Jazmin Craddock-Jones We chat to the 2019 Script Lab alumni

The writer of Back Home: A Windrush Story discusses her tale of immigration, allotments and putting down new roots.

Sheffield-based writer Jazmin Craddock-Jones developed the script for Back Home: A Windrush Story through the 2019 Northern Exposure: Short Film Script Lab. It tells a story of racism and familial tensions in 1960s Sheffield, and the unlikely role communal gardens played in easing them.

Taking inspiration from fond memories of watching her Jamaican born mother labouring on a Doncaster allotment all summer long, Jazmin began the Lab with the kernel of an idea: to tell a story about homecoming. From there, through a series of collaborative sessions with her fellow Lab writers, she developed Back Home into a poignant reflection on the experiences of the Windrush Generation - one where the allotment looms large as an image of sanctuary, toil and potential.

With applications for the 2020 Script Lab now open, we're revisiting Jazmin's work and a conversation we had with the writer in October 2019 as she prepared to share it with the public for the first time. In a quiet corner of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, we sat down with Jazmin just after she'd seen actors work through a scene for a rehearsed reading that evening. We were there to talk about what Back Home means to her - both personally and politically - and how the script grew throughout the Script Lab process. But, first things first, we wanted to know what it was like to see her words come to life.

That was absolutely amazing. It feels a bit surreal, actually. To think that those words that were just in my head are now being embodied and taken seriously. It was a great experience. I wondered if the story would change after watching this. But so much work has already gone into this script that seeing it there, it just felt right. I didn’t see anything that I would change after today. It was really nice to see it translated so accurately.

Can you tell us about the script?

Back Home: A Windrush Story is inspired by my wonderful mum who was one of the Windrush Generation. She often spoke fondly of “Back home” Jamaica, but England was her home too. I wanted to write a story that highlighted that tension; that gave audiences an insight into some of the difficulties the Windrush Generation faced as well as the bonds they formed in the UK.

I think those stories have been neglected. I lost my mum a few years ago and a couple of her friends have passed away since, and I’m realising that generation is going. They’re disappearing from history and there’s so many stories that need to be told. I think they need to be out there. I’m grateful that I have this platform to write this script and tell this story about the Windrush Generation and how the allotments helped their integration into British society.

You mentioned how much work has gone into the script, what did you start the storytelling process with?

Just with an idea. The allotment was there, but it was a much smaller component of the overall narrative. The story was always about home - about settling into this country - and the allotments being a vehicle to facilitate that. But the overall story was very different in the beginning. And, over the weeks, it’s evolved and the allotment has become the major thing that holds the whole narrative together now. And it’s a lot more powerful because of that.

At Script Lab things just change - ideas change. You get a lot of feedback from different people, everyone’s got a slightly different viewpoint on things. It’s really interesting to hear those viewpoints. And when you put all of that together, the essence of your original idea is still there but it’s a lot stronger having gone through the process.

The allotment was what made this script special, and it was really nice to be able to expand on that: to treat the allotment as a character almost; something that brings the film’s two main characters together.

How do elements of your own family life feature in the story?

My mum loved her allotment: I grew up on them; I spent many summers on my mum’s allotments. And I noticed that most of her Windrush friends owned allotments as well. And I had an allotment for a couple of years too.

After my mum passed away, I took on an allotment, almost to try and keep her alive in a way. I had some of her seeds, which I’ve planted and I’ve kept those going. It’s funny - all the years I spent on my mum’s allotments as a child, I didn’t really do much; I played, I watched her do the work. But I’ve found, as an adult having my own allotment, I’ve used a lot of my mum’s techniques. I’ll be weeding and I’ll think: “oh, this is the way mum used to do it.” So all those years watching did actually pay off.

And all of that is sort of echoed in the story. One of the main characters wants to keep the allotment alive to keep her husband’s memory alive, and I can really relate to that.

How was it taking a collaborative approach to such a personal story?

I basically just wrote down everything that everyone said. Then I’d go home and filter through it. Anything that wasn’t true to the story, I wouldn’t take forward. But there were some points that came from other people - where I thought, “actually, that is me - that’s what I wanted to say, that’s what this scene needs to say.”

What’s a normal session at the Lab like?

The first session was a kick-off session where we learnt about the fundamentals of screenwriting. That was really good - we talked through how to write and structure a short script. For the subsequent sessions, we would read each other’s work and come to the lab prepared with comments. We’d take each script in turn and feedback, then we’d go away and re-draft and repeat the process. Each time we came to the Lab we would have a stronger draft.

Have there been any key lessons that you’ll take away from the Lab?

One of the first things we did was write a one-page outline. We’d take our idea and condense it into a single page - and I’ve never done that before. In the past, I’d just go straight into writing the script. But it was a really useful process: it makes you think about the structure, it makes you think about the characters. That’s something I’ll definitely take away with me and use for other scripts.

Another thing was that, through the process, I was forced to dig deeper and deeper into the story, until the story that I really wanted to tell was revealed right at the end. The amount of analysis that went into the structure, into each character and into the plot - it meant that you had to keep peeling back these layers until you found the script that you had to write. I think in future, I’ll do that: I’ll examine every element and just keep digging and digging. And be open to change as well, not be too rigid and recognise that it’s an organic process. My initial idea changed quite a lot, and I think I’ll take that away with me as well: a willingness to start writing something and see where it takes me.

Jazmin Craddock-Jones developed Back Home: A Windrush Story through the 2019 Northern Exposure: Short Film Script Lab. Applications for the 2020 edition are open until Friday, 24 April.