Monday, March 17, 2014

Writers' journeys

Tonight's Frome Poetry Cafe had the theme of Journeys, so it was ironic perhaps that Daisy Behagg was left stranded at Castle Cary and couldn't join us... but our other lead poet David Johnson was on fantastic form with performance pieces about railway journeys and journeys into history ~ ending with a witty imagined 18th Century slam, with neurotic Romantics on tour / signing their volumes in the foyer. So mega sympathies Daisy ~ who will try again later this year ~ for your trauma, but luckily local eco-poet Helen Moore was on hand to step in, and the 17 open-mic poets took us on many fabulous journeys too. A full house at the Garden Cafe and a wonderfully rich evening.. one of those special nights.
Obliquely on the subject of journeys still: it's 100 years since Dylan Thomas was born, and Graffiti magazine had a little competition for pieces inspired by his poems.  Fern Hill is a favourite of mine since early childhood when my father read it to me, so I took its rhythms and notion of long-ago memories and adapted both to summer holidays on the south coast of Devon... and then came the storms, prompting an ending more disturbing than nostalgic. I'm pleased to say the judge liked it and Dawlish Warren won first prize. It's a fine line between homage and plagiarism, so I hope I haven't transgressed too much - you can judge for yourselves here:

Now as I was golden brown and straddling the rock pools 
Along the laughing beach and singing as the sand was home 
The sky high and dazzling blue,
 Granny held me in her towel 
Wiping icecream from my salty face
 And queen of the mermaids I wriggled away and ran back to the waves 
Heedless of any call beyond their gentle surging swell,
Toe-kicking the coarse wet sand 
All along the brown-sugar rim of the sea. 

And after the thermos-and-sandwich tea, dried and cardiganed,
Princess was I of turreted sand-castles and splendid forts
With scalloped moat and paper flags
Flying their stripes and stars
The whole world in my dominion.
And picnic packed and sandy shoes pulled on to go, we'd see
Slow foaming rivulets creep over our brave constructions
Licking the ramparts into sandslides,
slipping back into dunes as the sunset streamed.

Nothing I knew, in those childish times, that storms would obliterate
All of my memories in one raging night of terrible severance
Rail from rock, rock from land,
Nor that rousing from sleep
I'd see the path to my past wiped away forever
And watch onscreen that timeless landscape ripped away.
Oh as I played along those Devon sands happy and unknowing
Time held us all in ignorant thrall
Believing ourselves as strong as the sea.

Finally journey of this posting: my writer friend Sally Gander, author of the Y/A thriller The Big Deep, invited me to join her on a 'blog tour' and although it sounded like a cross between a discursive relay and a chain letter, I was intrigued enough to agree. The aim is to share personal perspectives on the writing process: each 'guest' blogger answers 4 questions and hands the baton on. So here goes:
What am I working on?
Currently, so many different things I feel like the sheep in Alice in Wonderland knitting with fourteen pairs of needles. I’m writing two plays ~ both in delicate stages of development ~ and revising two others. I’m also working on two monologues, one on spec for an actress friend, plus a short for our Nevertheless Productions event in Frome Festival. The theme is War Zones, which is a challenge for a militant pacifist. I’m also working with performer Annabelle Macfadyen on a script for a ‘Time Walk’ around Rodden Meadow in the festival, telling ‘the story of the earth in a thousand paces.’ Mind-blowing science but a lot of fun. And the blog trundles on:  theatre reviews, local arts, random thoughts on anything related to writing. I’m off to California for a month at the end of March, for uninterrupted focus on all these projects.
How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

 The same way every playwright’s work is different from others':  it’s my voice and not theirs. I write psychological dramas and use dark comedy a lot. I also tend to indulge in meta-theatrical elements ~ ‘smart-arsed’ to those who don't like plays that are self-conscious about being dramatic inventions ~ so I sometimes let characters address the audience direct. Well it worked for Shakespeare...
Why do I write what I do?
To find out what I mean. I think all writers at heart write to discover their own processes of thinking and feeling.
How does my writing process work? 
Scripts for stage are no different from stories on the page, at the start. A character starts talking to you, quietly at first, and then increasingly intrusively. There are challenges in their life, and other characters with their own opinions on these matter, and eventually they all colonise your head and your only choice is to start writing it all down. When it's all collected you carve it back to the bone, marveling how much verbal fat there always is, and work out what it’s all about. Then you hand it over to a production team, who wrestle it into a coma ~ excuse the mixed metaphors but this is a mixed process ~ and then breathe life into your words and make you feel that seeing your story on stage is THE most fantastic privilege for any writer.  Then when the production’s over you go into a bereaved state… until a character sidles up and starts talking to you….
Well, that’s how it is for me, anyway. I don’t have any routines, or any preferred time of day or place. I work directly onto my laptop, at home, in a café, or traveling ~ but always have a notebook beside me to jot down thoughts.

And now over to Cliff Lonsdale, who I met first in Skyros two years ago, when he would lie full length at the edge of the Aegean and write the most amazing pieces. He sent me this thumbnail biog:
Cliff is a writer and development consultant currently living in Myanmar with his wife and two dogs; prior to this he lived in Africa for several years. Cliff spends a large proportion of his life bouncing around in the back of a car on dirt roads; he tends to have quite a lot of time to contemplate life. His utterings, mutterings and general musings on this and many other matters can be found at

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