Katie Hims/Clean Break Oct29


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Katie Hims/Clean Break

Billy the Girl photo by  Helen Maybanks

Billy the Girl photo by Helen Maybanks

Award-winning writer Katie Hims writes for television, radio and theatre.  Her stage plays include Bill (Contact Theatre) and The Breakfast Soldiers (Contact Theatre studio and Finborough). Her first radio play The Earthquake Girl won the Richard Imison Award. She has recently completed a series of five afternoon plays called Listening to the Dead, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 2014. Her new play, Billy The Girl, produced by Clean Break, opens at Soho Theatre today. She stepped into The Rehearsal Room for a chat.

Tell me more about Billy The Girl
It’s the story of a girl or a woman called Billy who has just been released from prison. She’s coming home to see her family with a lot of hope in her heart. She’s hoping she can change her life and her relationships with a good dose of positive thinking and a spot of marathon training . . . I wanted to write about someone in the context of their family. To write about where she’s come from and what might have happened in her life in order for her to reach the point she’s at now. I desperately wanted the play to be funny but it’s turned out to be quite heartbreaking in places too. There are plenty of obstacles in Billy’s way, not least her own behaviour but I think the conclusion of the play is optimistic.

What was the inspiration for the piece?
Clean Break is a company that provides theatre based training opportunities for women who have offended or who are at risk of offending. The company also annually commissions a full length stage play from a professional writer. As a commissioned writer I ran writing workshops in HMP Holloway in London and HMP Askham Grange in Yorkshire, which I loved doing. I came across so many women with incredible stories. So when it came to writing my own play I struggled to settle on a single story. I often find the beginnings of an idea in something someone said, in a line of dialogue or a turn of phrase. During the research process for this play so many people said so many brilliant things I had too many beginnings!


Katie Hims

You write for both radio and stage – what are the challenges of both and do you have a preference?
I started out writing for the theatre and I completely loved the whole experience. There’s something fantastic about a live performance and that shared experience with the audience. Which of course you don’t get in radio. I don’t sit and listen to my plays with anyone else. But I do find radio a lot easier to write. I think it’s partly that I am writing so much of it in any one year that I’m a lot more practised. It’s like a language that I’m speaking in all the time and theatre is a language I don’t speak nearly as often. So I have really appreciated working with our director Lucy Morrison and wonderful, generous cast to create the final piece.

What theatre work have you seen recently that’s inspired you?
The last play I saw that I adored was Jerusalem – which is an obvious play to choose – because almost everyone loved it. It’s just gorgeous. And I love the fact that it’s so meandering. It doesn’t have a classic narrative structure or an intricate plot. Yet it’s utterly gripping. It’s just full of loads of beautiful stories and a wonderful compelling central character.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a project with Radio 4 called Home Front which will run for the next four and a half years and cover life in England during the first world war. The first two seasons will be set in Folkestone because the war had such an immediate impact on this seaside town which went from being a luxury resort to a centre of military operations almost overnight.

Billy the Girl, written by Katie Hims, directed by Lucy Morrison
at Soho Theatre from 29 October to 24 November 2013

For more about Clean Break: cleanbreak.org.uk