Meet a member: Vikki Heywood

-interview by Sophie Gordon

Just a few months into joining 26, Vikki has dived right in with one of our latest projects. This month, I had the pleasure of catching up with her and finding out more about her background in theatre and the arts, and her word-filled life.

Vikki Heywood

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

My name is Vikki Heywood and I live in North London with my husband, Clive Jones and a fox terrier dog called Penn. We have recently been joined here by a 25-year-old guest from Ukraine who we were introduced to by a close relative. We also have a house by the sea in Pembrokshire.  We have a large family of independent grown ups – though our house In London remains a convenient storage facility for some! I have one son, six stepchildren and five step grandchildren – so a family get-together, which I love, is a great number of people.

My career has been spent in theatre management and the wider arts sector. I trained as a stage manager and then progressed into theatre management – ending up as Executive Director to the Royal Shakespeare Company with Michael Boyd as Artistic Director. I now spend my time on the board of the National Theatre, chairing Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, and being a trustee of a major foundation that supports arts and education projects. When I left the RSC in 2012, after ten exhausting years, I decided I could allow myself the luxury of exploring my ability to write fiction (a long held secrete desire) and so I undertook various short training courses, Guardian/UEA and Arvon, after which, having become truly captivated, I completed a creative and life writing MA at Goldsmiths.

Where did your love of words come from?

My parents. Being read to is one of my first memories – Madeline, Eloise, Winnie the Pooh, Alice, The Hobbit, it’s a long list. I carried on enjoying this – as did my parents – for many years after I could read for myself. I have an incredibly strong memory of being on holiday aged about nine, lying on my granny’s sofa in her large drawing room, with my mother reading the Hobbit aloud and us both loving it. My father, Ken Taylor, was a writer for television – firstly original plays (Thirty Minute Theatre, Armchair Theatre – for those of you old enough to know) and then adaptations, the most well-known of these being The Jewel in The Crown for Granada. So writing was what my Dad did every day – he went to work by going upstairs to his office. Words paid bills.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I joined a few months ago. I have a feeling quite a few other people will say this because I was introduced by John Simmons. I met John when I was recommended to ask his advice about how to “re-brand” the drama school I was the chairman of at the time. He wrote the most fantastic short and deeply effective report for us. The first page said, “We are not RADA”. The second page said, “And we don’t want to be.” It opened the door in our minds, and we never looked back. I support the notion of improving the quality of writing across business and supporting writers – though a great deal of the enjoyment in writing comes through being in a solitary headspace we all encouragement.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

I am lucky enough to just have been invited to be involved. I asked to be considered as one of the chosen writers to compose a sestude for the forthcoming collaboration between 26 and the Foundling Museum. I was so pleased to be invited. I am particularly happy as it gives me the excuse to be in the company of Paddington Bear for the summer – who is my chosen orphan. I have begun to realise just what a fantastic form a sestude is and I am churning and turning over my 62 available words. Mental gymnastics – and the perfect warm-up to a few hours writing.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

This is such an interesting question because my first answer would be at my desk looking out on the glorious view that stretches from Muswell Hill across London to Canary Wharf; or my house in Wales with my back turned to the sea because it is too distracting! In London the music is definitely turned on – I have tinnitus – in Wales the sea does the trick. I choose classical pieces and gradually one album becomes THE piece for that piece of work. I love Sibelius, Beethoven, Purcell, Mozart, Vaughan Williams and a big variety of modern Jazz. Hot coffee pot, glass of cold water, phone off, emails off, door shut. Bliss. My second answer would be walking, swimming, lying on my bed after waking up, basically any activity where I can think and do it at the same time. When I am in the headspace of creating something new, writing forward or going back and mixing in – enriching – I become obsessed with thoughts about character motivations and plot and that can be anywhere. I had an inspiration the other day in the middle of a keep fit class! I am also writing when I wander around the shops and on the tube – picking up snippets of dialogue and banking them for later.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a new piece – although it is a development from a short story I wrote when I was doing my MA. Though I got a good mark, Francis Spufford advised me to expand it as it was too full of plot for a short story (it is definitely not my form) and so I am working it up to what I think will be a novella. It is set in a small village in Buckinghamshire in the autumn of 1951, just before Churchill was re-elected. At its heart is the story of 24 hours in the lives of two elderly ladies who run the local sweet shop and lived their public life as companions and private life as lovers. I met several of these ladies in my youth and it got me thinking. My parent’s house in Cornwall was formally a butcher’s shop and run by two companions who lived above it – Miss Veal and Miss Ham. It’s about prejudice and love and (I hope) will be a life affirming tale if I get it right.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

My first and, so far, only novel. ‘The Passing’ is set in Cornwall in the present and Jordan and Israel in 1962. It tells the story of the daughter of a dying writer who undertakes a quest to absolve his guilt and solve the mystery of the murder of a young Arab boy and a missing dead sea scroll. It’s about dysfunctional relationships, secrets, deceptions, and stolen stories. I have a lovely agent, Matthew Smith, at Exprimez who is currently pitching it to publishers. I live in hope – but I am also a realist.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I don’t know. My lived life? My imagination? My observations of people and places? My love of telling and hearing a good story? All I know is that I love being in that moment where ideas just flow from my head, through my heart and into a story.

– Interview by Sophie Gordon

We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at Don’t be shy.

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