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