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.

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