Young writer Furquan Akhtar has moved rapidly from storylining episodes of Coronation Street to penning children’s dramas The Dumping Ground and Wolfblood, to writing episodes for ITV crime series The Bay and Paul Abbott’s Sky show Wolfe.
“Soap is a brilliant training ground but it’s also a place to tell prime-time stories in the most powerful way,” he said during his drama masterclass.
Akhtar, though, was determined to write his own scripts. His first effort, a radio play, won the BBC’s Alfred Bradley Bursary Award for new Northern writers. He went on to write three afternoon plays for Radio 4.
“I realised early on in my career that all the different parts of my identity – being Northern, working-class, Pakistani and Muslim – are an asset because people aren’t telling those stories,” he said.
“I love Fleabag, it’s one of the best things ever, but I’m not a posh, white woman from West London. I understand heartbreak and grief, those things are universal, so I tell those stories from my part of the world.”
Children’s TV, he said, is “a good place to get your first TV credit”. But to make the next move, Akhtar wrote a “spec” or sample script.
This script, which has “unlocked all the doors for me in the last couple of years”, tells the story of three Britain Asian siblings without “trauma, arranged marriages or terrorism…. It’s about joy…. [The script] is still in development and hopefully one day it will get made.”
Offering advice to the student writers in the audience, Akhtar said: “Write a script and send it – there are so many competitions that, it sounds awful to say, legitimise you and set you apart from other people.
“Until you have written a script that is complete and you’re proud of, you can’t really put yourself out there.”
The masterclass in drama was chaired by Boyd Hilton.