Remembering Chris Taylor

March 23, 2022
Chris Taylor

In 1998 a group of Brighton-based dramatic writers got together to establish Pier Playwrights, an informal group that provided support and camaraderie to other playwrights. They met around Chris Taylor’s kitchen table. They ate her excellent food, they drank a little wine, they laughed a lot, they shared their work. Mostly, they believed in each other and encouraged the highest aspiration in each other.

Supported from the start by Arts Council England, South East, the new Pier Playwrights quickly grew to become a limited company, a registered charity and Chris was employed as a part time administrator. By 2003 Pier Playwrights had 200 members.

But the force of nature that was Chris Taylor was never going to be a part-time administrator for long! And 200 members? Never enough! In 2006 Pier Playwrights relaunched as New Writing South, with Chris at the helm as Director and CEO. The charity was now open to all writers, from across the entire South East region. Premises were found, staff were employed, Business Plans written and funding secured for creative writing workshops, seminars, mentoring, literature events, play readings and much more.

Over the next 10 years, Chris led NWS to support and encourage hundreds of writers to be the best they could be. Some went on to have great public success. Some not so much. Many simply wrote for their own pleasure. Regardless of their individual achievements, disappointments or aspirations, Chris had their back. She believed in the power of writing and the potential of writers, and she made a difference.

In her own words,

“The heart of New Writing South’s work remains our commitment to support and nurture writers. Everything we do – from strategic thinking to work in schools is informed by the needs of the writers of today and tomorrow and their audiences.”

Chris passed away on Saturday 12th March. It is hard to believe that New Writing South is – far, far too soon – saying goodbye to its founder and champion. Chair of Trustees, Rob Warr shares our hopes and intention to stay true to Chris’s vision. “Chris was the founder and inspiration for New Writing South. Her passionate and dedicated support for writers and writing leaves a wonderful legacy that we will continue to be inspired by and build on.”

We could think of no better way to say goodbye than invite some of the writers, friends and colleagues who worked with Chris over those years to share their memories and thoughts. We are so glad we did. Better than we could ever do, their words convey a real sense of Chris’s spirit – her energy, her humour, her passion, her belief in writers. And her cooking! Always her cooking!

Bon voyage Chris Taylor – friend to writers.

Lesley Wood. CEO New Writing South 2022

In their words

Jackie Elliman

Would I like to write a few words about Chris? I would. Of course!

“Of course”, I realise as I write it, is a phrase that sums up Chris for me; I recognised this as her attitude before I spotted that it was also a catchphrase of hers. The one time we worked together, doing press and marketing for a show, was when Chris’s nonchalant “of course” (at a meeting with our joint client, Clean Break) really made an impression on me. Both the words and the way in which she said them made it clear that this was someone who knew what she was doing, and who would deliver.

I only consciously registered then, when I’d known Chris for over a decade, that this “of course” approach was at her core. Set up a successful PR company? Build a hub for Writers? Throw a rather fabulous party? Create a portfolio of drawings of her cat? Wander into the Sussex Arts Club on a whim and start salsa dancing? Cater lunches for over 100 from a tiny, tiny kitchen? Of course, of course, of course!

In between years of press nights, parties and dinners with Chris I like to think I managed to contribute a tiny bit to her work with New Writing South. Firstly, I signposted her to the Masters Degree in Creative Writing, which took her from press and marketing to focusing on writing, and then, when I went to work at the Independent Theatre Council, one of my first tasks was to support Chris through the final stages of Pier Playwrights’ charity status application.

Chris was a successful entrepreneur, enabler, and creator, and, as I was lucky enough to know, a damn fine friend. She frequently claimed she wouldn’t make old bones, I so wish she hadn’t been right.

Carole Hayman

Chris

Gosh there are so many things to say about Chris, I feel the weight! Mostly as a yawning gap where her safe pair of hands and always warm presence was.

She was incredibly important to me as a friend – someone who shared a love of cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, dancing, travel, gardens and cats.

She was also incredibly important to me as a mentor, guide and infallible critic. She knew good writing and was tireless in her mission to get it read, performed. Noticed.

I know no one else , who was so appreciative and supportive of the writers she cared for, both inside New Writing South – for which she had a passion – and outside of it , for her creative friends and their need to be both driven and given. If all else failed, she would cook a marvellous dinner accompanied by glasses of excellent wine and everyone would talk ( at once) and laugh a lot . If you were still in a tizz after that , you should probably stop and get a proper job.

There’s so much to say about the work she did turning Pier Playwrights, into the NPO New Writing South. But I’ll just say what a treat it was to be on the board. I was thrilled when she asked me – I hadn’t been on a board for years. I was glad to serve in whatever way I could, to help get NWS recognised as the unique and ground breaking organisation it became. We had terrific fun en route ! There were workshops and readings and launches and salons and – of course – parties. Chris did love a party.

The last few years we had worked very closely together on my opera, The Hive. Chris loved it – she said it was special and I took great comfort and courage from those words. As our General Manager, she will be terribly missed. I can’t fill that gap – but I hope she’ll be blessing us from afar.

I saw her a few days before she died, and even then she was dropping hints about the budget. Hints for sure I will be taking – honestly Chris.

With great love, Carole

Mark Bryant

I was lucky to have the privilege of working closely with Chris in 2008 when I joined New Writing South, just as it became an Arts Council regularly funded organisation, which made it an exciting time to start a new job. What I loved from the get-go was Chris’s energy, no-nonsense approach, and love for creative writing (as well as her sense of humour, incredibly infectious laugh, and delicious cooking).

Chris had an unshakeable belief in the team and gave us room to run with our ideas while sharing her wisdom in shaping them. Through her drive and support, we did some great things – from developing the Writers’ Place, hosting public events, putting on industry days, workshops, performances, and courses – not forgetting the many partnership projects and creative learning in schools. I’m incredibly proud of what we did with so little.

But it wouldn’t be fair to say all this was done by us alone. Chris’s knack of spotting an opportunity and attracting writers and artists to help realise our ambitions was another of her great strengths, equally as was her warmness and ability to see the talent in others who were blossoming. From the beginning, Chris believed in me, even though I didn’t always have the confidence in myself. Her love and guidance left a lasting legacy on me, not to mention the vast amount of people whose lives she touched. She will be sorely missed.

Anna Jefferson

Chris made people’s lives better, fuller and more interesting. She saw the potential in people, supporting them to develop their creativity. She has been instrumental in shaping the writing lives of hundreds of authors, playwrights and poets in the time that I have known her.

She gave me my first real break in Brighton when she took me on as Creative Learning Manager thirteen years ago and for that I will be forever grateful, not just because of the opportunity she gave me, but because she became a dear friend. Chris had the most contagious laugh which filled the then tiny office that she, Mark and I worked in. To get in the room you’d have to climb over her fold up bike she’d cycle in on most days.

Working with Chris was an adventure. You’d have an idea for a project and she’d say, ‘go on then.’ She gave you the space to grow, with the safety net to support you in a way I’d never experienced in a working environment before. That’s what Chris did. She made stuff happen. She was fierce and kind and didn’t suffer fools gladly. I am proud to call her my friend.

Sara Clifford

Chris and I collaborated on creating Twelve Angry Women, commissioning a fantastic group of women to write about what made them angry – which turned out to be a very wide range of topics, funny and moving, as well as ‘a bit cross’ – and we had enormous fun curating this. Many of the audience highlighted how little new writing for performance there was available to see and support, and we had great plans for future projects…

She was funny, super-intelligent, and always ready to fight the writers’ corner.

She bore her illness stoically and was always ready for a good old theatre gossip – my lips are sealed, of course – and I will really miss her.

Bea Colley

I’m so sad to hear of the passing of Chris Taylor, I loved working with her, hearing her brimming with ideas for festivals and programmes that put young people and communities front and centre at New Writing South. She’ll be greatly missed.

Christine Harmer-Brown

Chris Taylor provided a lifeline for hundreds of writers like me, stuck in their heads in various cultural ghettoes around the South East. At New Writing South she created a network of writers and opportunities that stimulated, energised and, importantly, paid.

Not only did she create these opportunities, she was an integral part of them; inspiring, producing, participating and providing transport. She gave me lifts to Farnham Maltings so I could join the Happiness Project as a writer and on one memorable occasion we barrelled along the marsh road through biblical rain on the foulest night, returning from Dover and a gut churning crossing to Calais to visit a Creation Centre to discuss an Interreg project – happy days!

There is so much to remember…. all the productions, the overseas exchanges, the education work in schools, the workshops and particularly the Writers’ Squads, one of which we hosted at The School Creative Centre in Rye where, over two years, a group of young adults fizzed with the joy of finding their own voices.

Latterly, 12 Angry Women was a glorious explosion of all the stuff that makes us mad and brought together a ferocious collection of writers who ate like movie stars because she even cooked for us every day.

Passionate, funny, brave, tenacious, talented, generous, compassionate – greatly missed but a continuing part of so many of us. Goodbye lovely. X

Colin Hambrook

Chris was one of the kindest people you could ever wish to meet. She had an incredibly generous spirit and dedicated her passion for the arts and for theatre in particular to helping and linking creative people supporting with practical offers of space, time and the strength to give sensitively crafted constructive and direct feedback.

When she came up with the idea for Pier Playwrights – the organisation that was to become New Writing South I had just started developing Disability Arts Online. From the get-go in the early noughties her vision was to create something diverse and inclusive and she invited me to be on the board, running meetings from her home. As the organisation grew so we worked on joint programs for disabled writers developing journalistic skills.

Her energy and resourcefulness were tuned with a thoughtful, considerate and pragmatic approach to supporting many thousands of writers and artists over the years. She was particularly passionate about supporting and encouraging young people, surmounting hoop on hoop of protocol to create peer networks and workshop opportunities for writers of school age.

She had a confident can-do approach to life that cut through barriers like nothing else. Her power and dynamism as a leader were tempered by an almost limitless warmth, humanity and sense of fun.

Despite her self-confessed aversion to very young children Chris connected with my daughter Amber when she was only two years old and was always keen to spend time with her, taking her for girlie days out. She introduced her to sophisticated hand-bags and jewellery and they revelled in each others company. Amber would lovingly joke that Chris was her non-God Mother. There was nothing more vivacious about Chris than her wild cackle of a laugh and Amber had a knack of bringing out her fun side.

Of all of Chris’s talents we shall especially miss her cooking. The lavish and extravagant spreads she would create were a wonder and delight. Hosting dinner parties was an art form that was at least on a par with her gift as a playwright herself.

Chris passed over far sooner than she, her friends or her family ever deserved and will be sorely missed by huge numbers of people who loved and respected her. However I know she would want the friends she loved dearly to remember her fondly and to celebrate her, knowing she had a full and happy life, remarkable for her unremitting belief in, and love for people.

Gail Louw

I first met Chris on Sussex University campus in 2001. She had completed her PG Diploma in Dramatic Writing (with distinction, I may add) as I had started mine (without distinction – superfluous information). There were several of us who became friends from that time including Josie Melia and Di Levy. Chris was a wonderfully supportive and generous friend to Di over many years in her time of need.

Chris’ leadership of New Writing South had a strong personal impact on me. This is a comment that you will read and hear time and time again. She and NWS gave me the opportunity for numerous readings and workshops and arranged for wonderful mentors and directors including Tony Milner, who produced many of my plays.

When Tony died, I needed someone to help as a producer and I asked her if she would take on the role. She was initially reluctant as she said working with friends was not a good idea. I promised to be good and allow her free reign and she agreed. We worked together on about five plays, touring them (minimal, don’t get the wrong idea). I became particularly close to Chris during these years. Her background of theatre PR was perhaps a little at odds with the less ambitious scale of my outings, but she made it seem big, and important. We had fun at auditions, rehearsals, first nights, last nights. She was always around, including the times she made wonderful dinners for the cast. (Her dinners are another story!)

Chris and I, together with Andrew Marshall and Jamie Mackay, were part of a writing group for about fifteen years. Chris’ contributions to the group in terms of supportive and constructive criticism were stunning. She will be very sorely missed.

Andrew Marshall

There are many writers in the South East who have a lot to be grateful for to Chris Taylor. I am one of them but I was blessed to know her as a friend too.

In the late nineties, I went to an event at the Soho theatre for new writers and picked up a leaflet for an organisation in Brighton called Pier Playwrights. It turned out that this fledgling group was being run by Chris in her front room. The telephone number, I subsequently learned, was her home number. Some of the early sessions were held in her flat. I have particularly happy memories of Sundays with a group of writers dissecting plays with the marvellous but frightening Annie Casteldine. God help you if you had not read the text closely enough before showing up. I tell you all this to underline Chris’s generosity but also the scale of her ambition.

Pier Playwrights was a group of friends who had met on the Diploma for Dramatic Writing at Sussex University. Chris saw no reason why they should not have Arts Council funding and turned the organisation into a charity. She secured development money to turn Pier Playwrights into something for all writers in the South East and when I was on the board, we decided to change the name to New Writing South and broaden the remit still further. With the growing ambition, she moved us out of her front room – although it took many years for members to stop phoning her at home – into offices and finally into a larger space with a workshop.

When I started my journey with Chris, I described myself as a journalist but she was having no truck with this idea. I was a writer. I did not need anybody’s permission or a certain number of productions to take on the mantle of writer. It is still something I insist in the writer’s group I lead in Berlin today.

The workshops run by Pier Playwrights and New Writing South allowed me to hone my craft and the best thing of all: I could study at the pace that made sense for me. Many of the courses involved working with directors and actors, so I could see my words come to life. The other strength of New Writing South has always been the networking. Chris had a knack for making new contacts and for championing new writing. I had eight full productions of my plays and five of them came directly from contacts made through New Writing South.

On one scheme – putting writers together with physical theatre practitioners – my husband, Ignacio, came along to collect me. Because he was a musician, he was co-opted as musical director – which in turn developed into an acting career and three one man shows that toured the UK. At this moment, Chris’s generosity came to the fore again and he was allowed to rehearse at the NWS offices. When he wondered if the singing interrupted their work, he was always told how much they enjoyed it.

When I branched out into self-publishing, I got all the contacts I needed through ‘Meet the Industry’ days organised by Chris. She started an education department and soon there was a team of writers going into schools.

It is easy to forget that Chris was a writer too. Her play about the scientist Farraday – for a few glorious moments – was being lined up for a tour of the major theatres of the UK with a household name in the main role. Sadly, it was not to be. Being an enabler of others talents and developing her own creativity began to be in tension with each other. If she had regrets about the choice, she never voiced them to me. She focused on seeing as much work as possible – from members – and at the major theatres in London and across the UK.

If you came to a day-long NWS event organised by Chris, you will remember the high quality of the food – which she produced herself out of a surprisingly small kitchen. I was lucky enough to spend many hours round her dinner table where I could always guarantee on meeting interesting people. She kept her interest in the world to the very end. When I spoke to her five days before her death, we were discussing the war in Ukraine. Gail Louw visited her around the same time and when Chris found a conversation exhausting but wanted Gail to talk to her, Gail suggested telling her about her latest play: ‘That would be lovely’ Chris replied and settled back into the bed.

It is the picture I will always have of Chris: generous, committed to helping others and interested in everything going on around her. If the scene had involved food, it would have been perfect. But I am a writer, so I have just added a slice of home-made chocolate cake.

Dominique De-Light

I worked with Chris when New Writing South was still Pier Playwrights. There was no office, we worked from her basement flat on the seafront, where, between stuffing newsletters into envelopes, I ate delicious canapes, left over from her dinner parties (she was the most amazing cook).

Over the next two years I watched her turn Pier Playwrights into New Writing South, expanding its reach geographically, strategically and across all writing genres. I remember admiring her ability to turn her hand to anything, whether it was creating strategic documents, planning creative programming, or sorting out our IT network. As a two woman team we became close. I was in awe of her constant energy, vision and determination. Through Chris I learnt how to write funding applications, run and grow an arts organisation, how not to be intimidated or take no for an answer from funders. She encouraged me to apply for writing opportunities, believing in me and my abilities before I believed in myself.

Chris was passionate about supporting writers and was a talented writer herself. She was great at connecting people, creating opportunities, advocating for writers, and especially, for women. She didn’t suffer fools and was a formidable boss, which meant she got things done. She organised high quality writing courses with tutors from the BBC Writers Room, top National Theatre Directors, established the NWS Best New Play Award, NWS Writing Hubs all over the region and created NWS’s Writers Squad, a fantastic initiative encouraging young people to write.

After I left New Writing South I set up Creative Future but I always stayed in touch with Chris. We collaborated over numerous projects, providing underrepresented writers with new opportunities and publications. We’d have an annual catch up of animated arts related gossip over a long lunch which I always looked forward to. I saw Chris as a mentor, someone who was always happy to give advice, encourage creativity, and cheer any success. Her vision and hard work created a flourishing writing community in the south, from which many, writers and audiences, have benefited. She will be sorely missed.

Beth Miller

Chris interviewed me for a job at New Writing South in 2006. I was newly back into work after having a baby and was feeling very uncertain. Chris was not like any interviewer I’d ever met. The first thing she said to me was, ‘I really like your sandals.’ That’s how to put people you’re interviewing at ease. I got the job, probably thanks to my red sandals, and Chris and I worked together for three years.

I learned such a lot from her: about writing, and work, and also non-work things (she was the first person I knew who used Facebook! I remember her showing me how to ‘poke’ someone). The interesting thing she always did, which I have since tried to emulate, was to give all suggestions and ideas their due. I could often be dismissive of something if I knee-jerkedly though it a bad idea, but she would ask the person questions, listen carefully, and tease out if there was, after all, something of value there. There very often was. What a terrific quality. She did the same with her colleagues, always taking time to consider an idea.

Working alongside Chris was one of the most interesting jobs of my life. But when I hesitatingly asked her if I could take a short sabbatical to finish my first novel, having become inspired by the amazing writers at New Writing South, she as ever, didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand. Her saying yes to that three months off changed my life. She was a genuinely unusual person, and I’m really grateful I had the chance to learn from her.

Mark C Hewitt

I got to know Chris during the last years of Pier Playwrights and when it later morphed into NWS I was a trustee for a while, so saw quite a lot of her. She was always very supportive and encouraging of my creative ventures, which meant a lot to me at that time, and I valued her personal warmth and generosity and informality and the way she made one feel involved, which she did not just for me but for many other wayward creatives who might otherwise have been out on a limb. She was also a real bon viveur and would often transform what could have been a simple, straightforward meeting into something more tasty and convivial and fun.

Catherine Smith

I met Chris when I first became interested in script writing, back in 2002/3, through what was then Pier Playwrights. Chris was always an enthusiast, whose positivity affected those around her. She encouraged me to sign up for a course on Writing Radio Drama, where all the students were taught about sound, voice, dialogue, structure – and were encouraged to work on the first draft of an idea. My first idea was a complete disaster – too earnest, too ‘issues based’ – too boring. I was ready to give up. Chris encouraged me to relax, ditch the duff idea, and come up with something that I really wanted to write, rather than something I thought I should be writing to prove that I was a ‘serious’ writer. So I came up with a draft of a supernatural Rom Com, which I workshopped with my fantastically supportive group, and which the BBC bought and broadcast in 2004. Without Chris’s support, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to continue.

In her role at NWS, she was a great friend and support to all of us on the Creative Writing Programme – making sure the room was welcoming, always ready to chat, support, encourage…and laugh. That’s the first thing I think about when I remember Chris…that big, generous laugh that bubbled up through her body and out through her mouth.

Mark Slater

I can still remember back in 2011, standing in the office of New Writing South with Chris and her looking at me and smiling in that way she had and saying, ’So, why don’t we get into bed together?’ It was all metaphorical of course – because we’re writers, but we did – metaphorically get into bed together. The Creative Writing Programme moved its classes out of the University of Sussex into the teaching space at New Writing South and a new era began. We were finally free of the bureaucratic clutches of the University and could go our own way. Freedom! There is no greater gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you Chris for giving us that opportunity. You were generous and big-hearted and didn’t give a **** about the rules. We miss you. X

Clare Christian

I met Chris when she interviewed me for the position of trustee at New Writing South. Fairly typically the interview was centred around great food at a restaurant in Brighton. Her kind and generous nature put me at ease straight away and I was privileged to spend the next few years working with her. She put her heart and soul into New Writing South (previously Pier Playwrights) but I think we were all delighted when she finally allowed herself the retirement she deserved to spend more time doing the things she loved – entertaining mainly! I wish she had had longer to enjoy these things but she has left a powerful and lasting legacy and I will remember her with love, always. 

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