‘A Very British Scandal’ & ‘Eastenders’ Scribe Sarah Phelps Talks Dealing With Hate Mail & How Writing For A Soap Honed Her Craft — Storyhouse

Prolific British writer Sarah Phelps, whose television credits include A Very British ScandalDublin Murders and long-running BBC soap drama Eastenders, encouraged an audience of writers at Dublin’s Storyhouse festival not to get discouraged by trolls or hate mail for their work.

In a frank and impassioned session at the screenwriters festival, Phelps recalled a time when she received hate mail for a plot line she had written into Eastenders and imparted advice on how she dealt with someone aggressively putting down her work.

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“One thing I would say to all of you, as creators and makers is that, if and when that happens to you, you want to put it away and not look at but you should look at it,” she said. “Do something to it that robs it of its power. Put it in a frame. Shine a light on it and stare at it until all it is is somebody’s meanness and nothing to do with you.”

She added: “Don’t let it creep into your brain, because they’re designed to make you feel ashamed and designed to make you feel small and designed to make you feel stupid for trying. So, shine a light on it, print it out, put it in a frame, put fairly lights around it, toast it, make friends with it and stare at it until it has none of its power to hurt you.”

Phelps was a writer on Eastenders from 2002 to 2016 and she told the audience of her experience of boarding that series as a writer via the BBC’s Shadow Scheme for aspiring writers of drama. She recalled being one of the few writers on that scheme at the time who had not yet written for television.

“Tony Jordan was leading the group, the great Tony Jordan, and he said this thing which fired me up so much…but he said the thing, which was right, ‘If you think you can come here to this show and treat it like your cash machine while you’re waiting for Hollywood to discover your greatness, if you think you will come to this show and just treat it like it doesn’t matter, f**k off now, because this show will find you out,’” said Phelps.

“And I thought this show will never, ever find me out because I love this show with everything that is in my bones, and I could not wait to hit the ground running.”

Phelps went on to discuss the “snobbery” she encountered while writing for a soap but insisted it was one of the best experiences she had, and it really honed her craft and writing skills.

“The turnaround is so fast and it’s so scrutinized because the actors know their characters better than anybody else and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you learn very fast because you can’t sit with your script for years.”

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