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!

Beer, pigs & vitiligo (not necessarily in that order)

Awww, did you cry? Did you? Even just a little bit? I did. There, I admitted it.

And no, this isn’t the bit where I reveal I am talking about something obscure, I am actually talking about the Royal Wedding.

It was quite a day, first up I discovered I really am an old softie at heart (every time they cut to Kate – sorry, Catherine – or her Dad, or her Mam, or a reveller, or some union jack bunting, or anything really, I welled up). I also found I am quite partial to beer, lucky really as after the nuptials I headed to the Gateshead Beer Festival (surprisingly I had the  afternoon free having not been invited to the reception).  ‘Raspberry Blonde’ was my favourite – I have no other information on it than that, I’m afraid. I picked my beer like I pick a horse in the Grand National, if it’s got a name I like then I plump for it. And so ends the science bit.

It’s all been mental busy of late. But, needs must. I’ve got to put the work in, them there scripts don’t go writing themselves. In the past few weeks of nose-welded-to-the-grindstoneness I’ve done my back in from hours sitting at my desk and my eczema and vitiligo have flared up from stress … sorry, too much information?! Vitiligo is what they say Michael Jackson had, fact fans. Although fortunately that is where any similarity between us begins and ends.

Forefront in my mind at the moment is The Girls From Poppyfield Close that opens in about 7 weeks at Live Theatre …

Over two decades ago, Charlotte set off home from school. She never made it. But now the papers say a body has been found, bones dug up and the case back in the headlines. In the remains of the house they all grew up in, now condemned for demolition, her sisters wait to find out, each harbouring their own guilt and secrets about what happened.

Thurs 23 – Sat 25 June … click [here] to see booking information.

This is my first solo production at Live, by which I mean it’s a full-length play and I am not sharing the bill. On the one hand this has been a long-held ambition of mine and I am super-duper excited. On the other hand, I am as nervous as you’d expect, not being able to share the load and having to carry a whole night. Some people, eh. Never happy. The cast is TBC but the director is Rosie Kellagher who has been there every step of the way as I’ve developed the script from its 30 minute original Blood, and she directed my last piece at Live Clint.

I’ve been invited to the launch of Live’s new Season tomorrow, where I’ll chat about the play. Ha ‘chat’ hark on me, just shootin’ the breeze. Mainly I am channelling any nerves into worrying about what to wear. That said, I’ve just had the schedule through and every slot looks like it has a whole 5 minutes – how far wrong can I go in 300 seconds? … (famous last words) It’s being held at The Broad Chare, a new pub next door to Live, and I hear they have a wide beer selection. So then, I’ll be in my element – what with me being such an expert now.

I’m also continuing to write Dolly Would, my first radio drama. I’ve had the feedback from Draft #1, all very positive and encouraging. I’m  going into Draft #2 with lots of ideas, less worried about getting my head around ‘thinking with my ears’ and able to focus more on the story and its characters. I also have the recording dates which makes it all very real. If I ever feel like slacking, I can think ahead to that recording and the fact that in eight months or so it’ll be on air (gulp!)

  • In other news … I spent Saturday looking up online how to butcher a pig. Suffice to say it was for research purposes for a new endeavour with Forward Theatre Project. I felt a bit queasy and, at the same time, desperate for a bacon sandwich.  Confusing.
  • In other other news … the Rascals are convening this evening to discuss our brand spanking new project … details announced soon
  • In other other other news … my friend Helen Macfarlane is appearing in The Crucible at York Theatre Royal this month. One of my favourite venues as that’s where the whole Tobacco double-bill adventure began. Speaking of which … the Latitude Festival looms ever nearer, and along with it a certain Chekhov/Carr double-bill.
  • And finally … The Royal Shakespeare Company. I’ll leave that with you.