James Barbour: Tell us a little bit about you got into writing?
Diana Nneka Atuona: I always wanted to be a songwriter, it was my passion. But in terms of scriptwriting, the first thing I did was submitting a hand written script to the BBC Writers Room; I didn’t really know the script format back then, I mean I had read a few plays and stuff at school, so I just handwrote this script, sent it in, and then they sent me feedback! So I thought, ok, this is good, this must mean that there’s something there, but when I sent something else in and they rejected it. That was probably about nine years ago now, and it was when, I decided I wanted to be a writer.
Sam Carrack: How do you begin work on a new project, what inspires the next idea?
DNA: I think that would probably change from project to project, but so far for me…I love the world, I love the history of places. So for example, the piece I’m working on at the moment, is set in Wales (in a place called Tiger Bay) I love the history of the area, so that came first. Then when I was research things would get thrown up that would form part of the story. So that’s how I work at the moment, I don’t write with any messages in mind, but then when you do look back, you find your theme…oh, this is what I was subconsciously saying.
JB: Do you find there’s a consistent theme, when you do look back?
DNA: Yes, two things. First, it’s that feeling of just wanting to get away and see the world; I think that’s kind of come from having a fertile imagination. But then I also like to write about identity, those who are not living their true selves, that seems to be something that comes up a few times. Make of that what you will!
SC: I find that when I’m writing, I find it very difficult to write from a perspective that’s not my own, my characters all seem to think like me. But, in your play Liberian Girl, the characters are all so different form one another, and do things that are hard to stomach at times.
DNA: I enjoy writing characters who are different from myself but are they really? I think we all have the capacity to do evil and I guess that one of the things I love about writing, the fact that you get to indulge a side of you that you’re never ever going to explore yourself in the real world. I really want to learn to write more complex characters. In Liberian Girl the children did bad things but were incredibly vulnerable.
JB: In the play, it is evident that these boys are being controlled and certainly influenced by powers above them, does that make it easier to rationalize their actions in the play?
DNA: I hope so. I mean, you look at their actions and are repulsed but if you consider the circumstances, you should actually feel compassion.
JB: What does forgiveness mean to you?
DNA: It’s one of the hardest things to do, forgive. I struggle with it sometimes, to be honest. I can hold on to things, because you’re thinking, until that person apologises…though sometimes you may never get that, so it’s about you finding a way to let go, for your own sake. It is something I am getting better at, I think, ha ha. For me, if there’s a certain level of growth I want to attain, I have to let go of things. It does you no good to harbour things, it’s dead weight effectively.
SC: Do you think as artists we are more open to things like forgiveness and understanding seemingly terrible people and deeds?
DNA: I think that’s a really good question. I’ll speak for myself, hmmm…I think so. I guess I find I’m able to empathise with people in most situations, that doesn’t mean acceptance though. I just think it’s necessary if you want to be a Writer, or Director or especially an Actor, to put yourself in someone’s shoes.
JB: For sure. How do others affect forgiveness?
DNA: You know what, if I fall out with people over things, and it could be the tiniest of things, I always say small things can say a lot about a person. If I fall out with you over something that shows you to have a bad character, you know what, I’d probably struggle to forgive you. Sometimes we do fucked up things, I’ve done fucked up things, but there’s a way that you handle it that reveals something about your character. Forgiveness is not really about others, it’s about yourself.
JB: Just going back to your experience as a writer? Do you feel there is a need for forgiveness from your protagonist in Liberian Girl, in order to complete the story arc?
DNA: I certainly wouldn’t put that on her. She would be well within her rights not to forgive them (the child soldiers), but then you know, they are victims themselves so it’s really complicated. I also don’t think that stories need to be tied up in a nice neat perfect ending.
SC: Brilliant, thanks Diana
DNA: Not at all.
JB: all the best for the next piece!
DA: Same to you with your first season.
Diana Nneka Atuona is a British born, Nigerian writer from Peckham, South London. She studied International Politics at South Bank University and upon graduating, was awarded a scholarship from Gray’s Inn to study Law, though her first passion is has always has been to write for the stage and screen. She has been a member of the Royal Court’s Invitation Writing Group and was the Theatre Local officer for The Royal Court’s Theatre Local Project in 2011 and 2012.
Her first play, Liberian Girl, placed top 25 in the Verity Bargate 2013 competition (Soho Theatre) and was longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize 2013. In 2014, Liberian Girl was performed as a staged presentation at The Summit to End Sexual Violence and in January 2015, Liberian Girl received it’s full production at the Royal Court Theatre where it recieved critical acclaim and was nominated for an Evening Standard Theatre Award.