Tom Morton-SmithSat at a table in an empty office floor space, Tom Morton-Smith mulls over his latest play script. The actors are taking a lunch break and the floor is divided up with squares of black tape, a few odd items of furniture and, in one corner, and old-fashioned gramophone. The play is called In Doggerland, and to hear Morton-Smith tell it, it’s his best one yet. It’s a story of family and tragedy, and four people brought together by coastal erosion and an organ transplant. “It’s essentially about grief, family and identity… there’s been an accident and the daughter of one of the characters has died. And so her heart got transplanted into Marnie – who had a problem with her heart for her whole life and has now come to find the family of the donor.”

According to Morton-Smith, the play he’s written wasn’t exactly the one he was planning on. Inspired by the psychological effect that heart transplants have one people, he began writing but couldn’t quite get the script to work. By chance, he saw a documentary on coastal erosions that are causing houses and villages to literally fall into the sea and the idea stuck with him: “The image of a family home crumbling of the edge of a cliff and into the sea and being washed away… I thought that’s a damn good metaphor for something!” But instead of scrapping one play for another, Morton-Smith decided to stick with his first two characters, saying he “really liked their dynamic so I decide to take them out – transplant them out – of that play and put them into a new one.”

Morton-Smith hasn’t always been writing plays. In fact, he came into the world of theatre as an actor after studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art – playwriting was never more than a hobby. That changed in 2007 when his first full-length stage play Salt Meets Wound debuted at Theatre 503 and the actor found himself becoming a writer. “Suddenly with that play it was going though all sorts of literary departments, it got me an agent, I was in development with a theatre… that seemed to be doing good things for me and slowly the whole writing thing replaced the whole acting thing.”

Clearly Morton-Smith has no regrets about his shift from performer to scriptwriter. I ask him how he’s finding playwriting so far, and his enthusiasm is unmistakable. “I love creating a world! And when you start collaborating with designers and actors and seeing what they bring to it, you can have what had previously just been in your head come alive in front of you… I love the days like this where you can just be talking through the script [with the actors] and filling in all the spaces. It’s a fun thing to do – create a universe and tell a story through that.”

Of the worlds he has created, that of In Doggerland seems to be one Morton-Smith is particularly proud of and he describes it as “a relatively small play but one that’s very beautiful”. Then, looking slightly ashamed, he admits that when the play is shown he’s hoping for tears in the audience. At its heart In Doggerland is a family drama – a play about the intricacies and pitfalls of family relationships, and it’s the story of two siblings, something a lot of people will be able to relate to. According to Morton-Smith the play is meant to be “thought-provoking and entertaining and moving and all those good things that you’d want from a piece of theatre. If there are a couple of laughs but at the end the audience is in tears then I will have done my work.” After the play opens in the Lowry Theatre, Salford it will then be touring to New Diorama in London and on to another nine theatres everywhere from Liverpool to Exeter and Halifax.

Morton-Smith claims that his best tactic when writing is to get it all done first thing in the morning. His strategy is to get up and get it all written down while it’s all he’s thinking about – before he’s even showered or had breakfast. As he says, if he gets everything done in the first portion of the day, the rest of the day is left to “sit around and worry about the choice of a single particular word in a particular sentence”. As well as being an early riser, Morton-Smith is also a multi-tasker and he likes to always have several plays on at different stages. Although he used to write focusing on a single piece at a time, apparently that means that “you’ll only have a play on every five years… so that’s not the way to go!”

When asked what his best advice to young playwrights would be, Morton-Smith quickly says that there are no set rules for any one person and that there are “as many trajectories to being a playwright as there are people who want to be playwrights”. That said, it always pays to be practical: “Get a day job you don’t hate, because you don’t know how long you might be doing it.” Finally though, he stresses the importance of deciding what sort of thing you want to write, staying true to that and making sure that “what you’re working on is what you want to be writing.”