Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Tribute interview with Philip Shelley

Thirteen weeks later and like the circle of life we're right back where we began, talking to the man who put this whole series together, Philip Shelley. This time we're focusing on his brilliant, honest and heartbreaking episode, An Ordered Life. Before we begin I'd like to say a huge thank you to Phil, and all the other writers who have given up their time and been so open and honest in these interviews, exposing their grief and emotions we oftentimes bury, and also bringing forth many secrets of their writing technique and how their Tribute came together. It's been an interesting thirteen weeks, I hope to do it all again. As always, go and listen to An Ordered Life before reading the following interview.

1. You mention this is a thinly veiled fictionalisation, I've found this to be the case when interviewing a few of the other writers this series, and my own Tribute is included in this category. In what ways did you draw on reality and how did you mix that with fiction for this story? 

I suppose I’ve streamlined the story a bit, pushed the reality to clearer extremes in places, but it’s very close to the reality of my relationship with my father. The motivation for telling the story was probably a desire to exorcise issues I have / had with my father that remained unresolved after his death. There’s not much imagination in here – pretty much everything is taken from my life.

2. I love how the episode explores how we find it difficult to understand things at certain times, "as a child I found this odd, as an adult I understood it" and the way we struggle to understand the previous generation. I also love how the story explores ways to understand, like who your Dad learnt communication from. Is the story making a point that as we communicate non-stop in the fast-paced modern world we fail to stop and understand, so much like the past where they bottled everything up, we now have a generation that also doesn't understand others, or have I read that wrong?

I think it’s interesting that as children we accept everything – because we have no alternatives, so we accept everything at face value. And as we grow older, we look back at events from our childhood and adolescence and re-examine them in a different light. I think your interpretation is probably kinder than mine. I think I’m saying that there was something very particular about my parents’ generation and class that made them particularly emotionally closed-off. And with the benefit of hindsight how odd and sad this is. And that our generation is, largely, more emotionally functional and communicative. But it would be interesting to know how my own children think about me if and when they have families of their own to compare!

3. Being the creator of the Tribute podcasts you've probably thought about what a Tribute is a lot. Do you think the essence of what a Tribute is boils down to the respect you have for that person and the amount of time you will dedicate to understanding them?

What appealed to me about the format, about having each character give a tribute to a dead person who meant something to them, was the universality of it. Every life is rich, unique and absolutely distinctive to that person. The most ordinary lives are extraordinary in some way. At times in our lives, we will all think about how we will be remembered (or if we will be remembered!) after we’ve gone. But of course, most of the time, we live our lives in the present, day by day. I think it’s important and fascinating to try to look at lives as a whole. And yes I suppose a tribute is so much about the respect and love we feel for the person we’re talking about.

4. The tennis story is excellent and touches on the slipperiness of memory. "Part fearful, part hilarious" If this is from truth I wonder if when recalled it has been remembered both ways or if there is always a mixture to the memory? 

Yes, this is something that really happened. It’s so odd and interesting why, amongst the innumerable things you’ve lived through, certain things stick in your memory. But this is a moment that has stuck with me. I think it’s stuck with me because, for a brief moment, I was actually terrified. But once my father had thought better of whatever he was going to do to me and turned back to his side of the net, it became a story to share with others to make them laugh. It’s a moment I’ve re-enacted to amuse my own family – which is cruel, isn’t it? There are so many emotions tied up in that brief moment. And to me it says so much about the person my father was.

5. When we think of a secret life, everyone's thoughts first turn to the wild sex theories you mention here. Is an ordered life just as thrilling to discover though? I'm not sure if it's my own obsession with music which found that thrilling or if you did too.

If I’m honest, I didn’t find my father’s orderliness thrilling, I found it fucking irritating. It was like he sublimated all his passion for the music into lists and box files. He never shared his passion for the music he clearly loved – his way of expressing his passion was to make lists and keep programmes in neat box files. The absurdity and meaninglessness of this response was brought home to me recently when me and my two sisters had to clear out my parents’ house after my mother’s death. This process brings home to you just how worthless other people’s possessions are – even your own parents’ possessions. All my father’s well ordered opera programmes are now in the bin. All the stuff they accumulated over so many years, stuff which was part of my life, books and ornaments that I’ve looked at, walked past for decades – so much of it just went straight in the bin. I’m a big reader – I have a house full of my own books – and so did my parents. But of all their books, I think I kept two – the rest - literally a van load - went to a reluctant second-hand book seller for £200.

6. It's a really touching final line, did you always know it was building to that point or was it an ending you discovered during the writing?

It was an ending I discovered in conversation with Will! Thank you Will!

7. I won't ask which Tributes stood out for you but will ask what themes are you happy that the series explored, and did anything surprise you from the series - certain things you may not have thought of before, or stories you didn't think the subject would throw up.

This may sound like bullshit but I am immensely proud of all 13 of the monologues. I had a lot of choice – I received around 60 scripts, and I only chose the ones that I genuinely loved. But the process of getting really good actors to perform / read them elevated every single one to something more than I thought they could be. When you go into something like this, you’re always worried that the idea you think is interesting will fall flat on its face. But I am so pleased with how this has turned out. I think I stumbled across a very good format – and I think all you writers rose to the challenge brilliantly. The themes – the value of an individual life, and how do you measure that value? The nature of love. And the nature of memory – how pure is memory, how subjective is it? At the risk of offending the other actors – and I am so delighted with ALL the performances - I would like to pick out a couple of the performances because they did raise the scripts to level that I didn’t realise was there – Finty Williams for VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING. The emotion and clarity of her reading is exceptional – I’ve seen so many listeners literally moved to tears by the script and Finty’s reading. Patrick Brennan’s reading of REX is also exceptional – there’s such a strong sense of character in his reading – and of clarity, and of a rich, ambivalent relationship with this violent prisoner. And from a personal point of view, I will forever be grateful to Will Mount for taking it upon himself to read my script, and do it so incredibly well.

8. I feel I've learnt so much from interviewing the other writers, what's been your main takeaway from the interviews?

I’ve been so taken by the intelligence of the questions and therefore the answers. All of the interviews have revealed the enormous amounts of thought, commitment and emotion that have gone into these short scripts. The interviews have demonstrated to me many of the things you need to have to be good writers – deep thought and self-analysis of your work, a love of good writing in general, acute observation of people – and above all a generosity and openness of spirit.

9. What other projects are you working on, do they bear any similarity to An Ordered Life?

Recently all my time has been taken up by my script consultancy and the Channel 4 screenwriting course. I love working on both of these – but I’m also determined to do more of my own creative – producing and writing – work in the near future. As a writer, I dabble and I want to do more than this. I am in awe of the bravery of writers who commit so much of their time and emotion to projects without any guarantee that anyone will pick them up. But writing your passion project spec script is the key to screenwriting success. I have written a 25 minute monologue about a middle-aged / mid-life crisis vicar that I’d like to do something with, and am dabbling with several other ideas.

10. What would you want your Tribute to be?

Wow that’s a question and a half! I would like to be remembered with a smile by my family – my wife (we’ve been married for 37 years) and my 4 children. (It’s having my own children that has opened me up so much to thinking about my own relationship with my parents.) From a work POV, it would be nice to be remembered by some of the writers I’ve worked with, with some affection. But that’s not important. The only important ‘Tribute’ would be how I’m remembered by my own wife and children.

11. What next for the Tribute podcast series? Will there be more?

I’m pretty sure there will be more. And I think the format will be the same. But I need to get through my backlog of script consultancy work, and find the time to look for funding for series 2, and to think about how I can improve and build on the success of series one. All ideas welcome! I am a freelancer but also a control freak who finds it very hard to delegate – I need to find more time to stand back from my day-to-day work and strategise

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

Another cracking (but difficult!) question. I do think it’s absolutely vital. I am quite morbid, I think death is such an important subject in art. I love the poetry of Philip Larkin, the music of Loudon Wainwright III and the (early) films of Woody Allen for this reason! Thinking about death – our own and other people’s – shines such a powerful light on life. All art is in some way an attempt to find a meaning in life. Stories are one way of making sense of our ultimately meaningless existences. All our lives are a story, a journey. The inspiration for this project came from doing a eulogy to my mother at her (humanist) funeral in March 2015. My mother had not lead an objectively spectacular life. But nonetheless her life was packed with deep love, happiness, tragedy, some terrible sadness and some of the most extraordinary events – so many stories of such rich oddness that you couldn’t possibly make them up. And all of this is true of every life lived. With both of my parents having died in the last 5 years, I often ask myself (not this clearly) what I can learn from their lives, what they got from their lives, and what my two sisters and I got from their lives.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Tribute interview with Marilyn Court-Lewis

Can't believe there is only one more week to go of the Tribute Podcasts, and therefore the interviews. This penultimate episode is a rich and touching one called Turning written by Marilyn Court-Lewis who I got to interview regarding the episode, you can read that here.

1. Living in Wales myself I firstly wondered what reasons the story was set there?

 On the basis of ‘Write what you know’, the story is set there because that is the culture in which I grew up. I lived with relatives within the Welsh hill-farming community on the Brecon Beacons. This is the background that informs Turning.

2. The language is very rich, it reminded me of a classic novel. Is Bronte-esque a thing? What were the influences on the style of Turning?

 That’s interesting. No, Bronte-esque is not a thing. The main influence on the style of my prose writing and on the style of Turning is the work of Edna O’Brien, whose work, in my opinion, is very underrated. I love her humour and the lyrical quality of her work.

3. The distance between the characters in Turning is very deftly handled. Was this something you thought about when writing. How did you go about creating that distance?

 When I wrote the piece, I wanted to hone it to the bone in order to cut out any overflow of emotion. These were spare people who had lived fairly isolated lives. I felt the best way to get that across was to write sparingly.

4. I love the structure of the three things he said before he died, setting up the inevitability of death, probably the way we all look at it. Was this intentional?

 Yes, it was intentional. It was important they were spanned apart like that to create tension – a kind of emotional scansion, if that makes sense? His words mark the stages of his passing and are beats in the process of her realising he is going.

5. His statements are very simple and effective to the audience and the characters. How did you come up with those three statements?

 The story is predicated on a real experience and those are the words that were said.

6. What other projects are you working on, do they bear any resemblance to Turning?

I am working on three projects at the moment. One project resembles Turning in that it involves work I wrote around that time. I am reformatting it to make it suitable for podcasting. The second project is a rewrite of a feature-length screenplay which I want to pitch to a particular TV producer. It is nothing like Turning. The third is the development of a comedy about a reluctant hellraiser, who, having lived ‘fast and loose’, is horrified to find herself still alive when all her friends are dead. From the Land of Ozzy Osbourne to the World of Politics, she is baffled to have survived all this only to have to adjust to quotidian realities.

7. Have you listened to the other Tributes, if so which ones have stood out for you? 

I like them all and it has been a joy to be involved with this project and to have met such lovely people. But one Tribute really stands out for me. It’s Will Mount’s An Irresistible Force, which leaves me in awe. It is so well-written, funny, sophisticated and insightful, and I love his mischievous treatment of the theme.

 8. I was asked this question and think it's very interesting - what would you want your Tribute to be? 

It would depend on who was giving the Tribute.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Tribute interview with Daniel Brierley

This week I have the pleasure of discussing the Tribute Grandpa with Daniel Brierley, the writer of the episode. It's a personal and emotional tribute, but also manages to fit in a light tone and humour. Give it a listen before reading the interview.

1. I love the lightness of the tone in your piece.The free flowing speech. How much of that is on the page and how much is in the performance?

Actually it's all on the page, I'd written it as a stream of consciousness, as a character struggling to make an eulogy, so the flow is intentional- although Sam did a great job with the read. Ideally I love my characters to sound real, to sound like we do, with nonsense sentences, with pauses with bad grammar. 

2. Like my own, and a few others, your Tribute is based on true memories. How difficult, and raw was it tapping into those stories for this?

It was raw certainly. When Phil put out his call it was almost the week before my grandad's funeral and I knew that I wasn't going to do a reading there, because, well that's not really how I am as a person, so it was really cathartic to write. I literally wrote it in the hour after his email and it came out in a splurge. It felt good and felt like I was really getting something off my chest. In the time between the recording and the launch of the series, my Gran also died, so it felt like something I needed to do. I don't know whether it felt as painful as it should, I think turning them into characters in a story, rather than my grandparents actually helped the grieving process because I was able to put some kind of screen, some distance between me and them and see them in the abstract. I don't know. I'm still at the stage where I think of something my gran would like and forget she's passed. Or I remember odd things like the drip of snot my grandpa used to get on the end of his nose, particularly when it was cold. And it makes me laugh. 

3. There are a lot of jokes in your Tribute, it's very funny, was it intentional or did it just come naturally from the stories as you were writing? 

I think that's just who I am as a person. You speak to my girlfriend or my daughter and they'd tell you I often hide my feelings behind humour. My daughter is always looking at me and asking if I'm joking or not. I don't know why they put up with it. But my English grandparents weren't particularly humorous people- my other grandparents are much more likely to tie things up with a bleak black humour. 

But again, I think we're always making jokes whether we recognise it or not. I lived in France for a while and when I tried to tell them how we described good weather as 'not bad' they would think that was crazy- if it's not bad why the hell don't ya say 'good'? You look at how many conversations, even the most banal, end with some sort of joke and you'll see we're all at. And what's funnier than death? 

4. Why do you think humour is so tied up with death, and how we deal with it?

Because the alternative is facing up to the fact we're hurtling through space at a billion mph, in a cold and distant universe.

And we are all going to die at some stage. Sooner rather than later with the way the world is right now. I think we joke about death because it's a coping mechanism. It's our way of showing we're still alive. It's the great unknown and therefore something to be feared. And we cope with fear with laughter. Either that or we're sick bastards.

 I'm reading a lot of books about Physics at the moment, because it's something I don't understand and it's like learning a new language. Photons. Neutrinos. Quanta. It gives me a crazy sense of perspective about the universe and our place within its architecture. And there's even humour in Physics. Those mad scientists call the force that glues qaurks inside photons and neutrons 'Glue-ons'. 
Not the best joke ever. But you've got to play to your audience I guess. 

5. You handle the shift in tone perfectly, did that flow naturally or how did you devise that shift?

I think for the story to work the tone was everything. If it starts too profound then we are immediately placed in a certain frame of mind. I wanted to focus on banalities like Mcdonalds or Orient and then move onto the real subject matter, Alzheimer's and death. But to begin with them would be to colour the entire piece. My favourite film- In Bruges is a perfect example of the shift- when Colin Farrel's character is recalling that the child he shot had been writing a list of things he was sad about before he died- or in Fever Pitch, (the book) when the main character's emotional moment, the final release is that goal at Anfield in 89- 'all the lost years, the tears, the anger the sadness' just melting away from a micky thomas toe poke. I love the banality of it all. 

6. Love the callback to the opening joke at the end, did the Tribute always have that framing device?

That was a note from Phil- we ended on a sad beat, and we felt it was important to have some sort of frame in order to recentre the story. 

7. What other projects are you currently working on and do they share any similarities to Grandpa?

Not really- I was part of a writing group at the Royal Court and I'd been developing a similar story but it felt too real and I was getting tied up amongst myself. I've shelved that for the time being. 
I'm writing a comedy feature for Aardman and the BFI about Space (hence the Physics) and I've written a spy drama which was taken up by Jed Mercurio and we've been working together on the pilot script which is now with a broadcaster. 

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

This was my favourite part of the process. It's been an honour to have my piece amongst so many stand out works. It's a real anthology, a real series and what struck me was the extraordinary range, from really raw and emotional pieces, to character studies, to lighter stories. They're all fantastic but the one that has really stayed with me was the Name on the Bench by David Hendon. it's a simple idea, brilliantly executed.  Also Rex by Louise Vale. It was just a great story, an interesting POV. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Tribute interview with Tony Clare

This weeks Tribute podcast interview is a belter. Discussing football, the working classes, writing about true life events and more, and all focused on the Tribute episode MILESTONE. You really need to give it a listen, then read these enlightening answers from the writer Tony Clare.

1. They always say you should write what scares you, and I think taking on a real life event of such magnitude must have been pretty scary. Did you have any reservations/fears when starting this Tribute?

When I wrote the original version I had no reservations whatsoever. It was before the Inquests had been announced and at the time I think awareness of the injustice still needed promoting. It had always been my intention to use the script to raise awareness if it got picked up and developed. I had planned to approach the Hillsborough Campaign to seek permission of course. However it never got picked up and so apart from reading it at a local literary festival, I just shelved it. When the Tribute Series call went out, I realised I could adapt the original. It was then that I did have some reservations as I had to ask myself if my intentions for the script were ok. I spoke to some writer friends and they reassured me that I should definitely put the script out there. I’m pleased I did as I hope it exists to remind people of how injustice can be challenged even when the machinery and power you’re facing looks impossible to defeat.

2. You make the point about this being about class very early on with the line about Wimbledon. How much does being working class define your character? Should it?

It defines him absolutely and yes I think it should. Of course not everyone affected by Hillsborough is Working Class and not everyone watching football at that time is/was. However, I think it’s important to remember that at that time there was a wholesale assault on the Working Class socially, politically, and culturally. There was a tireless and dogged attempt to demolish it. The apparatus that allowed the Working Class to organise was being dismantled through brutal legislation; the conditions which we were expected to tolerate in the simple act of going to see our national game were deplorable. It was like being treated like cattle. Worse. So I do believe that the 96 were killed for being Working Class (or participating in a predominantly - then - Working Class pursuit). I know that might sound radical but when I ask myself would the same conditions have arisen at Wimbledon preceding, during, and following a disaster of that type there, then the answer is no on all three counts.

3. I'm always disappointed by the representations of working class in British TV. They always seem cartoonish and offensive to me or stick to horrible stereotypes. Why do you think this is? Is it a problem of a lack of working class writers, or directors, or commissioners? OR all three?

It’s a great question and something I feel very strongly about. There are of course lots of great Working Class writers, but they enjoy nothing even close to fair or equal representation. The absolute genius ones make it through because it would be almost impossible for them not to. For example, Jimmy McGovern, Caroline Ahearne, John Fay etc. But these then exist as a convenient example for the commissioners etc to point out and say “Look there’s lots of opportunities for Working Class writers”; they become the exception that prove the Middle Class rule. As for the representation of Working Class people, well where do you begin? The demonisation of the Working Class has surely been executed most successfully through the medium of TV than any other form. They are such grotesque depictions that one can’t help feeling there’s something more sinister going on in the continual commissioning of these pieces. I remember the first time I was invited to MediaCity for a writing event. The first thing that I was greeted with was a floor to ceiling picture of Vicky Pollard, smack bang in the centre of reception. I know people cry killjoy when you call these things out, but I ask, does comedy sink lower than demonising and vilifying a teenage working class girl? Would the depiction of any other marginalised group hung so proudly in reception be tolerated? Another thing I’ve come across a lot lately at writing events etc. is people in the industry trotting out the line “Oh yeah, and another thing don’t be a twat, right; we’ve got to work with you, yeah?” This roughly translates as “adopt our middle class mores or fuck off”. It’s the exact opposite of how organisations successfully embed diversity into their culture. The treatment of the Working Class in drama and the representation of writers in the industry is something I think about every day and there are moments it literally brings me to tears. But conversely, it’s the exact same thing - the exact same thing - that makes me write.

4. Answering questions on my episode last week made me remember how many childhood memories are in my Tribute, is this the same as yours regarding the feeling of going to your first match?

 Yes! I hadn’t realised that until you asked me that question. I was taken to my first match by my oldest brother’s girlfriend (I’m the youngest of 6). “Even the route [she took] was designed for maximum effect”. She even asked if I wanted to get there by train or on the ferry!! I will never forget the sounds and smells and sights as I approached Goodison. As my own children get closer to making their first trip to a match, I’m very conscious of making it as good as it can possibly be. One other thing that I think might have influenced the script is that I always seem to remember the preparations and the journeys more than the games themselves - the big games that is. I can remember missing my coach home from Wembley; bumping into Margi Clarke on a train back home from a cup final. But I can’t remember which cup finals/Charity Shields they were!!

5. Hearing You'll Never Walk Alone is a hugely emotional ending, was that scripted to be under the dialogue in that way?

 Yes, that’s exactly how it was scripted. I wrote a short script a few years back (for one of Writersroom’s Rapid Response call outs on the theme of phone hacking following the revelations that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked) which never got anywhere but I had always imagined it ending in the same way, but back then I didn’t dare put it in the script! It was about a lad in a desperate situation who sells his famous sister’s mobile number to the S*n. Here’s an extract from the final scene:

The pair stand, look at the MEMORIAL and slowly walk away.

Mark offers Billy a Chip. Billy grabs the entire cone, Mark snatches it back.

CLOSE ON: THE NAMES OF THE 96 ON THE MEMORIAL. OLD NEWSPAPERS swirl and eddy around the Memorial until one is whipped up and attaches itself to it. Its headline reads “MILLY’S PHONE HACKED”. The wind flicks us through its lurid pages. One by one images of the current scandal emerge from them. First MILLY, then the SOHAM victims, then the 9:11 victims and they join the names on the Memorial.


 A more severe GUST catches the PAPER and the Memorial shakes it off. Its pages separate and blow down the road before becoming stuck fast in the GUTTER.



 6. Was there originally a longer version of this? It's such a tight Tribute, clocking in at 6 minutes, was that intentional to keep it short or did it just naturally come to that length?

 No, in fact it was a little shorter. I felt as though I wanted to write it at what ever seemed the natural length for it to be. That said though, all my scripts tend to be on the short side. My last feature script was 93 pages.

7. What other projects are you working on and how do they compare with Milestone?

 I’m working on three other projects at the moment. 45 is a radio drama. It’s about a travelling record salesman, MARK DRUMMOND, whose world is falling apart but hopes the resurgence in vinyl will revive him. His world consists of little more than one-sided conversations he has with the DAB radio in his Peugeot Estate and conversations he strikes up with the staff at service stations. It started out as entirely quirky but as I began to invest and believe more in the character I have attempted to introduce a degree of pathos. It was easy to find humour in what his life has become, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that the reference points and realities we construct for ourselves at difficult times are as real and meaningful than those existing in the worlds of those whose lives are more together and sophisticated. For MARK, his conversations with the radio and his obsessions with traffic reports are as meaningful as his contemporaries trips to the theatre and art galleries. I don’t want to speak above the level of my own experience, but it strikes me that there’s a point in writing when the care and belief you have in the characters reaches a level; a sort of barometer that tells us when the character is believable and the writing is at some level of seriousness! I was inspired by the Tribute Podcasts Series to write this. I have always found writing a 45-minute radio play incredibly difficult, but after I wrote the Tribute, I changed my approach to how I would write a radio play.

The Full Box Set is a single drama set entirely in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter about a man going through a rough time who decides to set himself up as Band Promoter when he overhears a singer/songwriter’s conversation in a cafe. He’s also become obsessed with Nordic Noir and this provides a quirky sub plot. He lives in a Volvo estate, dresses more for a snowy Stockholm than a windy Liverpool and seeks out Smorgasbord for lunch. It’ll probably get nowhere but it’s been great fun writing it.

Rash is a single drama about a lad who gets stranded in Dolgellau - a mid-Wales market town - when he misses his coach following a music festival. When he is unable to find work locally to fund his trip home, he decides to pan for Welsh Gold in the hills surrounding the town. When he eventually finds enough tiny specs of gold to travel home, he realises that perhaps everything he has been searching for in life is right where he has been left.

8 . Have you had a chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? If so which ones have stuck out for you?

 I’ve listened to them all and love them all. It was delightful to see the diversity of the approaches to the call out. I think there’s something to take from each and every one. The honesty and integrity of all the pieces reflected the spirit of the project itself, I felt. I particularly enjoyed MARCIE LANE BY LIZ TAYLOR. I liked the theme, the pace, and the climax. Very clever, poignant and so moving. Similarly, BEN WEINER’S A GREAT MAN was so clever with wonderful twists and reversals and not a word wasted. Brilliant. I thought DAVID HENDON’S THE NAME ON THE BENCH was very intelligently written and was intriguing and thoughtful. He crammed in so much character to the piece. There has to be something for me to learn from that. PHILIP SHELLEY’S AN ORDERED LIFE was a masterclass and that too packed in so much character and was so three-dimensionally visual. I also loved how effectively and skillfully WILL MOUNT’S AN IRRESISTIBLE FORCE, DANIEL BRIERLEY’S GRANDPA, and LOUISE VALE’S REX maintained tone and intrigue so consistently throughout. I could go on with this and mention every single one because I genuinely loved them all. In all the pieces, the skill in which tone and style was established (by both writer and actor) was mind blowing for me, especially considering the brevity. In my own piece, lines I had considered to be almost impossible to interpret in the way I heard them in my head, were delivered by the brilliant Neil Caple the exact way I heard them in the very first take, without any direction or explanation from me. And in other places, he breathed more life into the lines and illuminated aspects of character I hadn’t seen. They’re pieces I will return to again and again, I think. It’s probably a writer thing but like one of your other interviewees said, I couldn’t believe mine was featured alongside such excellent work.

9. It's exactly a year ago today that the 96 got truth and justice. What do you think has changed since the verdict, and what still needs to happen?

 Yes, it’s exactly a year to the day and the sun shines just as brightly here as it did on that day too. I took a break from answering these questions and went for a run and thought this question through. I remembered listening to Ben Schofield’s brilliant reporting live from the Inquests; tears streaming down my cheeks and alone to nobody I quietly said “yes”. On that day I went for a walk and I did have the palpable feeling of feeling safer in the world. The strength of that feeling was such that I felt I had to include it in the Tribute script. I think a Milestone has been reached for both the families and society. However, I think it’s important that prosecutions follow as that will not only help ensure this type of disaster never happens again, but will remind the Establishment that impunity should not be part of their privilege. I also think about others fighting for Justice - Orgreave and the Shrewsbury 24 for example. Hopefully they will be inspired by the verdicts. Hopefully that sunny day will come soon for them too.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Tribute Interview with Robin Bell

How weird is this? I'm being interviewed on my own blog. I'll hand over to Katy Walker who interviewed me straight away so we don't get too bogged down in the oddness.

This week the tables are turned, as the featured Tribute writer is Robin himself, with the intriguing and evocative ‘Bookmark’, voiced by Broadchurch’s own Joe Sims. He could hardly interview himself, could he (well, maybe - he’d probably do a very good job of it, but I volunteered, with a few excellent questions from Will Mount). Here’s what we learned.

 What inspired you to write Bookmark?

I thought Tribute was a great idea. One of my all-time favourite TV shows was Six Feet Under, I loved how it faced death head on. I instantly knew who I would like to pay Tribute to. It was my Nan, who died 10 years ago. I have a note on my phone when this idea was coming together which has words to signify the stories I wanted to tell. It reads "Salad, flying rat, Gifts, long walks, fancying Darren Gough." I didn't find room for the last two.
I knew it was becoming a good fit when I felt my idea started exploring what a Tribute actually is, what memories are and the importance of them remaining in the past.

It seems rooted in a bygone era - of deckchairs, ‘salads’ and people called Beryl. And your description of the cat that brings ‘gifts’ is very relatable. How much is this based on your own memories of childhood?

A lot of it is based on my childhood and I wanted it to feel like a memory of childhood, so it has a storybook type feel to it. I'm sure my childhood wasn't all deckchairs, Beryls and feasts but they are the elements which form lasting memories. I guess you highlight the elements of the past which don't feel part of the present more because it's distinctive to that time. The 'gifts' part was bigger in the first draft and had a slapstick comedy scene of a rabbit running around a bedroom, but it had to go to stay on plot.

The grandmother ignites in her grandson a great love of reading. How much of Bookmark is a tribute to books/the written word?

I'm not sure if it's a direct tribute to books and the written word, but that element is in there to highlight how memories are the stories we tell ourselves about our lives - like the salad story that goes from disappointment to greatness or the flying rat punchline. I wanted to make that link between memories and stories. I also wanted the childhood remembered in the Tribute to be heightened and feel like it's from a book. Kids’ books often feel like an idealised version of what childhood was like. Roald Dahl books often do this, before he throws the darkness in.

Have you ever used a peperami as a bookmark?! What else do you use?

Unfortunately, even though I've banged on about the truthful aspects of the Tribute, the peperami is complete comedic artifice. Can you imagine what it'd do to the pages of the book - grease stains, meat smells, urgh shudder, it doesn't bear thinking about. I have used envelopes and football stickers as mentioned in the Tribute, also cinema ticket stubs, leaflets, bits of fallen plaster and a sock. I'd rather go with what is to hand rather than fold a corner.

Food seems to be a great comfort in this piece. Was this an intentional ‘device’? 

I wouldn't say it was an intentional device, it was one of the true story elements I started with. I wrote the description of it before I had the story actually, and the structure it eventually gave me the answer and the ending to the piece. I love the initial disappointment of being served a salad as a kid, and then it building up to become a veritable feast. I absolutely love the verve and excitement Joe injects as he describes the food, it's paced perfectly and really gives that moment great character.

The changes of tone and viewpoint are beautifully done. You switch between reminiscence, philosophy and eulogy and we don’t notice the joins - how conscious was this subtle movement through these transitions?

Thank you for saying that. Having written it I think you're always more aware of the joins, but I think a lot of the reason they're covered is in Joe's performance. He paces the story so well, modulating his performance perfectly to deliver maximum emotion and carry the listener through at the right pace during every step of the way. I was blown away when I first heard it. From a writing point of view, the transitions weren't something I focused on - with Twisted Showcase we move from domestic to uncanny within a heartbeat, even adding layers of ridiculous comedy on top sometimes so hopefully it is something I am used to.

Your protagonist’s invention is a fascinating idea. How did that come about?

After I had the parts which formed the memories I came up with the invention to tie the story together. As I thought of these memories it got me thinking about what memories really are, how much truth is in them, are they rose tinted, can they be corrupted, things like that. The more I thought about it, the more I began to think about where memories take place, they feel very real and powerful, but obviously, it's all in your head. That's when I had the idea of an invention which could take people back to their memories, and make what is in their head physically real. Once I had that idea I realised, if it existed, that there would be a high demand for that. Plenty of different uses as well, but for the purposes of the Tribute I thought I'd just focus on it being used to cope with bereavement. Basically, this is just a long-winded way of saying that I didn't view the story as being about technology, the focus for me was it was more about memory.

The narrator doesn’t want to be transported back to the sacred memories which he describes? Would you if you could? What one memory would you choose?

After writing Bookmark I'd have to say memories should stay where they are and that I wouldn't revisit them, but that is a boring answer. Also, I think we'd all love to go back and relive certain parts of our lives so we appreciate them more. I was just watching a Manic Street Preachers documentary on Sky Arts which follows them making the album Everything Must Go after the disappearance of Richey Edwards. It's a great documentary, and it ends at their first stadium gig at what was then called the NYNEX, Manchester. I was there, and yes it was brilliant, but at the time I didn't realise the importance and significance of that gig to the band and to their story. So maybe today I'd choose to go back to that gig, knowing more regarding the context with hindsight. But really memory is so powerful that we have the ability to take ourselves back: you can smell a certain fragrance which can take you back to childhood, or hear a certain song which takes you back to your early twenties etc. That's what I wanted to explore in my Tribute.

You’re the brains behind the Twisted Showcase - is this Tribute a departure in terms of genre? 

If any people who have watched my Twisted Showcase episodes then listen to my Tribute they will probably see it as a departure. It shares the oddness in some respects, and it shares a twist in the tale in that it transpires this warm, cosy story about a bygone era is set in the future and based on an unbelievable piece of tech. Maybe it is more in line with my kids’ TV specs or an amalgamation of those two styles.

What’s your next project?

I'd love to have the clarity to answer this one succinctly. It always seems like I have too many plates spinning at any one time. I've been trying to write a feature this year but keep getting pulled in different directions with spec script rewrites on two kids’ TV scripts and an adult crime drama. I'm also working on a stage adaptation of Twisted Showcase, and a few new one page pitches. Finally, there's a sitcom I'm co-writing with the co-creator of Twisted Showcase, Rhys Jones.

What have you learned from interviewing the other writers?

Oh wow, so much. From the many different ways that ideas come together, to how in control of what messages are told in different writers' stories, and how they view their own work, and how different writers view the importance of death as a theme. It's been enlightening.

Which of the other Tributes have stood out for you, and why?

They're all great and really different from each other. Philip did a great job selecting this bunch to form the series. It's really tough to select ones out, but I'll be brutal and just chose one - Eulogy for Tricia Slater by Sarah Penrose. I loved how it extracted humour from the subject of death.

What would you want your tribute to be?

I'm not sure, but make sure there's a cracking buffet afterwards that people talk about with the same glow Joe Sims gave that salad. Whenever I ask my Mum how a funeral she's visited went she'll always mention the buffet first - "They put on a great spread." That'll do me.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Tribute Interiew with Ben Weiner

Another great Tribute, this week from the son of a 'Great Man'. This monologue comes from a person who has always lived in the shadow of the deceased, but never in their thoughts. Every line is a gem, and as always the performance is spot on. I'm amazed at how different and original these tributes are each week. Here's what writer, Ben Weiner, had to say about A Great Man.

1.      The setting is very important to this Tribute, taking place in the office of the deceased surrounded by boxes which tell the story of his life. How quick was that decision to not have this eulogy at the funeral and set it in this office?

The decision to have the Tribute delivered in the office was part of the original idea. I wanted to tell this story for a long tome so I was happy when I saw Philip’s call for monologues as it felt like a good chance to get it out there. I thought a son looking for his place in the great man’s life was best served in private and amongst the dead father’s possessions so the office was the obvious choice for me. I also wanted to isolate the son. If it had been him delivering the eulogy at a funeral, he would have been front and centre, which did not feel like the right choice for this story.

2.      Was The Great Man in the tribute, or aspects of him, based on any 'celebrity' figure?

Years ago, I saw an interview with one of Mandela’s children who complained that her father was never around. It stuck with me. Whilst that was part of the inspiration for the idea and elements of the Great Man’s life (like his incarceration) mirror Mandela’s life, the Great Man is not based on any ‘celebrity’ figure.

3.One line says "I know I sound bitter.." and there a few occasions when the anger levels rise. How did you manage to balance a bitter and angry character which someone we side with?

Ha! I am working on another script right now and just received a note to make sure my protagonist does not seem too bratty, so I am not sure I always manage it! I was conscious of this risk going into the recording. Obviously, Carl Prekopp’s performance is a massive part of retaining the balance in the piece. Carl is a fantastic actor and it was a privilege to work with him. Philip and Will Mount were also around during the recording and were very helpful in ensuring the process went well. I think, in general, that so long as the listeners can find a way to understand the character, he or she is entitled to express any emotion they like.

4.There's a strong theme of fatherhood throughout A Great Man, at what stage does theme play a part for you, is it something you discover along the way, or a focus from the beginning?

It’s always different. In this case, it was a focus from the beginning, but the basis of a story about a son dealing with the death of his father, who was a great man, but a bad father had been floating about for some time. I had also just become a dad for the first time. I did not have a relationship with my father so it is territory that I felt vaguely familiar with despite the fact that my Dad was only famous in his own front room.

5. I was left really considering if James' Dad is a great man if he let down his son to such an extent. Do his other deeds make the fact he's a terrible Dad OK? Do you have any thoughts on that yourself or are you just posing that as a question for the listener?

Well, the jury is out on that one for me. I do wonder whether one person is able to make choices for society off their own back or whether those types of decisions are just products of society’s collective will. Maybe I have been reading too much into War and Peace! I don’t know the answer, but we certainly like figure-heads to gather around, for good or bad. I would tend to agree with James though that being a great person is someone’s inclination as much as an inherent quality of that individual. There is so much to sacrifice involved in being ‘great’. Time is limited and something is going to have to give somewhere. The choices James’s dad made hurt his son, but seemed to have helped others. I can’t say whether that makes it alright or not.

6. What other projects are you working on, and how does A Great Man compare to your other writing?

I just won the BAFTA Rocliffe writing for children competition. That script is about a family that get stuck in a series of parallel worlds and have to make their way back home. My focus is currently on writing for children. In that sense, A Great Man was a chance to dip my toe back into material for adults. It has inspired me to want to write more for podcasts and radio so hopefully that is something I can develop over the next year or two.

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

Such a tricky question! I’ve listened to them all and I am honoured to be part of the series. Philip’s inspiration came from such a terribly tragic situation that it would have been a privilege to be part of something marking it in any case, but each piece is fantastic in different ways. There is such a broad scope of stories presented and I admire each and every one of them. If I had to choose three to take away with me, I would take:
1. VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING by KATY WALKER as it is so heartbreaking. It’s beautifully written and performed;
2. BOOKMARK by ROBIN BELL (that’s you, that is) because I love the ideas running through it and I found it interesting and surprising. I also loved the description of the food being prepared. It really resonated with me; and
3. MILESTONE by TONY CLARE as I found it utterly gripping and such a fresh way to approach an extremely difficult and important subject at a timely moment.
As I said though, I genuinely loved them all.

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

How long have you got? I am not quite Woody Allen on the subject (, but I do think Ernest Becker makes a good point in the Denial of Death, which is that human beings have made a very good stab at denying our mortality through the icons and symbols that we employ to cope with the tragedy of death. I think that denial is incredibly unhelpful when we face our own death or those we love as we often feel so unprepared for the loss. On the other hand, maybe that denial helps us get on with our lives. I don’t know the answer, but I do need to have the conversation. I cannot imagine writing anything, which does not involve the threat of death in some way, even if no one actually dies.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Tribute Interview with Liz Taylor

Every week I am blown away by the well thought out answers to my questions, but also by the vast array of approaches that the writers have undergone to create these Tributes. This is a really emotional tribute from Liz Taylor who has provided some great insight into her story here.

1. I love how you paint the picture of Marcie. Was she based on anyone or you just had a clear picture of the character in your head?

She was loosely based on a friend of mine - a very warm and vibrant, lively character who I've shared many milestones and happy times with. We had our children around about the same time and we had a falling out. I remember drafting her an email full of love and regret, telling her how wonderful she was - very much in the spirit of the email in the tribute. I liked the idea that you could write something for someone with a certain intention, like that email, and it could then end up being used for a tribute.

2. This Tribute focuses on regret a lot more than the others. There an obvious finality to death that means regret cannot be righted. Was that the start point for the story or was the heartbreaking story of a mother losing their child the first aspect to come when developing this?

I initially had two ideas - the email that should have been read out at the 40th and the loss of a child. I couldn’t decide which to focus on and then I realised that I could fuse them and give the tribute a back story with a big reveal. The simple tragedy of the story lies in the fact that it’s the wrong person reading out the tribute. No mother should have to bury their child and Marcie’s own life is a life abruptly cut short. The natural order should have allowed for Marcie’s son to read the tribute to his mother and that should have occurred many years down the line.

3. Do you think the choice to hold back the reveal of why they had a falling out adds to the emotion of that moment, or is that an emotional punch to the guts no matter where it occurs in the story?

The reveal for me is that Marcie’s son died some weeks earlier and that she has taken her own life after burying him. I wanted to keep the reveal to the end so that Marcie’s life could be celebrated and that the relationship between the reader and the deceased could be properly addressed. The reader very much wants Marcie’s life to be considered away from the tragedy and for her to be remembered fondly. Her final weeks - the events surrounding her son’s death and her own death - have obviously been extremely shocking and her friend doesn’t want those last days to get in the way of celebrating a life well-lived.

4. This Tribute is heartbreakingly sad, how difficult is it writing about such events, and do you see any positive moments of light within the Tribute that help you through the writing process of it?

I found it quite cathartic in some ways as I’ve suffered a lot of losses and my greatest fear is that something might happen to my own child. There’s some relief in putting it out there and giving voice to that fear. When you speak the unspeakable then it’s not quite so scary and unspeakable any more. I hope that the light comes in the celebration of the friendship. Marcie’s friend absolutely does not want to read that tribute but she is determined to celebrate her friend.

5. It's a short, tight and concise Tribute that is deceptively simple, I say deceptive because it manages to achieve such depth of emotion within a small space of time. Do you think keeping it straight forward aids the depth of feeling in the Tribute?

I’m glad that it comes across as straight forward as I was concerned that the reading of the email is a tribute within a tribute, which could make the time frame a bit confusing.

6. What other projects are you working on, and how does Marcie Lane compare to your other writing?

I would love to write for a continuing drama series in order to hone my skills and really get to grips with the whole discipline of juggling various story arcs. That’s the goal at the moment. To this end, I’ve written the first episode / pilot for a drama serial about two childless couples whose paths cross at an adoption event, setting into motion a string of events that wreaks havoc for all parties concerned. I’m hoping this will showcase what I can do with various characters and lives interwoven etc. My previous writing has been quite dark but I try to tell very human stories of the ‘it could happen to anyone’ variety. There has been a sense of loss and the fear of loss in a lot of my recent work.

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

I’ve listened to all of them and I like them all. It’s pretty humbling to be included in the mix in all honesty as they are so beautifully written. For the way the words paint a picture, I really enjoyed ‘Eulogy for Tricia Slater’ and ‘An Irresistible Force’. I
thought they were very rich and poetic. I was also very moved by ‘Valediction Forbidding Mourning’, because of the subject matter, and ‘Turning’.

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

Because we’re afraid of it and it’s the only way to turn the heat down a little on that fear.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Tribute Interview with Will Mount

This week take a step into the art world, a bitter, and jealous place, but also a place of dry humour and secrets, your guide around this world is An Irresistible Force by Will Mount, which is another great Tribute. I got to interview him and explore the Tribute, and the series a little more, hope you enjoy this weeks interview.

1. How much fun did you have coming up with the elaborate works of art discussed in this story?

I love it when invented names resonate and sound meaningful – Glengarry Glenross, Broadchurch, The Death Star. Not so much when they don’t – Central Perk, Borchester, Cloud City. It makes you want to turn away from what you are watching. I struggled to find ones that were not too obviously a joke. Croissant was probably the one I liked best, because it was the shortest and the most open to interpretation.

2. Elements of your Tribute reminded me of the Sun Kil Moon song The Moderately talented yet attractive young woman vs the Exceptionally talented yet not so attractive middle aged man. Probably a long shot but were you influenced by this, if not what were your influences for this story?

I’ve just discovered him, thanks to you! He’s great, like a male Aimee Mann. I see he is a fellow gut-string guitar enthusiast (my favourite is Jerry Reed, most famous for Guitar Man). Getting back to the matter in hand, this particular dynamic affects people of all sexes and orientations, not just older men and younger women - the feeling of confusion when a more youthful and prettier person comes into your orbit, who seems to shine brighter than you and your circle. You desire and admire and at the same time you feel vulnerable and jealous. My influences drew primarily on memories of my own feelings but there’s an echo of it in Death in Venice (which I know of but have never seen), in Amadeus and, best of all, in the mother-daughter relationship in Grey Gardens.

3. Why did you have Holly referred to by surname throughout the piece?

The narrator is trying to present himself as someone with an objective viewpoint. By saying “Reed”, he’s trying to convince himself that he is above any emotional involvement, but his feelings keep leaking out despite this conceit.

4. I'm drawn to wondering whether these Tributes say more about the deceased or the person giving the eulogy. How did you see this when writing this Tribute?

Or how about they say more about the author than either the narrator or the deceased! It’s true that my narrator is very demanding of your attention. When I heard all the other Tributes I realized that the story suffered by being a bit starchy and old fashioned, but the strong feelings that drive the narrator are the dominant notes - Holly herself melts into the background. He doesn’t really develop emotionally as the narrator does in, say, Valediction Forbidding Mourning, or A Great Man. If I were to do it again I would downplay the ambiguous reveal at the end and look again at developing his consciousness so that he has a bit more of a realisation.

5. Is this character responsible for Holly's death? Do you, or should the audience find him likeable?

What do you think? I would prefer to leave it ambiguous (he definitely did it!). He’s pretty cold, but there are moments when you see the devoted mentor behind the embittered teacher – who really cherishes this younger version, not of himself, but of who he would like to be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this redeems him, but hopefully he is not a complete turn-off. Your Tribute has a character who is the complete opposite: positive, affectionate, full of energy and enthusiasm – you can’t help but be drawn in and you evoke a really warm glow which is hard to pull off.

6. What other projects are you working on, and how does An Irresistible Force compare to your other writing?

I’m writing an animated film about a similarly self-contained man who is encouraged by a friend to engage with social media, which he does in a disastrous way. This time the protagonist does develop. As the plot moves through the gears, so does his emotional understanding.

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

I am lucky enough to have listened to them all several times and I loved them all equally (I am contractually obliged to say this!). It may be more helpful if I tell you what I am going to steal from each of them. Along with those I have already mentioned I am going to re-read Milestone and
try and work out what Tony Clare did technically which allowed him to tell the story so simply, build the emotion so gradually and yet produce such a crescendo at the end.

Rex and My Immortal Mother keep a more constant pitch but also wear their technique very lightly while conveying different versions of the warmth that you produced in Bookmark. I love how Sarah makes the Tricia Slater simultaneously exasperating and interesting, and how she lets the humour pop out naturally in the little asides when the eulogy falters. Grandpa had beautiful pacing, so that the life described felt full and complex, but never overdone. The Name on the Bench very cleverly kept your interest while withholding the identity of the subject of the eulogy until the very end.

For it’s stark atmosphere, occluded feelings and precise, poised language, Turning was hard to beat. And I will cherish the moment when we started Marcie Lane, the first Tribute we recorded and listened to the unfolding of a heartfelt but nuanced relationship between two estranged friends.

I have a particular soft spot for An Ordered Life because Philip Shelley allowed me to unleash my inner Norma Desmond on it. He read it first and then I did a version that borrowed from his performance. The clarity of thought and the pitch of the language made it easy to add in a bit of myself. I can see what good writing can give actors – clarity of meaning and a strong base that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. I also had the advantage of getting a mini-master class in acting from all the performers, not least Paul Chapman who made my desiccated narrator flesh, and lifted him bodily him off the page.

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

It’s important to write about everything we do and everything that happens to us. Death is pretty well represented in drama, but I loved this idea of making the protagonists cast their thoughts in the semi-formal setting of a tribute. It’s like a sad best man’s speech. Who’s listening? Should you have said that? Would you say this if they were alive and standing in front of you?

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Tribute - Interview with Louise Vale

This weeks featured tribute is very different yet again. It's a tribute to a man who has no one to offer up a Tribute to him. It's emotional but in a different way. It's a really clever episode of the podcast series, and as always the discussion with the writer Louise Vale offers up some great insights.

1. Usually the tributes gain emotion from the details of someone's life, whilst this Tribute elicits a lot of emotion for me from the distance? Was this something you considered when writing Rex?

Yes, I think there are two kinds of distance in this tribute - one between us and Allan, because most of us don't know what it's like to spend all day in a prison. It's like another country. Then there's the distance between Allan as prison officer and Rex as prisoner. It's a professional distance but on the other hand there is an enforced closeness which is perhaps comparable to a family relationship.

2. With the rise in true crime documentary and our continued fascination with serial killers did you ever feel like you wanted to explore what led Rex to commit the murders or do you find those acts more terrifying when left unexplained?

I think the answer is Yes to both questions. The format meant there was no time to explore in any detail, but then there is power in leaving some things unsaid. As far as true crime is concerned, we hear news stories all the time about family murders and there must be layers of pain and conflict behind each one. The same goes for reports of violence in prisons. We only imagine what happens behind the headline.

3. One of the things I've become fascinated with over the course of these interviews is wondering whether the Tribute says more about the deceased or the person giving the Tribute? Which character do you think this Tribute says more about Rex or Allan?

I have wondered the same thing and think it must be a matter of the listener's interpretation. For me, it's more about Allan, because I'm interested in what it's like working in a prison and what prison does to people on both sides of the bars. It's inhuman to lock people up but so far we don't have enough workable alternatives.  Others might focus on Rex's story, in an angry or empathetic way.

4. Recently I've seen online petitions to bring back the death penalty, how do you feel about people like Rex and how they're treated after what they have done?

You picked a topic close to my heart, actually. I worked at Amnesty International where they campaign against the death penalty worldwide. I was only involved in communications on one case, but it has stayed with me: a young American executed for the murder of his mother and stepfather. It was clear he had learning difficulties and had been abused by the stepfather for many years. I found it horrific. In the UK I think we have forgotten the awfulness of executing someone and only finding out afterwards they were innocent. Cases like Derek Bentley's are passing from living memory. As far as Rex is concerned, I wanted to touch on his early life as a partial explanation, though not excuse, for what he'd done. 

5. I left this Tribute wondering if we'd been served up the truth, is it intentional that Allan is an unreliable narrator on certain aspects?

It is intentional, and the circumstances of the death are suspicious. It could be an accident, suicide or murder, making the story open to several different interpretations. When we did the recording I loved the way Patrick Brennan, Phil Shelley and Will Mount jumped on these and offered more interpretations I hadn't even thought of. I think we want the listeners to do this work and wonder what really happened.

6. What other projects are you working on, and how does Rex compare to your other writing?

I've just finished my first feature, an adaptation. It's a football film, so at first it's hard to see any direct connection! On the other hand, there are recurrent themes of conflict and intimidation, and actually both stories are set in very male environments and drawn from real life. The feature is adapted from a young footballer's autobiography and Rex was inspired by news stories.

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

Yes - I listened to them back to back and appreciated them all. They all feel real. I think two resonated with me particularly - one was Tony's story about Hillsborough. But apart from that, I'll maintain a discreet silence as the other writers have done! 

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

As other people have said, we don't talk about it enough. Medical advances mean we don't face it as often as people did in the past, but it hasn't gone away and when we do have to confront it, it's a shock. We need to rehearse what to say, how to react. On top of that, British people are not good at discussing emotion. The English language doesn't lend itself to it. Other cultures are much more expressive. I think it's a burden we have to bear, and a constant challenge for us as writers to use the unsaid to evoke emotional power.

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.