Edinburgh Fringe Quick Q&A with Bisha K. Ali

Yo it’s Alison Spittle and I’m picking the best people to have quick words with at the biggest arts festival in the world, Edinburgh fringe festival. First on my trails is TV writer and comedian, Bisha K. Ali.

Bisha co-presents GrownupLand (radio 4), Guilty Feminist and is one of the most prolific writers I know. She specialises in Sci-fi and comedy and her work has been recognised by BAFTA and Sky! She’s also been in writers rooms for netflix, I sat her down for a quick chat.

How much work goes into a spec script?

Anywhere from a week to a month to years. It’s dependent on the writer and the idea. In my case, sometimes I’ll have an idea that just arrives close to fully formed, and the first draft gets written in a snap. Right now I’m working on an idea that’s been bubbling away for years but hadn’t coalesced into something I wanted to say until very recently. The first draft is then the first of many, but it’s much easier to refine and sculpt something that exists than it is to tinker with a hypothetical idea of a story.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

At the beginning, be prolific – even if the work isn’t for public consumption. It’s common sense that the more you do something, and the more you think critically about the way you do something, the better you will get. I think people have a tendency to become very precious about one story or idea – which is great if you have the experience and craft to get it on the page as best you can. The way to make sure you’re able to do the story or project you’re most precious about justice is to be constantly working on craft and iterating. I think it’s also very good for your self-esteem, if you’re someone who lives in cyclical doubt. It’s stacks of evidence to point to and say: “You’ve done this before, you can do it again – and better.”

You’re a regular host of Guilty Feminist, What work in Sci-fi represents feminist ideals well?

I’m not sure about it representing feminist ideals, but The Handmaid’s Tale, to me, feels like a clear depiction of a world feminists are fighting to avoid. It’s hard to point to one show and say ‘this is a feminist show,’ but I will say that there are women characters throughout sci-fi who are surprising, well written, nuanced and in which their gender plays no role in terms of their value to the crew or their surroundings. Maybe that’s not feminist, I’m not sure. What I mean to say is: Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reimagining is my hero, as are Captain Janeway and B’elanna Torres in Star Trek: Voyager. Not to mention Imperator Furiosa and all the women in Black Panther: Nakia, Okoye and Shuri were all fantastic feminist characters.

What was space camp like?

I call it space camp affectionately – it was actually a nerd summer camp for kids who liked science and could marry that up with entrepreneurship. Our team came up with a product: solar blinds – so that big skyscrapers with offices inside could put up blinds with solar panels attached and power the entire building. We even built a tiny prototype. I’m sure we were onto something. The best day was when we got to visit a particle accelerator and everything metal stood on end, and later we got to play with ferrofluids. Still the best summer of my life.