Learning, Writing

A voice is for….?

Tale Man tell me what’s wrong with my life, am I only here to question? No, sir, you are undoubtedly here to cajole and make suggestions.

Julian Cope – “These Things I Know” – ‘Black Sheep’ album

Excellent day yesterday at the Soho Theatre, where they held (yet another) great training session for writers, in collaboration with Spread The Word.

This time, it was about developing your writer’s voice. I don’t want to undercut them when you could be going yourself (£40 for the day: pretty unbeatable value) by spilling all the secrets, but suffice to say I feel charged up with some really sensible advice and some great tips for making sure what I write is true to my own style, taste and serves my urge to write.

We touched on one of my favourite issues for playwrights: having something to say (this game ain’t about collecting brownie badges or filling time). We looked also at how asking questions can help us talk about our work – so, instead of saying

“This is a ground-breaking work of genius about what a cat can do to a ball of string,”

we might say,

“What happens when an everyday tabby cat finds it is inexorably attracted to string, in spite of the opprobrium of its peers and a chronic household string shortage?”

I came home and caught up with some telly before falling fast asleep (it had been another travel & baby-related 5-am-er). I watched Horizon’s clips show (ahem) all about Science v God. (You can catch it til 17th Nov ’11 here). Looking at the legal challenges in the US about teaching “intelligent design” rather than evolution in schools, it was clear that good scientists keep asking questions and ignore their prejudices and their faith.

As an artist, then, “with something to say” (and believe me, I have enough), I felt a bit ashamed and thought, where are my questions fitting in? They mustn’t just be plopped in after the script’s completed, as a way of selling a piece (and that is absolutely not what the course was suggesting, before you get the wrong idea).

We have to start with our questions: and that is a big lesson for me. The BBC Writers’ Room’s Paul Ashton said yesterday that with great writers, you can see an ongoing internal conversation (or debate) running through their work. Questions, questions, questions (beyond those that vital questions about your craft and form)- and that, I think I realise, is what I need to use my voice  for, more than just saying what I think.

So, a quite intense thanks, Soho Theatre, Nina Steiger & Paul Ashton, and if this interests you more, here’s what it was and keep your eye out for more…

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