Finding a voice through film
With her first feature film Lapwing receiving critical acclaim, screenwriter Laura Turner is proving a hot property in the worlds of both stage and screen. Barbara Young finds out what inspires her creative talents.
As a powerful playwright, actor and screenwriter with 10 years’ experience, Laura Turner remains passionate about exploring what she describes as “emotion-driven narratives that ask questions about who we are today, often through the lens of the past”.
Laura’s first feature film, Lapwing, which was released last year and shot on location on the Lincolnshire saltmarshes, has received praise from both audiences and critics. Set in 1555, on a section of the county’s isolated east coast, the film captures the story of a young woman confronting physical, verbal and emotional abuse amid rising tensions between opposing local communities.
“It’s been incredible to share Lapwing with the world,” says Laura. “We’ve had some amazing reviews from critics and done several Q&A screenings, which has also given us the chance to talk directly to audience members and have a conversation around the difficult themes at the heart of the piece.”
Laura says she is justifiably proud to have written a script with an important message, and even more so that it was filmed in the much loved county where she grew up and still lives.
“Lapwing was a real labour of love to write and also be part of the process of getting it made,” she explains.
“It’s got a really important message at its heart about the female voice, emotional abuse and toxic masculinity, and I hope it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of that experience, and helps audiences to feel what it’s like to be in the centre of a deeply toxic and abusive situation.
“Lapwing deals with some harsh realities from its young protagonist’s life and we didn’t shy away from the brutality of that world and experience, so it was hard to anticipate what audiences would make of it.
What’s been amazing is that people have really felt for the character and wanted her to find her voice and agency, which for me as the writer is the most important part of that story.
“Making the decision to film in Lincolnshire was ideal – it’s a special place with incredible landscapes and scenery and there are so many different kinds of rural spaces across the county, from the Fens to the Wolds. I find all of these contrasting places really evocative and inspiring for my writing.”
With more than 40 theatre plays produced across China, the UK and Europe, Laura (who was also a finalist in the Women of the Future 2021 awards), has worked with many renowned theatres, including Almeida, Customs House South Shields and Hull Truck.
For the screen, she has worked with the BFI, BBC, BBC New Creatives, and BFI Network, and written for BBC TV’s EastEnders: E20 and BBC Holby City and Casualty shadow schemes.
Laura grew up in Tattershall and studied English Literature at the University of York before leaving Lincolnshire to gain career experience. Keen to return to the county she retained fond memories of, Laura now lives in Lincoln where she combines her successful freelance writing work for stage and screen with teaching screenwriting at the University of Lincoln.
During the first Covid lockdown in 2020, Laura formed the Fury Theatre company, which will debut its first play Abigail (inspired by the Salem witch trials) in May at The Space theatre in London.
“The theatre company was an idea I’d been mulling over for a while, as I grew in confidence and felt I wanted a space to tell the stories I was most passionate about. Having the extra time and space to think creatively in lockdown, however hard that time also was, meant that I went for it and made the company’s first piece of work for online audiences that summer.
“The name of the company is inspired by the Furies of Greek mythology, as I’ve always been fascinated by mythology, folklore and fairytales and a lot of our work centres on retelling stories from the past and our shared history of storytelling.”
Early passion for words
As a child, Laura could always be found with her nose in a book, enjoying classics over comics, which not surprisingly led to a career in creative writing and acting.
“I was always a massive bookworm and absolutely loved writing and creating. For me it was a real combination of storytelling through the written word and acting that got me excited about the possibility of a creative career.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t realise that this was something I could do as a job. It felt like a hobby that I absolutely loved but I wasn’t sure how that would translate into earning enough money to make a living!
“I believe that we learn so much about storytelling from the stories we listen to and read when we’re growing up. I owe so much to writers such as Charles Dickens, Jacqueline Wilson, the Brontë sisters and Philippa Gregory as they were just some of the authors who I loved when I was a teenager and would devour their works.”
Laura also pays tribute to her “hugely supportive” family, partner and friends, who she says have always been there for her through life’s many ups and downs.
“When I was first getting into screenwriting, it was my parents who were there supporting and encouraging me to go for it, even when it felt impossible sometimes. There are a lot of twists and turns along the way with any creative career, and sometimes that can feel overwhelming.
“Even now, it’s still hard sometimes when I get a rejection, especially if it’s for a role or a commission that I really wanted! However, I think that as you continue in your career, you do realise that not getting things is all part of the process, and often that does spur you on to focus on the work that’s most important to you and concentrate on that.
“My mum and dad always used to remind me (and still do!) that things happen for a reason, and I would absolutely agree with that. I think it’s often how you frame these things, and I try to always put a positive spin on whatever happens. My partner’s also great for helping me with that, and keeping things in proportion – even when you’ve just had that call saying ‘no’ and you feel really glum!”
Writing as a career
Laura says that coming from a background of working in the theatre (initially in administration), screenwriting was something she saw as almost impossible to break into – “especially if you didn’t live in London or have contacts in the industry”.
“I don’t believe that now – and something I always try to communicate to the students I’m teaching is that having a passion for something and getting on and doing it under your own steam really does get you a long way.
“That’s one of the great things about being a writer – unlike an actor or a director whose work can be dependent on someone else wanting you for a job, writers can sit at their desks and make their own work simply by doing the thing that they love.
“Of course, it’s not easy going onwards from that point – you still have to find someone else who is excited by your work and wants to help you bring it to life, but I like the fact that even when things are tough, you have that sense that your future is in your own hands to a huge extent.”
Laura crafted her career by working in the theatre for a long time before turning to screenwriting.
“The first play I wrote was an adaptation of the fairytales Jack and the Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel, which was a children’s show commissioned by Chapterhouse Theatre Company, which is based in Lincoln but tours across the UK, as well as internationally.
“I’ve done a lot of work with Chapterhouse over the years, scripting stage adaptations of many classic novels including work by Austen and Dickens.
“Theatre was always my first love and I know it will always be a part of my career, now and in the future, and luckily screenwriting sits really well alongside this.
“The types of stories that you tell on stage and on screen are really different, and now I always have a really clear sense of whether an idea is best suited to film, television or theatre.
“Working in theatre administration after university also gave me a really solid understanding of the practicalities of making work – the financial constraints that will be placed on the creative elements.
“It’s helpful to be aware of this in your writing. I think writers should still be ambitious, but you have to be clever to find ways to make things happen that are unique and interesting.
“At the moment, I’m really enjoying acting for both the stage and the screen, as well as voice work, which is a totally different but fun process. I recently recorded an audio piece on the Pilgrim Fathers with Lincoln based Electric Egg, which was a brilliant project as it brought in my love of history and exploring stories from the past from an acting perspective.
“Also in Lincoln, I regularly work with The Asylum Players based at The Blue Room at The Lawn, and recently played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible with them.”
Laura says she believes that every project comes with its own challenges, “but that is just part of the creative process and I believe that it pushes you to be better at what you do”.
She adds: “For several reasons Lapwing has been the most challenging to date, not only because of the difficult themes it touches on, but also the sheer scope of the story for me when writing my first feature film, and then the anticipation of sharing it with much bigger audiences than I’d shared work with before.
“However, it was always the intention to work on something that would hopefully raise our profile as filmmakers and also put the incredible Lincolnshire coastline on the screen.”
When it comes to giving advice to potential screenwriters waiting in the wings, Laura says: “I think the most important thing is to keep writing and get work made however you can, so you’ve got something that you’re proud of to share with potential agents you might be contacting.
“Remember you can make your own work by motivating yourself. However hard it sometimes feels, just write. You can teach yourself the skills of structure and character development, but self-motivation is key to getting where you want to be.
“My advice would be to spend time writing because you learn best by doing, and it helps you to figure out what you want to say as a writer which is vital. Ask yourself, what story can you tell in a way that no one else can?”
Lapwing is available to watch on demand by visiting: https://tickets.bulldog-film.com/movies/13252?ref=
To find out more about Abigail, the play Laura is taking to London with her company Fury Theatre, and to book tickets, visit www.space.org.uk/event/abigail/