Owen Nicholls is a screenwriter with a Masters in Scriptwriting from the UEA. His first screenplay – a biopic of the filmmakers Powell and Pressburger – is currently under option to Bedlam Productions, the BAFTA and Academy Award-winning producers of The King’s Speech. His debut novel, Love, Unscripted, was published in August 2019 by Headline.
Owen was selected for the Escalator Talent Development Scheme in 2017. Here, he describes the experience and its impact.
How do you feel your selection for the Escalator programme has shaped your approach to writing and your writing process?
Without my time on the Escalator programme, I doubt I’d be able to call myself a writer without wincing. When you dream of being something for two decades and it finally happens, it’s sometimes hard to square the fantasy with reality. Escalator helped make that come true.
One of the most crucial things the scheme helped provide me with was contact with professionals in the industry. Bridging that gap between the names you see on spines in your local bookshop and the actual people who sit at their desks every day struggling to get the words out, the Escalator scheme made the dream more tangible.
I always said that one of the biggest perks of being accepted onto Escalator was the confidence boost it gave me. It wasn’t somebody saying ‘You’re all set now, well done on becoming a writer’, it was more a case of ‘Look, you’ve done something good here. Keep at it and with luck on your side, you’ll get there.’ Without that help and support, I may have just gone back to my screenplays, struggling to get anyone to produce them because I’d never had anything produced.
One of the biggest perks of being accepted onto Escalator was the confidence boost it gave me
Early this year your debut novel, Love, Unscripted was published. Did Escalator or your connections through NCW help towards the publication at all?
Considering it was only a month after the final Escalator Showcase that I managed to secure my agent who secured me a two-book deal, it would be outrageous to suggest there wasn’t a connection. I was fortunate enough to get a meeting with one agent before the Showcase and met some more at the event itself. I had the Madeliene Milburn Agency absolutely at the top of my list. When I sent my email to them asking for representation, my time on the Escalator Scheme was high up on the list.
I met with Hayley Steed a few weeks after submitting my opening chapters. She asked to read the rest and I sent her the full manuscript. We met in London, had a wonderful chat about what we wanted the book to say and I left with a contract to sign. I said I’d sleep on the decision but ended up signing it on the train. After a few months of working on the novel to get it in the right place for submission, we sent it off and were lucky enough to have a few publishers vying for it. It was a really tough decision to choose which publisher to go with, but now, sat next to copies of it and seeing it out on the wild, I’m forever grateful to Headline and my overseas publishers who took a chance on what remains quite a niche and very personal book.
Escalator supports early-career writers from the East of England – what are your thoughts around the importance of supporting writers in this region?
I grew up in Bradwell, a village not far from Great Yarmouth. While I was fortunate enough to avoid the poverty of many who lived just a few miles away, there was definitely a lack of support for culture in the area. The general feeling being that being a writer, or wanting to make it in filmmaking was a ridiculous pipedream. Norwich, of course, doesn’t suffer this. The University, the National Centre for Writing, it’s very much geared to giving people the encouragement they need. But there are still plenty of places in the East of England that won’t consider the Arts a viable way to make a career.
Schemes like Escalator need support to then be able to support others. With help and financial assistance in the form of donations, the National Centre for Writing can get to areas like Yarmouth, Cromer and Lowestoft, and show the people who live there that writing is worth pursuing. With donations and funding, they can then find new voices that would have been lost.