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.

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