Somebody’s filming my words


Remember how I was stuck for a monologue? Well I wrote one, featuring custard creams, and Slackline Productions are making it week 5 of their fabulous Slackline Cyberstories, next week! They haven’t announced yet who will be acting it but I’m so looking forward to seeing what they make of it. This will be a new experience, seeing someone else interpreting my words. Thrilling, but maybe also a bit nail-bitey.

You can watch weeks 1-4 at their YouTube channel, and if you’re in the mood for monologues in lockdown, you can also try Coronavirus Theatre Club and Buglight.

I’ve been adding a few old recordings, mainly stories I’ve read on the radio, to Chirbit so you can now hear Viv’s 64th (a popular one from The Little Book of Northern Women, which started life as an Alan Bennett style monologue for my mum’s 64th birthday), Guilt By Association (part of National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood 2015), Can’t Stop the Rock (comic fantasy about reanimating dead rock stars) and The Library of Forgotten Dreams (a short piece of whimsy I wrote for an Ilkley Writers programme on Chapel FM in 2017). There were already a few recordings up there, including another of my monologues which I didn’t end up using for the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe in 2015, as we changed theme.

Enjoy. Stay safe. Check back here next week for a link to the finished film.

Writing is rewriting, some evidence

Instead of doing NaNoWriMo this year (and I bet you’re all glad you’ve been spared the wordcount updates) I decided to edit the novel I was partway through this time last year. Except, as we all know, editing isn’t as much fun as writing. You don’t get the feelgood factor of watching the wordcount build, ticking off the chapter list in your outline or moving closer to that crucial scene. What you do get is self-doubt, the dispiriting task of deleting the only bit of dialogue you were completely happy with (but you’ve changed the plot and it no longer makes sense), and the dreadful feeling of finishing the session with fewer pages than you started out with. Keep going like that and you’ll have nothing left, right? And everyone else manages to get it pretty much spot on first time, right?

Well, just to cheer us up Eddie Robson has written a fabulously useful article on the BBC Writersroom blog, about the various drafts his script for Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully went through before it was recorded (as I write this, there’s a few episodes available on the iplayer – it’s a sitcom about an alien observation of a small village as they try to decide whether to invade. It’s got Peter Davison in). Not only is there an explanation of how he went from one draft to the next, but they’re all available to download so you can study the differences. He also points out all the problems with the scripts as the drafts progress, which is encouraging to say the least – this reminded me of David Almond’s comment at the Ilkley Literature Festival last month that finished books are an illusion to make you think the author has a perfect mind (read my review of his visit here).

Obviously I was in no way procrastinating by reading all of this stuff. The fact that I haven’t done as much editing as planned is just my usual lack of organisation.

The Crafty Art of Playmaking by Alan Ayckbourn

A book of two halves, covering the writing and directing of plays, by a master of the craft. Alan Ayckbourn has written a vast number of plays, and directed many of them himself at the Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough.

I got this book out of the library after I’d been to a scriptwriting workshop recently, and I would recommend the first half to anyone interested in writing plays. Although Ayckbourn is concentrating on stage plays, most of the advice carries over to other types of script such as a radio play. There are 39 highlighted snippets under the heading Obvious Rule Number x, scattered throughout the Writing half. Some of them are not so obvious, and you may have reason to thank him for pointing them out.

He uses examples from his own plays, which makes sense as he knows them well and also knows the processes behind them, and the mechanics of putting them together. I would say it helps to have a passing familiarity with at least a few of his plays as it may help put some of the examples into a wider context; it’s probably best not to read this if you may be upset at finding out the ending to a play you haven’t seen/heard/read yet.

I admit I didn’t read all of the Directing half of the book, but I do think if I was at the point where I’d written a play that was likely to be staged, it would probably be useful. Some of it handles the technical side of being a director and might only be of interest to those who’ll use that knowledge, but mainly it gives an insight from the other end if you like. A key moment of understanding came, for me, when he talks about the director cutting the play – he also said that a script isn’t literature, it’s a blueprint for how actors will behave on stage. In other words, stop agonising over perfection as it may not stay that way anyway.

Outside of the writers of scripts, this book would also be of interest to those who are interested in theatre or keen on Ayckbourn. While it’s by no means an autobiography, it does include anecdotes from his long career, insight into his way of working, and the background to some of his works.