This week I have the pleasure of discussing the Tribute Grandpa with Daniel Brierley, the writer of the episode. It's a personal and emotional tribute, but also manages to fit in a light tone and humour. Give it a listen before reading the interview.
1. I love the lightness of the tone in your piece.The free flowing speech. How much of that is on the page and how much is in the performance?
Actually it's all on the page, I'd written it as a stream of consciousness, as a character struggling to make an eulogy, so the flow is intentional- although Sam did a great job with the read. Ideally I love my characters to sound real, to sound like we do, with nonsense sentences, with pauses with bad grammar.
2. Like my own, and a few others, your Tribute is based on true memories. How difficult, and raw was it tapping into those stories for this?
It was raw certainly. When Phil put out his call it was almost the week before my grandad's funeral and I knew that I wasn't going to do a reading there, because, well that's not really how I am as a person, so it was really cathartic to write. I literally wrote it in the hour after his email and it came out in a splurge. It felt good and felt like I was really getting something off my chest. In the time between the recording and the launch of the series, my Gran also died, so it felt like something I needed to do. I don't know whether it felt as painful as it should, I think turning them into characters in a story, rather than my grandparents actually helped the grieving process because I was able to put some kind of screen, some distance between me and them and see them in the abstract. I don't know. I'm still at the stage where I think of something my gran would like and forget she's passed. Or I remember odd things like the drip of snot my grandpa used to get on the end of his nose, particularly when it was cold. And it makes me laugh.
3. There are a lot of jokes in your Tribute, it's very funny, was it intentional or did it just come naturally from the stories as you were writing?
I think that's just who I am as a person. You speak to my girlfriend or my daughter and they'd tell you I often hide my feelings behind humour. My daughter is always looking at me and asking if I'm joking or not. I don't know why they put up with it. But my English grandparents weren't particularly humorous people- my other grandparents are much more likely to tie things up with a bleak black humour.
But again, I think we're always making jokes whether we recognise it or not. I lived in France for a while and when I tried to tell them how we described good weather as 'not bad' they would think that was crazy- if it's not bad why the hell don't ya say 'good'? You look at how many conversations, even the most banal, end with some sort of joke and you'll see we're all at. And what's funnier than death?
4. Why do you think humour is so tied up with death, and how we deal with it?
Because the alternative is facing up to the fact we're hurtling through space at a billion mph, in a cold and distant universe.
And we are all going to die at some stage. Sooner rather than later with the way the world is right now. I think we joke about death because it's a coping mechanism. It's our way of showing we're still alive. It's the great unknown and therefore something to be feared. And we cope with fear with laughter. Either that or we're sick bastards.
I'm reading a lot of books about Physics at the moment, because it's something I don't understand and it's like learning a new language. Photons. Neutrinos. Quanta. It gives me a crazy sense of perspective about the universe and our place within its architecture. And there's even humour in Physics. Those mad scientists call the force that glues qaurks inside photons and neutrons 'Glue-ons'.
Not the best joke ever. But you've got to play to your audience I guess.
5. You handle the shift in tone perfectly, did that flow naturally or how did you devise that shift?
I think for the story to work the tone was everything. If it starts too profound then we are immediately placed in a certain frame of mind. I wanted to focus on banalities like Mcdonalds or Orient and then move onto the real subject matter, Alzheimer's and death. But to begin with them would be to colour the entire piece. My favourite film- In Bruges is a perfect example of the shift- when Colin Farrel's character is recalling that the child he shot had been writing a list of things he was sad about before he died- or in Fever Pitch, (the book) when the main character's emotional moment, the final release is that goal at Anfield in 89- 'all the lost years, the tears, the anger the sadness' just melting away from a micky thomas toe poke. I love the banality of it all.
6. Love the callback to the opening joke at the end, did the Tribute always have that framing device?
That was a note from Phil- we ended on a sad beat, and we felt it was important to have some sort of frame in order to recentre the story.
7. What other projects are you currently working on and do they share any similarities to Grandpa?
Not really- I was part of a writing group at the Royal Court and I'd been developing a similar story but it felt too real and I was getting tied up amongst myself. I've shelved that for the time being.
I'm writing a comedy feature for Aardman and the BFI about Space (hence the Physics) and I've written a spy drama which was taken up by Jed Mercurio and we've been working together on the pilot script which is now with a broadcaster.
8. Have you listened to the other Tributes? If so, which ones have stood out for you?
This was my favourite part of the process. It's been an honour to have my piece amongst so many stand out works. It's a real anthology, a real series and what struck me was the extraordinary range, from really raw and emotional pieces, to character studies, to lighter stories. They're all fantastic but the one that has really stayed with me was the Name on the Bench by David Hendon. it's a simple idea, brilliantly executed. Also Rex by Louise Vale. It was just a great story, an interesting POV.