AWARD-WINNING Stockport playwright, Simon Stephens, paid a visit to UTC@MediaCityUK last week to speak to school students about his career. Quays News editor Nathan Salt was among the audience…

Front and centre stood a man who grew up having never met a writer, never been to the theatre and a man who never wanted to be a playwright.

He described the job as an ‘unthinkable’ prospect when he was in the position of his young, student audience with his mother even quashing what is now his full-time profession.

If you think you’ll make it as a writer you’re kidding yourself,” was what his mother reiterated after he graduated from the University of York with a history degree.

But, having worked as a barman, a café manager and also a teacher in Dagenham, Essex, 45-year-old Stephens spoke with a verve, passion and love for the career he has focused on since the millennium 16 years ago.

The playwright behind the Mark Haddon novel adaptation ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’, the one hour session, in conjunction with The Lowry theatre, seemed cruelly short, such was the wisdom emanating from the writer.

What began as a talk from Stephens soon became an informative Q&A style event where the playwright was asked everything from his favourite film to his biggest regret.

A one hour session that could have ran and ran and ran, Stephens key titbit of advice for the writers – for which there were many – in the room was to practice night after night.

“People told me to knock it on the head but I just kept going and going with it,” he noted.

Talk soon returned to the Curious Incident, a play which returns to The Lowry theatre in January 2017, with many of the students seeking information on how the sensitive topics such as life on the spectrum were planned.

Novelist Mark Haddon is careful not to diagnose the book’s main character, Christopher, as being autistic or with having aspersers and it was a point Stephens reiterated in his interview with Quays News.

But one question, which nobody in the room raised, was regarding the then Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal attending the production of the Curious Incident at The Lowry.

Speaking with Stephens after it clearly evoked fond memories of the Dutchman and wife Truus.

“[Truus] actually said it was their favourite night in Manchester to me and it was then I suspected he was soon to be out of a job,” Stephens admitted.

“I’ve been told Jose Mourinho is not a big theatre fan so I’m not sure if he’ll come to see the Curious Incident.”

With a focus on the Curious Incident and his upcoming projects – an adaptation of The Shining and two musicals to be precise – there was a risk that the key, inspirational undertones of the session would get lost.

He spoke about his bitter disappointment not to make it into Oxford University – arguably one of, if not the most, prestigious institutions in the country.

But in an educational landscape where reputation appears, on the face, to precede most other factors, Stephens spoke about returning there to talk to students with no regrets.

Walking away from his speech was truly inspiring; there stood a man who never gave up on his dream, was bold and took brave decisions to fulfil those dreams.

“People fall in love with Christopher because people love stories about bravery,” he told me.

While Christopher’s bravery and challenges are fictional, Stephens’ were very much real and hard work, dogged determination, passion and desire were simply infectious.

By Nathan Salt

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