About Ray Connolly
Ray Connolly has written biographies, several novels, including Sunday Morning and Shadows On a Wall, the movies That'll Be the Day and Stardust, the television series Lytton's Diary and Perfect Scoundrels, and has published a collection of his Beatles interviews as The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive. He also worked with record producer Sir George Martin on the television series The Rhythm of Life, and has written TV plays, films and documentaries, radio plays, short stories and much journalism. He is married and lives in London. His website is http://www.rayconnolly.co.uk/
Interview with Lee Wright
LW: What determined you to become a writer?
RC: I stammered very, very badly as a boy, and teachers would say to me many times, ‘If you can’t say it, write it.' So, it was set in my mind. I was also very good at English and history and not much else. So, I think I always saw myself as going into journalism. And when I was at the LSE I began to write. I edited the magazine there.
LW: How did you start writing biographies?
RC: I only began writing biographies about three years ago because I thought that the story about Elvis is not really very well known – the Faustian plot side of it, I mean. So, I thought I ought to tell it and wrote Being Elvis on spec. Then my agent bullied me into writing Being John Lennon, who I knew very well. I’ve just finished that today. I won’t write any more biographies. I prefer fiction.
LW: Is there any formula to follow in order to become a novelist?
RC: I think the formula is different for different writers. I admire very much those people who can tell a good story. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve no patience with novels that are all about form. Making up a good and original and meaningful plot is everything to me.
LW: Do you need seclusion in order to write?
RC: I need quiet and a regular untroubled life, which is what I have now. When I’m also doing journalism as well it gets in the way of the bigger projects and slows me down with its interruptions and deadlines. But because I’m not clever with money I’ve had to usually keep some journalism on the go to bring up a family. Still do, although the family are grown up.
LW: You’re said elsewhere, that before writing the hit 1973 film That’ll Be the Day, you knew nothing about writing a screenplay. So, how did you go about it?
RC: My friend David Puttnam sat me down and told me to write what I saw in my mind’s eye, and to add the dialogue. He then gave me a script so that I could see how it was laid out. So that was what I did. I’d been quite a big film fan, and had been a co-publisher of a film magazine when I’d been at university, so I intuitively understood that films are about structure with the less dialogue the better. David helped me a lot. We would talk about movies and movie moments all the time, and I was allowed to be involved in all aspects of the film. That helped.
LW: A sequel called Stardust quickly followed, for which you won the Writers Guild of Great Britain award for best original screenplay. How did you approach writing the sequel?
RC: Much the same. David Puttnam was convinced there should be a sequel before That'll Be the Day came out. We plotted the storyline together while I was with his family on holiday in Italy. He should have had a storyline credit alongside me for both films, but he didn’t want to. If you ever write a screenplay make sure you have a brilliant producer. He was the best ever and I was lucky to know him as a mate. I’ve written better films than those two, but without him they never got made. We’re still good friends.
LW: After winning the award, was there ever a point when you saw yourself exclusively as a screenwriter?
RC: Foolishly, yes. But I always had to go back and do some journalism to pay the mortgage and feed the family.
LW: What advice would you give to someone hoping to succeed as a writer?
LW: Write a lot. Get stuff published or produced. It’s difficult to break into movies, so try writing radio plays. The BBC will tell you how. You never know where it will lead or who will hear it, and it’s all good practice. See lots of movies and read all the time. Read the papers. God loves a tryer. So never give up.
About the interviewer
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.