Category Archives: Writing

Blog posts that have to do with my playwriting, Community Theatre or freelance writing interests.

Why do you have unfinished or unpublished projects?

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You work hard on your manuscript. You produce anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 words, right? That’s a LOT.

So why, why on earth would you NOT submit that completed manuscript to a publisher? And if you haven’t reached the end, but you know the story and you have the drive, why not FINISH the story?

A lot of authors who have made it (a term that covers so much ground it’s pointless trying to define it) will tell you they have complete manuscripts in their desk drawers (sometimes virtual desk drawers) that will never see the light of day. It can be an infuriating thought. Imagine, another Stephen King novel, or a Delilah S Dawson book that you can never read! Why would they do that? If a story is worth investing enough time and energy to type to completion, it’s worth reading, right?

The sad answer is no. Like Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself”. Until that first draft is down, you have no idea, really, what the story is going to look or sound like to anyone else. And sometimes, you look at what you’ve got and you say “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, that’s what I wanted to say, but it’s not good enough. It’s not right.” Sometimes that means draft two will come at the same story from a different direction. Sometimes it means you explore the same theme with a different story. Some of those drafts just go into the drawer.

Years ago, I wrote a complete screenplay. I used some bespoke software that doesn’t even exist anymore, I worked hard, and I got from “fade in” to “fade out”, and I was really pleased with myself. Pleased enough that I sent it off for some feedback.

What came back was a stack of notes. I began to re-work the screenplay from the notes, but it quickly became clear that the resultant story was not the one I’d written, and it wasn’t engaging me. If I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to do a great job writing it. I still loved the original story, I was glad I’d told it to myself, but it went into the drawer.

Not every story you tell will be for everyone else. Sometimes, we are the only audience we need for our stories.

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Start as you mean to go on…

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The start of a new year is a great time for new beginnings. We make resolutions, renew memberships, draw up lists. We pledge on social media to be better, to be more consistent, more productive. In the post Christmas calm, when work has shut down and we bask in the warmth of good food, gift-giving, family and friends, a new start seems almost inevitable.

Neil deGrasse Tyson upset some people on Twitter by pointing out that January the first is only significant in the Gregorian Calendar.

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I understand why people were annoyed, but I think he’s right. If we’re only prepared to make a new start one day a year, what good is that? The day before the new year began, I tried to load up the file for my latest book, but it had corrupted, and all the work I had done up to that point was lost. One day it worked, the next day it didn’t. So, here’s the new year, and I’m preparing to make a new start on a project I was a third of the way through. And once that’s done, there are plays to write, sketches to produce, DIY and craft projects to take on. Each one will require a new start.

Every day is a new beginning. Enjoy the next 365 fresh starts.

As You Like It

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Let’s see – I’ve had a birthday, we’ve been camping, but school hasn’t started yet… It must be time for Bard on the Beach!

Every year we try to go (some years more successfully than others) and every year I am driven to blog about the experience because the productions are so good. Bard don’t need the publicity, I think, they’re doing just fine on sales. Tonight’s tent was sold out, and every seat occupied by an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

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With no visitors, it was only Mrs Dim, myself and all the Weasels, settling into our seats for a performance of “As You Like It”, a play that none of us were familiar with. Well, that’s to say, none of us had seen a full production, but it’s the play that contains the “All the world’s a stage..” speech, and one of the scenes was used in the “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” Shakespearean Special ‘Pick Up Bard’ game.

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What really put the icing on the cultural cake for us this year, however, was a staggering coincidence. All this summer, Tiny Weasel has been obsessed with the Beatles. OBSESSED. She’s watched their films, documentaries, recited interviews and even purchased a cd! A Child of the Millennium, buying physical media! And this year’s production of As You Like It was going to feature 25 songs…by The Beatles!

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It was a toe-tapping extravaganza, with audience singalongs and plenty of sight gags, alongside the snappy dialogue. Mrs Dim’s favourite moment was

“She’s coming. Hide!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Shakespeare!

Bard on the Beach must work very hard to make this all look so effortless. It proves there’s life in the old plays yet, as there were people of all ages in the audience, and they had no trouble following the plot or the language. I’m already looking forward to next year.

The Play I didn’t write

First Lesson: Write what you know.

It’s advice handed out almost as soon as you begin, and it’s misunderstood, misapplied and misinterpreted over and over. It doesn’t mean write about the life you live, because if everyone did that there’d be no science fiction, no Steampunk, no historical romances, no pirate adventures, no Narnia or Hogwarts… It’s the emotions we know that matter, it’s writing the truth of how we are affected by events. CS Lewis was never offered Turkish Delight by a woman on a sleigh, but he did know what it was like to be a young boy, to be jealous, to want more. Because he knew, we understand why Edmund betrays his siblings, even if we don’t like him for it. It feels true.

Second Lesson: The only limit is your imagination.

You can write about anything. You can put Victorians on the moon, you can have the American lose the War of Independence, you can say there’s a nice Pot Noodle flavour…Anything can be written about. Anyone can write anything.

And yet. There’s that Jurassic Park warning, isn’t there?

Stop to think

When it comes to honing your craft, all writing is good. You have an idea, write it down. Try to express it as clearly as you can. Try different genres, different formats. Some things will click for you straightaway, some will take real effort, and what you want to do might not be the one that comes easily.

But if your goal is to put your stories out for other people to read, I think it’s worth considering if that story is yours to tell.

Recently the Chesil Theatre in Winchester announced their latest 10×10 competition. This is a great contest to find 10 ten-minute plays on a theme. Last year’s theme was David Bowie, and I had a chance to read through the winners of the competition and they were all excellent. Very different, in tone and style and even in inspiration, but all fitting the theme and all worth the audience’s time. I was keen to enter this year, and the theme of Hidden Worlds sounded great.

Almost immediately, I had an idea and started to sketch it out. And almost as quickly, I realised it wasn’t going to work. I’m a middle-aged white guy from the middle classes of the UK. I wanted to write a play about  a young black woman confronting her boss at work to try and make him see the world as she had experienced it, a world that was entirely hidden from him by the privilege he didn’t even understand he had. I’m sure I could’ve written a ten minute play along those lines. I’m sure some of the dialogue would’ve been quite compelling, and the point would have been made. I think the subject is important and is something that is finally drawing attention. But I’m not the person to write that story.

Is this wrong? Is this self-censorship? Well, I don’t think so. Years and years ago, I read “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole“, like thousands of other people in the UK. It was funny and touching and terrifyingly true, but I remember being just a little perturbed by the fact it had been written by an adult woman. “Who is she,” I thought to myself, “to tell us how a thirteen year old boy thinks?” The fact that she was so right just made it worse. So here I am, among the most privileged demographic of all, and I’m piqued by someone writing a character who’s like me, when SHE’S NOT. How much worse must it be to have someone who doesn’t look like you, who has no real concept of the life you’ve lived, the life your family has lived for the last…what? Couple of centuries? More? What if they write a story about you and your life?

As a child I got to see myself on the movie screen over and over again. Luke Skywalker, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller, Bugsy Malone, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Indiana Jones… They were all people I could imagine being, because they looked, more or less, like I did. Representation matters. I can only imagine how it feels for kids in Oakland to see Black Panther. How it feels to see a vision of an African country that wears its culture with pride and stands tall. To see young black women who are masters of technology, who hold positions of responsibility and power. To see them leading. And if representation matters, it matters even more that the stories we tell are as true as we can make them. I would be telling them second or third-hand, and that’s not good enough.

I will keep writing plays and stories, and some of them will be from the viewpoint of characters who are not me. That’s inevitable. But I will also consider how the stories I write will sound to those who have been negatively affected by my privilege. They have voices, and they can tell their stories with more truth that I ever could. Getting out of the way to let them speak is the best thing I can do.

The Bold Viking Quest

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It was Tiny Weasel’s birthday this week, and she had very specific plans for her celebration. We would get together on Family Day, dress as Vikings and hike through the woods playing a specially created D&D adventure. And then have a picnic.

We’re fairly new to D&D, having picked up the Starter Set at Christmas, so the campaign I wrote is very basic. It doesn’t actually follow the path we took through the woods of Belcarra to Jugg Island, so you could use it on any walk from about 30 mins to an hour and a half.

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Dressing as Vikings is essential, however. We had a bard, three fighters and a Cleric, but we couldn’t get the cleric to give up her battleaxe.

Since we are beginners, we played a very simple version of the combat rules, taking along a D20 and a D8. Since we were also outside in the woods, we carried each die in a tin with a clear lid, so you could “roll” the dice without losing them. (And, it turned out, you could jiggle the tin until you got the number you were looking for…)

The Bard suffered terribly, being attacked by Vampire bats almost immediately, and trying to fend them off (unsuccessfully) with her Kazoo. Later she remembered her magical arrow which would have been great against the bats, but was pretty useless against Skeletons.

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The cupcakes were as important as the combat….

Since it was Family Day, we were not the only people on the trail, so there was a fair amount of explaining to do as we went along, but this is Canada. No one minded at all that we were having fun.

After defeating several horrific monsters, falling into pit traps and solving fiendish riddles (only one of which I stole from “Labyrinth”), the weary questers reached the beach and opened the treasure chest of Captain Mica (Flint having been taken, you see…)

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Even the plain clothes DM got in on this picture!

I’m sure regular D&D players could make more of the campaign, but it’s also simple enough for noobs like me to run it without too much trouble. I’ve uploaded the text to this Google Drive location as a Word Document so anyone can have a go.

We wish you happy questing, adventurers.

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Eighteen years of TLC Creative

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Linked In isn’t tremendously useful. Well, it hasn’t been so far. But this week it sent me a reminder that it’s been eighteen years since the formation of TLC Creative. Our writing partnership is old enough to drink in a pub and vote.

Nearly twenty years ago, writing was a very different experience:

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As a new Dad, I was still struggling with the challenges of domestic management, and I was trying to build a writing career in the cracks in between. It was a great relief when Steve and David contacted me with an offer to co-write a pantomime. Steve is an impeccable organiser, and David’s writing is inspirational (and he’s a champion fixer if you’re stuck for a punchline or a better joke). After months of trying to sell short stories and finish a novel (every first novel is bad. Every one.) writing the pantomime was fun, and collaboration was a joy.

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Over the years we have worked in many different ways – writing pieces individually, writing a scene each and collating, writing by dictation and having Steve try to type the nonsense we were spouting on the fly. As time has gone by, we’ve all accumulated more responsibilities, and me moving to a different continent has not improved the regularity of our meetings. But we stay in touch through email and Skype, and even manage the odd planning meeting online. Our joint productivity has slowed a but, but we’re still ready to take on new challenges, reheat old jokes and routines and try to breath life into neglected stories. But mostly the old jokes.

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I’m confident that TLC Creative will still be scraping the barrel for the next eighteen years, adding to our publisher’s grey hairs with our eccentric formatting and occasional non-standard stage directions (Stage directions are for the ACTORS. You cannot dictate what the audience are going to do. Even if you use ALL CAPS). Yes, it’s past time to thank Stuart Ardern, our long-suffering publisher at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk for his help and encouragement (and the odd gentle admonition) over the past decade and a bit.

TLC Creative are still looking boldly to the future (though not able to focus brilliantly on deadlines) and we’d like to thank our friends and family for their help, support and understanding, and the many, many theatrical groups who have performed our plays*

You can find a full list of our current works HERE , all available to read online, and economical to download and produce.

 

 

*And the kind volunteers who helped them recover afterwards.

 

New Releases from lazy Bee Scripts Jan 2018

As I often do, I’ve clipped the “New Releases” section of the Lazy bee Scripts newsletter and re-posted it here so you can see the new plays on offer from my publisher. Since these days I run my social media from my lunchbreak, I haven’t got time to add links to all the plays (though I have taken a moment to link to mine : Sorry everyone else!) And here’s a little reminder that you can visit www.lazybeescripts.co.uk anytime and check out their “What’s New?” page.

One-Act Plays

As I’ve said before (following George Douglas Lee), all plays are in three acts, even one-act plays.  This category is based on length (something from 20 to 75 minutes), but the structures are three acts (situation, development, resolution).  In some cases, the author has made that structure more obvious, so Ryan Bultrowicz’s play is formally a one-act play in three acts.

  • Ryan Bultrowicz’s The Drowning Star (1M, 4F) is a poignant character study of a former child star who, after the death of her father, determines to make amends to the long list of people she has hurt.
  • Not enough robotics on this list for your liking?  Cyborg With Rosie (2M, 4F) by Troy Banyan will address that.  It features a reclusive cybernetics genius and her dog-man hybrid, as a visit from a journalist exposes many secrets.
  • Young runaway Poppy takes shelter in a student’s flat, only to encounter the ghostly presence of a former tenant, in Towards the Light (1M, 3F), a spooky supernatural drama by Judith Ezekiel.
  • From robots to ghosts to… Leeds Airport.  But as Richard Curtis fans know, airports are in fact the perfect place for love.  Actually, there’s also friendship, grief, disappointment, comedy and deceit to be found, in Liz Dobson’s Arrivals (1M, 5F).
  • If you’re short on actors, Beyond the White Noise (1M, 1F) by Steven A Shapiro is the play for you, focusing on two souls working out their issues as they sit in a therapist’s waiting room.
  • Paul Kalburgi took inspiration from Pinter when writing Almost the Birthday Party (2M), in which an eccentric couple are asked to recall details of an absurd first rehearsal – complete with cheesecake, vicar and taxidermied cat!
  • Pat Edwards’ Asking For Trouble (5M, 3F, 2 Either) explores some topical issues, as two girls narrowly escape serious assault.  As they recount this incident, the play questions whether it’s right to apportion blame to they were dressed.
  • Damian Woods’ Deadline (3M, 1F) features a playwright with a serious grudge to bear against a scathing reviewer.  Luckily, it’s good, so we’ll never have to find out if Damian would react in the same way.
  • Three suspects, all being questioned because of their political beliefs.  Three interrogation rooms.  Three points in time.  Those are just three of the triplets at play in Louise Wade’s Interrogation (here are some more – 3M, 3F).
  • If ‘convoluted black comedy inspired by Edward Albee’ sounds like your idea of a nice way to spend half an hour, you’ll want What’s The Time, Virginia Woolf? (2M, 2F) by Doc Watson.
  • Special Occasions (3M, 5F) by Roger Hodge, adapted from the middle act of his full-length Eating Out, peers into the lives of three very different couples eating at the same restaurant.
  • The revised edition of Paul Bovino’s Elephants (2M, 2F) was published in November.  In an oddly decorated (see title) New York apartment, a strange birthday party reveals hidden love…

 

Full-Length Plays

Again, we are confronted by the question of what is a full-length play.  We take the view that anything with a duration of over an hour could legitimately be staged as an evening’s entertainment.  On the other hand, something with a duration of less than an hour and fifteen minutes might easily be paired with a shorter piece.  Thus Damian Trasler’s 65-minute “Under the Hood” is presented here, but might just as easily fit into the One-act Play category.

  • Aliens in the Park (2M, 3F, 1 Either) by Louise Bramley is a sci-fi comedy in which aliens visit Earth to abduct a male human, in order to improve the gender ratio back home.  There are suggested video effects as backgrounds, if you’re feeling really ambitious.
  • Another comedy from Louise Bramley, Cardigan Coast (2M, 4F) follows the pilot of a reality TV show in which six elderly contestants share a house – and are determined to show the camera they’re up for anything.
  • The title character of Ragnhild (6M, 4F, 1 Either) was the daughter of a usurped Viking king who, despite her exile, schemed her way back into power.  It’s a fascinating historical tale, and Charles Eades tells it with a slice of brutality appropriate to the period.
  • Under the Hood (3M, 1F) by Damian Trasler sees actor Rose rehearsing the title role in a new psychological interpretation of Red Riding Hood, while her husband is torn between his dead-end job and his dreams.

 

Sketches, Skits and Short Plays

Drama, comedy and satire.  In short, all life is here.

  • Gerald Murphy has adapted the O Henry short story After Twenty Years (3M, 0F), in which a wanted criminal meets up with an old friend… not knowing that he’s become a cop.
  • Live (3M, 1F) by Robin Fusco is a post-apocalyptic short play – but don’t worry if that sounds ambitious, as it’s all set in an underground bunker.
  • Olivia Arieti has Tramp Business (3M, 1F) for you to attend to… It’s a heartfelt and lightly comic sketch about the homeless inhabitants of an arrangement of park benches.
  • In The Little Cottage (5M, 4F), Gerald Murphy turns his attentions to Irish folklore.  The Doyle family have a perfect life, until Margaret’s parents move into their cottage.  Father Kelly’s advice only makes things worse.
  • Helen Bradley’s A Day at the Vets (3M, 2F) is exactly what it says in the title… well, a pretty bad day, truthfully, as the vet’s three least favourite customers – and their imaginary pets – all show up.
  • Love Is Blind by Andrew Bawn sees Gary and April meet on a blind date in a restaurant.  There is an age gap between them, and… well, you don’t expect it to go smoothly, do you?
  • Three middle-aged friends meet up for a coffee and a natter in Something To Talk About (3F) by Bob Hammond, but it turns out that they all have more exciting lives than each other thought.
  • The Vikings meet reality TV – and why not?  – in David Dean’s The Alf Factor.  They’re as vicious and bloodthirsty as ever – and that’s just the ones judging the cakes!
  • Who ever said fairy tales are old hat?  Three Billy Goats Cyber by Richard L Sanders is a politically satirical mix of the classic tale with today’s cyber technologies.
  • World War II-era Vienna is the setting for The Attic Room (3M, 3F) by Elizabeth Anne Wells, as a young Jewish girl hides from Nazi soldiers in the house of an Austrian family.

 

Pantomimes

At the time of writing, we have 359 pantomimes on our books.  (By the time of reading, this may well have changed).  We’re always looking for material to diversify the range.  This time Sherlock Holmes is given the panto treatment, not for the first time, whereas The Scarlet Pimpernel is given a first panto outing.  There’s a novel approach to the genre from Helen Spencer and Puss-in-Boots is rendered in rhyme.

  • The game is afoot in Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Pantomime (minimum of 5M, 2F, 11 Either) by Giles Black, which pits Conan Doyle’s great detective against Professor Moriarty in his most, well, goofy case yet.
  • The copyright on Baroness Orczy’s works expired in November, and we jumped straight onto that opportunity with Steven J Yeo’s take on The Scarlet Pimpernel (minimum of 3M, 3F, 4 Either).  Who knew France’s Reign of Terror had such potential for slapstick?
  • Another Cat, Another Hat (minimum of 3M, 3F, 4 Either) by Stuart Ardern is a one-act rhyming take on Puss-in-Boots, purrfect for a one-act production using minimal sets.
  • Panto goes meta in Helen Spencer’s Pantomime Academy (minimum of 9M, 16F, 10 Either), which follows poor Maurice, a regular panto actor doomed to always play the back end of the cow.

 

Plays for Schools and Youth Theatre

This category covers scripts written specifically for schools or youth groups.  On this occasion, we’ve made relatively few additions (despite our current catalogue of over 770 pieces for schools and youth productions), although there are probably pieces suitable in some of the other categories…

  • February 14th is fast approaching, and Olivia Arieti’s V For Valentine is perfect for teaching children about Valentine’s Day traditions.  Alternatively, reading it might keep you occupied if you don’t have a date.
  • Howard Does His Best (3M, 10 Either) by Geoff Parker is an offbeat comedy for high school ages.  As Howard tries to ask the most beautiful girl in the school for a dance, various parts of his body argue about how to co-ordinate themselves.
  • Dip into Pond Life, a one-act play (with a couple of optional songs) by Nettie Baskcomb Brown, populated with (a minimum of 9) ungendered roles of plants and pond creatures.

 

Murder Mysteries

The structure of whodunnits varies enormously.  Angela Lanyon’s approach is definitely along the lines of a play: it’s fully-scripted, with no interaction with the audience.  There is, however, the opportunity to put forward suspicions and accusations before the mystery is resolved by the performance of the second act.  (Unusually, as well as deciding who did the deed, this mystery requires the audience to work out who was murdered, although I suspect that this becomes obvious when the remainder of the cast assembles for act two.)

  • A group of friends make a cup of tea and settle in for a nice peaceful séance in Angela Lanyon’s Séance for Murder (3M, 4F).  And then there’s the murder, of course.