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...