The Vendeur Asks: Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth

The Vendeur Asks: With the imminent release of their feature film in the UK, Tell It To The Bee’s, we talk to screen writing duo Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth about inspiration and success.

Sisters Henrietta and Jessica Ashworth are the writing duo behind the anticipated film Tell It To The Bees. Starring Anna Paquin and Holliday Granger, it’s a love story set in 1950s Scotland. Adapted from the novel of the same name, it received it’s world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film festival to a standing ovation.

You may recognise Jessica as Anne Hathaway’s lovesick cousin in Becoming Jane, but the pair have been the writing force behind some of the most celebrated television of recent years; Freshmeat (Season 3), the BBC’s BAFTA-winning series Dixi, and the highly-anticipated second season of Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Killing Eve.

Friend and super-fan, Charlotte Davey, caught up with them to find out what makes a Hollywood screenwriter.

Charlotte Davey: What has been your career highlights so far?

Jessica Ashworth: Well we just got back from Toronto International Film Festival where our first feature film Tell It To The Bees had its world premiere. Sitting next to Hen and holding her hand tight as our names came up on the screen saying ‘Screenplay written by…’ whilst the audience clapped was pretty amazing. It was a moment I had imagined since I was about 12.

Henrietta Ashworth: Same for me; watching our film in the beautiful Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto was pretty unforgettable. And I was able to enjoy, like, 70% of it without being consumed by nerves, so that was a win.

CD: What inspires you both?

HA: Sometimes it’s easy as a writer to get in your own little bubble, but there’s nothing like immersing yourself in good, kind, earnest stuff that other people have made. A trip to the cinema, reading a book full of imagination, or even a news article that gives a different perspective, it all gets my brain firing.

JA: Podcasts are great for that too – I am constantly listening to You Must Remember This, Reply All and, of course This American Life– they’re all fascinating deep-dive type programmes that recount unusual stories in huge detail. I think podcasts are the loveliest way to consume media- it’s so engrossing and meticulous. I think some of the best journalism in the world is being done on podcasts. And not just by Sarah Keonig! 

CD: What the world needs now, is..?

JA: Kindness. Empathy. And to think before it speaks.

HA: Redistribution of wealth. Also pockets on dresses.

CD: Who do you admire?

HA: My Friends. My siblings. Desiree Akhavan. Shon Faye, Bjork. Aaron Sorkin. Amy Poehler. Lindy West. Emma Gonzalez. Jane Austen. Dolly Parton. Mike Leigh.

JA: Just a few?

HA: I am a dedicated and prolific fan girl.

JA: Currently, for me – Ronan Farrow. And Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of Women on Waves. I just watched the documentary Vessel about her- amazing. And Carrie Fisher. Wouldn’t she have been an amazing voice to have in the debate right now? I think it’s sometimes a bit ridiculous to get overly upset about the death of celebrities but the loss of Carrie Fisher really made a mark on me. There are so few loud and opinionated middle aged women. And even fewer prepared to talk about their mental health. I think she would had more to say and more to do. Such a shame.

CD: What was the first record you ever bought?

JA: Spice by the Spice Girls! Hen and I saved up for it for months and then poured all our money out onto the counter in HMV. I played it ‘til it was too scratched to play anymore. God, I loved the Spice Girls. I have yet to meet a woman between 25 and 35 who I can’t bond over that love with. Aren’t we lucky to have been impressionable little girls when it was the Spice Girls who were dominating our ears and eyes? Just before our generation was Take That and just after it was Busted or One Direction. But we got some arse-kicking feminists to start us all off in the world. Bless them.

HA: Actually that was my second record – my first was Best of The Sugarcubes, the Icelandic punk band Bjork fronted in the 80s. Clearly even at the age of 10 I was aware that that this question would come up later in life and I would need to give an impression of coolness.

CD: Which novel made the greatest impression on you?

HA: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery.

JA: Such a hard question to answer- sends me into cold sweats just trying to choose. Little Women probably. It’s about sisters and women and a grumpy, headstrong girl who wants to be a writer. Can’t imagine why it had such an impression on me…

CD: Who deserves more recognition than they receive?

HA: NHS workers.

JA: Agreed. In terms of our industry, I would also say development producers. They spend years and years giving notes and having long chats with writers on the story, often long before a director or actor gets involved. And then when the credits roll they’re just one person on a long list of names. Film is a collaborative process and it’s mad that one or two people get heaped with praise and the rest just humbly get on with it. I wonder if with time and the involvement of people with more diverse voices and perspectives that will change. I hope so.

CD: What is your personal motto?

JA: All that you have is your soul. Yeah I stole it from Tracy Chapman. I take it to mean- you can be offered the most amazing things- money and fame, but if the thing you do it for isn’t something you can stand up and be proud of when all of that falls away, which it so often does- then you shouldn’t do it. At the end of your life, all you will have is yourself and your choices. So you’ve got to be able to stand by them.

HA: I live a lot of my life with the philosophy of ‘someone is going to do this, why shouldn’t it be me?’ which is basically the same as ‘you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’, only less cat poster-y.

CD: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

HA: You cannot control what other people think of you. I NEVER listen to it.

JA: I’m going to give you four-

1) Similar to Hen’s – ‘It’s okay if people don’t like you.’ It does save a hell of a lot of time. I am the sort of person who takes it hard if someone mis-judges me- or hell, doesn’t even mis-judge me- judges me correctly to be someone they don’t like! I hate that and am always desperate for everyone to like me. Which is actually, rather pathetic. It’s very freeing to remember that you don’t have to have everyone’s approval.

2) Another one is ‘Pick Your Battles’ – which my Mum always says. It’s totally true.

3) ‘The only writers who get writers block are the ones who don’t make a living from it.’ Sam Bain, the creator of Peep Show, said that to me. Totally right and very practical.

Oh and 4) ‘Go with your gut’, said by my wise Dad.

CD: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

JA: That I avoid writing at all costs. I pair socks, I reply to emails, I cook soups, I talk unnecessarily at length in reply to interview questions…

HA: That I’ve never had a real job and I barely went to school… Though maybe they wouldn’t be that surprised once they read this interview!

Tell it To The Bees is released in the UK on 7th June 2019