How I Fell For Mary Clare… or other people’s characters

After last winter’s intensive BBC Writer’s Academy boot camp I’ve had the privilege of working on some of the UK’s most popular TV shows. My first is aired next Tuesday on BBC1.  Writing TV drama is a step away from my day job in young people’s books (Sawbones is out now btw…) but it’s not so different.


TV drama and young fiction share strong characterisation, plenty of drama and excitement. At the heart of both lie big emotional truths and accessibility. And most importantly both demand you never ever patronise your audience.

But when you write a story you have the luxury of inventing your own characters, ones that you decide how they look, speak, act. When you’re writing for Continuing Drama the characters exist already. You know what they look like, how they speak, what they do. And you can’t change any of it.

I must admit I always did like Holby – even when it annoyed me like hell through the songtage years – and I think it must be hard if you have no feelings for the show. I was raring to write lines for  bitch with a (tiny) heart Jac Naylor,  arrogant Antoine Malick,  Serena Queen of Snark, Jonny and Mo….

But there were others I wasn’t bothered with. Didn’t like. Chief among them was Mary Clare, the smart mouthed redhead nurse recently promoted to regular character. It didn’t help that she’d always been in opposition to the ‘nurse we love’ . She was always too sharp and too ready to seduce or be seduced by  the handsome young (or older) doctor  who should know better. Whatever flack she got, she deserved it. Didn’t she?

In my Episode Mary Clare was only a C story character. And the story changed from the beginning of commission from one that was building to something much bigger (and sadder) to something else. So I was not on her side. Like I said. Mary Clare was just a man eater surely, a nurse who sometimes doesn’t care as much as she should.

But the more I wrote, the more I felt for her,  the more I wanted her to win, to stomp all over these horrible men who shouldn’t use her.By the end of the process I totally loved her. My fingers are crossed hard that the next Ep I get of Holby will be a big Mary Clare one.

And it’s happening again with the ep I’m writing of a different programme, someone I never thought I’d have a connection with in a million years is winning me over.