I've been writing plays ever since I was a youngster. The family name was definitely a weight upon my shoulders, especially going into the same line of work as my father [Sir Alan Ayckbourn]. I went off to catering college to try and be a chef but was drawn back into acting and playwriting. You can't hide from what's really inside you. Since I was young, people have said “are you going to follow in your father's footsteps and be as successful as he is?” I think that's pushed me to find my own way.
For 13 years I ran a touring theatre company that travelled around France. In a way, I felt I had to get away from Britain to develop my craft. It was a good place to practise without the comparisons and the obvious associations that people would make if I was doing it in this country.
I like to begin writing my plays with a theme or an idea that I want to explore, then I try to link all the elements in the play to that particular theme. And then I tend to play with it in my mind. The story comes out of that, really. It develops organically. Part of the fun is allowing the story to tell itself.
Everybody has their own story and their own way of telling their story. A lot of people just say “I can't do it”, so I run playwriting courses to help them. To begin with, we need to deal with our own self-censoring and judgements on what we're writing. After that, you can look at the finer details of shaping the play: motivations, sub-text, structure and story. So I find ways of encouraging people to take little steps and write without thinking about it too much.
If you think you've got a play within you but don't know what to do about it, I suggest going to a writing group or to someone who knows about playwriting. Otherwise you can take a very long way round it, hitting your head against a lot of brick walls. That was my path. At first I didn't know how to shape my ideas but I was determined and stubborn. It took me quite a while to realise that a writing group was probably a better way to do it. But you have to find the right people to talk to. If you talk to the wrong person, they'll take your idea and change it by saying "what about this instead?"
I moved to Lewes early last year. I’d had enough of London. I wanted to find somewhere that I could connect to. My ideal is to set up a creative hub, where we can learn writing, acting and other aspects of theatre, and then put on productions. That's the dream, really.
Philip's ten-week playwriting course starts Mon 1 Feb; details from philipayckbourn.com or email@example.com
First published in Viva Lewes magazine issue 113 February 2016