Interview with Peter Devonald
Updated: May 30
Interviewed by the editors
Interview with Peter Devonald
In Issue 8, the editors interviewed award-winning scriptwriter, novelist, and poet Peter Devonald. He has previously submitted three electrifying poems to Issue 2 of The Unconventional Courier, which you can check out here.
Peter Devonald's Bio
Stockport, Manchester based poet/ screenwriter, forward prize nominee, one of the winners of FofHCS Poetry Award 2023, winner Waltham Forest Poetry Competition 2022 and Heart Of Heatons Poetry Award 2021. Poet in residence at Haus-a-rest. 100+ poems published including London Grip, Artists Responding To…, Forget-Me-Not Press and Greenhouse. Featured in Poetic Map of Reading, 6 group poetry gallery shows, 50+ film awards (Gold Remi WorldFest), former senior judge/ mentor Peter Ustinov Awards (iemmys) and Children’s Bafta nominated.
To get to know Peter more, we’ve decided to ask him several questions.
You are a novelist, poet, and screenwriter — how do these different mediums connect from your perspective?
It’s strange because for many years I adapted books for screen; I always tried to be faithful to the original material, but the demands of TV/ film mean changes tend to be so important, the structure and pacing are so completely different.
Poetry is hard to use in film. I tried: The Journey was a poetic film, but despite having a director/ co-writer who has gone on to amazing things (Katina Medina Mora) and being so beautiful and poignant, it barely played in festivals.
Very short poetic green films worked better and showed extensively. I think there are just so many preconceptions with film that restrict it as an artform, though always a joy when people manage to push the envelope such as Lost/ Sense8/ The OA.
How do these mediums differ?
Screenwriting is all about strong striking visual storytelling — and this plays perfectly in poetry and novels.
With novels you have more words and can be more creative, floral, enjoy the love of language. I am big fan of Jeanette Winterson who writes such beautiful prose.
TV and film are surprisingly very rigid in many ways. For instance, the action lines generally should be direct and to the point — so everyone on set work towards the same blueprint. So many rules with screenwriting and format, budget restrictions and editorial changes.
With poetry every word counts — but at least we have freedom within the restrictions. The joy of poetry is getting published a week after writing; films take years to write, rewrite, then I’ve had options for a decade and never got made. Poetry can be very now, dynamic and raw.
Do you consider yourself a writer first, poet or screenwriter first?
I always was a writer first, but screenwriting really took over my life for 20 years. I did theatre tours before that.
Poetry/ stories was my first love, and it has been great to return to it. I published literary magazines at college and university.
From an early age I was forever writing stories and short novels, had my first theatre play on aged 16, and won a couple of awards.
I now consider myself a poet — or as my local radio dub me, “the bard of Stockport”! Been called worse :-). But who knows what the future will hold? Enjoying the experience so far.
Which movie are you the proudest of?
It’s rather like comparing your children! .357 was so important in the gun crime debate in London and was the highest rated show on MTV that year. Also starred Matthew Marsh, Alexandra Moen and David Gyasi.
Picture Perfect had a huge run worldwide winning best film at WorldFest Houston Gold Remi, Peleponnesian Corinthian, Kharkov Lilac, Mestre and Cyprus Film Festivals. And Those Scurvy Rascals won Best Children's Series & Children's Choice at the British Animation Awards, and Bafta nominated Best Animated Cartoon Series.
But really, I am proudest of Girl Like Me — it was amazing working with Robbie Ryan (DOP on so many huge films including The Favourite, Philomena etc.), fantastic actors such as Steven Elder and a director who respected the script completely in Rowland Jobson.
About the one time the script wasn’t rewritten at all: no notes, no changes. My vision was followed so clearly.
The film won so many awards worldwide including Branchage "Cutting Hedge" award, Best Film Wood Green, Jury Special Mention Batumi and Winner Kyiv.
I produced it as well so was so deeply involved. I still remember exactly where I was when the idea came to me; the voice of the lead stayed with me for years, meant so much that this film had such an amazing run.
On IMDB, it says you’ve appeared in many of your films. How did it feel to appear in a film you created?
Always a very strange experience to be on screen. I acted a lot in my early days, but it is that change from writer to observer to performance that is the oddest. I only ever had
small roles — the largest actually got cut from the final edit! I never really got over the surreal sensation to it.
In End Of The World I had to repeatedly walk with the sign — when filmed, you rather forget how to walk! The film also included my rabbit — a housemate had left her with us! Such fond memories.
Beggars Belief was a such a long shot that I am barely seen
so much on screen; The Calling I am walking repeatedly past the end of the alleyway with different clothes!
I always found it very strange being on set seeing my words spoken by others.
I learned so much from the process, if anyone is a screenwriter, I highly recommend it, even if it is an ultra-short film. You realise very quickly that every small change on the page, such as changing night to day, can have major repercussions to cost and ease of filming.
What was your favourite film or creative project to work on? And which one was the most difficult?
The most difficult was probably Girl Like Me.
I was the producer for a long time getting funding and doing so much of the work alone. I remember finding all the locations, some in very rough parts of London (Broadwater Farm). I learned a lot from all of it.
Eventually we got two amazing producers involved who did a fantastic job with myself and Rowland. Victoria Barrell has since produced so many features.
The film premiered in competition at the Venice film festival – which was awesome but was such hard work, the paperwork was extraordinary. Incredible journey.
All the films mean a lot to me, but particularly fond memories of two of the first films — Beggars Belief and The Calling.
Beggars Belief had many of my friends as extras, a very fun happy experience. The Calling so professional with an amazing crew — and no budget whatsoever, everyone there for the love of it. Basic Instinct 2 filmed down the road with all their trucks speeding through our shoot!
The film ended up Virgin Media Shorts runner up, played
for a year in 212 Virgin cinemas, and won Microfilm of the Month and Super Shorts finalist. Fun times.
What themes inspire you the most?
Comprehending the past to find a future.
Finding hope where there seems to be absence.
Realising hidden resilience in the face of adversity.
Understanding that there but for the grace of God go us.
That US are more similar to THEM than we ever realise.
Life can be hard but together we are stronger.
In unity there’s strength.
If you’re going through hell, keep going.
Whatever happens we will survive, trust me.
How long have you been writing prose?
I’ve always written prose, but really focussed on it and poetry since Covid 19 pandemic hit. At the time I had three film options in development and things were really positive — then pretty much overnight everything stopped.
Suddenly dark thoughtful pieces weren’t the flavour of the month, and production money became very tight.
It was very hard to get films off the ground, so my focus shifted. I didn’t want my headspace to be on features during the pandemic, I needed lighter work I could flit between, and found writing prose/ poetry so much more freeing and enjoyable.
It has been wonderful to explore issues without boundaries of cost, format or budget. Film is hugely collaborative which is great — but hard to have a singular vision.
The last year and a half I have focused on poetry – and building towards publishing books, but in the meantime won 3 awards and had over 100 poems published.
Poetry is freedom — to explore the world and ideas, to understand what I really believe and hope.
It has been so wonderful being part of The Unconventional Courier and other fantastic literary magazines.
You provide such a vital counterculture, it is deeply inspiring. Thanks for your time and all you do.