Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Tribute - Interview with David Hendon

Another week, another great Tribute, and another great insight from the writer of the Tribute. This week is The Name on the Bench by David Hendon, and his answers are brilliant as is the monologue. Both left me with a lump in my throat and something in my eye.

1. I love the insecurity we all have regarding age, and how we compare ourselves to others based on age.The line where he realises he's a year away from being the same age as the deceased is surely something we all do, Was that aspect based on a specific example or just more general?

I wanted something to trigger the adventure he goes on. Turning 40 seems like a huge deal at the time, the build-up to it especially, but a couple of days after your birthday you don’t think about it again. It’s just an age. But for the protagonist it’s a wake-up call. He has these unresolved issues relating to his own life and has hidden behind alcohol or by just plodding on at work. He’s an understated character, the sort of person who doesn’t want to bother anyone with his problems. When he discovers the bench is dedicated to someone who had just turned 40 it triggers a kind of mid-life crisis which becomes about dealing with his own unresolved grief. He can’t let it go until he finds out who the name on the bench is.

2. That's the catalyst for what begins like a detective story. Did you use that genre as a template for this?

I wanted it to be a proper story. Monologues can really draw an audience in because it’s just one person telling a story, like they’re taking you into their confidence. I wanted a mystery element but also the reveal to be slightly underwhelming because the point of the story isn’t what he finds out, it’s how it affects his life. It triggers the way he finally comes to terms with his own feelings of grief.

3. I found your protagonist fascinating. What were the main elements you wanted to get across about him whilst creating him?

He’s not the life and soul of the party but he’s seen as dependable. Probably nobody he works with knows he has these issues in his life that he hasn’t resolved. He’s quite self-deprecating, an ‘ordinary’ man. Except, no one is ordinary. Peel back the layers and you’ll find something extraordinary about everyone. We’re alive – that’s extraordinary for a start.

4. 'Superceded by a spreadsheet.' Great line, but also a huge fear, our life less important than trivial day to day matters. I'm unsure whether the tributes say more about the dead or about the person delivering them. Is that line really about James Grant or more about himself?

I think by this point he does see himself and James as intrinsically linked. I suppose he wonders who, if anyone, would miss him if he was gone. It’s another trigger for continuing his adventure.

5. The redemption makes this a very life-affirming Tribute. Do you believe this is one of the important reasons we need to discuss death more?

To me, these tribute dramas are as much about life as they are death. If you’re fortunate when you’re young death doesn’t intrude too much on your life but, as you get older, it becomes more prominent. Death is like a sniper, randomly killing off your family and friends, and one day it will get you. So death is all around us and it’s the people left behind who have to cope and find a way of dealing with their loss.

6. What other projects are you working on, and do they share any similarities with The Name on the Bench?

Funnily enough, the first play I wrote was called ‘The Bench.’ The difference there was that the characters never moved from the bench.
I did a play last year at the Edinburgh fringe called The D-List which was an out-and-out comedy and then a monologue called Eyes to the Wind, which was much more serious and was runner-up in the Kenneth Branagh award for new drama writing. It’s been on in Windsor and London and is hopefully going to be made into a short film. Last week I had something on at Southwark Playhouse as part of a night of new comedy writing. I’m developing a couple of other plays too. I like to try different styles and subjects but I am drawn to stories that reveal secrets, so this monologue was another chance to do that.

7. In particular I really enjoyed the dry humour of your monologue, is that a staple of your writing or used to fit this character and story?

I like comedy but it’s hard to get right. My Edinburgh play went down really well some nights and less well on others. It can come down to a slight change in the performances, the demographic of the audience, the day of the week or even the audience being in a bad mood because of the weather. Comedy is the only measurable genre. If people don’t laugh, it hasn’t worked. In this monologue I tried to make it understated. It’s a serious story but the protagonist can recognise the tragicomic elements of what he is doing.

8. Have you listened to any of the other Tributes? If so, which ones have stood out for you?

I’ve listened to and enjoyed them all. The writing is top quality. I also want to mention the acting, which is incredibly good. Sam Hazeldine, who performed my piece, recorded it in his own studio in LA. I found out later that he had dedicated a bench to his own father, the late actor James Hazeldine, at the National Theatre. This was coincidence but must have informed his performance.
Clearly many of them are very personal and informed by family. You could hear the rawness in the one about Hillsborough (Milestone). I thought the way his quiet anger informed the character’s grief was well achieved.
What I liked, though, was the range of styles of writing and the range of voices. I think these tributes do shine a light on how death affects the living but they are also a celebration of life. The internet has given us countless ways to make other people, and ourselves, feel worthless but everyone has something to contribute. We should maybe focus more on that. Everyone has affected someone in some way. Everyone will be missed by somebody.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Tribute - Interview with Carol Cooper

This one is a bit late as my head is stuffed up with a cold, and I feel like I'm coughing up razor blades. Luckily Carol Cooper has provided some great answers to these questions about her Tribute to her mother, titled My Immortal Mother. A tribute which tells the story of a complete life, it's quite remarkable. As are some of the insights in this interview. Enjoy!

1. This is obviously a very personal eulogy. When writing personal stories do you feel you have to hold things back or do you let it all out there, and is there a vulnerability involved in that?

Most of my work is quite personal – there’s often a lot of me, me, me lurking around in it, and I do think ‘letting it all out’ is fine if one is writing more for one’s pleasure, or to a loose brief, rather than for a paid commission. But I reckon that even though Tribute is personal, it’s actually one of my least self-referential pieces in that I was really attempting to get inside my mother’s head, not create a new fictional head that would have bits of me in it. I started writing it shortly after her death when I now see I was still in a state of denial. So during the process, and the recording, I didn’t feel particularly affected or vulnerable. But by the time the podcasts came out I’d moved into a different, so-this-is-really-happening-then phase of grief and have found it hard to listen to.

2. This hits the ears like a great novel, the language, the story of your mother's life so richly told. Have you thought of expanding on any of the tales or expanding the whole story for a novel?

Well, thank you. Yes, one day I will probably write a novel – my writing does come up on the wordy side after all. And there is so much to write about Mother. But I prefer writing for performance as it involves more collaboration, and is thus less lonely. Plus, you have the delicious alchemy of having an actor bring their own soul to your words and create something new.

3. Were some of the years easier to write than others? Was it difficult to not let one of them take over the story as a whole?

It was easier to write her childhood years as that felt like writing a completely separate ‘Wendy Cooper’ story, so I was able to maintain a bit of distance. It was harder to write the end bits; the bits where my mum dies.

4. Were there any shards, fragments and stories you wish you could have fitted into the Tribute?

My mother would tell me stories about her mother, the pathologically unmaternal Flora. I initially had a section about Flora growing up as an orphan in a remote convent in the Himalayas run by sadistic nuns. But that is a whole other story…

5. I'm really drawn to the humour in these tributes. I loved the moment with the sunglasses and the blanket. Was that moment always in your head to write or was it a memory that occurred to you when you reached that part of the monologue?

That was one of the Lady Bracknell-esque stories I had in the eulogy I wrote for Mum’s funeral. There are many Mum memories and quotes like that I’ve always intended to write about, so I’m so grateful to Phil for coming up with this great project that’s allowed me to give them an airing.

6. What other projects are you working on, and I know you said that My Immortal Mother was like a knot that you had to keep worrying it, does that knot permeate your other writing?

Yes, Mother is turning up all over the place. I’ve recently written a short play The Unlost, a mother and daughter comedy (starring versions of me and Mum) about death
and eternal life on the London Underground. It’s on at the Arcola Theatre, 26th March, 7.30pm, as part of an evening of short plays called On The Night. I am also devising a one woman show with the talented comedy TV actor Milanka Brooks and mother/daughter themes are creeping in to our discussions…

7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which ones have stuck out if so?

Well it’s been tricky as I’ve been wanting to avoid anything too ‘deathy/griefy’ of late. So I asked a friend to suggest the lighter/comic ones that wouldn’t set me off. I really enjoyed Eulogy for Tricia Slater and The Name on The Bench, both such clever ideas, so well executed by writer and actor. I also liked A Great Man, for the resentment the son felt for the father and the moving twist at the end.

8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?

It’s so important and we don’t do it enough. We’re so busy existing we forget we’ll all end up not existing. And we’ll watch our loved ones cease to exist. When I had my first child I was struck for days afterwards by how deeply ODD it felt. There was a bump, and then it became a life. And with this, my first really impactful bereavement, I’m finding it similarly, extremely ODD – there was this huge, long, immensely significant (to me) life and then, literally in a heartbeat, it just… stopped.

Odd, very odd. Needs to be explored.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Tribute - Interview with Sarah Penrose

We're onto the 2nd featured episode of the brilliant Tribute podcast series. This one is a dark humourous eulogy to a next door neighbour. This one really made me laugh, and it was a pleasure to find out more about it from writer Sarah Penrose.

1. It seems you stumbled into writing comedy. Why do you think comedy seemed to seep into your serious pieces?
I think what happens is that I write serious things with a heavy twist of irony - perhaps because that’s how I see the world.  Comedy seems to come from the unguarded things people say, when we think we’re portraying ourselves one way, and we let slip something else entirely.  

2. How difficult was it writing a monologue from someone who initially seems reluctant to deliver it?
I enjoyed it.  The need for positive things to say and the limited options gave a sort of beat to it, and the rest just flowed from there.  She isn’t reluctant really, in some ways she’s desperate to get it off her chest, after all her dreadful experiences.  

3. How did the idea for the interruptions from others come to you?
The interruptions just helped to give it a context.  It made it easier to convey that she was speaking to an empty room, aside from the funeral director.

4. Do you agree that a lot of the comedy comes from imagining Tricia fuming at this eulogy from beyond the grave? Was that something which was in your mind whilst writing?
I have to say it wasn’t, but that’s certainly a pleasing thought.  I felt the comedy was in the struggle to be nice.  The idea of Tricia in Hell listening in didn’t cross my mind!  She’s probably far too busy telling everyone else how to live their deaths down there.

5. Do you believe that things get funnier the darker the material gets?
5.  Not sure I’d generalise to that extent.  I’d love to be able to write something straightforwardly funny, without any dark edges, but that doesn’t seem to be what lights the fire to write in the first place.  I tend to be drawn to the darker side of things, but again, I don’t think that I am specifically a comedy writer.  I think comedy seems to come through, often without me noticing!  (I perhaps shouldn’t own up to that.)  

6. What other projects are you working on and how does Eulogy for Tricia Slater fit into your style?
6.  I’m working on a screenplay about the breakdown of a marriage from a child’s perspective, and I have various short stories on the go.  I’m not sure I have identified a style, as such.  I lost my husband two years ago, and lost who I was.  (That was one of the reasons I went back to university to do an MA - the quest to find out who I was and to rediscover my voice without him.)  But I do always seem to come back to the things we say that give us away - the things we aren’t necessarily conscious of.  

7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which have stuck out as favourites for you?
7.  I found it hard to start listening, just because the two year anniversary of my own tragedy brought with it an awful weight of grief.  I had started forgetting about his death for moments at a time, and then remembering again with the same slamming force that got me when it first happened.  Now that I have come out of that a bit, I’ve had a chance to sit down and listen, and it is very hard to pick favourites because they are all wonderful in their own way.  Valediction Forbidding Mourning was a stunning piece of writing and a stunning performance, and it was heartbreaking.  And I have a soft spot for Grandpa.  But I was amazed at the quality of writing in all the pieces.  I feel very honoured that mine is here amongst them.

8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?
8.  Death is part of life.  We can act as though it isn’t, but it’s going to affect us at some stage.  It first affected me at 17, when I lost a lovely friend to cystic fibrosis.  I had absolutely no idea how to deal with it.  I was away at boarding school and nobody there knew her, and I had the sense that I was being terribly self indulgent, feeling so sad.  For a long time I associated grief with selfishness, and couldn’t allow myself to indulge in it.  There was more sympathy at school for a girl whose dog had died, nobody could speak to me about it.  People avoid it, and in doing so, they avoid you when you most need them.  I’ve seen that happen to so many people over the years since then.  So it’s important to discuss death, so that we know how to speak to those who have lost, but it’s also important for another reason.  My grandmother was terrified of death.  I used to talk to her about it, and realised that she was dreadfully afraid of judgement.  Those sorts of fears, buried deep within us, take all peace away.  Perhaps if we were able to discuss them more openly, we could walk into that last phase of life with a little less fear, a little less trepidation.  We all die alone, but perhaps we don’t need to carry our fears alone until we get there.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Tribute - Interview with Katy Walker

After the launch of the Tribute podcast series last week it is time to bring the focus onto the stories told within the series. Each week a different tale will be brought forward, and the spotlight shone upon it. We begin with Valediction Forbidding Mourning by Katy Walker, a heartbreaking story of a mother's grief. For each episode I hope to interview the writer to discuss their Tribute, in some cases this may not work out - people are busy etc, but keep an eye out every week because as you can see from the answers here, there are some fascinating insights on writing these personal Tributes.

On with the interview:

1. How long after discovering the Tribute opportunity did this idea come to you? Was it fully formed or did the pieces fall together over time?

Haha!  Fully formed?! If only... I think what happened was I tried about seventeen different ideas, panicked, tried some more and eventually dredged this one from my subconscious. I'd been to a Wellcome Trust conference about antibiotic resistance (for a project that didn't work out) and had got a bit obsessed with that - I'm the child of an academic and a historical novelist so I go big on research - and I'd been thinking about the poem too, but hadn't put the two together.  You know that thing about necessity being the mother of invention?  Well, that.  And I'd also just seen an ox heart being dissected and learned about heartstrings.  So yeah, the pieces came together in the nick of time - and then it was relatively easy to do a first draft.

2. This Tribute takes its name from a John Donne poem, does a lot of your inspiration come from poetry or do you find you are inspired by a wide array of stimulus? 

I think this is the first thing I've written that's been inspired by a poem, although I do think about poems more and more these days.  I get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere: news, music, art, my family, friends, the world.  I'm always listening in to other people's conversations and have been known to follow strangers.  At the moment everything I'm writing seems to be connected somehow to St Pancras station, because I walk through it to get to uni.

3. Was the diary structure there from the start? How do you think that structure impacts the story?

I think it was there from the start, yes.  One of the things I love about radio is the intimacy,  and I thought the format was a good way of listening in to an honest, personal thought process.  I trained as an actor so I always speak the lines in my head, and this felt like a way to put those words into other people's heads too.
I think - no, I know - that structure is absolutely crucial.  I'm not massively keen on over-analysis- you could read books on dramatic structure for ever and never have any time for writing - but I do think you need to know the rules in order to choose whether to follow them or not (and you have to have a bloody good reason for not). And more often than not, if a story isn't working it's down to the structure.  It's the thing I worked on most in this piece, and it's the thing I'm finally beginning to enjoy.  Constructing a story with intent rather than just winging it makes me feel like a master sculptor and I love it! 

4. Onion knobs being used for bunions sounds like something drawn from real life rather than entirely fictional, is there a story behind that?

Yes, it was a mistake my 9-year-old daughter made while I was writing this.  I kind of cringe when I read it back, but I've been thinking a lot recently about the advice to write what you're uncomfortable writing, so I left it in!

5. There are some great lines in your monologue. any you're particularly proud of?

Why thank you!  Erm, none in particular - and I think there's a danger in being self-congratulatory - but I tried very hard to concentrate on the rhythm of the piece, and I was quite pleased with the overall shape and musicality of it (I say 'was' because now, of course, I only see all the things that are wrong with it!)

6. What other projects are you currently working on and how does  Valediction Forbidding Mourning fit into your style?

Good question.  I'm doing an MA at Central St Martins at the moment, and we are v lucky to be taught by industry experts who are encouraging us to try a variety of styles.  I'm not sure I've quite worked out what my 'voice' is yet, but it's coming..  I think I'm a combination of misery (I do come from Aberdeen, where you're kind of expected to be dour) and comedy.  Not much evidence of the latter in 'Valediction' but I am currently working on a comedy about Morris dancing.  For balance.   

7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which have stuck out as favourites for you?

 I'm ashamed to say I haven't listened to all of them - what comes of doing an MA at the same time as trying to hold down a rather stressful day job! - but I am looking forward to discovering them over the coming weeks. I do think Phil Shelley's own one is rather beautiful - brave and honest, and I think there's so much richness to be found in 'ordinary' lives - which are never anything of the sort, when you look properly.

8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?

I have thought about this a lot, because it turns out Finty agreed to record Valediction because of a friend's experience of losing a child in similar circumstances.  I felt quite shocked about that, and did question whether it's helpful to make drama out of tragedy.  But of course the ancient Greeks did it, Shakespeare did it, writers do it all the time, and it IS important.  We have such a complicated relationship with death, which is what makes it so fascinating to write about, and also I think there has been a sort of an idea in Western culture that death is something you 'get over' - that's one of the things I wanted to look at in Valediction.  And of course writing about it is easier than talking about it...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Local News Article - A League Apart

Here's a recent article that was in my local paper the Evening Leader in Wrexham. If you were disappointed by Arsenal not losing to Sutton United yesterday you can relive their defeat at the hands of Wrexham in 1992. That's the setting of my film script A League Apart. Read more about it above.

Friday, 10 February 2017

TRIBUTE - Interview with Philip Shelley

Launching today is the new podcast, Tribute, by Philip Shelley. My script Bookmark is part of the anthology series which deals with death and the multitude of emotions that can throw at you. I'll post more about my episode in the coming weeks, firstly to give you more of an idea of the series as a whole here's an interview with the creator Philip Shelley.

What is the premise of Tribute, and what lead you to the idea?

The TRIBUTE PODCASTS are 13 short dramatic monologues – the premise being that they’re eulogies/celebrations/musings on a recently deceased fictional character. What lead me to this was having to do the eulogy at my own mother’s funeral in March last year. My mother had written a 30 page or so account of her life a few years ago, and much of my eulogy was taken from this. Reading it reminded me that it was me who encouraged her to write it in the first place. My mother didn’t live an objectively extraordinary life – but even so, so many extraordinary things had happened to her and so much of the detail of her life was fascinating and rich. It made me think about how every single life is unique and extraordinary – and how a eulogy/tribute is a great dramatic format for recounting the story of a life – particularly if there’s something distinctive about the relationship between the deceased and the person giving the eulogy.
I was also lead to the idea by the succession of celebrity deaths in 2016 that meant something to me – particularly David Bowie.

Would you say Tribute fits into a genre or does it cross over into multiple genres?

It fits into the genre of dramatic monologue – but I think the eulogy aspect makes it distinctive and compelling. I also think as a genre/format, it’s ideally suited to the medium of podcasts. I’m a big podcast fan – but all of the podcasts I enjoy are factual rather than fictional. I think there is a place for more fiction - drama and comedy – podcasts.

How many Tributes will there be?

There are 13 in this first series. I’m hoping the response to this first run will be positive enough to justify a second series. And that I can find a source of funding to pay for the 2nd series!

How did you go about choosing which stories made up the series?

 I put out a call through my fortnightly screenwriting newsletter (go to to subscribe and check out the archive!) and received about 60 scripts. I was blown away by the quality – but these 13 were the outstanding submissions – they all stood out and made an immediate impact when I read them.
I knew I was onto a good thing when I received the first script within an hour of sending out the newsletter – and it was wonderful (Grandad by Daniel Brierley).

Can you give us a hint of what stories we can expect to hear?

It was important to me that we had a really wide range of different tones, characters and stories. Of course, some of the monologues are heart-breakingly sad – but I think the overall tone is uplifting and life-affirming.
Stories range from a prison officer talking about a dead prisoner; a woman saying farewell to the neighbour who has made her life a hell; an art critic celebrating his pupil, a famous sculptress in the Tracy Emin mould; a son talking about his father, a celebrated international statesman – to a mother saying goodbye to her daughter.

And who is in the cast for the series?

We have some really wonderful actors involved – Finty Williams, Joe Sims, Samuel Crane, Sarah Thom, Paul Chapman, Patrick Brennan. Without exception, the actors brought qualities to the scripts that brought them alive in ways we hadn’t expected.

Why do you think there is a resurgence in the anthology approach to storytelling, with the success of Black Mirror, Inside Number 9 recently?

Self-contained dramatic stories will always be with us. In conventional TV drama, these stories sometimes have to be smuggled in (think ‘Ordinary Lies’) but with the explosion in dramatic content (TV, podcasts etc) I think single, self-contained stories and anthologies are ripe for a creative rebirth.
What do you hope the audience get out of listening to Tribute? What was the intention for the series?
I hope the audience will be moved, entertained – but above all that the series will make them think anew about their own lives and the lives of those around them. The theme that holds all of these monologues together is death – but also life, and the celebration of different lives. I hope this will be uplifting not depressing!

When and where can people go to listen and subscribe? 

 You can access the podcasts via the website or download them via iTunes

Thursday, 22 December 2016

My Top 20 films of 2016

20. Doctor Strange - Really enjoyed Marvel exploring psychedelic visuals, and the reversal of their usual climax. If Ant Man and Doctor Strange are second tier of Marvel superheroes I think I'm more of a second tier fan.

19. Learning to Drive - A sweet romance starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. Doesn't re-invent the wheel, but the characters have lots of depth and Clarkson in particular is great.

18. Cafe Society - Jesse Eisenberg doesn't go too neurotic, Kristen Stewart is great, the film looks fabulous. If you're a Woody Allen fan this is like catnip.

17. I, Daniel Blake - Hard hitting, state of the nation film which should be being made by younger filmmakers. Luckily Ken Loach is still about to show them how it's done. Manipulative in place for sure, but great performances make this hit hard.

16. High Rise - From opinions I've seen you either love or hate High Rise. The ratcheting up of insanity really worked for me. Reminded me of Gilliam in many ways.

15. Snowden - Alongside The Big Short this is one of the most terrifying films of the year. I know there's a lot of stories about how this has been the year of horror with the hits Lights Out and Don't Breathe in the summer,but reality has become a lot scarier it would seem. There's some beautiful visuals in this one. Good to see Oliver Stone making politically angry films again.

14. Allied - This had terrible reviews which seemed to malign it for being too melodramatic, which is odd criticism for a melodrama. There are some great heightened moments, romance and surprising bursts of action. I loved its old fashioned appeal.

13. Eye in the Sky - One of the tensest cinema experiences of the year and a lot of it comes from just people talking in rooms.

12. Bridget Jones' Baby - A good surprise this. Had zero expectations, thought the first two were OK at best. Saw this one in a packed cinema that roared with laughter throughout, made for a great atmosphere and made me think that this was the best comedy of the year.

11. Pete's Dragon - A great kids film with a rural setting that really uses the force of nature as a theme throughout the film. Beautifully told and really emotional.

10. Zootropolis - A great and timely message in this fun, bright film which had me smiling throughout with some of the best characters of the year. Looking forward to seeing them in the inevitable sequels.

9. Eddie the Eagle -  Dexter Fletcher is becoming the go to director for British feel good cinema, and this ticks all the boxes to get you smiling, laughing, crying and then laughing with tears coming down your face.

8. Deepwater Horizon - A disaster film with the aesthetic of Friday night Lights. Takes its time to introduce the characters before it all falls apart in horrifying fashion. Another film with old fashioned appeal.

7. Midnight Special - Jeff Nichols with another hit. This one goes pure sci fi and the scale it reaches really surprised me. I felt this was one of the most magical films of the year.

6. Ghostbusters - This had the most punch the air moments of the year, and probably the character of the year in Holtzmann. Nailed the balance of scares and comedy.

5. The Witch - A truly primal horror film which scares with small elements. The attention to detail builds up a reality which makes you question whether events are caused through religious paranoia or something more supernatural. Chilled me to the bone in really strange ways, almost like a spell.

4. Sing Street - Great songs, characters, relationships and the most realistic depiction of writing songs with your mates when you're a teenager. Full of heart, I wish more people had seen this.

3. Hell or High Water - Great characters, dialogue and pacing. a story that builds and builds and makes you care about everyone, no matter how heinous they are.

2. Room - Still get shivers when I think of certain elements of this. Handled brilliantly to avoid being too tough a watch, as it unfurls it reveals it's positive heart.

1. Arrival - A film which presents the terrifying fear humanity has of everything and how dangerous it is. Looks at the darkest events that life can throw at you and asks if life, which can present so much pain, is worth living. Also it explores language and has aliens and a great performance from Amy Adams.