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Willy Russell Interview

Posted on 28 September 2004. © Copyright 2004-2023 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Willy Russell, one of the most successful English playwrights. His most famous plays and films include Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers and Educating Rita, where he used his background as a hairdresser to some advantage. He grew up in a family of women and his work has often focused on strong but often invisible women. He is also an acclaimed musician, songwriter and screenwriter and his first novel, The Wrong Boy, came out recently.


Willy Russell's plays have been performed in countries across the globe and have won countless appreciation and creative awards as well as academic honours. Since their premiers plays such as EDUCATING RITA, STAGS AND HENS, SHIRLEY VALENTINE, BREEZEBLOCK PARK and OUR DAY OUT have been in constant production throughout the world. Twenty years after it first opened there in 1983, the revival of BLOOD BROTHERS is still playing to large and enthusiastic audiences in London's West End. Much more detail at www.willyrussell.com

How did you start writing?

Began as a songwriter after having been influenced by seeing The Beatles in their pre fame days when I was 14 and in the D stream of a secondary school, nursing a secret desire to write. I thought that to do real writing, you had to wear tweeds, smoke a pipe and come from somewhere called Oxbridge. It seemed to me, though, that anybody, from whatever background, could write song.

How did you turn to stage writing?

I found my way to writing for the stage through a series of journeys, including one where I saw the work of John McGrath as the Liverpool Everyman Theatre and another journey which took me back to education in my early 20s when I studied drama. I had begun submitting my first attempts at TV scripts and, at college, wrote a one act play to meet a gap in the second year production schedule. I immediately knew that this one act play worked – in a way that nothing else of mine had, so far, really worked. I think I liked the difficulties posed by the stage; liked, and responded to, the problems of dealing convincingly with time and with space and with finding ways to believably bring the action into the view of the audience. I didn’t know it then but I think I was also responding to the fact that theatre is a potently poetic medium and not, for one second here, do I mean flowery and excessive verbiage - quite the reverse. Theatre is an absolute distillation, a place in which the imagination can soar.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

In no particular order, Bob Dylan, William Shakespeare, Alan Bennett, Alan Ayckbourn, Anon, Lennon & McCartney, Robert Browning, Brian Patten, Randy Newman, Noel Coward, Bertolt Brecht, John Irvine, Joni Mitchell, Billy Connolly, Charles Dickens, and many, many, many, many, more. And they’re all favourites because, in their various ways, and often through laughter, they all move me deeply.

How did you get your first commission/agent?

I got my first agent, the legendary Peggy Ramsay because, after being treated very shabbily at a Radio Times Awards competition and luncheon, I thieved a bottle of whiskey and left the proceedings feeling patronised and enraged. On the pavement below, I was intercepted by the writer Hugh Whitmore, who was extremely sympathetic and as outraged as me at what had gone on (with the Radio Times Drama Awards, not the robbed whiskey!) and who offered to immediately take my script to Peggy Ramsay.

My first commission was for the BBC way back in a time when the BBC was able and more than willing to take chances on young writers who were showing some promise. I wrote a half hour play for their Second City First series. Apart from play publications, my first publisher was Transworld, who published my novel The Wrong Boy in 2000.

What's the worst thing about writing?

Having to answer questions about it.

And the best?

When you know you’re doing it right.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Willy Russell is represented / published by:

Methuen Publishing Ltd

Comments by other Members

old friend at 14:55 on 28 September 2004  Report this post
What a wonderful interview with such a talented man. There are so very few truly memorable writers whose minds must be humming with words and music. Thanks.


Harry at 15:44 on 28 September 2004  Report this post
Willy Russell, legend.

Harry at 15:46 on 28 September 2004  Report this post
Willy Russell - legend.


Wow! I got to say it twice.

scottwil at 16:10 on 28 September 2004  Report this post
Insightful and inspiring. Thanks for this.


Fieth at 01:07 on 03 December 2004  Report this post
I think Willy Russel is a beautiful and talented writer. I was on a Greek Island some years ago and a predatory Grrek offered to show me the stars. "I can see the stars from here" I said, "They are right up there" "I can take you to other side of Island in my boat", "I chose to come to this side of this island" I said. "You are beautiful English Lady" he said. "As a woman I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world". I said, "Not woman!" He said, "Lady, Lady" etc while my daughters of 12 and 15 watched in terror!! I loved "Shirley Valentine". I saw in on stage in London. Saw "Blood brothers twice".
Thank you Willy. Keep writing.

Lammi at 16:41 on 26 July 2007  Report this post
I'm a huge fan, especially of the novel 'The Wrong Boy'.

MasonCroft at 11:20 on 29 October 2020  Report this post
Julie Bindel is an amazing writer. I like the writings of this writer very much. This writer writes according to the situation. Also you need to get Custom guitar picks to learn more about this. Writing is like a passion for me and this interview posted by the blog has done much work in helping me in my passion.

RogerFord at 02:54 on 31 October 2020  Report this post
Thank you for this interview. I really enjoyed it.

Ashly21 at 06:41 on 07 November 2022  Report this post
I'm a huge fan of Willy Russell's work and he's been a friend for many years. When I was doing my Masters in Music Therapy about 10 years ago, he came to visit me in the hospital and played me some of his music. Try this online marketing for doctors to consult a doctor. It was such an honour to meet him and it meant so much to me that he took time out of his busy schedule to visit me in hospital.

Ashly21 at 06:37 on 13 December 2022  Report this post
Willy Russell is an amazing writer. I have read all of his books and they are all different but they are all amazing. He has a unique style of writing that you can't help but love and enjoy. One thing that stuck out to me was when he talked about how he got so thin because he was used to being so thin and then being fat made him feel bad about himself. Visit this foam machine solution for more ideas. He said that if you're used to something, it's hard to stop doing it. He also said that there are some people who just have an inability to lose weight, but they can't really blame themselves because they're just not meant to be thin or thin enough.

Shaikjeelan at 15:17 on 24 July 2023  Report this post
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Tamiwman at 07:34 on 13 October 2023  Report this post
It's always a delight to gain insights from the incredibly talented Willy Russell. His works, such as "Educating Rita" and "Blood Brothers," have left a lasting impact on the world of theater and literature. An interview with him is like stepping into the creative mind of a review of the UK Writings genius. I look forward to reading and learning from his thoughts and experiences. Thanks for sharing this interview!

Brockway001 at 12:20 on 25 October 2023  Report this post
In a recent Willy Russell interview, the acclaimed playwright and author shared his insights on the enduring impact of his works. Russell, known for classics like "Educating Rita" and "Blood Brothers," discussed the timeless themes that resonate with audiences across generations. He reflected on how his narratives continue to spark conversations on education, social class, and family dynamics. When asked about the inspiration behind his stories, Russell hinted at the artistry of life itself, much like the intricate craftsmanship found at https://cosmosartceramics.com. Just as each ceramic piece at Cosmos Art Ceramics is a masterpiece, Willy Russell's storytelling remains a masterpiece of its own, shaping the cultural landscape for years to come.

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