Drama on Radio 3

I am trying to remember the young woman that I was before I had children. I am trying to see who I am now… I am a writer and I have a splinter of ice in my heart and in my eye.’

Nell Leyshon performs her own true story of how her reinvention of herself after children is halted by illness. It is a story of the body, medicine, statistics and the NHS; a story of motherhood and being a woman; a story of writing and of speaking with our own authentic voices.

Three letters was written and performed by Nell Leyshon and directed in Edinburgh by Susan Roberts

Broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Listen again on iPlayer here.

Nell appointed as a Trustee of the Globe Theatre.

Nell Leyshon, whose play Bedlam won critical acclaim when it played here at the Globe in 2010, has been appointed as a Trustee of the Globe Theatre.

Commenting on her appointment, Leyshon said:

“I am thrilled to be appointed Trustee as I am passionate about the Globe, and believe in the value of writers’ voices on boards. I look forward to using my extensive experience and skills to support the staff and my fellow board members.”

Neil Constable, our Chief Executive, said:

“I am delighted to welcome Nell. As a successful and prolific playwright and author, she brings a breadth of creative experience and skills to our Board. Her many successful years of work across the creative industry will be a fantastic addition to support our theatre, research, education, exhibition and commercial activities. With her wealth of theatre industry knowledge and enthusiasm, her voice will be highly valued at the Globe. ”

Nell Leyshon was born and grew up in Somerset, attending art college and a first career in film before attending the University of Southampton as a mature student. After graduating she focused on writing; her first novel, Black Dirt, was published by Picador in May 2004.  It was long-listed for the Orange Prize and runner-up for the Commonwealth Prize. She secured a commission from BBC Radio 4 to write a play, Milk, which won the Richard Imison Award for best radio play. Her second drama was runner-up for the Meyer Whitworth Award.

Her third novel, The Colour of Milk, was published by Penguin in May 2012. It was honoured in translation, winning the Prix Interallié in France where it was also shortlisted for the Prix Femina, and voted the book of the year in Spain. Her most recent novel, Memoirs of a Dipper was published in 2015.

Her second play, Comfort me with Apples, won an Evening Standard Theatre Award for most promising playwright, and was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award. She later adapted Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now for the Lyceum, Sheffield which later transferred to the Lyric, Hammersmith. She has also written plays for the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, and RADA. Her radio plays for BBC Radio 3 and 4, include Glass Eels and Soldier Boy. In 2014, Leyshon wrote her first libretto, The River Keeper, for Streetwise Opera, a charity which works with homeless people.

In addition to writing, she has taught in marginalised communities including recovering addicts, mental health service users, travellers and, in Labrador, aboriginal peoples. She taught and mentored creative writing and performance, focusing on developing skills and self-esteem, and, always, the writer’s own original voice. She spent three years on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors, and is on their campaign group. She is an occasional lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.

International working

2016 was the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes, two giants of world literature. British Council and Hay Festival published an excellent anthology of contemporary stories inspired by both writers, and I made a contribution as one of the British writers inspired by Cervantes. An unforeseen bonus was that throughout the year I did some international work with the British Council and Hay to publicise the book, but also to have a world-wide conversation about the influence of both writers. I undertook trips to Colombia, Spain, Peru, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago. By the end of the year I had undergone radical change. I have new inspiration and drive, but it is deeper than that: the last year has affected my work more radically.

The first trip was to Colombia. In Cartagena, as part of the Hay Festival, I worked with the British Council’s scheme Elipsis, which identifies talented writers and editors from all over Colombia and supports their development. The scheme is carefully set up to be inclusive, and participants came from all over the country, from all backgrounds; this is something remarkable in such a socially divided country.

I met the participants the day before our workshop in the shade of a white cloistered building: we talked about the events we had seen at the festival and the particularly wide range of ideas being shared. And then we talked of their own work: we talked of the importance of being brave and bold, and of having faith in their own voices and their own stories.

Following the workshop the next day, one writer asked to speak to me. She talked about my book, The Colour of Milk, which is about an illiterate young woman in 1831 who is taught, at great cost, to read and write by the vicar who employs her as a maid. The young woman was visibly moved and struggled to tell her story. She lived in Amazonia, she explained, and this was her first time out of her region. The book, she said… then she started to cry. The book, she finally told me, was the exact story of her mother’s life. Her mother was born in a village and was illiterate. She worked as a maid and, like many others in her position, was abused.

The young woman told me that after she had read the book in one sitting, she took her mother out onto the verandah where they were surrounded by green, where the rain fell onto leaves and roofs. She read the book out loud to her still-illiterate mother. She read her own mother’s story back to her.

This small exchange affected me deeply: my novel was set in my imagination, inspired by the village I grew up in, and by the past situation of women in the English countryside. And here I was on the other side of the world, hearing that the story I invented, set in the past, was the exact story of a woman brought up deep in the Colombian rain forest, and is the exact story which still continues throughout Latin America. It taught me about the power of story, and about how much we take for granted: the ability to read, and the ability to write, to express our own inner lives upon a page.

(read the whole article at International Literatures Showcase)

Nell Leyshon y el placer de escribir en primera persona

Liliana Martínez Polo | El Tiempo

‘El show de Gary’ es el título en español de la novela que la británica Nell Leyshon tituló en inglés ‘Memorias de un carterista’ (‘Memoirs of a Dipper’). En su idioma explica la esencia de la historia. En español hace énfasis en la forma en que es contada. Gary podría estar frente a una audiencia contando cómo sus manos ligeras eran capaces de quedarse con los valores de cualquier desprevenido en el Londres de finales del siglo XX, ufanándose de haberse perfeccionado hasta convertir su oficio en un arte.

Leyshon, que continuamente ha manifestado que prefiere historias de personajes marginales, explora el encanto que puede tener un ingenioso maleante como Gary. La primera persona la hace sentir cómoda, ya la había usado en el personaje de Mary –una campesina adolescente que aprende a escribir, en 1830, y plasma en un texto recuerdos familiares y tristezas–, en ‘Del color de la leche’, su anterior novela escrita en el 2012, que presentó en Colombia, en el Hay Festival.

Dos monólogos. Diferentes épocas y, por tanto, diferentes lenguajes. Leyshon admite que trabaja duro para que sus personajes sean diferentes, para cambiar la forma de narrar. “Escribir dos novelas similares me aburriría muchísimo. No representaría para mí un desafío”, le dijo a EL TIEMPO en un español que aprendió durante una breve temporada en España y que esta semana ha tenido que retomar, ya que viajaba al Hay Festival de Arequipa (del 8 al 11 de diciembre).

Meterse en las voces de otros parece ser su fortaleza. De hecho, escribir para Leyshon es justamente eso: “Para mí es sencillo escribir como si fuera otra persona. Es como un escape navegar dentro de mi personaje. Es como ir por la calle con otra música. Todas las personas en las calles tienen voces diferentes y eso me encanta. Es algo parecido a lo que pasa con los niños, que juegan a ser otros en sus juegos. Cuando tenemos más años es más difícil jugar así. Para mí es una cosa fantástica”.

Eso explicaría su relación con el teatro. Su nombre siempre va precedido con la frase de haber sido la primera autora mujer en haber puesto una de sus obras en el cartel del Shakespeare’s Globe (Bedlam) y tiene otras más. “Si quieres escribir para teatro –dice al respecto–, tienes que ser a la vez muchas otras personas. Si en una obra tienes 10 personajes, el escritor tiene que meterse en la piel de todos ellos, en la mente de cada uno”.

¿Fue primero dramaturga o escritora de novelas?

Primero fue la literatura. Pero cuando escribo novelas, me gusta escribir diálogos. Por eso tenía tantos problemas con los libros. La gente cree que llegué a los 40 años sin escribir libros. Pero escribía desde antes. Pero antes no sabía que podía escribir para mostrarlos.

Siempre quise escribir novelas, mucho antes de empezar con el teatro. Ahora lo que hago es escribir para radio. En la BBC hacemos una cosa que no es propiamente teatro, tampoco es novela, es como una mezcla. Tenemos obras cada día, unas son fantásticas, otras son horribles. Así es cuando se trabaja a diario.

Se siente esa necesidad de llevar sus textos a una lectura o interpretación en voz alta…

Estoy escribiendo ahora un monólogo para mí, lo voy a interpretar yo misma el año que viene. Es un trabajo con un poquito de peligro que lo hace interesante, es otro desafío, algo que no he hecho.

Gary, el protagonista de su nueva novela, también cumple con uno de sus intereses: el gusto por los personajes marginales…

Trabajé con personajes así durante diez años (la autora hacía trabajo social) y encontré muchas historias interesantes. El libro está inspirado en mi trabajo con ellos. Era una cosa fantástica oír sus historias de vida. Entre ellos había personajes con un tinte un poquito malo que me impulsaban a trabajar como escritora. Escribía sus historias en novela y poesía. Muchas de estas me dieron las ideas para escribir esta novela.

Lo más divertido a la hora de escribir esta novela fueron los diálogos. El diálogo de los hombres malos tiene, para la literatura, una lucidez que no es pesada. (leer más)

Shakespeare y Cervantes se cambian las lenguas

Nell Leyshon, Marcos Giralt Torrente y Valeria Luiselli presentan en el Hay Festival una antología de cuentos inspirados en los dos gigantes de la literatura

(El Pais, México)


Con 10 años, la escritora mexicana Valeria Luiselli participó en una función escolar de Una noche de Verano. Se ponía tan nerviosa que le tocó el papel de pared y la profesora le tapó la cabeza con una caja para que no arruinara la actuación. Al español Marcos Giralt Torrente se le atragantaba el inglés y el teatro, así que de niño aprendió a disfrutar a Shakespeare gracias a las adaptaciones al cine de Orson Wells. En los ochenta, la dramaturga británica Nell Leyshon acostumbraba a leer a Cervantes mientras paseaba por el barrio madrileño dónde vivió y murió el tullido más universal.

Como en una ceremonia religiosa o un centro de desintoxicación, los tres contaron este sábado en el Hay Festival sus particulares caminos de iniciación hacia estos dos semidioses de la literatura, que fallecieron justo hace cuatro siglos y alrededor de los que no paran de suceder cosas este año. Lunáticos, amantes y poetas es una antología a de 12 cuentos inspirados en la obra de ambos autores y un requisito: intercambiarse las lenguas.

Seis escritores de habla inglesa se fijan en Cervantes y seis en español lo hacen con Shakespeare. Editado por Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) y el British Council, además de los tres invitados al Hay –que también patrocina el libro– comparten el homenaje la española Soledad Puértola, el colombiano Juan Gabriel Vásquez, el nigeriano Ben Okri y la paquistaní Kamila Shamsie. (leer más en El Pais)

Interview with the Independent


It is about 10 minutes into my interview with the award-winning playwright and author Nell Leyshon, and already she is nicking my stuff. “Look what those workmen are doing!” she says, pointing out of the window of the Soho café, and after I turn back she shows me that she has quietly pocketed my mobile phone.

“It’s really easy to distract people, isn’t it?” she laughs. “What Gary says is that it’s about a story … it’s about making people believe something.” I suggest that both the novelist and the pickpocket are professional liars, then, and she agrees. “As soon as I use the word ‘I’ and I’m not being me, I’m telling a lie aren’t I?” She’s good at it, too.

We are here to talk about her new novel, Memoirs of a Dipper, in which the protagonist, Gary, does more than his fair share of nicking. The book is dedicated to “Gary, whose life this ain’t”, and it is inspired by people she met while teaching creative writing to “outsiders” including former prisoners and addicts in Bournemouth. Nothing is exaggerated, she says, having got to know these people very well – in fact, a few things were taken out because they were too much.

Unusually, this book’s launch parties will not be held in the bookshops and reading groups of London and the Home Counties, but in prison libraries. Leyshon says she really misses the quality of the discussion in such places: “I’ve taught [creative writing] at Masters level and it’s never as good. There’s a no bullshit thing.”

Gary is an unusually candid and beguiling narrator as he talks us through his childhood and early life of thieving, from what appears to be the relatively comfortable position of middle age. “When you’re writing a strong first person voice like that … could you make something that was completely not you? I’m not sure I would believe it,” Leyshon says. “It’s like method writing. I have to find that person inside me so that I can write from that, and then it becomes truthful, and you don’t stumble. I don’t ever feel that I’m trying to be Gary … and I never felt that I was trying to be Mary [the poor, 15-year-old narrator of her 2012 novel The Colour of Milk]. With those strong characters I just become them.” She says this just after admitting: “I sort of can’t understand why we don’t all shoplift….”

(read the full interview at The Independent)

Hay Festival interview 2012

The playwright in residence Nell Leyshon has been picking up material from around Hay festival which will go in her play. (Guardian, June 2012)


This year, for the first time, the Hay Festival has a playwright-in-residence. Nell Leyshon has spent the week in Hay acting as a kind of scout, looking for material which will be formed into a play for a company of actors who arrive mid-week. They will have just five days to prepare for a performance on Sunday. ‘I have overheard some wonderful things’, Leyshon says, ‘and they will make their way into the script’.

Leyshon prepared a framework for the play, based on the story of the Wife of Bath, but her observations at Hay will flesh out the characters and the action. ‘There will be upwards of 15 characters, including a baby, all played by a cast of 5 actors. It will be genuinely theatrical story-telling’.

Leyshon chose the Wife of Bath as her inspiration because of her earthy, fearless character. The Wife’s journey through five husbands gives the play the scope to move through five stages of a person’s life – twenty years’ worth of drama and comedy.

Leyshon’s Wife of Hay is a farmer’s daughter, and Nell herself is interested by our connections with the land. ‘I grew up in Glastonbury, so I am familiar with the potential for tensions between the town and the festival, between a practical approach to the countryside and the more ethereal view from visitors.’

Exploring our perceptions of rural life is key to the work of the Pentabus Theatre Company who are performing Leyshon’s play. The actors are coming into town, staying in tents, and putting on a play with ‘music and big, bold gestures’ and it is this feeling of a troubadour-type entertainment that Leyshon wanted to capture in the play. There is a sense of excitement that the play will take on a life of its own when it is performed in front of an audience at the Sound Castle. So what has the playwright taken from the experience? Nell is, in fact, half-Welsh, but has no living relatives from that side of her family. ‘I have been able to re-connect with my Welsh roots,’ she says, ‘writing is all about finding a stimulus and seeing what happens’.