of if it as space to think, to breath. You never know when you might stumble upon something that sparks a new idea or rekindles an old one. The most important thing is at no point should you stop considering yourself to be a writer!

Matt Sowerby

Please could you introduce yourself in a couple of sentences?
Hi! I’m Matt. I’m a writer (mostly a poet) from Cumbria, sometimes living in Birmingham. I also do odd bits of activism. I’m 19 years old. 

Where in Cumbria are you from?
I’m from Kirkby Lonsdale, but my family have farmed around Crooklands for generations.

Could you tell me a bit about your writing journey?
I spent a long time failing to write novels, then changed to failing to write poems. Eventually I started failing a little less. I managed to perform in Parliament, write a play, do a TEDx Talk and win the National Youth Slam Championships in 2018, as well as (somehow) passing my A Levels last year. Today I’m studying at the University of Birmingham.

What encouraged you to enter a submission for Come To Where I Am/ what attracted you this project?Leaving Cumbria for University really got me thinking about my relationship to the area I grew up.  I thought the project would be a great way to explore my relationship TO the physical and political landscape from which I grew, and the people who made me who I am.

Could you tell us a bit about the process?
The process was really rewarding because I got to find out lots about my family farm and my grandparent’s story.  I asked them to give me a tour of the farm, telling me the memories they had of the different buildings. Having these conversations, recording their voices and listening to them was very eye opening.

What advice or tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
Introduce yourself as a writer. Put the work in. Put work out. Play nice.

Nina Berry

Please could you introduce yourself in a couple of sentences?
Hi, I’m Nina, I’m 27 and I’m a writer from Cumbria. I have a passion for physics which plays a large part in inspiring the stories I chose to write and I’m also really interested in exploring the relationships between people and place.

Where in Cumbria are you from?
I grew up in Dubwath near Bassenthwaite Lake but I currently live in Blindcrake.

Could you tell me a bit about your writing journey?
Alongside studying for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at Northumbria University I worked front of house at Live Theatre in Newcastle which very quickly became like a second home to me. I’d always loved theatre and grew up watching plays at Theatre by the Lake (which, growing up in such a rural place I was very lucky to have access to) but at that point it never even occurred to me that you could write for a living. There was something about working at Live, the people, the place, the stories that unfolded on stage, there were no rules to it, theatre could do, be or say anything, the possibilities were endless and the whole experience of it really got under my skin. I started blogging for the theatre and I signed up for their Introduction to Playwriting Course. From there I started writing comedy sketches for Mixtape Theatre and short plays for Live. It was around the time that I graduated that Graeme Thompson became Creative Producer and their Live Lab program launched featuring further opportunities for emerging local writers, actors and directors. Graeme and the rest of the creative team were enormously encouraging of me which really helped with my confidence and gave me the courage to stay in Newcastle and keep writing. In 2016 I became an associate artist of the theatre which led to my first full length commission. The play ​The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes ​ is a quantum love story about growing up and finding a singularity among infinity. Graeme and Max Roberts, Artists Director at that time had championed the idea from its inception and I worked closely with Graeme as dramaturg and director of the play. As an emerging artist it’s so important to find people who believe in you and the stories you want to tell so I was incredibly lucky to find that so early in my career. The play returned in 2017 following a sold out run and a five star Guardian review and led to me signing with Independent Talent. Since then I’ve been a resident writer in Oxford and Denmark and I’m currently adapting​ The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes ​ to screen with support from the BFI Network and Lunar Lander Productions as well as working on another commission for Live.

What encouraged you to enter a submission for Come To Where I Am/ what attracted you this project?
Writing for Theatre by the Lake and Paines Plough have been part of my ambitions since I first began writing, they’ve both played a huge part in inspiring my journey as a writer so it was brilliant to see a collaboration between the two of them. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always had a fascination with the relationship between people and place so naturally it was a project I gravitated towards. It was also amazing to see how theatre’s have adapted so quickly to the world we’re currently living in and the outreach program alongside the CTWIA project was something that I felt really passionately
about, it’s a way to keep theatre live, intimate and most importantly provide culture for those who are digitally isolated and unable to access theatre online.

Could you tell us a bit about the process?
I tend to free-write first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s related to a project, theme or idea, sometimes it’s just whatever’s going on in my head or in my eyeline and at the time of being commissioned I’d already found myself writing about my immediate surroundings and close proximity with nature. I then started writing the outlines of memories I have of growing up which are punctuated by the landscape and combined them with a picture of my physical surroundings of home in the present in Blindcrake. I have a natural tendency to view certain human situations through a scientific lens which I owe to my dad and that’s where the overriding themes of chemistry and creation came from. I’d say the piece is an amalgamation of real life experience, emotion and fiction condensed into a short period of time. I’m also lucky to have been in lockdown with my brother Jack who is an aspiring director and filmmaker so credit for the recording and editing process goes straight to him!

What advice or tips do you have for other aspiring writers?
Write the stories that only you can write. Most writers want their work to be universal and appeal to the majority, that’s natural but sometimes I think it’s only by being so specific that you can achieve universality. I think writing, acting or directing, any creative process really, requires a certain amount of vulnerability which can be terrifying even at the best of times but there’s also strength and a power in allowing yourself to be vulnerable. The short winded version of that would be FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY. Collaborate and share your writing with the people you trust the most because they are almost always the people who will keep on believing in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.

COME TO WHERE I AM – SERIES 7: CUMBRIA will be available on our YouTube channel from Wednesday 01 July 2020, 7:00pm

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