Juliet Gilkes Romero tells John Byrne how she moved from journalism into full-time writing
My first job was as a broadcast journalist at BBC World Service at Bush House in the Strand. I dreamt of travelling to countries like Cuba and Haiti, and following in the footsteps of writers like Zora Neale Hurston. The training was rigorous. You cut your teeth writing stories that would go to the chief sub, duty editor, senior duty editor, then newsroom editor (if it was a big enough story), then descend that same chain in that order, sliced, diced and often unrecognisable. I also produced the current affairs programme NewsDesk.
I eventually moved to Television Centre and worked in 24-hour news. I found it relentless. I worked 12-hour shifts, often from 10pm-10am. I took a sabbatical, went to Goldsmiths College, London University and took an MA in Writing for Performance. That felt like liberation, but first, I had to unlearn restrictive, newsroom editing skills and ‘re-trust’ my raw, narrative instinct. I had to accept that a first draft could never be ‘broadcast perfect’ and remember feeling very nervous about sharing my first efforts.
I learnt the most working with actors and was speechless the first time I saw one of my play drafts read. My happiest place is in a rehearsal room working with actors as they create magic. Journalism taught me to listen, to be open to anything and everything, and I was fortunate to be able to document important stories from places like Ethiopia and Haiti. It made me passionate about the telling of the human experience. In that regard, journalism and theatre are very similar.
I am now a full-time playwright, but it has not been an easy road. There is no financial safety net and I have made mistakes. But I am the writer I am today because of challenging experiences, and I am grateful for that. I tell beginners that the enemy of creativity is self-doubt and to be creatively resilient. According to Albert Camus: “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” I think many dynamic and diverse new writers will emerge as a result of this pandemic. I look forward to what they have to say.
Training: Goldsmiths College, London University
Theatre includes: The Whip (Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre), Day of the Living (The Other Place for RSC’s Mischief Festival), Uppercut (Southwark Playhouse), At the Gates of Gaza (Birmingham Rep and UK tour; winner of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best Play award), Bilad Al-Sudan (Tricycle Theatre)
TV and radio include: Soon Gone – A Windrush Chronicle (BBC4/Young Vic/Douglas Road Productions), One Hot Summer (BBC Radio 4)
Agent: Jasmine Daines Pilgrem, Lisa Richards Agency