In the newly created Accesses as Space on Sheffield’s Fargate (opposite Marks & Spencer) I am just in time to catch the 3pm screening of a film commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts to celebrate the links with one of the most audacious projects of the early twentieth century – the R101 Airship.
Sat in front of me a group of DocFest visitors are sunk in low deckchairs as this immersive film begins to weave its magic. Through computer generated imagery we are witnessing the future as it unpacks and celebrates the airship wondering how an idea so far ahead of its time could be allowed to die. If anytime was good to revive the airship project it is now and cannily this collaboration begins to suggest what it meant, especially to the men and women who were involved in it. Archive footage is neatly employed to demonstrate the hopes that lay at the heart of the R101’s construction.
Back in the future the boomeranged voice narrates a possibility illustrated by the human moment that connects our past present and future; an almost sinister focus on isolation.
I want to try and communicate the sheer exhilaration I felt watching this film unfold itself across 36 minutes. I don’t want to spoil it for you – all I can say is that it lives up to its billing as an immersive artwork exploring themes of flight and fantasy.
Escaping Gravity is a collaboration between artists: Roland Denning; Roger Illingworth; Dave Lynch; Rob Strachan; Mike Stubbs and Sam Wiehl.
Escaping Gravity was commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts and The Higgins Art Gallery and the Museum of Bedford with support from Arts Council England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Airship Heritage Trust and The Harpur Trust.
Sometimes we trip ourselves up. No matter how innovative we are or how hard we work on our writing projects we leave the door open to the worst of housemates – self-doubt – and it lives rent free. Sometimes the best thing we can do is ask for help and be open to criticism.
You need to trust your writing process to help you improve.Then comes the question: who to ask?
A trusted friend or a professional advisor who won’t hold back from presenting you with writing support that helps you find the truth. Whether you pay for this or you’re lucky to have someone who can simply respond to your script with a rare focus, it is important to let the truth sit hard. Sometimes the best thing we can do is ask for help and be open to criticism.
My New Project
Are you wondering what I’ve been working on that has made me want to talk about this? Well, I’ve been beavering away on a brand new project, a middle grade children’s book. Like many writers trying out a new format for the first time, it’s not always easy. I’ve had wonderful advice and writing support along the way but then just as soon as you finish the first draft, which for me is always at least three drafts in, you realise this is the first time you’ve written anything for children. How on earth can you be sure it is doing what you hoped it would.
So I’m feeling really positive because my call for help was answered – and in spades. Yes there was some positive feedback but the reality is I need to rewrite. It’s not all bad but it demonstrates how, in this instance, I really needed some great advice. My idea is strong and most of the characters too, but the nagging doubt I had has been confirmed: something is missing and if I am to succeed I must find it and add it into the mix.
I can’t wait.
Thank you for your honesty and I know you are waiting to read the next draft. I won’t let you down.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is ask for help and be open to criticism.
I tend to be on the move a lot. It’s critical for me to access really good wi-fi. A cafe, such as Fika in Hastings is perfect for writing, great coffee and a reasonably quiet space to work. But it doesn’t have to be as quiet as an exam room or public library, especially if my writing is re-writing. I do like a bit of hub-hub and sometimes music. I like listening to classical or jazz but occasionally, that’s not right for what I’m working on. So, I will listen to the Clash, the Jam or PJ Harvey or a new band from Brighton called grasshopper. Or perhaps I will seek the company of someone like, Emily Barker, whose music has a really cinematic quality, which is obvious when you think why the theme for the BBC version of Wallander is so loved.
The Blank Page
Ah, yes, the blank page.
This is sometimes the easiest and sometimes the hardest place to be starting. If you’ve literally not got anything to work with, should you be looking at this page? You could, as I do, start a process of speed writing, or think of a character you’ve not met before and start there. It becomes easier, as you accumulate some notes and some images. What do I really want to write about? Who do I want to write for?
Even better is to be already looking at an outline or the beginning of a draft. You’re hungry to let the story flow. And then you stop. If you’re like me, that could be for years. If I’m writing to commission, no chance – I will find a way. I had to pitch the idea and sell it to someone else, so there’s no way I’m going to waste that opportunity. But if it’s an idea that I was so excited about, however, when I started (possibly too early) I did not find a way to get to the heart of why I needed to write it in the first place. Like many other writers I will put it away, and wait. I’ve recently revived a few ideas and conquered my original doubts or found that elusive ‘heart’.
The First Draft
The first draft is critical for me. If I can get there, no matter how rushed, then I have something to hold on to. The reason, those ideas I’ve still got safely stowed in my bottom drawer, remain there, is that I cannot get to that point. If I want to avoid that blank page and make my writing flow and not feel constrained. I write with an outline. I prefer to focus on a story that feels fresh. Which, of course, I am – just working within a framework that will get me using the strongest possible narrative shape.
I think I’ve taken longer than most to work this out. Writing is re-writing. This means working on the first draft and producing multiple drafts to achieve my best writing. I know what I need to do to create a satisfying work of fiction or theatre. And in the case of film, a blueprint for a director and production team to follow. My viewpoint is the main focus of the next few drafts. Only then will I open it up to trusted readers – or if I’m under commission, start work on it with the producer. Press on, Write it, then craft it. Craft it again, and again. Writing is re-writing.
Be a collaborator
I love writing for theatre because of the opportunity to collaborate with a team. Film follows the same principle, though commercial film can often feel alienating for a writer. As a screenwriter for hire you’re part of a team. Just not driving the project in the same way a playwright does in the theatre. The ultimate collaboration, though, is the one I can have with readers of my fiction. The act of reading is a creative one. All readers bring their imaginations to help construct the world within a work of fiction. Reading is good for you, I think, because it exercises your imagination. Sometimes, it takes effort to work with a writer, because of your language, characters, themes or style. So if you’re a regular reader of fiction, thank you for reading!
Something must be done to help UK theatres survive this crisis. I want to tell you why it is important to me and why doing something now really matters.
Bringing together actors and audiences is one of the most intrinsically creative acts. A play is not the same every performance. Not exactly the same each successive performance – an experience never to be repeated and one, truly shared. And good theatre remains in your consciousness – an incredible play remains in the conscious of communities and societies. It might take time for the effects of this to take hold. The evidence is a powerful reminder of why theatre matters. Our society feels and acts a little different. Think about a play like Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem or Sarah Kane’s Blasted. They have gone on to reward repeat stagings for audiences around the world.
I believe in the contribution theatre makes to our knowledge, wealth and well-being. Good theatre entertains us, great theatre creates a climate for debate. We improve our society and our lives by going to the theatre. There is nothing quite like it, indoors or out: proscenium arch or in the round; thrust stage or end-on in a black box; West End; regional; national; local; rural; international and immersive.
Yes, Theatre helps me to earn a living as a writer and marketer but it also gives me great pleasure and a deeper connection to people and their communities.
It does not matter if you are seeing live theatre for the first or the hundredth time. It is an often a visceral experience. And the buzz just before a performance begins is highly addictive. The play can have successive productions, home or abroad. New directors, performers and technicians will bring their own skills and imaginations to bear.
Why you should care
In 2018 more than 34 million people chose to see a professional theatre performancein the UK. Resulting in a clear demonstration of just how important the industry is to the UK economy. 34 million people have developed a habit that gives them new perspectives, pure joy or simply an escape. People who enjoy live theatre are more likely to have better mental health.
And now, in 2020, live theatre in our many and varied theatre venues will collapse. More steps must be taken to manage the devastating effects of the virus control, many theatres will be lost forever. Already, some of our best known regional venues have already gone into administration or given notice that without an injection of cash they will have to close.
If you’ve never experienced live theatre, you might find some of this over the top. If you’ve had bad experiences or just find the whole idea pointless, dull or perhaps just not for you, you might want to reflect on what theatre does for the UK.
Help keep theatres open in the UK by writing to your MP. Ask them to put pressure on the government to create stronger measures to protect an industry that through no fault of its own is now in peril. And not just theatres – music venues too.
Act now, by signing a petition here and help change policy. Something must be done to help UK theatres survive this crisis, and soon.
If you don’t want to do it for yourself maybe think about doing it for others, your own family and friends and for future generations.
Just thought I would share with you my own disquiet about actually writing a novel.
Starting out again?
Maybe it’s just me, the satisfaction from writing short stories is infectious. I have attempted one before, a long time ago – before I abandoned it to write plays, having discovered that using plays to improve my ability to write dialogue was itself a call from the siren.
That novel never saw the light of day. I still have it somewhere. Handwritten and loosely tied together, probably with string. A friend read it but didn’t say very much. Very wise.
What is a novel?
So here I am forty years later revisiting the form. What is a novel? Is it dead? I am enjoying finding out. my theme and characters are working their magic, albeit slowly. I’ve already lost half of it once. That lazy, stupid habit of leaving a laptop on and not saving when you should. Or saving the file but foolishly letting the ones and zeros get corrupted. Luckily, I shared some of it and still had the email.
I started again, as you do. I picked up from where I had got to with the story when I shared it with a close friend, some two months before. Still annoyed with myself. All these years of reminding myself to save my work properly and in multiple places wasted.
And, we’re off!
So, at least I have passed the word count where I thought I had got to originally. But it is still confounding me. This long form danceathon. The story bites though, you’ll be glad to hear. Slowly, I am falling down rabbit holes of desire and injustice. What might not have actually been a novel is slowly proving itself to be that rare chiselled beast of narrative puzzle making. I am more like a sculptor, revealing a story somehow lost inside a vast block of unformed rock.
It’s fun too. Fun to find I am recognising stories that resonate with other people. I am pleasantly surprised. My disquiet about writing a novel should be set aside.
What do you think about the novel? If you have been reading my stories or those by another author, let me know what you think. You’l be glad to hear that the novel I am working on is different in every way, except for one – my love for a great story.
How about you?
What else are you reading at the moment? Feel free to share the books and authors you’ve found to help you, entertain you or inspire you through these dark days as we reel from pandemic and racism and the feeling that something has got to give.
Sometimes, an idea for a new piece of writing comes easily. It is not always the case.
More often than not, ideas can take years to work their way through the rounds of denial, rejection and simple unfathomable doubt.
I started out writing for the theatre and to me it always seemed straightforward to say I am writing a play. Now I’m not so sure because it could be a book or a film or even a play for the radio. Of course now it could be a podcast, a game or a web series.
The Church is heaving Screens! Screens in church! Nice touch Everyone else in a tie Black He is the first The first of the cousins to die Apart from suddenly sounding like A song by Morrissey There is a point here 32 are now 31
I look around the loved up beams Windows twinkling in a stain of colours Feel the crafted pews through soft trousers No graffiti to rub against Ushers in uniform Faces rapt A smiling sea of love for Chris
There was nowhere else to go The moment when Yvonne Read, strong, controlled, a player Then stumbled over the date He left Capturing the fatal charm Of being everything Everyone wanted you To be And more
As if you reached perfection As a son A husband A father A friend Leaving the rest of us in the starting gate Chewing on our bits Feeling a dig From our jockeys Not daring to move
You flew You pushed on and through We looked After Or in my case Turned my back to Look the other way A different way To stay in the gate To pass on the cries of the crowd
Only five years behind you Feels like five lifetimes The frost The fire The piece of wood I sit down on To listen to your life The connections The jokes The easy tone of comfort And presence
Not that I listened To your shows ever My loss, clearly 300 people here 30,000 outside In the air We smile As a younger colleague Tests the water with A more risqué Nod to your gift For companionship Your easy mastery Of the art of being There For everyone
Now they can’t retune To seek Your voice Except, in their heads And that’s the point You will always be there, with A cheesy tune that somehow Feeds the line Everyone needs From time to time Listening, Wherever you are In a state of perfection Seriously Professional