Learning, Writing

Taking the helm of the Rondo Writers’ Group

Rondo Writers NetworkWhat IS the collective noun for a group of writers? A murder of crows, a sleuth of bears, a flange of baboons and a flight of dragons. Take your pick what would we like? A blot? A tippex (for writers of a certain age)? A row? A bin?

But that’s merely an intro… I’m very, very happy to announce that I’m leading the Rondo Writers’ Group in Bath this coming term.  We’re under the aegis of the brilliant Rondo Theatre (Bath’s new writing home and local home of touring comedians such as Mark Thomas, Robin Ince and Rob Newman), but will be cranking up our writing brains elsewhere in the city.

You can get info on us in various colours:

The Rondo Brochure (which just happens to have a show called GlitterKnickers in it, too – see the post before this!)

The Rondo Writers’ Facebook page
And you can book yourself in here.  What a superb New Year gift to give (yourself).
First night, 18 Jan – venue tbc.

The heartbeat of an onion

The play I’m working on has turned out to be an onion of a piece. Except that the layers seem, at first glance, to have very little to do with each other.

It started with some Keith Johnston-inspired automatic writing (long story).

Under that layer, something ridiculously epic, galactically so.

Get through that one, and find a man called Bob and his dilemma (a really good one).

Under Bob lay his alter egos.

And under them, I think, is the real play.

I was writing through the filter of some hard-core personal bumpf, hence this accidental process. It’s only called any kind of “process” because I didn’t throw the first thing in the bin, but kept going. Again and again.

But I think it’s proving to be a good way forwards. Using my dissatisfaction as part of the process instead of despairing or telling myself I’m rubbish has been really productive and let me play with some unusual ways of working (and unusual ideas, too). I’m loving it.

I’ve also been using a method I fell into with the 4Screenwriting rewrite: detach the scenes from one another. At this early draft 1 stage, where you just need to get the block of stone out there (for chiselling later), it means that no scene owes anything to any other. Get a collection of meaningful scenes, or shit ones, and then review.  Keep going, see what comes out – resist the urge to get it right.

It does mean now that – with a decent number of pages – I’ve got to do a jigsaw puzzle and think about some craft. I’m putting bits to one side, making interesting connections, rubbing out others. I’m finding that it isn’t what I’d thought it would be – but I can hear its independent heartbeat.  It’s turning out to be – at this stage – a play that looks at my lifelong obsessions; it’s got me all over it, without me planning it that way.

Now, please, Muse, help me turn this into the Exciting Thing it looks like it could be….


Learning, money, Writing

Catching Up

You (I) run fast through autumn and early December to get that time off at Christmas and New Year, trip up (get the lurgy, natch), sleep a lot and fall madly behind. It has, I realise, become a pattern.

BUT! Waving a blazing torch of flaming, rejected, double-side printed scripts, I stride with gumption into 2012, four days and three submissions down, two networky theatre website profiles updated (three when you count this) and only two rewrites still to do. That’s if you exclude The Orphans, of course – those toddler-aged scripts that swing from dusty shelves, spurned by this neglectful shrew. I saw a facebook posting today which asked writers what name they use for the Next Script (the one that obsesses you never being the current one). Best answer: “the Mistress”.

Back to the now: rewrites a must for two shows heading soon into production (No Milk, No Stamps and Away with the Fairies). And I need to develop some laser-focus before I start out on the Channel 4 screenwriters’ course – 4Screenwriting – later this month. It’s a superb programme – 12 of us learning how to work to commission, writing for TV, given a “dry run” and a pilot to develop.

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…

Shows, Writing


The thing is, too much thought and too little ability to translate that into a regular blog post…

A few fragments, then…Fresh from reviewing “Jigsy” – a Les Dennis one-man show at the Tobacco Factory. Last night was the “world premier”, tonight’s the last show! This was great theatre. My review for whatsonstage.com is here. Beautiful writing, great direction, superb performance. Phew.

Am working on something entirely new for me and have less than two weeks ’til deadline. In the current Kirk climate, that means c.10 hours’ writing time [9 month-old + pre-teens = say no more]. Need to learn to live like a slattern. (Must try harder.) What? Oh, what is it? A fab commission from Theatre Royal Bath for February’s Shakespeare Festival. The challenge: get the audience feeling confident about Shakespeare in 50 minutes. I’m loving it, as long as I don’t think about it too much!

And then there are The Projects. Someone smartly told me (nailed me) recently that I need to polish my work better, and she’s right, so there are a few important scripts that need polishing (not least the one about a right-wing government, curfews, riots and privacy incursions that I wrote 3 years ago), as well as developing No Milk No Stamps following August’s rehearsed reading.  And that’s all without The Ideas: the things that need writing from scratch; the creative team ideas that won’t go away….

Anglers sign off their notes to each other with “tight lines”. What’d be a good scriptwriterly sign off? Perhaps in this case,

Sleeping Babies


Learning, Writing

The Ustinov Writers’ Forum Moves to the Tobacco Factory

As you might have spotted if you read this blog regularly, I’ve been a member of a superb group of writers at the Ustinov. This group is now moving to the Tobacco Factory and this statement from the Forum explains the how and the why. If you would like to know more about what we’re up to and how you can support us, please read to the end!


In July the members of the Ustinov Writers’ Forum are leaving Theatre Royal Bath to start a new relationship with the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol.

Why move?
Theatre Royal Bath has reassessed the function of the studio space and its place within the organisation. As part of the strategy devised by Theatre Royal Bath’s Director and endorsed by the Board of Trustees, the Theatre sought to appoint a leading creative artist at the head of the Ustinov Studio to produce six in-house shows a year. Support for playwrights and Forum members was however moved from the Ustinov into the new Engage programme, which supports and encourages the interest, enjoyment and skills of adults in the performing arts at all levels of involvement. Disappointingly, the support reduced or removed some key services and fell below our expectations as a professional group: we therefore decided to seek a new home that we felt shared our commitment to the development and production of new work by regional writers.

Our achievements to date
Whilst we find the circumstances surrounding our departure from Theatre Royal Bath regrettable, we are very pleased to have achieved so much in two years with the support of the Ustinov, which has financed the Forum to provide industry-level development for professional writers; workshops; script reading; collaborative projects; visiting speakers and support for emerging and established writers in their desire to explore original ideas. Three Forum writers were seeded and supported to start new plays, five of the members’ scripts were staged as public readings, seven short plays were produced, eleven plays received half or full-day development sessions and fifteen writers were provided with one-to-one surgeries on their scripts. Four plays supported through Script Factory went on to professional production: COLLIDER and CIRCUS BRITANNICA by Shaun McCarthy, HERDING CATS by Lucinda Coxon and WATER’S NOT SO THICK by Gill Kirk.

Our next steps
We’re looking forward to the next stage of our development as a group. We hope being hosted by the Tobacco Factory Theatre to continue our work will allow us to build a wide range of new creative partnerships with theatres, producers, directors, actors and companies:

“We’re delighted to welcome the Writers’ Forum to the Tobacco Factory Theatre. The Forum’s hugely valuable activities complement our own commitment to the development and creation of new work and we are excited about the future of this relationship.” – Carrie Rhys-Davies, Education Officer, Tobacco Factory Theatr

How will we fund it?
As well as sharing our artistic aims, the Tobacco Factory Theatre has very generously provided space for monthly meetings, one-off skills workshops and bi-monthly script-in-hand readings in return for our support on new writing initiatives such as Script Space. However, we have no capital funding to run events or pay for professional development. We believe in paying professionals for their work and wish to do so wherever possible. We will be applying for project funding from ACE and other partners to help support this work financially from January 2012.

Your support
It is by coming to public events like script-in-hand readings that many of you have supported the Forum’s work in the past. We hope this can continue in the months ahead. If you would like more information on our plans to maintain and evolve a programme of writer development, are interested in discussing ways to support the Forum financially or creatively, or would simply like to be kept up to speed with the Forum’s future activities, please contact the group’s facilitator David Lane at davidlane1980@gmail.com

Shows, Writing

New happenings and challenges

Time indeed for an update! Since the last posting, there’s been much merry activity.

Firstly, work continues on the Script Factory seed commission at the Ustinov, Theatre Royal Bath, An Anaesethetic For Birthdays.  Under the very expert guidance of dramaturg David Lane, I have–much more slowly than usual–been working on developing the world of the play, understanding its ‘anchors’ (what grounds it), and developing the characters in depth.  The added challenge is that I had a baby at New Year and so am learning to juggle the feeding with one hand and writing with the other. To be honest, I’ve totally given up on that, and bought myself some excellent dictation software: this could result in a very interesting way kind of play!

Secondly, Water’s Not So Thick, the latest incarnation of which had a Ustinov Script Factory outing last September, is going into professional production in June, with Butterfly Psyche theatre company. We are just about to begin casting, so watch this space.

And thirdly, Away With The Fairies is also poised for professional production later this year. For the last few months, I’ve been enjoying talking to a new women’s theatre company about working together. Now we just have to find ourselves the right venue. More on this in due course!

Now, can anyone make me a third arm or add six hours to the day?