Lucy V Hay is akin to the oracle of screenwriting. As a script editor, script reader, screenwriter, novelist, blogger, head script reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival (SWF), and still more, it’s safe to say she’s no wallflower. Hay is running a two-day Screenwriters’ Craft crash course in November this year, which was spurred on by the Live Script Edit at the London SWF she hosts every year: there is a clear demand for her expertise to be shared.
Hay started off wanting to be a novelist, and back in 2000 there were no novel writing courses; most of the novel writing courses were MA’s. “I didn’t really want to go to university and I applied for so many jobs it was unreal. I had no money, lived literally in the middle of nowhere, right in the middle of a field! Going to university was the only way of being able to get out in the world because I couldn’t get a job, I was on benefits, and being able to access financial products as a student meant it was achievable.” It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be a screenwriter back then (she did) but it sounded "more cool" as she put it, than modern literature.
As part of the course, they needed to complete a work placement. Hay, being a young single mother, wasn’t in a position to get childcare while she went off to work for a week, so her tutor suggested she do script reading. She wrote to a staggering 79 agents and production companies, but none of them were very keen on letting this unknown student loose on their pile of screenplays.
Eventually, she got an email from literary agent Futermanrose in London inviting her into their office where she was greeted with, “oh great you’re here!” and she said, “yeah, it’s me.” She followed him down the corridor, opened this cupboard door and inside were more scripts than you could ever see in your life: piles and piles of scripts.
Hay asked the obvious question, “do you want me to read them?” and he replied, “yes, please!” “No problem. I’ll get them done by the end of the summer for you.” With that he replied, “Darling, you won’t get them done by the end of your life. There’s plenty more where they came from!”
Every Monday, Hay would go up on the train and fill two tote bags full of screenplays to take home to read. She delivered her first reports within two weeks and he liked her enough to put her onto reading his clients' work very quickly.
Hay learnt some interesting lessons then; most notably that these are people's babies. “I am a very blunt person, and all of my reports are done with love but they probably did come across as too blunt, never been bitchy but definitely blunt."
She recalls, “an award-winning playwright called me in tears saying that my script report was awful, and she was never going to write again. That taught me a very valuable lesson; she was reduced to tears by some young girl's reader report that was too blunt. That made me realise that I needed to take better care.” This is something that Hay is always keen to remind her students: you've got be aware these are people's dreams. Sometimes a bad reader's report can stop somebody writing for years. That’s a BIG responsibility.
Progressing from reading for Futermanrose, she recalls that she was taken to BAFTA by an agent because his wife left him and he had nobody to go with. While accompanying the agent, when people asked what she did - not wanting to disclose she was a student - she introduced herself as a script reader, which led to, “oh will you read my script? I’ll pay you.”
This developed from script reading into script editing relatively quickly. “I would help filmmakers, especially shorts, for free in collaborations at first. Before long I was working on features. For a short period I wanted to be a TV screenwriter so I did a lot of schemes, got invited to schemes on Hollyoaks and Emmerdale. I don’t think I had the kind of metal to withstand the soap machine, it was too big for me. I get stressed out too easily, and I want to live in places like Devon. I managed to get enough screenwriting work to get on various schemes and meet producers, before I moved back to novel writing, which was my first love.”
So what makes Hay tick? What are her passions and what gets her ignited? She hates it when people say "I’m a nobody, I haven’t had anything published yet," or "I’m an aspiring writer." She says passionately, “if you’re writing, you’re a writer. It doesn’t matter whether you’re earning money, you’ve just gotta keep going, and maybe it will be recognised, maybe it won’t; part of the joy of writing is the journey. When you do get there, it can be an anti-climax. It is exciting to write books obviously, and exciting to be recognised. If you’re a writer and feel passionate, the possibilities are endless.”Continued in Part Two.