Interview: Camilla Whitehill on Playwriting, Advocating Writing Practice, and Podcasts About Murderers

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Today I'm chatting to playwright Camilla Whitehill, a graduate of the Birmingham School of Acting and writer of Where Do Little Birds Go? and  Mr Incredible. Read on to find out more about her journey in theatre, her tips on writing, and how she gets work done.

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Camilla! First of all, for any readers who don’t know your background, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and where you are today?

Camilla Whitehill:
I’m a writer who works mainly as a playwright, based in London. I originally trained as an actor at the Birmingham School of Acting, but after graduating I realised that really wasn’t going to work out, for a number of reasons. Luckily I found writing, and I’ve been doing it for nearly five years. I’ve written short plays for the Royal Court, Soho Theatre, Southwark Playhouse, Arcola Theatre, New Diorama, and the Paines Plough Roundabout. My debut play, Where Do Little Birds Go?, enjoyed a sell-out run at the Underbelly as part of Edinburgh Fringe 2015 and at the Old Red Lion in London in November 2016. It’s published by Samuel French. My second play Mr Incredible is published by Nick Hern and enjoyed a critically acclaimed run at the Underbelly as part of Edinburgh Fringe 2016. My collaboration with Strictly Arts Theatre, Freeman, ran at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, in September 2016. My personal storytelling project, On The Crest Of A Wave, was at Vault Festival in February 2017. I was part of 4Screenwriting 2016 and one of the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group for 2016/17.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your writing in three words, what would they be?

Camilla Whitehill:
Sad and funny.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into writing generally? Was there something that drove you to write? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Camilla Whitehill:
About five years ago, after leaving drama school. People used to tell me they thought I’d be a good writer, and I’d be like shut up, I’m an ACTOR. But then I was acting in this absolutely abysmal short play and I thought – okay, I can do better than this. So I wrote my first short play for this little short play night. And the audience laughed, and I thought – okay, this is a great feeling, I like this. I haven’t done a degree in writing or anything like that. I did the Royal Court young writers’ course. I don’t think you can teach writing. Practice is key.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first start writing plays and did you have to overcome any self-confidence barriers in order to get to that place where you could share your words?

Camilla Whitehill:
No, because I didn’t think anyone would ever actually see them. There’s a purity to your writing early on if you think nobody will ever read it. When I wrote Where Do Little Birds Go? I never thought it would be on. I honestly have more anxiety about my writing now, but still not enough to stop me forcing people to read or watch it.

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying or non-binary artists and their work. Which writers, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Camilla Whitehill:
Most of my favourite plays are written by men, because historically men were the majority of writers. I always get angry that I love all these white male writers, but of course I do – they were the only ones commissioned! That having been said, my influences tend to come from poetry, literature and music. Women like Sylvia Plath, Donna Tartt, Charlotte Bronte, Rupi Kaur. I also get a lot from podcasts. Phoebe Judge’s podcast Criminal is one of my favourites. But honestly when I need a kick up the arse, I listen to (good) (not Andrew Lloyd Webber) musical theatre.

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to?

Camilla Whitehill:
I am the world’s worst procrastinator. I struggle with it constantly! The main thing I’ve learnt is I cannot be in my house, which sucks because I got myself a desk and everything. I have a playlist of songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown which gets me going.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively? Are there any books on writing and creativity you would recommend to others?

Camilla Whitehill:
Nah, I really don’t believe in those. They’re annoying. I tried to get through the David Mamet one once and was like urghhhhh. It works for some people. One of my biggest barriers to productivity is my mental health, so if I treat that I usually get going again. Taking a big walk is a good one. Listening to people talk in cafes and bars. Podcasts about murderers. The usual.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out writing?

Camilla Whitehill:
It isn’t fair.

Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Camilla Whitehill:
Sure! I’m a big reader. The best book I read in the last year is A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara. I’ve been recommending that non-stop since I read it, it’s my new favourite book. I’m not much of a film person, but I watched Moana recently and it’s awesome. Not usually one to promote Disney but it’s really good. And I’ve been listening to a song called 'If You Ever Need A Stranger (To Sing At Your Wedding)' by Jens Lekman on repeat.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work? What’s on the horizon for you in the next few months?

Camilla Whitehill:
I’m on Twitter at @camillavalerie_ and I basically live there. I have some cool things cooking that I’ll hopefully be able to talk about soon.

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