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.

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.