Amelia Bullmore: The ultimate storyteller

Amelia Bullmore: The ultimate storyteller

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Wednesday, 18th December 2019

Amelia Bullmore is a busy woman. From starring in Gentleman Jack and Vienna Blood to writing new forensic crime drama Traces, the actress, writer and playwright is in high demand. 

Bullmore burst onto screens almost 30 years ago as the gutsy Steph Barnes in Coronation Street and has gone on to star in I’m Alan Partridge, Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey, which she also wrote for.

She finds being both an actress and a writer allows her to always find inspiration for storytelling. 

“When you’re stuck with one, you dream of the other; you think everything would be alright if I was only acting, or I better do some writing now because I can’t do this acting," she said. “It’s good to have somewhere to dream of when you’re stuck in a corner.”

Left to right: Jennifer Spence, Laura Fraser, Molly Windsor, Martin Compston (Credit: UKTV)
Left to right: Jennifer Spence, Laura Fraser, Molly Windsor, Martin Compston
(Credit: UKTV)

Bullmore’s latest writing project is forensic drama Traces, a six-part series set in Dundee which follows three forensic scientists as they try to uncover the truth behind an unsolved murder.

The drama stars Molly Windsor (Cheat), Laura Fraser (The Loch), Jennifer Spence (You Me Her) and Line of Duty's Martin Compston.

Despite her acting background, Bullmore was not at all tempted to write herself a role in Traces.

“When we started filming Traces I had only written half of it, so the last thing I was going to do was give myself something else to do. It would have been an act of insanity,” she laughed.

The idea for Traces came from a non-fiction book by Val McDermid called Forensics. “She wrote the book to accompany an exhibition at the Wellcome Institute, it was about various areas of forensic science and the forensic scientists who did the work,” Bullmore explained.

The world of forensic science was new territory for Bullmore and in order to get the science right, she consulted with forensic scientist Professor Niamh Nic Daeid from the University of Dundee, who gave evidence at the enquiry into 2017’s Grenfell Tower fire.

“There were so many specialised areas that needed to be got right and be believable," she said. "You can’t ask scientists of that calibre to give you their time if you’re not serious about delivering it accurately.”

Bullmore added, “You need to find clever ways of having characters naturally explain it to other people, but we’re lucky because Kathy and Sarah are teachers, so you’ve got the natural vehicle of teaching.”

Script read through (Credit: UKTV)
Script read through (Credit: UKTV)

“In terms of how much information I needed to go and get help with, it was more involved than anything else I’ve written,” Bullmore admitted; so much so that up to seven consultants were needed for the series.

The science, though important, couldn’t just sit on its own.                                                   

“The trick was to plait everything together, the science, the romance, the legal stuff, the police stuff, the personal stuff," she said.

"That’s the magic trick I think, that was the challenge I had.”

The series focuses on three female forensic scientists at the top of their game, and there wasn’t just a strong female team onscreen, but off-screen too; something of a rarity in the land of TV.

Assembling an all-female team, including the director and production team, wasn’t a conscious choice however, Bullmore recognises she has been lucky that her experience of TV been “very female.”

For Bullmore, it is also about the group dynamic. She added, "it would be mad to say you always want to work with a particular flavour of team, because you just want to work with a great team.”

Filming for the series began after she had only written three episodes, something she found to be a help rather than a hindrance because it allowed her to respond to the actors’ interpretations of the roles.

“The beauty of it is that you can hear them and see them, so the little figures in your head that had been a bit fuzzy are suddenly crystal clear because you know who’s going to play them,” Bullmore said. 

Martin Compston and Molly Windsor (Credit: UKTV)
Martin Compston and Molly Windsor (Credit: UKTV)

With so much to say, Bullmore found she had more material than they could use in the six episodes, so pacing the series correctly was crucial.

“You don’t want the last episode to just be a big lump of answers and you don’t want to tie everything with a pretty bow on it. You want to deliver satisfaction in a way that people couldn’t completely see coming.”​

Before Traces there have been plenty of successes in Bullmore’s career and one that she thinks of fondly is Gentleman Jack.

The period drama, which aired earlier this year, proved to be a runaway hit with viewers and critics.

Based on the real-life diaries of the formidable Anne Lister, played by Suranne Jones. Set in 1832 in West Yorkshire, it follows Lister as she returns to save her ancestral home and hopefully find a suitable wife along the way.

Bullmore plays Eliza Priestly, one of Lister’s oldest friends who celebrates her eccentricity even though she doesn’t fully understand it.

“I thought the script was wonderful and when we were filming you could tell Suranne was dynamite,” said Bullmore.

“The crew and I knew we were onto something special,” she added. “It was so zesty, it was rompy and gritty at the same time. [Sally] Wainwright’s got such a vivid voice, so that plus Anne Lister, plus Suranne Jones was just a knockout combination of things.”

Although series one of Traces has only just started, there is already talk of a second series.

“That’s very, very early stages though,” Bullmore assured, and until then there is a radio drama to write and after that, “I just don’t know,” she admitted.

For now Bullmore is just glad that Traces is out in the world, "it's quite a moment, isn't it?"

Traces is currently airing on Mondays at 9pm on Alibi.


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Amelia Bullmore is a busy woman. From starring in Gentleman Jack and Vienna Blood to writing new forensic crime drama Traces, the actress, writer and playwright is in high demand.