Writing without, you know, "writing"

I used to catch ideas (which are so like butterflies, it almost seems cruel) by leaving myself answerphone messages on the home landline. The light would flicker at me when I got back in the warm at the end of the day: “hello,” glowed the message from a past me of oo, hours ago; “remember me? That light? Here I am. Take off your coat, grab a pen and stroke me.”

The idea hatchery. Not for stroking. That’s a cat metaphor that gets mixed up in this paragraph, the way cats do with vulnerable things like butterflies.

Work is different these days and so’s my tech. Now I use my mobile’s Voice Memos like a dictaphone when I’m on the move. It’s brilliant. I caught a whole HUMUNGOUS beast of a story in the Highlands this summer this way, and she and I (she’s a she, this one, and no butterfly, believe me) are turning her story into a play – SKIN – of which more in other times and places.

Another way I write is through my “morning pages” (check out The Artist’s Way, mentioned on this site and elsewhere). There, first thing in the morning, I go “into the zone”, picking a moment from the story to explore. This stuff tends to come out in the present tense and from the point of view of one character – and FAST. It’s got more in common with a cartoon, comic, a graphic novel – there are greater “reveals” as I move (am moved!) from frame to frame, moment to moment.

Why share these? ‘Cos you might like to try a technique or two you haven’t tried before. Because this way of writing – straight from the back of my brain, perhaps – always brings up surprises. It feels much more like the way I used to write when I was a child. And now I’m enough of a grown-up-enough writer who can use her craft (and pervy love of structure), I don’t worry too much that it’ll veer way OTT – and if you’re interested in getting that balance, do check out Linda Aronson’s new book, The C21 Screenplay (thanks, Santa – and everyone else, that’s an affiliate link and I might make a few pence if you click it and buy).

I’ve just been writing up the morning pages scribbles and the audio notes. Their energy is completely different to what comes up when I’m at a computer or a blank page.

It’s not a substitute – it’s a part of the process (just like turning the first draft into a graphic novel – with colour and everything – is a great way to find what BORES me.) It’s energy-full, almost unconscious writing – and a lot of fun if you have the discipline to turn it into something afterwards. Treat those writings with respect and let them fly!

Hope this was useful to someone. Let me know if so! Comments, below:

Go on. Drop me a line…

The Pitlochry Play #1: the sound of water

I’m here in Pitlochry, land of Pitlochry Festival Theatre and much, much more. Today’s day 3 of my playwrighting residency at the theatre and I’m rolling around like a pig in poo at the luxury of all this writing space and thinking time.

I’m not here to share anything about my “process” with you, but I can’t keep all this to myself, so I thought you would like a local waterfall.

It’s great to watch in real life (not so amazing in my rushed wee film from my August holiday here), but it’s stunning to listen to. Sound and water are featuring heavily in the project so far; trees and mountains are too, but let’s save that for another day.

Let me introduce you to the fantastic, the inimitable, the one and only: Black Spout:

Black Spout waterfall, Pitlochry, Aug. ’19

Do Not Disturb: an arts satire

“A satire about arts and funding in a post-BBC, post-sterling world. Two civil servants hunt a dangerous script to stop it infecting a world that’s free of disturbing theatre. They disguise themselves as theatre types and get enmeshed in the glamour. Everyone’s lying for accolades, acceptance and – er – maybe art.”

architecture room indoors auditorium

This is the blurb for Do Not Disturb, the latest to leave my redrafting fingers, ready for a wild world of producers and partnerships. Huge thanks to the talented and generous professionals who gave me a table-read in the summer and those others who’ve given thoughtful feedback on this pacy, satirical beast.

I’m heading into my next work – a very different thing – with Pitlochry Festival Theatre soon, but when I come back, Do Not Disturb will be looking for collaborators. If you think you’d be interested in hearing more, please drop me a line. Be great to hear from you.

Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

Wanted a Genie, found a Muse

Lovely news – I’ve just been awarded a writers’ residency at the fantastic Pitlochry Festival Theatre to start work on a new play. And it all started because I couldn’t get to Mull and in the (relatively) short time my child was away with relatives.

In July, I’d been facing the standard single parent dilemma: while you child’s off on adventures, should you do the DIY or have a hol? Validated by friends’ and parents; encouragement, “Have-a-hol” scraped through – largely ‘cos it whispered “Inspiration!” in a way that a “Paste-The-Wall” mini-staycation just can’t.

I’d had a great break in Orkney 10y ago, and while I’m desperate to return, I need to explore. My quest for rural adventure started with a day of crying into my computer because National Rail Enquiries refused to offer magic carpet options so I could see family & friends in Glasgow and nip casually to Mull. Four days’ travel in a 7-day break? I needed a Genie…

…But I found a smashing travel agent. Who suggested Pitlochry. And its theatre. EVERYBODY mentioned its theatre. EVERYBODY.

I didn’t need a Genie. I found the muses; or they found me. What a place. And what a theatre. By which I mean history, building, location, leadership, ambition, heritage, talent, teams, reputation… If you don’t know of it, check it out – only a few (gorgeous) hours’ train from Glasgow, there’s quality theatre in the stunning hills: go on, click!

And so on a long walk, a story bit my bum and wouldn’t let go. I came back and worked it up and worried – and then leapt: I sent it in to PFT’s artistic team and they have very kindly given me a residency this autumn.

Apart from my parents’ bemused pride, they’re also looking forward to my return – with a lot more Edradour Malt marmalade.

Glittered Knickers…

I love it when a plan you never knew you had comes together.

An old friend up at Bath Uni decided we needed an International Women’s Day entertainment night in Widcombe. It’s over 20 years since I did one of these, back at the students’ union, so when she said,

“Want to do something for International Women’s Day?”

something in me shouted back – all the way from 1995, and surprisingly quickly,

“Heck, yeah!”

And by 8 March, that “HECK, YEAH” became this:


Oh, look. There’s me, at the start of the adventures of Glitter Knickers, the eponymous anti-heroine of my main stage show in 2016 (which meant to tour and then – far too true to character for my own liking – skidded on a banana skin).

The audience was very decent in every important sense: size and manners. They hushed, listened, laughed and even gasped. There were those lovely moments of 1- 2- 3 – “oh, no!” realisations (thank the gods) and plenty warm words after. (Thank you, Widcombe Social Club). But the funny thing was, next morning. I woke up and thought,

“Weird. I’ve never performed my own (grown-up) work before.”

And wondered why I’d never noticed.

In The Artists’ Way, Julia Cameron talks (with lemon-on-paper-cut insight) about how we often protect our creative selves through distancing. We might become teachers of art (of all kinds); encouragers of others; arts administrators; avid readers or theatre buffs –

ANYTHING BUT BE AN ACTUAL (SCARY) ARTIST – WHO MIGHT VERY WELL

FAIL.

It’ll astonish you if you know me (that doesn’t even need a footnote) that I performed endless amounts of my own work until I was about 14. At uni, I sang solo stuff a fair bit, but never acted or wrote. It wasn’t til I was 34 that I threw my bank account at the dream and wrote my first full-length play for any kind of sharing.

Now, now, though, there’s a wicked smile on my face. I like doing my own stuff. And I’m very willing to do more and get better at it. (Yes, see what a kindly audience can do?)

I made the, “never performed my own work before” comment on facebook and a friend overseas said,

“Bollocks. I’ve listened to your kids’ audiobook.”

You see, we forget the creative stuff we leave all over the place. We don’t always count or value the art we say is “work”! (My audiobook’s from my weekly after-school mythology club and I’ve only got round to recording one). But it’s just as valid a creative endeavour or risk as the “heart and soul” work. Others experience it as as much an expression of you as they see everything else.

Hmmm. My tone’s felt preachy. I’ve been reading too much on Medium, clearly. There is no lesson. Maybe just a thought, or a question: have you discounted your own creative outputs as “just work” – and would you like to do more?

Glue: a short film

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this. Anyway, it’s brilliant. I’ve been working since autumn with a smart young director called Isabelle Larché in Bristol. We worked up an idea. I wrote a script. She’s pulled together a cracking team and this weekend, filming began. There’s a crowdfunder (which has hit its very modest target very quickly – but all the perks are still there for the taking, and your support would be very gratefully received!).

In short, watch this space. And here’s some blurb….more will follow!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/glue-short-film#/

May You Live In Interesting Times: a new age of political TV drama?

Ah, those old Chinese curses, eh?

A couple of years back, I was pitching a TV drama-comedy idea to a really cracking producer. We were both excited (I think!) about the central character – an unseated MP thrown into my old work world of lobbying, with all its grey shades and the implications for her previously stable world view. We laughed. And then we sighed.

“Broadcasters are shy of political drama,” she said. “It’s a hard sell.”

Ho, ho, ho.

I grew up in the ’80s – politics was everywhere on TV. A sixth-former watching the BBC’s House of Cards while Maggie Thatcher’s world fell about her. Spitting Image was the weekly treat (I say, “treat”; more like a 5-foot high trifle and a diving board).

Last week, you might have caught Channel 4’s Brexit. It had both an excellent cast and the level of quality that made you (well, me, at least) hungry for more. (You can watch it free online til early February.) There was a great deal of excitement generated both before and after and much to enjoy: the personalising of the players; the fictionalised insight of protagonist Dominic Cummings, the “Leave” Campaign Director, whose frustrations we were encouraged to share.

It was like having a giant iron door unlocked, so we could peer inside the machinery of Westminster’s Brexit campaigns, eyebrows raised or knotted as we watched this cog catch on that ratchet, while those levers went up and down for no obvious reason whatsoever. That’s what good political drama does – turn the abstract into the relatable: we all do silly things.

But does C4’s Brexit herald a”new age of political drama”? As a career-politico-turned-scriptwriter, of course I want that to be true. But the wise producer’s note of caution rings hard in my ear. Broadcasters are in tough times, competing with US and European content, and both born of different financial models.

Den of Geek’s superb run through 2019’s TV drama highlights shows that although – like 2018’s – 2019’s dramas tackle inherently political issues (the porn industry, poverty, the care and justice systems, NHS, inequality, globalisation…), the political system itself isn’t taking front and centre.

But even if British audiences lose all appetite for tales about democratic processes or political deal-making, our need for stories of politics’ on-the-ground human impact remains as hungry as ever .