Lynn Ferguson is a Scottish actress and writer who currently pens for her brother Craig’s Late Late Show. She also voiced Mac, the Scottish Chicken, in Chicken Run. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, Ferguson was a fixture in the UK comedy community, performing stand-up, as well as writing and performing for BBC television and radio. Eight of her plays have been produced at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where she won the Stage Award for Acting for her one-woman show: Heart & Sole.
Heart & Sole is the story of Carol, an elementary school teacher in Scotland, who falls in love with David, a fish living in a tank at the local aquarium. From this absurd idea, Ferguson has spun a warmly twisted drama asking the question: “Can you love someone and not be like them?”
Ferguson discusses her creative process with Write On!, and offers outstanding advice for writers … with some tips for actors thrown in for good measure.
Which came first the acting or the writing? How does each creative pursuit support the other?
Acting first, sadly. I trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. After learning so much about classical acting, I figured I should probably do stand-up.
How did you come up with and develop the idea for Heart & Sole?
I was supposed to be putting together an hour of stand-up for a producer for an Edinburgh fringe show—the time-slot was booked, publicity was already starting to filter it’s way out, and I was beginning to think I didn’t want to do a stand-up show after all. I visited an aquarium in Norfolk England and was stalked by a trigger fish. It pretty much came from there.
To what do you attribute the success and critical acclaim of Heart & Sole?
I don’t know. It’s a universal story, simply told, I guess.
What is your traditional writing process?
Avoidance. Usually I cook or redecorate. Sometimes I’ll go out shopping. Eventually I succumb to the fact that the story has to be written and after a great deal of grumbling about how tough life is for me, etc., I sit down and pretty much write till it’s done. Then I leave it for about a week if I can, then pick it up and change it all again. As a general rule: First draft—awful. Second draft—pretty good. Third draft—really bloody awful. Fourth draft—now we’re getting there.
How does writing for the stage differ from your other writing outlets? Are there any similarities between the formats?
Writing for stage is always much more free-form for me. When you’re writing for screen or radio, there are a huge team of people depending on you pulling your finger out and being precise with what has to be done. With stage you have the chance to experiment more.
What recommendations do you have for those who want to write and perform a solo show?
Just do it. If you want to do it, then do. What are you waiting for? Frankly you’re a long-time dead.
Get a story together you feel passionate about—even if the passion is “I bloody hate this story.” If you have no feeling for a story, you can’t expect an audience to. Get yourself familiar with the central character and let them speak, then everything else will start to fall into place.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? The greatest challenge?
The best part is when you’ve written something and “the music” of it feels just perfect, or when you’re writing something and you’re so in the place of it, hours just pass. It can be all very zen.
The greatest challenge is when zen is on vacation and you’re faced with an empty page and an ugly deadline and having to ignore the rising sense of panic
Advice for actors?
Best advice ever given to me was: “A play is like a great painting. Work out the style of painting. Then look at what color you are in the painting, what colors are next to you, and what you’re there to show.”
The next best piece of advice was: “Get on. Say your lines. Get off. Everything else is a bonus.”
Additional advice for writers?
The worst idea written down is always a greater achievement than the best idea never written down
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
Try not to spend too much time worrying about people thinking you’re crap. Some people will think you’re crap, from time to time, no matter what you do. And, from time to time, some of those people will be right. It’s irrelevant and is as much of a distraction as painting the inside closet in the spare room or rearranging your underwear drawer by alphabetical color-scheme. Run your own journey and try to keep your head clear with the purpose.