Where did the idea for Hullraisers begin?
Fable Pictures approached me to write a pilot based on an Israeli sitcom, Little Mom. Hullraisers and Little Mom both have a joyful, playful tone and you believe that these women really are friends.
Tell us a little about the process of adapting Little Mom.
When I first watched Little Mom, I was really struck by the universal things it said about motherhood. You could tell these were real stories that had happened to the writers. There was an authenticity. I watched it and thought, 'How do I capture that?' so I wrote about Hull and I based the three characters on five of my friends.
Little Mom is so long-running and that's what Fable want from this, something where it feels like family to an audience, in the same way that Sex And The City does, not that we're anything like that but the idea of these characters who love each other.
Tell us a bit about your co-writers.
I wrote the pilot on my own and when we went to series, Anne-Marie and Caz [Anne-Marie O'Connor and Caroline Moran] got on board. They were brilliant because, like me, they're from working-class backgrounds and they have friends who are just like our three main characters.
Because Little Mom has lots of series, we had storylines to pick and choose from and we also ended up going off on our own tangents. There's a cultural difference so some stories wouldn't have worked here, but it was really good to have those seeds and that structure. We met the Little Mom guys on zoom, and they liked what we were doing.
What does the Hull setting add to Hullraisers?
It was hard for me because I'm trying to make comedy out of an area that's massively underrepresented. What Hull needs is role models that are successful and entrepreneurial. It's not a hard northern town. It's actually really creative, really European and there's a young energy there. It's been a tremendous weight on my shoulders. My granddad was a painter and my mum writes. They're working-class but they're creative. It was important to me that the main character was very arty, but a bit stuck.
My whole career has been about talking about Hull but equally, you don't make all the decisions when you make a TV show. It's totally been a group effort. I'm really proud of it because I feel like everyone was on the same page with the class thing. There are a lot of production companies that are very London-centric. They're wonderfully intelligent, vibrant people, but maybe they wouldn't be able to picture what I mean. We see so few authentic working-class representations, especially in comedy, I've had so little to refer to and that annoyed me.
What's the relationship like between the three main characters?
Our actors are brilliant. We did a lot of chemistry reads and that was the most important thing at the heart of it. You never really know until you start but, thank God, they hit it off. That's important because there's always a love between the women that's coming from a pure place, even if they're slagging each other off.
Why did you want to explore the challenges of motherhood?
I was actually a bit the other way. We've gone through that whole media type thing of, 'Let's all be honest about how hard parenting is, it's okay to be a s**t parent'. I wanted to show them being amazing parents, because I was a teacher, in safeguarding. I've worked with very vulnerable families and they learn parenting from TV so this has to show good parenting. The producers made me relax a bit by saying, 'It's okay, Toni or Paula can say "They're doing my head in" because that's truthful, and there's enough love and connection between them that will come through'. I had to lighten up and say, 'Okay, so that doesn't mean people are going to be mean to their kids if they watch this'!
Why did you want to write about Rana unapologetically loving sex?
Having casual sex is like fitness for her, a hobby. She does have a bit of a reckoning where she tries to work out, 'Am I being manipulated?' but she decides, 'No, I'm in control'.
I was also inspired by watching 24 Hours In Police Custody. There was an officer who was leading this really aggressive man in handcuffs, and she had false eyelashes and a smoky eye. I was like, that's not for anyone but herself. She's not trying to impress people she's got in cells. I learned more from watching this police officer than from reading Germaine Greer. That was the inspiration for Rana.
The women get into quite specific messes. Were any of those based on real life?
So many! The scene where Toni goes for a rare night out was me. I did a YouTube tutorial on how to do contouring so that's gone in the show. I looked like Pinocchio. The one where Rana sleeps with a football mascot, that was my friend who thought she'd slept with someone from Hull City, except it turned out he was from the cub team. The pole dancing was me as well. I couldn't hold my own body weight and it was so unsexy. There were all these women doing this sexy stuff on the pole and I was just hopping around the bottom like it was a maypole because I couldn't do it.
How did you get involved in Hullraisers?
I've worked with Hannah and Fay from Fable before and they asked if I'd like to come on board. Anything I've ever wanted to try and write in comedy, I was able to do with Hullraisers. It's working class. It's women. It's funny. Toni is hubristic and selfish. She might be a mum but she's also got her own interests at heart, and I just think all that's funny.
Do you feel there haven't been enough working-class comedies in recent years?
Yes. It's fine to be aspirational but representation on TV is really important to me, especially for working-class people coming through the industry. When there's an authenticity to those stories, it really resonates with audiences. To see somewhere like Hull represented truthfully is like the Holy Grail, especially in comedy. Being on Channel 4 is the Holy Grail anyway: all my favourite comedies, like Vic & Bob and Peep Show, were always on Channel 4, so to be able to bring a female working-class comedy to Channel 4 was just a real honour.
Tell us about the tone of the language between the three main characters.
Lucy and I talked about this loads. If you go to Bradford or Hull you could watch two women talking from a distance and you'd think they were having a fight. But then you get nearer and you realise they're just discussing what they're having for their tea.
There's this whole history in Hull where the men went out to sea and the fishwives who stayed at home and that world grew out of that matriarchal set up. There's such a truth to these women having a lot to say. If someone's passive aggressive to Toni in our show, it flies over her head. Whereas if someone says something quite pointed to her, they just have it out. They don't want things to linger. We didn't want it to look like everyone scrapping in the streets then going to the pub, though. It's not that. It's just that there's this combative nature in the dialogue and in the bones of the people that I know so well. It really makes me laugh.
But there's also a warmth underpinning it all ...
Yes, well I think if you feel safe to say what you think in front of people, that's love, isn't it? They do love each other and if they weren't on such steady ground they wouldn't be quite as front-footed with each other.
What does Hullraisers say about parenting?
Toni's paying it a lot of lip service and saying, 'I'm a good mum', and she is a good mum, but she shouldn't have to justify it because parenting is rock hard. She's doing what a lot of people do which is looking around and thinking, 'Why is it a competition? Why can't I just be me and be fabulous?' A good comedy character is foolish and causes her own problems, and you can't do that with somebody who's just a good mum. So it was always about trying to get that middle ground of saying that she loves and cares about her daughter but she's always getting herself in a massive pickle.
Is it very specific to the ages of the characters?
Yes because I'm sure lots of people in life have a preordained, 'This is what I want to do and this is the age I'm going to do it' but for most people it just kind of rolls. Toni got pregnant accidentally and she thinks she could have been a contender. If the wind had blown another way, she'd have been Kate Winslet. She's at that age where it feels like someone's pressed fast forward on your life. You should have it all sorted but you don't.
There are societal expectations that get put on women in their 30s. What's interesting about Rana is that we're allowing her to opt out of that. Nobody's saying to Rana, 'Are you going to have a baby?' And with Paula if you said, 'Why did you have kids?' she'd be like, 'What? Because you do, don't you?'
How are their family lives depicted?
They're all happy and they like their lives and that's another thing we really wanted to depict in terms of the working classes. It's not a Ken Loach film, it's not misery tourism. Life's a laugh, isn't it? I've had some of the worst jobs in the world, but I've had a laugh while I'm doing it because otherwise, what else are you going to do? Just work 12 hours in a factory and be miserable? You make the fun where you are.
What does the setting of Hull itself add to the show?
Hull looks great. There are parts where it looks like Paris because it's a beautiful Victorian park city. There's real beauty in it so I really hope people from Hull love it and more broadly that people from other similar cities think, 'Yeah, that's us, that is'. I feel really proud of that and hopeful that people will take it to their hearts.
How did you get involved with Hullraisers?
Lucy and Anne-Marie had been developing things for a while, before I joined. It's been great to be one of three working-class women writing about three working-class women.
What does the working-class element add to the show?
I grew up in a council house on benefits and seeing working-class life on TV was very affirming. There were these funny, intelligent, characters who weren't just the butt of the joke, but the people making the jokes. There have been, lately, a lot of middle-class, aspirational shows. Hullraisers has a different take.
Lucy talked about her worries about offending people from Hull...
I know how she feels. I co-created Raised By Wolves so I had those same feelings about representing Wolverhampton. But because this is Lucy's creation, it's very authentic and it's not about Hull being the butt of the joke, it's about showing how intelligent and funny and creative the people there are.
Did you know Hull yourself?
Not really. But in the same way that Wolverhampton is often a punchline to a joke, I feel Hull has had that same position at times, so I've felt that pain! But what comes from being overlooked is local pride and a sort of self-deprecating humour. Lucy doesn't want to send the place up, she wants to celebrate it.
How do you describe the tone of the dialogue?
That's how I talk to my sisters. Maybe it's a particularly working-class thing. We haven't got time to fanny about, so we're not passive aggressive. I'm always a bit confused by people who don't say what they think. It's a gift as a comedy writer for characters to speak how they feel, and to be blunt with one another, the way Toni, Rana and Paula do.
How would you describe their attitude towards motherhood?
You see in some shows a depiction of the cult of parenthood, and it's all about how you take your self-worth from parenting. But if you haven't got a lot of money, and you're busy, you don't see the world that way. You haven't got time to be neurotic about your parenting choices.
How do you hope or think audiences are going to respond to this?
I hope it makes people laugh.