Exclusive: “Skins Fire” writer Jess Brittain on the strength of Naomi and Emily’s love

The much-anticipated final series of Skins kicks off tonight on E4. Up first is Skins Fire, a two-episode story penned by Jess Britain that explores the 22-year-old world of Effy Stonem as she tries to navigate adult life in London. Fire also includes Lily Loveless and Kathryn Prescott as supporting characters. What are Naomi and Emily up to five years after we saw them in the final episode of series four? What can we expect for them, as individuals and as a couple, in these final two episodes? Jess was gracious enough to chat with me about the beloved characters, and about saying goodbye to a family legacy.

AfterEllen: What drew you to writing Effy’s story for the final season, and what made you want to include Naomi and Emily in her story?
Jess Brittain:
I guess it was a combination of reasons. Primarily it felt like there was more to say about her – that her story was unfinished. Not that the aim was to finish her story – Effy ends Fire with about a million possibilities. I think that’s the beauty of her character, I love her unpredictability. Also I think Kaya is fantastic, and knew that she could deliver a beautiful, nuanced performance that would speak to some of the things I wanted to say about being a young woman at the moment. I wanted to include Naomi and Emily as it allowed me to explore three different women in three different difficult situations. Being 22 can be fucking hard, and they’ve all dealt with it differently. I also really wanted to push the Effy/Naomi dynamic further. They had so few scenes together in the previous series – but the ones they had always interested me. Two completely opposite characters that ironically share a similar strength and single mindedness.

AE: Did you feel any pressure writing about Naomi and Emily, knowing how iconic and beloved they are in the lesbian/bisexual community?
Of course! It was always, always in the back of my mind how important they are to many people. It’s something that the Skins family is proud of. But equally, I worked really hard to make sure it didn’t colour how I treated them as characters. The aim was to write interesting drama – not just to showcase their loveliness. And whilst it might be a difficult ending for some, I think I achieved what I set out to do, which was to showcase the strength of their love. They are the only Skins couple we felt it wasn’t unrealistic to depict as still together. So few couples survive the post-school days – but there was never a doubt in my mind that Naomi and Emily would.

AE: How are Naomi and Emily different in Skins Fire than they were when we saw them last?
JB:Well obviously life is throwing all sorts of different issues at them these days. Having to do the long-distance thing for a while, one of them being sure of her career path and the other not. But what was lovely to portray was a move on from the issues they had to struggle through in earlier series. Any doubt about sexuality, or whether they were right for each other, is gone. The fear has gone. So sure, the life shit is still hard work – but their relationship is stronger than ever.

Individually, Naomi probably shows the most change from her Gen 2 days. It might be weird for some to see someone as clever and brilliant as Naomi, struggling. But it is something I am seeing more and more at the moment. Those clever, driven, mature girls from school don’t always immediately get the pay out after uni any more. And with Emily gone for a while, Naomi is on her own, in London (which is a fucking hard city sometimes) and we catch her at the moment of having no clue what she’s going to do. She’s in transition – it’s just these days the transition period for people my age sometimes goes on longer that you want it to.

AE: What was the most daunting part about writing Fire? The most rewarding?
I guess the most daunting thing was whether I would be able to get across what I was trying to say about that inbetweeny stage between teenager-hood and adulthood, with characters that people already had a perceived idea of. The change from 17/18 to 22/23 is so massive. And obviously writing without being part of a writer’s room for the first time was daunting. I guess the most rewarding parts are the same as the most daunting.

AE: What do you think the lesbian audience will love about the episodes?
I hope they will enjoy seeing Naomi and Emily’s relationship having progressed organically and realistically. But also I hope they enjoy the opportunity to get a little more under Naomi’s skin, independent of her girlfriend. She might be the one struggling the most in terms of jobs and life direction, but her sense of integrity, her sureness of her love for Emily, and her grasp of what is truly important will be what saves Effy. I hope the lesbian audience will enjoy watching Naomi’s bravery.

AE: When you think about Naomi and Emily, why do you think their stories have resonated so clearly and with such longevity to gay women of all ages all over the world?
That’s such a hard question! I don’t think its something that’s easy to put your finger on. I can only really answer why they resonate with me. I liked that they weren’t written by someone obsessed with depicting their idea of a lesbian. And I liked the fact that getting together wasn’t easy for them. The characters were always written so fully and three dimensionally in series 3/4 that you felt you could really understand why it was a bumpy road. A love story that incorporates peoples faults, mistakes, fears and anger is so much more recognizable. And whilst it’s a slightly risky generalization to make, a relationship triumphing when there are a set of circumstances that seem difficult, or insurmountable, must speak to some people in the gay community.

AE: What’s been your favorite part of the Skins writing experience, and how do you feel now that it’s drawn to a close?
I’m sad! I just feel incredibly privileged to have been able to be a part of it. My favourite part has been working in the writer’s room. I learnt so much from sitting in a room eating doughnuts and talking crap with some seriously talented people.

AE: The gay community has achieved so much in terms of equality these last few years, and we know that a major part of the shift in social attitudes that contributed to those victories is the inclusion of lesbian and bisexual women in modern media like TV. How does it feel to be a part of adding that kind of life-changing awesomeness to the world?
I think everyone at Skins feels that if the show has in some small way contributed to that shift, then we’re incredibly proud. Getting to be a part of that, even indirectly, feels great.

AE: What’s next for you?
Right now I’m ‘In development’ on a couple of things, which as my big brother says, could mean anything! Also collaborating with another Skins writer on a project we’re really excited about. Fingers crossed.

Skins Fire airs tonight on E4 at 10:00. You can catch a full recap of the episode later this week right here on AfterEllen!