Lavender Ink, my first radio drama

Script of Lavender Ink by JY Saville and Rosalind Fairclough

We did it! Rosalind Fairclough (who you may know as poet Rosalind York) and I read our way through half an hour of the drama we’d written, live on the radio, and lived to tell the tale. We were fortunate to have technical assistance from Chapel FM‘s Elliot who was thrilled with our comprehensive cue sheet, and in return did a sterling job of dropping in sound effects and music. You can listen to Lavender Ink here, but you might want to read a bit more about it, first.

Having started out saying we were writing a Victorian melodrama, we ended up with an early 1960s drama with events during the second world war referred back to. Previously when Roz and I did reading and discussion programmes with Andrea Hardaker for Writing on Air, we were encouraged to include music to break up the programme, so I always had a musical element in mind. Once I thought about the practical side of two people in a small studio reading for half an hour, I knew we needed to give ourselves the odd rest when the microphones were off. It was most welcome, on the day.

The two eras of the play lent themselves to two different musical styles and we each picked three tracks we thought were appropriate. My character Pat, a less than enthusiastic bride on her wedding day c.1961, I imagined as having a portable record player and liking rock & roll. Roz’s character Marjorie, the bride’s mother, had been dancing during the war to vibrant (and quite rude) songs popular in the late thirties. She chose Bo Carter, Lil Johnson and Bessie Smith.

I initially wanted to stick to English rock & roll, Billy Fury for preference, though I was briefly worried that Pat might be an Adam Faith fan. My dad (a teenager himself in the early sixties) suggested Marty Wilde, so the intro is Billy Fury (Gonna Type a Letter) and the first interlude Marty Wilde (Bad Boy). When Roz and I spent five hours in the pub rewriting the script, the music they were playing was about the right era for Pat, and Shakin All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, to the extent that I decided it had to be one of the tracks in the play despite not being English. It became Pat’s ‘one more song’ before she puts the dress on.

We set the play in the West Riding of Yorkshire, though we never explicitly say where (nearby places are mentioned). That means Pat was written for, and read in, more or less my natural voice, though I tried not to sound too deep for a girl in her late teens.

If you’re a fan of late fifties/early sixties kitchen sink drama then Lavender Ink might be right up your street. If you like my Little Book of Northern Women, you’ll love it. If you want to hear me (39 and gruff) attempt to portray an innocent teenage bride, what are you waiting for? Sister Number One (notoriously hard to impress) has pronounced it ‘very good’.

Lavender Ink by Jacqueline Saville and Rosalind Fairclough – you heard us here first.


Based on a true story

I’ve had a piece of creative nonfiction published this week, at the ever-fabulous flash purveyor Ellipsis Zine, and it feels a bit weird. In a good way. I think.

The first exercise on the Fast Flash workshop I did last month was about the power of recall. Events with strong emotional content are stronger in our memories, said Kathy Fish, and she asked us to dredge up some strong memories, no matter how slight the incident, throw in as much sensory imagery as we could, and write something vivid. The second memory I made a note of was learning to tie a bow in around 1981:

Lying in the dark car, head on Nana’s lap, her face striped by moving orange from the streetlamps, and me reaching up to tie and untie the bow at the neck of her dark dress (black or dark brown, with orange squares or diamonds?). It felt rough, like the skin on her fingers.

If you read The Lesson (as the piece was eventually named at Kathy’s suggestion) you’ll see the essence of the whole thing was right there in that first flood of memory.

As I write this blog post on Monday afternoon, The Lesson has been getting a lot of love on Twitter already, and it’s great to know it’s touching so many people. It’s a big leap from sharing it with a dozen fellow participants on a writing course, who are also sharing (in some cases unbearably sad) memories, to sharing it with anyone in the world who cares to read it. I’ve written a lot of fiction with real cores, but nobody generally knows which bits are real and which bits I made up. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with admitting to loving your grandmother, and if I could look up at her now I think I’d see that smile.

Snowbound, with books

I haven’t given you a random round-up lately. Some of you may have been enjoying the respite, but for those who’ve been wondering what I’m up to apart from the much-mentioned radio drama (less than a fortnight to go), here’s a quick update.

I did one of Kathy Fish’s online Fast Flash workshops (two weeks of intense writing) last month and some of the exercises shoved me out of my comfort zone in a kind of ‘oh, I never knew I could do that’ way. The first product of that to go forth into the world is a piece of creative non-fiction which I’m proud of, but nervous about sharing. It’s going to be up at the fabulous Ellipsis Zine in a couple of weeks.

I’m also going to write about the process of creating a radio drama with a writing partner, and that’s going to be in a very exciting place which I won’t tell you about just yet, but you’ll all be able to read it for free online.

Next will be issue 9 of Confingo, coming out in April, which has a short story of mine that (dare I say it?) is a touch Gaimanesque. While, hopefully, being unarguably Saville-ish.

There’s also a competition I’ve been shortlisted for (and I think will be in the anthology for), which is being frustratingly slow in its public announcement, so all I can do is promise to tell you the details as soon as I can.

That’s it for now. I hope those of you who’ve been snowed in have had plenty of books to read. I’ve been reading, writing, and watching birds make footprints in the snow.

Writing on Air schedule


The schedule for Chapel FM’s Writing on Air festival is now available, you can look at it as a pdf here: 1803 WOA schedule final2

We’re on at 3.45pm on the Friday with our play, Lavender Ink (music now chosen, sound effects procured – we’re almost done). There are also programmes from the Otley Poets, Helen Burke, Oz Hardwick, James Nash, the indefatigable Peter Spafford of course, and Chapel FM regulars Jaimes Lewis Moran and James Fernie, both of whom cropped up in our programme, The Borrowers, last year (sadly now unavailable due to a revamped website).

Remember, if you can’t listen live you’ll be able to listen to the archived programmes afterwards. There’s bound to be something in there that you’ll love.

Coming up to Writing on Air time again


Less than a month till Chapel FM has its annual Writing on Air festival. Roz and I have been busy honing our script, which is called Lavender Ink and is described thus in the brochure (Roz going by her everyday name not her poetry name Rosalind York):

On the morning of Pat’s wedding, at least her mum’s happy. Until she remembers those letters. A 1960s drama from Rosalind Fairclough and JY Saville.

I’ve been influenced, as you might expect, by a blend of the Angry Young Men and Alan Bennett, though you’ll have to tell me whether that comes through, when you listen to Lavender Ink on March 16th. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again later.

Brexit and the collapse of planning

The quagmire of negotiations, the dangerous farce that is the Irish border question, every day we’re told of new and apparently unexpected complications of Brexit. Each time, a chorus of people ask what Leave voters were thinking – didn’t they work through all the knock-on effects in their imaginations, like mental chess? Didn’t they think ahead and realise how complicated it would be, what a bad idea, how practically impossible? This chorus doesn’t appear to be asking what David Cameron was playing at, or why there were no detailed plans in place for what would happen in the event of a vote to leave the EU. They don’t ask how on earth our political systems managed to let the referendum happen when there was no plan for one of the two outcomes, or how come Cameron was allowed to abdicate responsibility as soon as he’d landed the country in the soup.

There are several scenarios I can think of, to cover David Cameron’s disregard for consequences:

  1. Knows that we can’t/won’t leave the EU, but poses the question anyway. No planning required; even if Leave wins, we won’t be leaving. But Remain will win anyway, so no need to worry about what to do if public opinion shows a leaning towards Leave.
  2. Intends to leave the EU if the vote goes that way, but doggedly believes it won’t as he has never met anyone except a few cranks in his own party that would vote Leave. Arrogantly (and incorrectly) assumes no planning required, simply because the messy and complicated reality of leaving the EU won’t arise.
  3. Doesn’t seriously consider the question of whether we’d leave the EU or not. The vote will go the right way, and life will continue as before. No planning desired, as it’s a waste of time.

Given the eventual outcome (narrow victory to Leave), any one of those positions would have left him in shock on results morning. In the first, he’d have to face a hostile public and tell them that despite the vote, we’d be staying put. Who knows what uproar there’d be, it’s not as if we never have riots in this country. In the third scenario he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place: stay put despite the vote (see scenario 1) or leave the EU, which he hasn’t planned for and didn’t think (judging by his personal campaigning) was a good idea.

Scenario 2, which is the one Theresa May’s government has behaved as though we were in, seems to me the scariest and most chaotic. That would be like me asking my friends and family if I should go on a sponsored walk or blindfold myself and throw knives at OneMonkey from across the room, to raise money for charity. If by some fluke they selected the latter, they’d be shocked if I said I was going to do it (because I’d promised) but I’ve never thrown a knife before and didn’t know whether I could get OneMonkey any protective gear in time. If I was perplexed at why they’d choose that option when they must be able to spot some pitfalls, I think they’d be justified in turning round and telling me they didn’t think I was stupid enough to suggest it if I didn’t know what I was doing.

You may believe all voters should avail themselves of all the facts and check out all claims made by politicians before voting, but you must know in practice it doesn’t happen that way in any UK election. Protest votes, party loyalty, the least worst option – I’ve voted based on each of those myself. Then there’s image and spin, some last-minute interview or soundbite that catches a voter’s imagination and sways them one way or another. There’s gut feeling, some idea you haven’t seen conclusive evidence for or against but that you hold onto nevertheless. There’s the complicated battle when a voter has too much information, weighing up the bits they do and don’t agree with or stand for, to see which aspect seems the most important; I don’t even agree with all of Labour’s policies and I’m a member of the party.

During the referendum campaign it wasn’t easy to get hold of facts anyway. Both sides, from all parties, seemed to be falling back on the usual meaningless soundbites and overinflated claims. The £350m written on the bus was clearly tripe and although I’m not saying 100% of the electorate spotted that, I don’t know anyone who believed it (Leave voters included). Remainers seemed to base all their arguments on how rosy it was already and why we’d be fools to give that up, which doesn’t work if the people you’re addressing don’t believe it’s rosy now. Very few people engaged in proper debate (a general problem in modern life) and I don’t remember any politicians giving serious thought to what the country would look like afterwards, whether the vote went their way or not. If they did, they didn’t share it with us.

Planning for an eventuality seems to have become synonymous with expecting it to happen, with all the resulting public hysteria. I would rather live under a government that had plans for what to do in the event of nuclear war, famine, an energy crisis, even if with hindsight it’s seen as (thankfully) a waste of time and money. I would argue it’s rarely a waste anyway because it gets you looking at resources and reliance, gaps in infrastructure etc that you wouldn’t otherwise focus on. But when it’s a situation of your own creation I don’t just think it’d be nice to have a plan, I think it’s damned irresponsible not to.

Maybe if someone had sat down with a pencil and a used envelope and had a ten-minute brainstorm about, say, possibilities for the Irish border should a referendum come out in favour of Leave, we’d have been spared the whole sorry episode.

Northern underclass

Because I’m in the middle of a 2-week writing course that’s taking most of my time and concentration, I’m giving you another chance to read this post from 18 months ago, which still seems relevant given an article about teachers’ accents a couple of weeks ago (https://theconversation.com/teachers-with-northern-accents-are-being-told-to-posh-up-heres-why-88425), and my writing about my accent over at No Writer Left Behind last month (https://nowriterleftbehind.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/embracing-the-accent-by-jy-saville/).

The tip-tap of monkey keyboards

I know I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, but sometimes there’s nothing for it but to stand up and roar ‘I am northern and I am proud’. What’s got my goat today, I hear you ask (those of you who aren’t already tutting and turning away), well settle in with a mug of something hot and I’ll tell you.

The immediate trigger for incoherent rage (which hopefully has now subsided into coherence) was an article in The Guardian yesterday about trainee teachers from the north being told to tone down their accents in the classroom. Now, the scientifically trained bit of my brain is jumping up and down about small sample size and all the rest of it (really it doesn’t seem much better than anecdotal evidence), but for today’s purposes it doesn’t matter exactly how many people this happened to, or whether it was more prevalent with…

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