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Feature: OE brings Noughts & Crosses to screen

Nat Price (OE1996-2002) is currently a script-writer for both the much anticipated children’s BBC show Noughts and Crosses and the current Sky Atlantic hit, Tin Star, about a former British policeman who becomes chief of police in a small Canadian town in the Rocky Mountains. If not for a very serious footballing injury more than a decade ago, however, Nat might have followed a very different career path.

Nat joined Emanuel School on the assisted place scheme at the start of Year 8 eight in 1996. He was a talented sportsman who excelled at cross-country and football in particular, representing Emanuel in the London Cross Country and a regular for the 1st XI. Nat attended the school in one of the few periods where we had competitive football fixtures and showed the potential to compete professionally. However, whilst at Crystal Palace as a junior, his career was cut short by a serious injury. His fellow pupils nominated Nat the ‘person most likely to play football for England’ but it was not meant to be.

After working for the FA for several years, Nat made a rather unique change of direction, studying for an MA in Screenwriting at the National Film & Television School where he was a David Lean Scholar for two years. At this point Nat had never studied English beyond GCSE, so it was a remarkable turnaround. His early successes were a short monologue drama, Special Delivery, which was on BBC3 and the radio play Baller which was an original BBC Radio 4 afternoon play. Since those early days Nat’s career has blossomed. In addition to script-writing for TV, Nat is currently commissioned to write a play for the Nottingham Playhouse. We caught up with Nat and asked him about his career.

How did you come to be involved in Noughts & Crosses and Tin Star?

I’m a writer – predominantly for screen but also for theatre and radio – and my agent was contacted by the respective production companies to see if I would be interested in writing an episode for their series. I basically jumped at the chance to be involved in two such exciting and varied dramas.

What are your memories of your school days at Emanuel?

I joined Emanuel on an assisted place in the second year. It felt distinctly different to my previous school with smaller class sizes, longer days, playing fields and a swimming pool on site. It was a shock to my system, but I settled in quickly, mainly I feel because of my sporting ability. I loved playing football. The lunchtime matches we’d play en masse with the small airflow balls were a particular highlight of my school day.

Educationally speaking, I enjoyed Art, PE and English – although I was put off taking it past GCSE because of my inability to write quickly (or indeed neatly) which I felt would hinder me in exams. I remember being a proud member of Drake House (later Nelson Drake) and winning the cross country for them the two years I participated along with countless inter-football competitions.

Did the serious football injury you suffered contribute to you studying English in any way?

I studied Sport and Exercise Science at Exeter University, paying particular interest to the sociology of sport. It was here I wrote an auto-ethnography about my injury experience and I rediscovered a love for writing (when I was younger I had been a keen writer of poetry and devised plays for a local drama group).

Who are your favourite authors and inspirations?

Growing up I was really into Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Brer Rabbit and the tales of Anansi the Spider. I would use them to devise my own stories and record them on to audio tapes.

William Goldman, Harold Pinter, Debbie Tucker Green, Paul Schrader, Aaron Sorkin and Malorie Blackman are amongst some of my favourite writers and biggest inspirations.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on both original content and adaptations for TV, as well as my first feature length play for Nottingham Playhouse.

What advice would you give pupils interesting in writing?

Read as much as possible. Different authors. Different mediums – novels, plays, TV scripts. See what works for you, what doesn’t and why. Try to write without fear. A blank page can be a very scary thing to face, and sometimes the actual process of writing is very difficult. But don’t wait for moments of inspiration. Get it down on the page and then rework it and rework it and rework it. After all, as the famous adage goes, writing is rewriting.

Nought and Crosses and Tin Star are amazing shows to be involved in. Can you tell us anything about the 'process' and the number of people involved in writing for them?

Both of the shows had writers’ rooms where the story across the series is discussed/created and then broken down into the specific episodes. As a writer of an episode you are then tasked with taking the story beats created and expanding them into a more in-depth document that covers the individual scenes (mainly action with some hint of the dialogue). Once this is signed off by the lead writer and production executives you’ll go on to write the actual script. This then goes through a series of drafts before shooting of the episode actually begins. Once shooting starts, changes are still made depending on various production factors, so you need to be on hand throughout to make any amendments.

It’s essential a writer can handle deadlines. Delays in production can be costly, as the script is the blueprint from which every department involved in the project works from.

Nat, who was selected for the 2017 BBC New Talent Hotlist, has dreams of seeing one of his plays performed at either the National Theatre or the Young Vic as he is a great admirer of both venues and their productions. At the moment he has several projects at varying stages of development, currently optioned or heading towards production and we will be sure to keep you abreast of how Nat’s career develops.

The former Children’s Laureate and author of Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman, has said of the BBC project “It will be so exciting to see how the writers and actors open up the world I created, adding new breadth and detail.” No pressure Nat!

Tony Jones (Senior Librarian & Archivist)