Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, writer of the hit show Emilia, tells John Byrne about her first paid job writing for BBC Three and how she wishes she hadn’t been so quick to quit her job as a waitress early in her career
If you count the shows I made with Katie Lyons and Verity Woolnough under the name Trippplicate, my first job was a play called Fanny and Madge. People paid money for tickets at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh in 2002 so I guess it was a professional production even though we were winging it.
If ‘first job’ means being paid, it was Killing Time, a pilot for BBC Three set in a women’s prison, which I co-wrote with about 10 other women. We all played characters as well as writing the script. It wasn’t the greatest thing, but it was an amazing experience as we filmed it properly, it was broadcast, and I got proper insight into making comedy for TV very early on in my career. I was so nervous and felt that if I didn’t get this right I would mess up my whole career. It was a few more years before I realised each job is part of a journey and feeds subsequent jobs with what you learn.
I probably should not have quit the waitressing job I had at the time. I was convinced this was ‘it’ and I would get non-stop acting and writing gigs from then on. What actually happened was that I did the job, spent the fee on rent and booze and then realised I was skint and needed a new temp job. It was a hard introduction to the realities of the ‘gig economy’ and the realisation that, for most people, there isn’t a ‘big break’ but lots of little breaks and hard graft in between.
Keep your day job until you really don’t need it, have a back-up job and skills that can be used in down time. There’s a lot of waiting and hoping in the early days – if you can be creating and earning during that time it will feed into your later work. Find a group of people you trust to collaborate with. Having a network of friends in this industry is invaluable. With any luck, you’ll be able to help each other out when you’re doing well. At the very least, you’ll have people who always turn up to your first preview and have a drink with you afterwards.
Training: Goldsmiths, University of London
Theatre includes: Belongings, The Wasp (Hampstead Theatre and Trafalgar Studios); Emilia (Shakespeare’s Globe and Vaudeville Theatre); Pantomimes for the Lyric Hammersmith; Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland (Bolton Octagon)
TV includes: Killing Time (BBC Three), School of Comedy (E4), Hotel Trubble (CBBC)
Agent: Georgina Ruffhead at David Higham Associates
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm was talking to John Byrne