Shelley Silas writes for radio, theatre, tv and books.
I was born in Calcutta and grew up in north-west London. Not particularly fond of studying, I left school with three O’levels, and aged seventeen, started work as a dresser at Her Majesty’s Theatre, dressing Glynis Johns in Terrence Rattigan’s Cause Célèbre. I went on to dress Timothy West in Pinter’s The Homecoming at the Garrick Theatre. I then spent three years at Mountview Theatre School. Musicals were my first love, and after getting that elusive equity card, I decided fairly soon, that THAT side of the profession wasn’t for me, though I loved singing and kept up with classes with the fabulous Chuck Mallet. A series of jobs followed, including working in PR for Townsend Thoresen, (I was working for the European end of the business, and was there when the Zeebrugge ferry disaster took place), I found my way to King’s Reach Tower and IPC magazines, working in the fiction department at Woman’s Realm. I had a few short stories published in a variety of magazines, in the UK and abroad, and that was really the start of my writing career. But I kept working full time, until I felt secure as a writer. Other work included working at the Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden, working in TV/Film casting, and for a PR company who promoted ball valves and actuators (yeah, exciting, I know!), and as a motor cycle messenger (Suzuki 125), which lasted one day. My plan to make a fortune on two wheels was short lived. I couldn’t stand the dirt and not being able to wear pretty clothes. And I had an accident, which was the deciding factor, four wheels, for me at least, was always better than two.
In my 30s, while working in casting and still working freelance as the fiction editor of CHAT magazine, I went to Birkbeck College, and four hard years later I emerged with a 2:1 (Hons) in English Literature. Immediately afterwards I went to the University of East Anglia, graduating a year later with an MA in Creative Writing. Happy days. Since then –
I’ve been writer in residence at The Bush Theatre and Clean Break.
My stage plays are Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach (NYT/Soho Theatre), Falling (The Bush Theatre, Pearson Writer-in-Residence 2002), Calcutta Kosher (Southwark Playhouse, Birmingham Rep, Theatre Royal Stratford East), Mercy Fine, (Clean Break, Writer-in-Residence 2005), Southwark Playhouse, Birmingham Rep), Shrapnel, BAC. For BBC R4, my work includes two original series of Val McDermid’s DEAD series , Dead Weight and Dead Cert. The People Next Door, Mr Jones Goes Driving (with Richard Briers), I am Emma Humphreys (winner of the Clarion Award), The Sound of Silence (short-listed for the Imison Award) Ink, Calcutta Kosher, The Magpie Stories, Collective Fascination, Nothing Happened (with Luke Sorba), Molly’s Story in Celluloid Extras, and adaptations of Hanan Al-Shaykh’s novel Only in London, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Booker winning novel Heat and Dust and (with John Harvey), a nine part dramatisation of Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet. I compiled and edited the short story anthology, 12 Days, published by Virago and have written and performed specially commissioned short stories at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Hexham Book Festival with my partner Stella Duffy. I’ve contributed to a number of anthologies, including Little Black Dress and The Flash. A short experimental piece for BBC R&D – The Turning Forest – had visuals created for it by Oscar Raby, who transformed it into a VR short, winning awards and being shown at multiple film festivals. Google used The Turning Forest to launch their Pixel phone and headset. Current work includes a new stage play, a TV series in development, a new radio play – The Trial of The Well Of Loneliness, to be broadcast on January 25th, 2pm BBC R4. However, the Paris marathon in April 2019 was my biggest and most challenging work, mentally and physically.
During 2010-2012 I was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Goldsmiths.
From 2013-2015 I was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the LSE.
My stage plays are published by Oberon Books.
An extract from my NYT Play, Eating Ice Cream on Gaza Beach is published in an anthology by Nick Hern Books to celebrate 60 years of the NYT. A monologue from Mercy Fine is included in Rebel Voices by Methuen.
When I’m not writing, I can be found running around south London streets.
16 thoughts on “About Me”
Hi Shelley- as someone who has also done many surreal jobs to support their true artistic love, I find your story really inspiring. Really happy you’re now doing what you should be all the time.
Last night’s play on radio 4 was brilliant. Superlative script and a terrific central performance. Many congratulations
I can’t believe my luck that you’ve got a website that takes comments/messages. I’ve just listened to Mr Jones Goes Driving. Twice. An afternoon play devotee, I’ve never before played a play more than once, let alone immediately after the first hearing.
Thank you! It is a magnificent play on so many levels and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to it. (At least twice!) I don’t know if you ever saw Michael Frayn’s TV play First to Last. It was also beautifully scripted, structured, with such acute sensitivity.
Warm regards (and masses of admiration and appreciation)
Hi ShHeard and loved Mr Jones, as well as the many happy and sad moments, the Rover was a great surprise.
I bought a P6 when I was 17 and know them well, Your descriptions were spot on, the indicator stalk especially made me look at it again, and the Almond colour, how did you know it was called that?
I just wanted to compliment your research, and the effort of the producers to get the correct engine sound, so often that kind of detail is ignored.
Just listened to your brilliant play ‘The People Next Door’, really really scary! I was craving to know more, very reminiscant of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. Brilliant.
I was sadly pulled away from Radio 4 before I could hear the end of your play, The People Next Door. Is there anywhere I can hear it, or is it in one of your books so I can know what happened next?
You could send me your address and I’ll post you a cd.
I’m currently preparing to audition for Drama schools and am using a piece from Mercy Fine, I was just wondering if there was any advice you could give me on creating her character and such? Or if there was anything you could tell me about your time at East Sutton Park to help me get the feel of it all.
Thank you you ever so much for your time, I adore your plays and truthful writing style.
that’s so lovely of you to say, thank you Isobelle. I think you should find her character yourself – but she was inspired by a real life prison driver, only I didn’t know it at the time! Half way to the station I asked my driver what she did at the prison, she said she was an inmate! And so Mercy was created. Have you read the entire play or the extract? I say quite a lot in my intro. East Sutton Park was an experience I will never forget. It’s next to Leeds Castle, you can go walk past it – it’s an old manor house, 18c I think, though don’t quote me on that! From the outside it looks like just that…it’s an open prison, and it took me a few weeks to realise that yes, it was a prison NOT a hotel! I had little to do with the staff, I worked with a small group of women, who were funny and clever – I was not there to judge them at all. We met in an oak panelled room once a week – and i got to know some of them quite well. Google it and see what it says. The grounds are large and stunning, some of the women who work in the gardens work incredibly hard to make it so gorgeous – except the inmates are not allowed around the front of the prison…just the back. The front is reserved for everyone else. On my last day, I bought food and soft drinks, for a party and thank you, and for the women’s final offering of their work. I asked a member of staff if one of the women could help me to carry the shopping from my car which was at the front of the prison. I was told OK, but if she ran off I would be in trouble…so off we went…of course she didn’t run off. I once asked the woman Mercy is based on, if she ever wanted to put her foot down on the accelerator and just drive off – she said yes. But ultimately it would mean a longer sentence and possibly a return to a closed prison. Open prisons are a way for the women to reintegrate into society. I often think of them and wonder where they all are. Maybe it’s time for Mercy Fine the sequel…
Do hope this helps, and best of luck with your audition. Thanks again for taking the time to write. I appreciate it.
Hi Shelley. I was lucky enough to squash into your workshop at the LSE Literary Festival and surprised myself by coming up with a couple of new, workable ideas with scope for development. More importantly, though, you reminded me how important it is to actually finish stuff (genius – I kind of knew that already but I forget sometimes!), rather than flitting from one idea to the next. Thank you.
glad to have reminded you. thanks so much for taking the time to say this, I really appreciate and value it.
Wow what a fascinating time you have had so far! Great blog! X
Hey!! It’s a shame if you’ve stopped blogging…sure you must be busy, busy but really appreciated your last post…so to speak. Lynne
Ah, not stopped… but thank you!