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From stage to page: Carol Drinkwater on her thriving second career

An early scribbler before she became a successful actress, Carol Drinkwater recalls how she turned her love of words into a thriving second career

Published 20/10/2016

Twin passions: Carol Drinkwater
Twin passions: Carol Drinkwater

From the age of four, I yearned to be an actress. I dreamed of the stage, of bright lights, applause. Before I was born, during the Second World War, my father was a member of the RAF Gang Show.

On his side of the family, there were relatives who had performed in variety shows and light entertainment for generations.

My mother hoped I would follow her into medicine. She had travelled from Co Laois in the Republic of Ireland to be trained as a nurse and, later, ward sister during London's Blitz. But I couldn't stand the sight of blood, and I wanted epic passions, theatrical emotions rather than light entertainment.

I was regularly in trouble, in hot water, for some tiny misdemeanour or other and my parents took to banishing me to the spare bedroom. Within the bedroom was a decent-sized wooden platform which I used as my 'stage'.

It also contained rails of second-hand clothes my father had acquired for his theatrical agency, which included a fancy dress department. These mothball-ridden garments became my costumes.

At some point, around the age of six or seven, I was given a huge circular jigsaw puzzle with a picture of Shakespeare's head at its centre and an image of each of the plays encircling it. To accompany this, I was gifted a complete works of Shakespeare. (That tired old copy still sits in my library).

At that point, in my solitary room of banishment, I had all I needed to read, to enact the works, playing every role myself. All I still required was a foolscap notebook and pens to write down all the words I didn't recognise or understand. Thus began lists of words.

A natural progression was to jot down lines and sentences that pleased me, that fired me with their power and poetry. From then it was only one step to composing my own rather sorry sonnets.

By the age of 10 I had written my first play. Sherwood Forest. Maid Marian was the leading character, Robin Hood a supporting role. I mounted a production of it, casting girls from my class at the convent where I was being educated, borrowing and begging props and costumes.

I played Marian, of course, and directed it. We performed it to the entire school and it seemed to be well received.

From there, I took it 'on tour' to a few local retirement and convalescent homes. I am not sure that any of the patients had a clue what it was all about.

I remember their bemused faces as I pranced about, declaiming text, arms flung wide.

After that I scribbled constantly. Short stories; poetry riddled with teenage angst; early chapters for fiction books. I also began to keep diaries, many of which I still have.

I studied acting at Drama Centre, London. It offered a tremendous range of subjects from Greek drama to modern day.

The professors, several of whom had trained in New York at Lee Strasberg's Studio for Method Acting, encouraged us fledglings to create the back stories for the characters we were to portray.

This really resonated with me; I delivered reams on the lives of the women I was cast as. It was a terrific opportunity to research the details of any period of history I was working on: Elizabethan England, Jacobean tragedies.

I loved the research and, in those years before internet, spent hours in libraries.

Once out of drama school in the professional world of TV, film and theatre, I never lost the habit of writing the lives of my characters. Fiction, stories from my imagination, were bound to follow. It's been a thrilling journey so far.

  • Carol Drinkwater is an actress and film maker. She is best known for her portrayal of Helen Herriot in the TV adaptation of the James Herriot books All Creatures Great and Small. The Forgotten Summer by Carol Drinkwater is published by Penguin £3.99, Amazon.

Belfast Telegraph

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