nicola gaughan

Screenwriter of

The Ghosts of Wellington X3757

A complete interview with Nicola

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to screenwriter & filmmaker Nicola for taking the time to answer our questions.

Whole team of Liverpool Indie Awards is wishing you the very best in all your future projects. We hope to see more of your exceptional work in the years to come. Thank you once again!

I’m an experienced designer and photographer LRPS qualified (with a father who worked for the BBC in film processing). In 2009, after 11 months in hospital, my mother died, and I experienced a very bad bout of depression. I started to research what happened to my RAF uncle F/S James E Linehan who was killed in the war and is still MIA with no known grave. My uncle was one of 7 boys and there was only one uncle left, so I decided I wanted to try and find out what happened to Jim, before the last uncle died.

During my research I was able to trace the families of the other crew members. The more information I discovered, the more I was in awe of the young men of Bomber Command, who were indeed very young. My uncle was 19, the rear gunner of the plane signed up underage, the others were early 20s, except the pilot who was 28. When the war ended Churchill (Winston Churchill, the famous Prime Minister) gave a victory speech, but due to controversy over the bombings in Dresden, Bomber Command weren’t mentioned at all. I discovered that in the years since WW2, they have systematically been ignored by successive governments. Other sections of the military received campaign medals, statues, and recognition, but Bomber Command didn’t.

I felt like their story was being ignored but needed to be told. I decided I wanted to make a film about my uncle’s WW2 RAF career, but I knew nothing about film making. I took a 2-day Director’s Intensive course at Met Film School, helped as a runner/PA/BTS photographer on various indie film shoots and started to get an idea of how films were made. I also undertook the Film Foundation Fortnight at London Film Academy and a 3-day video production course at Film Oxford.

I decided I was going to try and write the script myself, even though I knew nothing about script writing at all. I read several books and started to write what I now call The Ghosts of Wellington x3757 (although it’s had a couple of previous names). At first it was quite a short piece and I sent it to an author friend to see what she thought. About half an hour later I got a message from her, saying she was sitting there crying and that it was very good. This encouraged me to continue writing and develop the story further.

At the time as I was writing Ghosts, I saw a 3-minute film competition. My neighbour is Brendan Lonergan, a creature effect and prosthetics artist in the film industry. I asked him if he was interested in making a short film with me. He said yes, and I wrote What did you do in the war Grandad?, a short about a WW2 RAF veteran who is looking through old letters, reliving memories, and at short notice has to look after his granddaughter. She becomes curious about his memorabilia and he takes up to RAF Hendon.

We made the film on a tiny budget. Due to my RAF connections from my RAF research, I knew RAF re-enactors, who were happy to help us for free, so I didn’t have to source costume. Other friends helped as actors. Brendan did camera and directed, while I did boom, editor and everything else. By chance, we filmed the last scene, at the Bomber Command Memorial in London’s Green Park, on the 73rd anniversary of my uncle and his crew being short down. I was also able to use original photos from my RAF friends and even an RAF veteran (who unfortunately died while we were shooting).

I discovered Film Freeway and submitted What did you do in the war Grandad? to several festivals. It was Long Listed for the Winchester short film festival, got into an online festival in Santa Monica and won Best Documentary in the We Make Films Not Excuses festival in June 2020.

Here’s a link if anyone would like to watch it:

With Ghosts I had research to fall back on, as well as knowledge of how my other uncles were, as well as some of Jim’s school certificates so could pull information and ideas from there. With Sgt Graham Lakeman I was actually able to meet his aunt, his last surviving relative from that era and she told me a bit about what he was like and what he liked. With the rest of the crew, I had to bear in mind that their relatives are still living, so was very careful to portray them well.

For other scripts I’ve written so far, I’ve drawn on people that I’ve met in life as inspiration. For example, one of the characters in my short script The Eyes Have It that was awarded an Official Selection in the London Lift Off Festival in December 2023, draws on elements from a particularly difficult relationship I experienced, whilst another has some autobiographical elements. In my latest short, Ashes to Ashes, which has been awarded Finalist in the Barcelona Indie Awards at the end of March 2024, again I’ve drawn on autobiographical elements for one character, and traits from a previous partner for the other.

I wrote The Eyes Have It as a way to get back into script writing, as previously I’d sent Ghosts into a script review company. The first feedback I found very helpful and incorporated a lot of their suggestions into the story. However, the second time, I found the suggestions very overwhelming and off putting, so the project stalled for several years.

I took myself to the local café with a notebook, tea and of course some chocolate cake, and wrote down various ideas until one of the ideas started to develop successfully. The Eyes Have It is based on my experience as a script supervisor and BTS photographer on a remote shoot location, just after covid. Once I decided that it was a good idea, I then started working out exactly what the story was.

For Ashes to Ashes, I was actually on a script writing course (my first ever) at City Lit, in London. I happened to tell my boyfriend about a very funny happening when my mum died. He said, ‘You should write a script about it’, so that’s what I did in the class.

So overall I would say I like to draw on personal experiences, both for story and for character, as well as stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

My last script that I wrote was short Ashes to Ashes. I didn’t have any real challenges during writing it as such. Once I decided that I was going to write about the happenings around the death of my mother, I started to write it in the scriptwriting class at City Lit and it came fairly easily. What was hard in some ways, was reliving my mother’s death and the way it happened. Hopefully some of that comes across on the story.

I have another feature script, currently in outline stage. It’s about my great uncle’s experiences after WW1, suffering what they called ‘nerves’ but we now call PTSD. After having written Ghosts, the idea of writing another feature script with no ‘official’ script writing course experience, felt rather daunting and overwhelming. I sent the outline to the script review company, who really liked the premise and suggested some really positive ways to go forward with it.

Having done the scriptwriting course at City Lit, I now know that you should really write a treatment first, so I plan to take another script writing course once I’ve finished my MA in Film Practice and write the new feature script.

I would say a story that makes sense, in its own universe, that’s believable, good believable dialogue, believable characters, and creates feeling and emotion in the audience.

I feel that like with any creative craft (be it photography, illustration, film etc), creativity isn’t appreciated as much as it should be, and people expect to get everything for free. It’s not valued. As a photographer I’ve been asked so many times to do something for free or for ‘exposure’, even from big companies who should know better. Technology has enabled a culture where everyone thinks they can be a photographer or whatever, which means that for those trying to make a living out of any craft it’s much harder.

I think the recent strike has shown this. Without screenwriters there are no films or TV shows.

I also think that in government there is a lack of respect for the creative arts, with courses being cut. It’s all about money.

Because of all the RAF research I’ve done and my existing passion for history and heritage, I already have a rough idea of what type of audience will like it. Whilst not a real horror fan myself, I’ve spent many hours chatting with Brendan Lonergan about his love of horror, so have a fair idea of what sort of story that audience will like.

I did find it a bit difficult when I got the feedback from the script review company, as I was a novice scriptwriter, but they didn’t know that. That was partly why the Ghosts script stalled for so long. Having experienced peer and tutor feedback in a script writing course it feels easier. Whilst it is good to listen to others and perhaps take elements of advice, at the end of the day, you are your worst critic or best supporter so sometimes you have to ignore what others say and go with your gut.

I mentioned earlier the feature script about my great uncle from WW1, but I have a couple of possible collaborations as well. My friend used to teach in Kuwait and lived through the Gulf War so I’m planning to write about her experiences during that time. I also have a friend whose Trinidadian grandfather served in WW1 and I may write something about his experiences, with her as my cultural and linguistic advisor.

I hope very much that screenwriting continues to be a creative human endeavour, rather than AI being used.

Like the saying from a famous sports brand: ‘Just Do It’. Don’t worry about doing it ‘wrong’. If you don’t put pen to paper (or letters on a digital page) there is nothing to review and improve upon. By brain dumping your ideas down on paper or in a writing programme of some description, you have something that can then be developed and finessed. Apparently for some people, the physical acts of writing, is a good technique as it allows the creativity to flow, rather than staring at a blank screen, which can be very off putting and prevent creativity.

Personally, I do a mix of the two. For the shorts, I wrote my notes on paper whilst I was at the café enjoying chocolate cake and then wrote a first draft in Final Draft when I got home, which I then reviewed and edited. For Ghosts I wrote notes both on paper, to work out the timeline as I had to work out exactly when the crew met each other and then started writing in Final Draft. At first, I only had FD on my iPad, so I wrote most of Ghosts on the underground, or at lunch in the local nature reserve near where I worked. Then I bought FD for my computer which is easier.

I think getting out in nature is good if you can do it, or at least away from your normal environment, like going to a cafe. I would also suggest being curious about lots of different things. If you have a wide knowledge and experience base, you have more that you can draw on to give greater depth to your stories. When I was at art college, we carried around a small notepad to sketch things that we saw. This becomes your reference library to inspire ideas. On my photography course I was advised by the guest photographer they brought in to photograph what you know. This I feel, can extend to scriptwriting too. Write about what you know. Read scriptwriting books, and if you can afford it attend a course. Also try screenwriting competitions. It’s all practise.