Interview: Paul Abbott

The Shameless creator on how his own upbringing influenced the show

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TV dramatist Paul Abbott was nine when his mother walked out on her husband and ten children to set up home with another man. Two years later, Abbott and his nine siblings were abandoned once more, this time by their father. Alison Graham finds out how the chaotic, boundary-free upbringing that ensued inspired the writer to come up with a 21st-century subversion of The Waltons.

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On how his childhood experiences influenced Shameless

“[The series] doesn’t have to be grim, because it wasn’t grim. It was an empowering situation. We were kids bringing ourselves up.”

“[One of my brothers] spotted exactly who all the composites were. I haven’t done a hatchet job on anybody, I’ve been really careful.”


On his parents

“It [his mother’s departure] crucified me at the time. She went off with a bloke with one child and that just seemed so unfair. We lost her, and one child got the mother of this many kids.”

“[For six months] we didn’t know if she was dead or alive. She was never apologetic – maybe she couldn’t face up to it. She died last year, which was weird, like an auntie you didn’t quite know.”

“My dad is the most fantastic grandad. He just sits there and sounds wise. He just sat there all his life, but now he’s got to retirement age it suits him. It’s really nice to see him become the parent he never was to us.”


On his writing talent

“I don’t know where it came from; we weren’t an academic family at all. I was the one who was vaguely of GCE standard – that made me a bit of an outsider. But I didn’t tell anybody I was writing. I didn’t plan it, I just wrote in books. I’ve always felt that the writing became a way of talking, because at the arse end of the family I was right at the bottom, and your voice doesn’t carry. It was a way of talking without being contradicted.”

“I didn’t tell my family [about joining the Burnley Writers Circle and going on a typing course]; it was a secret. But because we were used to managing our own lives, it wasn’t hard to keep a secret.”


On nurturing new writers

“You can’t bitch about the quality of television writing if you don’t put any effort into improving it.”


On future projects

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“You get scared about everything. That’s good, it’s good to hate your own work when you’ve done it. That’s how you make it better.”