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.