Worker Bee: Louise Wallwein MBE, poet and playwright

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Louise Wallwein MBE is an award-winning poet, playwright and performer. Born in Withington Hospital and brought up in 13 different children’s homes, she produced her first play at the tender age of 17 with the guidance of Contact Theatre, where she has recently been appointed advocate.

Her notable commissions include the poem for the opening of the Olympics in the North, Skid 180 at Contact Theatre and Dirty White Girl for BBC Radio 3. Her plays have been broadcast by the BBC and have graced the stage of the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Exchange Theatre.

As a performer she has made over 20 films with young people around the UK, working for Bolton at Home, HOME and UCLAN – with Fall winning Best Film at the BFI Awards 2015.

The Hulme-based creative is currently touring with her one-woman show Glue, lifting the lid on a 15-year performance hiatus.

What got you started in your field of work?

When I left care at 17, I discovered Contact Youth Theatre. Pretty much straight away I was asked to write my first play – Melting Ice. At the time everybody thought it was amazing and because of that I found a way to survive through writing. It was a great moment for me and was the start of my writing career.

Who have been your biggest influences?

When I used to get in trouble at school, I got redirected to my Classical Studies teacher for a calm down. She used to tell me about all of these stories and they became big influences on my writing, for example Homer’s Odyssey. Dylan Thomas was also a massive influence. In terms of contemporary writers, Jeanette Winterson – Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; Maya Angelou – I wouldn’t have got through my early teens without her series of books I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. And also, singer Patti Smith. I’ve got loads more, but they’re the important ones.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

I think the show that I’ve just done for National Theatre Wales is up there with my proudest achievements. It’s called Tide Whisperer, and it’s about migration. It happened on a beach in Wales and we took the audience on a number of journeys on the boats and the beaches. On the last night I had this moment of being on the beach and finding myself amazed. What was in my brain two years ago is now finally happening. Also, the fact that I’m still standing and I have a very varied career. I’ve been self-employed for 21 years and I’m pretty proud of that. And being awarded an MBE – I was frightened to open the envelope if I’m honest because when I saw HMRC on it I thought that’s only trouble. When I finally opened the letter it was a massive shock.

What does a typical day involve?

I work every single day. I always write because good writers need the discipline of writing every day. I’m very creative and often work on several projects so my days are completely varied. At the moment I’m touring with my one-woman show, Glue.

How do you relax on your days off?

I don’t really have days off to be honest. I like taking my mate’s dog for a walk in the countryside. That chills me out and is relaxing. But apart from that I’m just constantly writing and coming up with new ideas.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

We’re all born with a well of peace inside us and there’s no point asking for world peace if you can’t look for peace inside yourself. Make a bit of time for yourself every day to feel the peace that’s inside you.

If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

I’d probably be a fundraiser. I’m quite good at that and it’s something that I do now. I’m also really good at mobilising people. Or, perhaps a typist or something like that.

Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear

I’m extraordinarily shy. I have to perform and work with people but I’m a very shy person and get quite nervous before performances or shows. With the life I’ve had growing up in care, you have to be able to be good with people so I’ve developed skills to deal with that.

Red or Blue?

It’d have to be Red. As much as I love the Blues and I’m happy they do so well – I’ve just always been Red. I was born Red.

Name your three favourite places in Manchester

I absolutely love Whitworth Park and the Gallery. Hulme and The Royal Exchange in the Café. I love sitting under those domes.

If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?

I would stop all the tower blocks from going up around town. The thing I love about Manchester is because it’s flat we get a lot of sky but from my viewpoint the skyline is disappearing quickly.

What do you love most about Manchester?

The people. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but for me it’s taken a city and that city is Manchester. All the kind people of Moss Side and Hulme, they have this innate kindness – so it has to be all the lovely people.

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