Harts Theatre Company’s inaugural Young Writers Festival sees five burgeoning playwrights from ages 11 – 25 pitted (to an audience’s vote) against five critically acclaimed playwrights at the Lyric Hammersmith. One of the winning playwrights Connor Carroll was interviewed by his mentor award-winning Phoebe Éclair-Powell at the National Theatre one afternoon…

PEP: Let’s start with the big one, why did you want to become a writer?

CC: I was approaching my final year in English and drama at Queen Mary who have a great theatre company. I got used to acting in their productions, but in my final year they had this new writing festival and I had an idea for a story in my head so I pitched it to them and it was accepted. I had never done anything like this before but I directed and produced it. The whole thing was so encouraging. I just wanted to keep going.

PEP: So you didn’t want to be an actor anymore?

CC: I wanted to create stuff. I had stories in my head and I wanted to have a crack at seeing them on stage.

PEP: How do stories come to you?

CC: At first I used to get this character in my head and think – okay let’s see how they talk, a bit like me usually! So it starts with a character or situation, but I’ve noticed recently that it has been changing. Things that are happening in the world that need to be spoken about more. So at first it was just interesting people – but now it’s these interesting people in difficult situations

PEP: Interesting. I’m very character based, sometimes to a fault perhaps. I heard a great thing in a writing workshop –they told us all that all writers first few plays are incredibly selfish, all about them and then as they grow up they realise there’s the wider world and they start writing about humanity as a whole.

How do you structure a play?

CC: I plan a lot. I can’t just get down to it, I like to have the beats completely set out – I find it much easier that way. I also over-write a lot, especially the first three drafts.

I need to get all the writing out there and then on the fourth/fifth draft I can start to be less precious and cut it all away. So it’s heavy prep and then a quick burst. I can write the play in two weeks if I’m planned it enough. Then ‘put it in a drawer’.

PEP: Which brings me to – Why [submit a play to] Young Harts?

CC: I had this play I wrote a while ago about power that chimed with the brief. The question of who has power in this society is still as pertinent especially in the context of justice. It’s set in America but relates to the UK. It’s a human story. That feeling of being powerless in a society you think supports you, but if you fuck up, it will ruin your life – they turn against you.

PEP: What are you trying to say with your play for Young Harts?

CC: I’m hopefully tapping into a growing anger, not even personally my story or anger, but I could relate to it – about being screwed over. It was inspired by a man in America who was sent to prison but is exonerated after 50 years and is greeted with a pot of money. But what life can he get back, how can you measure a life [lost] in dollars? He knows that the system failed him but he forgives the guy who puts him away. But some people never get that chance – there is not always a happy ending.

PEP: You must have noticed the big reaction to the show “Making A Murderer”.

CC: Oh yes, but I did write this before that came out! I suppose it’s what we all find fascinating – a sense of injustice, people being failed. There are always happy endings but I’d prefer to tell the story of those that make the audience want to do something about it.

PEP: I think you’re very right – the justice system overwhelms me.

We also have a huge problem as a society as to how we react to crime. It’s a lot of trial by public media and now – social media.

CC: Completely, I feel we live in a very judgmental society and because of social media we now feel we have to share that judgement. I avoid going on Facebook – it’s just a pool of opinions, it just drives me mad!

PEP: That nicely chimes with my play for Young Harts actually, which is about being a one-click hero. I feel that I’m a total armchair activist and I live with three amazing women who do far more in the realms of political activism. I wanted to write about someone who changes that around – who becomes fuelled by a passion – so much so they have to act – and then something happens to take that power away from them.

Tell me about what’s next for you?

CC: I have a residency at North Wall in Oxford for two weeks. I’m extremely pleased to have the time to work on new ideas I have been circulating. I get back literally the day of the Young Harts show – so I can’t wait to see all the pieces.

PEP: Yes and to see who wins!

CC: It’s all in the spirit of fun though isn’t it?

PEP: Yeah, sure. Fun…

Young Harts Writing Festival takes place at the Lyric Hammersmith 8-9 April.