Goodbye 2012. Close the door on your way out.

If you’d asked me, even as recently as a month ago, how I felt about 2012 (not sure why you would, but bear with me) then you’d have probably been met with a barrage of swearing.

Maybe it was always going to struggle in the face of 2011. Of course, rose-tinted glasses do come in to play somewhat so I won’t pretend there weren’t wobbles along the way that year. My eczema recurred in a big way (too much information?) and I suffered rather frightening anxiety dreams as I tried to balance everything. But even with all that, two words – Dolly Would– made 2011 the hard act it was to follow. It dominated my whole year and its early January broadcast saw me start 2012 on the highest high imaginable.

And the rules of the universe dictate that highest high must be followed by the lowest low.

The pressure I felt to keep up the momentum was huge. And projects did come along, I strengthened some existing relationships, started new ones and tried new things like my first stab at dramaturgy (never again, but that’s another story for another day!)

I failed, however, to win the Culture Award for Writer of the Year. I failed to get this commission, or that project, or the other scheme. Things were slowing down, not speeding up. I was slowing down. It’s hard to keep going in the face of, what seems like, a wall of rejections. I had spurts of productivity, creativity, but doubts – never too far from the surface anyway – creep in, the whispers of “what’s the point?” get louder.

Maybe I’d peaked, maybe that was me done. And when I got screwed over financially for the first time (that I know of) in my career, maybe that was the last nail in the coffin – not cut out for this business after all?

I spent much of 2012 frowning. Frowning while Googling my contemporaries to see how successful and happy and funny they were. I cried in public at least twice (mortifying). And there were the darkest few weeks about 3/4 through when I refused to leave the house.

But you don’t take up this profession to be able to walk away from it easily. It’s not a hobby, not a sideline. Something inside me still had fight – something that was still getting me up in the mornings even if the rest of me wanted to pull the sheets over my head.

I submitted my application for the Traverse 50 at 3am on the deadline day. I didn’t write it then – I’d prepared it way in advance during one of the spurts – but I hadn’t sent it. The “what’s the point?” voices thought they had triumphed when I went to bed that night. But when I woke up in the early hours it felt like do-or-die. Was I in this or not? Well I am, as it goes, cos I got up, turned the computer on and a month later I was listed alongside 49 other writers for the year-long attachment to Scotland’s Traverse theatre.

So the back end of the year has seen things looking up. As well as The Traverse 50 I’ve been commissioned for A Wondrous Place, a production that aims to challenge the negative ‘grim up north’ stereotypes and will tour to Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester in May/June. It’s a fantastic opportunity and concept that I hope I can rise to. December saw me perform my first solo show, and the whole writer slash performer path is one I’d be keen to walk down further (fingers crossed, touch wood, etc).

Who knows what the New Year will bring. Promises and predictions seem futile. All I want is to keep writing and write better. And to shop more in Next.

So then 2012. You’ve had your moments, but I won’t be sorry to see the back of you. Although well done on the Olympics, I did enjoy that very much.

Big thank you to all my family and friends who have supported me this year (and the rest). I know it’s sometimes not easy and I can be a right pain to know, but sometimes I’m quite funny too, and occasionally bring sweets, so hopfully that balances it out somewhat … xx

Dolly would. Dolly will. Dolly is.

So. It’s Dolly-Day. D-Day, if you will. Or perhaps Double-D day is more appropriate …

Dolly Would goes out on the airwaves in about 5 hours time.

As a writer coming to radio from a theatre background, this whole thing carries an element of the unknown that I am not used to. More often than not, I am able to see at least one performance of my stage plays with the audience and witness their reactions first hand, actively sharing the experience as it unfolds.

But with radio it feels like I am throwing Dolly Would out in to a black hole. I don’t know who is listening, where they’re listening, when they’re listening, if they’re enjoying it, if they’ve switched it off already, if they laughed at that hil-arious joke I am so proud of, and so on. I have no control and no idea of the response it’s getting. And that is terrifying.

***Dolly Would is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today at 2.15pm. It will subsequently be available on iPlayer until 11 January ***

What would Dolly do?

Gawd, some people (read: me) are just never happy.

One minute I am moaning on about Dolly Would’s rather tortured journey into being [read the post here] … but now the script is finished and recorded, I find myself missing it – moping around, not sure what to do with the Dolly-shaped hole in my schedule.

What would Dolly do? Probably not try to fill the hole with cake. But heck, I like cake!

I’ve been prepared for this eventuality, mind you. The play has been part of my life for such a long time, to now not have it will take a little getting used to. We recorded at BBC Broadcasting House last week. 18 hours to record 45 minutes worth of drama might sound like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things it was nothing. Five years since I had the original glimmer of the idea; working on the radio commission since January – when I look back at my 2011 Wall Chart (yes I have a Wall Chart, what of it) it is peppered with pink highlighter pen signalling the various Dolly deadlines throughout the year.

   

There were times when I thought the damned thing would never end, when I could quite happily have thrown my Dolly CDs out the window and never wanted to hear 9 to 5 ever ever again. But I didn’t throw anything out of any windows, and in fact yesterday when I was in a shop and they started playing Dolly’s Together You & I, I found myself singing and jigging along before remembering I was out in public!

When all is said and done, I worked bloomin’ blinkin’ hard and was able to hand in a script I was proud of and had (overall!) enjoyed writing. That’s not to say I think it’s perfect, but for my first radio drama – learning a new medium on the job – I feel hopeful that I have delivered something entertaining and true to my ‘voice’ as a writer.

The two days recording were quite an eye-opener. Director James assembled a great cast, led by Sharon Percy as Denize, Lee Ross as Martin and Libby Davison as Joanne.

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There’s no time for messing around – rehearsal time is virtually non-existent, it’s straight in and the clock is ticking. Cuts and rewrites are quick and after a handful of takes per scene, that’s it. It’s recorded, it’s committed. It was a steep learning curve, but I left definitely wanting to write more radio drama. (Let’s hope radio drama feels the same way!) 

The play is being edited over the next couple of weeks, with a confirmed broadcast date of Wednesday 4 January. And so we’re back to never being happy because on the one hand, I cannot wait. Christmas has turned into an inconvenience, something getting in the way of the big day! On the other, though, I am trying not to wish the weeks away. Not least because it’s Christmas and I like this time of year, but also because once it’s broadcast, that really is it.

Done.

Gone.

Finished.

Of course, that won’t stop me talking about it. On and on and on and on and on, long into the New Year ….

Me & pointing-pencil record The Verb

Back in August I got a call about a special edition of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb being recorded at the ARC in Stockton. ‘Do you have anything you’re working on at the moment that might be suitable for us?’, asked Producer Erin. ‘Yes’ I replied, ‘absolutely’. And thus I was booked as a guest. 

Let’s get one thing straight before I continue, ‘lying’ is a very strong word. But my ‘yes absolutely’ may possibly have given an impression that wasn’t entirely accurate. I had nothing written down, but thinking … I was way ahead in that department!

For a while I had been harbouring an idea about a hoader and her relationship with a woman who has lost her home and family in a house fire (cheery, eh). A woman with everything and a woman with nothing – how they might be the solution to each others problems.

For a longer while I have been skirting around the idea of writing a solo show that I would also perform. Recent projects like Come To Where I’m From and my first appearance on The Verb with Yackety Yak have made me realise that maybe this isn’t such an impossible dream.

During rehearsals for Poppyfield I broached the idea with director Rosie Kellagher, to see if she’d be interested in coming aboard. ‘Written by and starring’ is veering far enough in to Kenneth Branagh territory without adding ‘and directed by’ to the list. Another perspective would be an absolute must.

If anything, the call from The Verb simply spurred me in to action. Writing the solo show must, for now, run alongside my other projects when I have the time to spare. Of course, the risk is that nothing ever gets done. But this gave me a reason to get started and a deadline – there’s nothing more motivating than the thought of debuting your new work on national radio!

The recording was on Wednesday at the ARC. A couple of days before Rosie and I spent some time working on my performance – our relationship to this point has been director/writer so it was a bit weird being directed by her as an actor. But once I got over my self-consciousness, it was a productive session. And it turns out I was able to perform better when I had a pencil in my hand that I was able to point for emphasis. Of course, pointing-pencil will be lost on the listener but it became indispensable. It went AWOL, briefly, on Tuesday but turned up again in time for the show – phew.

The night itself was very enjoyable. Ian McMillan is a great host and got the crowd on side straight away. The show was recorded ‘as live’ and I think sitting on a stage, having an audience there to perform to, really helped – the ‘look-at-me’ show-off part of me kicked in and kept any crippling nerves at bay. I was more anxious for the interview part than the performance, and while I can’t now remember any of my answers I know there was no repeat of the ‘as’twere’ debacle from last time!

The show is broadcast tonight at 10pm on BBC Radio 3. Do tune in if you can, or you can Listen Again on iPlayer until 28th … x

  • In other news … Ian McMillan was kind enough to ask me about my BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Dolly Would during my Verb interview. Bat-eared listeners (surely the aural equivalent to eagle-eyed viewers) will hear that the broadcast date is confirmed as Wed 4 Jan @ 2.15pm.
  • In other other news … rehearsals are well underway for When It Falls, my contribution to Forward Theatre Project’s forthcoming Scratch My City event at the Soho Theatre, London on Sunday. Starring Esther Smith (most recently seen in the critically acclaimed Many Moons at Theatre503) and directed by Jacqui Honess-Martin, the play is inspired by designs by Left Luggage Theatre. Click [here] for more details and how to book.

” … what a way to make a livin”

Some of my ideas go the distance. Some of them flounder and fall at the first hurdle. But some flounder and fall only to be dragged back up again and hauled over the finish line due to sheer determination and bloody mindedness. I say ‘some’. I mean one.

Back in 2006 I took part in New Writing North’s Emerge scheme, during which we had to pitch three ideas for a one-act play. My first was Mam, Dad, Monkey and Me about a girl who comes home from Uni to find she has been replaced in the family by a stuffed monkey toy. The second was Parton of the Ways, a comedy about a former Dolly Parton impersonator whose boyfriend reappears after ditching her some time earlier. The third I can’t remember – maybe something about women’s football (clearly I was clutching at straws by number 3). A glance up in to the top right hand corner of the screen will give you a fairly fat clue about which idea went into development! I had a great time writing Monkey, it is (in my opinion) one of my best works and I got to work with the fantastic Deborah Bruce and a great team.

But.

Parton of the Ways stayed with me. And not just cos of the FANTASTIC title (admit it, it’s genius!) … the idea just wouldn’t go away.

Fast forward a year to late 2007 and I had written PotW in to a one act play and the opening scenes were shown at Northern Stage’s showcase night for work-in-progress.

Fast forward to early 2009. I approached Deborah and asked her to mentor me writing the one act play into a full length piece. We changed the title to Playing Dolly to reflect a more serious tone and got to work.

Fast forward to 2010 … you get the idea.

The play had become a millstone around my neck. Nothing worked. There was always *something* lacking. That bloomin’ elusive *something*. Over the years since I’d first had the idea I had done plenty of other work, but ‘The Dolly Play’ was hanging over me – a reminder of the one I just couldn’t manage. I nearly jacked in this playwriting lark altogether because of it. It tormented me but I couldn’t let it lie – somewhere inside me I knew that this story, these characters, had potential.

Somewhere inside me, however, I was also familiar with the phrase ‘flogging a dead horse’.

So. Last gasp. 

After going on the BBC Sparks programme last year I was invited to pitch an idea for a radio drama. I hummed and harred. Dare I? Last chance saloon and Jolene was playing on the jukebox. I dared, I pitched, it got commissioned. (Which is a very brief summary of a long, difficult and stressful process, but let’s not dwell!)

Dolly Would was born. Not a rehash of the stage version(s) but a brand spanking new start for a brand new medium. Which is what it (and I) desperately needed.

I have just handed in draft 4. It hasn’t been without its difficulties but it’s heading in the right direction (touch wood). We record in November. I can’t quite believe that Denize and Martin are actually going to come in to existence after all this time, and that their story is going to be heard on BBC Radio 4. When I got notification that the play had been commissioned, I burst in to tears. Loser.

With a broadcast date of January 2012, it will be just over five years since that first A4 pitch. And the cherry on the cake of my tale – a couple of weeks ago I got to see the legend that is Dolly Parton herself when her Better Day tour hit Newcastle! As I sang along to 9 to 5 (I know all the words having accumulated 7 Parton albums over the years, you know, for research) I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad that my time with ‘The Dolly Play’ is coming to an end. Then I remembered all the years of tears and swearing at the computer …!

  • In other news … the Rascally Scoundrels were at large last month at ARC Stockton … you can read about our exploits [here]
  • In other other news … congrats to Hazel Osmond who has recently signed with Quercus for another two books, following the success of her debut novel Who’s Afraid of Mr Wolfe? I am under strict instructions not to call her a bitch again. So I won’t.

The girls (& boys) of Poppyfield Close

Evening. How goes it? Good? Lovely.

Right then. Back to me.

Rehearsals for The Girls From Poppyfield Close start very shortly. Which is fortunate as the play opens in 16 days. Gulp.

As such, today is officially branded Day -16. You see where I’m going with this.

I am delighted to be able to tell you the cast. So … drum roll please … Cliff Burnett, Christopher Connel, Cheryl Marie Dixon, Samantha Neale, Rachel Teate and Phillippa Wilson. A big hand for all six of them, please *the crowd goes wild*.

Director Rosie Kellagher and I will be spending this week ironing out the finer details. There is a lot of talk from Rosie about her doing “prep”. I, meanwhile, have bought a ring binder. It’s red. And devoted some time to deciding what to wear for the first rehearsal. Priorities.

It’s a very short run at this stage in its development but delightfully all three nights are sold-out. So of all the things I can worry myself into a tiz about over the next 16 days, playing to an empty room is not one of them. There is a returns list if you ring Live Theatre’s Box Office. Just saying.

Oh, and there was a feature in this month’s Culture Magazine on the play – pages 22 & 23 that you can access [here]. There are no spoilers,  unless you count “not everybody dies at the end”. Which they don’t. Or do they? (Disclaimer: no).

  • In other news … Dolly Would continues apace. My producer suggested it be more of a caper as I move into Draft #2. I’ll tell you what, he might be careful what he wishes for in future. I’d go as far as employing the words ‘escapades’ and ‘hijinks’. How much of the shenanigans survive the next draft remains to be seen, but if the audience enjoy listening to it as much as I’m enjoying writing it (touch wood, there’s a way to go) then that’ll be a job well done!

Past Glories; Day 263 aka The End

I suppose officially Day 261 was ‘The End’, as that was the final performance of Never Rains But It Pours as part of the Past Glories series. But then, who’s counting … 

That’s that, then. Nine months ago I started writing it (and seven months before that the idea first surfaced) and now it’s done and dusted. The paddling pool has been deflated, Duck returned to his shelf in the wardrobe and the mystery of which-box-is-the-candle-holder-going-to-be-in-tonight? need never be solved again. 

For now. 

Because I have been asked a few times over the past fortnight whether I intend to do anything more with Rains/Pours? I like to think there is further life in it, that Meredith, Lyn and Cari’s story might have more to tell. For now, though, I need a break from it. 

For production details, previews, reviews, photos, etc – click [here]

I’ll sign off my Past Glories blog by thanking Kath, Louisa, Jo, Emma and the team for all of their energy, humour and hard work. And thanks for the post-show goodies I was presented with – all relevant to the play, all received in the spirit in which they were intended and all quite tricky to get home with any degree of decorum!! … xx

 

  • In other news … it’s straight on to the next one as the line-up for Live Theatre’s new Season has recently been announced, and it includes The Girls From Poppyfield Close. Adapted from my short play Blood, I have been developing the piece into a full-length play since the end of last year and it gets its first public airing in June. Details [here] 
  • And finally … Dolly Would draft #1 is done and in on deadline. Whoop!

Numberwang! (Past Glories; Day 219)

A Kit-Kat Chunky to whoever can tell me what the following numbers mean… 

  • 3
  • 35
  • 23
  • 6,000

Anyone? Anyone? No. Ok …

  • 3 actors (cast and rehearsals underway)
  • 35 days until Past Glories opens
  • 23 hours of rehearsal time (approx.)
  • 6,000 props – or thereabouts. More on that in a moment.

So then. Here we are. Firmly on the homeward stretch for Never Rains But It Pours. Blimey, how time flies. Rehearsals kicked off a couple of weeks ago – sadly I wasn’t able to make the first one due to a clash with the Tobacco double-bill at Northern Stage. However. Last week I rolled up at the People’s Theatre to sit in.

I’m pleased-as-punch with the cast director Kath Frazer has assembled – and here they are, pictured below (L-R) Emma Watson (Cari), Jo Kelly (Lyn) and Louisa Shirley (Meredith) – cheery looking bunch, aren’t they …!!

I’ve worked with Kath before on My Mam Was An Ice-Cream Blonde and with Louisa on Patricia Quinn Saved My Life (along with Kath, again, as it goes), and Jo took part in the first ever workshop for Rains back in Jan 2010 when it was still called Trickle and only 20 pages in length … small world! Emma is new to the People’s, but from what I’ve seen so far she’s a cracking young actress and I’m really excited she’s on board.

With a new play the early rehearsals are the most crucial for the writer, I think. It’s the first time you’re seeing the shape of it and hearing the words up on their feet with the actors who are going to be performing it. Read-throughs are great but will only get you so far, actual rehearsals are a priceless opportunity to make those final changes, cuts and additions. That said, me and my editing pencil have not had too frantic a time of it – a few line changes here and there, a couple of added lines of dialogue for clarity. The biggest jiggery-pokery to date has been re-writing a whole page, but only because when hearing it I realised what I already had threw up an interesting question that could be explored a little further.

The rehearsal time for this project is very limited. As the People’s is non-professional, rehearsals are in the evenings, 3x a week from 7.30pm til 10pm at the latest, for 6 weeks. But there are 4 plays to rehearse for Past Glories, and it’s been allotted the same 6 week rehearsal period. So. Two plays rehearse per night, meaning each get half the normal rehearsal time – approximately 23 hours, plus a few more when taking into account Sunday rehearsals the fortnight before opening. Not long, is it. It will all come together – it always does – but it does make me feel a bit sick if I think about it for too long. So I don’t think about it. I busy myself trying to be useful – making notes, answering questions, being available for edits or to talk about scenes or characters.

Oh, and bringing in rehearsal props …

The Studio Upstairs is a small venue, seating about 80. The brief for the plays was something without a set. And I can confidently say I have no set. Instead I have props. Lots of props. The action in Rains takes place in an attic room, described by one character as a ‘junk yard’ … basically, everything this family don’t want is dumped up there – from camping equipment to Christmas decorations. And a lot of it is utilised during the play. Props are a pain. Fact. Or more to the point, props are a pain in the early rehearsals when an actor is trying to hold the script in one hand, read it, act, remember where to be and deal with aforementioned prop at the right time and in the right way. Assistant Director Bev has been a star on the rehearsal props front already – there is an ever-growing pile in the rehearsal room, atop it a note reading ‘Do Not Touch’ in formidable black marker pen. I have provided the duck. He is doing pretty well with his lines and is good at finding his light. He may turn out to be a diva, but time will tell.

Me and duck won’t be back along to rehearsals until next week now, cos this Thursday and Friday I’ll be hangin’ (get me, down with the kids) with them there Boys on the Edge. Do you see that seamless link … do you? Clint makes its debut, along with Laura Lindow’s Mine and Bridget Deane’s I Am Legend, at Live this week – both performances now sold-out which is fantastic. I’ve been along to a few rehearsals the last couple of weeks, Rosie Kellagher is directing and David Tute stars. It’s been interesting seeing Clyde come to life – he’s not a straightforward boy in not a straightforward play.

I’ll let you know how it goes … xx

  • In other news …
  • The Tobacco double-bill went down a treat at Northern Stage – massive thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a memorable couple of days. It was great to have the team on my home turf. For the reviews, and details on when the show is being performed next, click [here] 
  • I have been commissioned to write a BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play. How mega-tops-fandabby-dozy is that! It is called Dolly Would, due for broadcast in December. Today I start writing it … D(olly)-Day!

I’ve always said I’ve got a face for radio

Remember me?

I have been very remiss in my website-ness of late, for which I can only apologise. My reasons are few and honest

  1. I have been very busy
  2. Due to the improved TV signal in my new house my magic Freeview box is back able to record all my favourite telly programmes

Anywoo, on with the news … 

No sooner had I written in my New Year round-up that one of my 2011 aims is to “make further headway into radio drama” then a producer from BBC Radio 3 was on the phone I was invited to appear on The Verb.  Maybe next year I should write “win the Lottery” and see if lightning strikes twice?! So, I’ll be reading my play Yackety Yak on the airwaves. Yes, I WILL be reading it … me, myself … yowzah! I am heading down to Broadcasting House next week to record the programme with presenter Mr Ian McMillan and it’s being broadcast on Friday 28 January @ 9.15pm.

My brand new shiny monologue CLINT will be unveiled at Live Theatre on Thursday 3 March. It’s part of a night called Boys on the Edge – one-man plays about boys of the cusp of adulthood. It follows on from the success of ‘Girls on the Verge’ last year and also features new works by Bridget Deane and Laura Lindow.

I was a bit nervous about writing for this one, I’ve not written a lot of male characters and certainly not teenage boys. But, set me a challenge and I’ll do my damndest and I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it difficult to get started, but once I found Clyde’s ‘voice’ he became a joy to write. We’re at the rehearsal draft stage with it so I don’t want to say too much, but suffice to say it’s a bit of a crazy-ass concept and quite possibly goes down some of the darkest roads I’ve ever traversed.

Thrillingly, Boys on the Edge is already sold-out. It sold out so fast I didn’t even have a ticket. But, if any seats are released or extra performances added I will let you know. (**UPDATE 25/1/11 – second date added, Fri 4 Mar @ 8pm **)

 Past Glories; Day 181: It might seem to have gone quiet on this front but it hasn’t … but the things that are happening are things out of my hands. Namely, auditions have been held and casting is imminent. So, soon there will be actors attached to the characters – I can’t wait. Draft #2 was met with approval so will be the draft going in to rehearsals, but I’ll be there for further re-writes. You get to a point when you need to start hearing it and seeing it to know where and what needs cutting and changing.  Rehearsals start in mid-Feb and I’m looking forward to this next stage with it – I enjoy collaborating with actors and the director, seeing the play bed in with the team and grow and develop.

That’s about the size of it. The Tobacco double-bill is selling well at Northern Stage next month, but there are still tickets available so do come along if you can.

Toodle-pip for now … xx