Tag Archives: playwright

Talking out of my….hat

Why are they all standing? Are they about to leave?

So, on Sunday I’ll be giving a talk to the good people of SMP Dramatics. In my defence, it was their idea. The Chairman emailed to ask if I would come along to their AGM and talk “about the life of a playwright”. Now I come to think about it, maybe they’re expecting me to give a bio of Shakespeare or Pinter…Uh oh!

SMP are a special group because they’ve been extremely helpful to me. Long before we met, they performed a couple of TLC pantomimes here in Vancouver (on the North Shore) and when Steve and David came to visit last year, we saw the posters for the SMP production of Fawlty Towers, which Steve and David had just finished producing with MKTOC. When Steve saw the name of the group, he recognised them as previous customers. We got in touch, and were invited along to one of the rehearsals (since Steve and David would have returned to the UK before the performances.) It was a very pleasant evening, reminding me of the fun and cameraderie of a community theatre company, and Steve and David got to run through some of the moves they had developed for their production.

Naturally we talked to the good folks there about projects past, present and future, and I mentioned “Merely Players“, saying how I was pleased with it but unsure if it was worth taking further. SMP kindly agreed to stage a reading of the play and give me their feedback. I talk about that experience in THIS post.

But now they’ve asked me to come and talk, and I’m finding the same issues with writing the talk as I do about writing this blog. The life of a writer is much like the life of a plumber. The actual work isn’t that interesting. In fact,maybe that’s not fair. I guess sometimes the life of a plumber can be quite exciting, with flooded houses, exploding toilets and gushing washing machines. Hmm, maybe I’ll retrain… Where was I? Oh yeah.

The life of a playwright is just regular life, only with some time spent writing plays. But writing plays is just sitting at a keyboard, daydreaming and taking dictation. Maybe if I was one of those playwrights who turn their grim life experiences into plays, if I was a refugee who had to work thirty seven hours a day making ping pong balls in a underground sweatshop in Littleknown, Exoticville, then made my way to freedom aboard a boat made from rice paper, maybe then my life would be worth talking about.

But I don’t write about that.  Some days I can’t help feeling a complete fraud (back to the discussion of FEARS, here) because I write plays that are aimed to entertain. Some of them have questions at their heart, ideas that I wanted to explore, like “The Red Balloon” and “A Time for Farewells“, but that doesn’t mean I have some mystic method. I don’t summon the Intergalactic Hivemind during mystic yoga sessions to inform the questions at the heart of my work. I wish I did, because then at least I’d have something to do on the days when I haven’t the faintest idea what to write next.

The point I’m edging towards in this increasingly desperate sounding post is that I’m going to talk to SMP about Community Theatre, which sounds like a dumb idea. After all, they’re a Community Theatre group, aren’t they? Surely they’re pretty familiar with the whole thing. Well, yes, they probably are. But I want to talk about why I write for Community Theatre groups instead of trying to write a play that’ll be put on in the West End of London and leave the critics faint with ecstasy. Obviously one reason is that my publisher has a marketplace almost entirely composed of Community groups and schools, though there’s nothing to stop a professional company buying a script there. No the main reason is that I have spent time in Community Theatre. I remember the joy of a good play, the feeling of infinite possibility granted by an empty stage. I remember that part vividly, the feeling that you can make this space into anything, anywhere and people will believe it. For the length of a play, your audience will come along with you on your adventure. All they ask is that you put your heart and soul ito the performance. and you know what? Most of the time that’s what you get with Community Theatre. People are there because they love it, not because it’s another tick on their equity card, or a third-rate part they had to take when they didn’t get the lead in Hamlet again.

Yes, people in a Community Theatre group may fight like a bunch of cats in a sack over all kinds of things, but when it comes to the production EVERYONE puts their heart and soul into it because that’s why they’re there.

What drives YOU to write? Have you had any experience with Community Theatre? What organisations helped you recover afterwards? Do you know ANYONE who has bought my book “Writing a play for Community Theatre”? What organisations helped them recover afterwards?

Could you spare some time?

Have you got time to sit down?

All writing seems to be done against the clock. You won’t hear any writer say “Oh yeah, I have plenty of time to finish this piece.” If you’re not racing to beat a publishing deadline, you’re rushing to get your thousand words a day finished before the kids come home from school and start demanding unreasonable things like food and clean clothes.

The hardliners will tell you that if you don’t MAKE time to write every day, then you’re not really a writer. You have the same number of hours in each day as Earnest Hemingway, William Shakespeare and Julius Caesar. (Granted, Caesar didn’t write novels, but he did find the time to conquer Gaul and still write up his adventures: “What I did during the Summer, by J. Caesar.” Mind you, he also wore a bedsheet and always had leaves in his hair, which I think should rule him out as a good example.)

I’ve found the idea of writing every day to be a good one in theory, but harder to follow through, unless you bend your definition of “Writing”. I certainly get to the keyboard pretty much every day, but I don’t produce what I would count as writing. Up until last year, that didn’t matter much, because I had all the time in the world (between 9am and 3pm) to produce my masterpieces. For more information on how masterful they are, go look me up at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk . But with the arrival of our mortgage, I was thrust back out into the wicked world of work, and my writing time (and my Halo time, Facebook time, Twitter time…..) was severely diminished.

At least, it was from one point of view. From another, I still had time to write, I just had to work a little harder to make the most of it. During last year I wrote my full length play “Merely Players”, the first full length play I’ve ever written. I’d love to say I did it by getting up at five in the morning and getting in a good hour’s writing before the day began, but some of you know me quite well by now. I have only recently heard about five in the morning. It sounds intriguing, but I don’t want to go there. No, what I did was write a little here, a little there. Sometimes I wrote in the evenings, sometimes in the afternoons when the weasels were playing. Sometimes I had days at home when I wasn’t in work and the washing was done (or piled up in the basket accusingly.)

All this is not bragging. All this is me worrying, because it looks like I have found myself a new job. Better, in many ways than my last, because the hours will be more regular and there will be no weekend work. but it will be every day, with no wacky midweek breaks. I may get around thirty to forty minutes in each day when I will be home and the weasels will still be at school, but the washing, cleaning, cooking and shopping will still have to be done. If I want to stay a writer, not become someone who used to be a writer, I will have to work at it.

So tell me, how do YOU fit writing into your life? Or do you fit your life into your writing? Do you have weasels to wrangle, or have you got a dedicated weasel wrangler to take care of that? Have you read my amazing book “Writing a play for the Community Theatre”? It could change your life, you know, or at least fill some of the empty hours of it with witty prose and handy advice about writing plays.

All the latest from Lazy Bee Scripts!

Me, when I used to blow the trumpet (aided by Photoshop...)

It’s considered bad form to blow your own trumpet, at least where I come from, but it’s ok to allow other people to sing your praises. So, sparing my blushes, I’ve decided to reprint the latest Lazy Bee Scripts Newsletter (The Buzz) which happens to include some mention of the latest full-length play by…ahem…well…ME!

Most of the following information can be found via theWhat’s New by Categorypage of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site 
The Royal Shakespeare Company‘s Open Stages Project
Open Stages is a collaboration between the RSC and community theatre groups.  As part of the project, the RSC has teamed-up with the National Drama Festivals Association to introduce a Shakespeare category into one-act and full-length play festivals in the UK.  The category is intended to cover Shakespeare plays and material related to the plays (this could include historical drama with Shakespearean connections, modern language interpretations of the plays or plays commenting on the plays.)
Hang on a minute!  Weren’t all the bard’s plays on the long side?  So where do you find one-act Shakespeare plays?  That, of course, is (one of the places) where we come in.  Bill Tordoff has been working his way through the canon, creating abridgements of the plays  These preserve the original plots, characters and language, but condense the plays to durations of between thirty and fifty minutes – ideal one-act festival length.  We have published 24 plays in this form along with a lot of other material relating to Shakespeare.
As an aide to people searching with this particular purpose, we have created links to summaries of the Shakespeare material.  (From the web site home page, follow the links to the One-Act Plays and Full-Length Plays main pages.)
Why not take Hamlet to a one-act festival?

Scripts for Kids (Schools or Youth Theatre)

  • Geoff Bamber has been busy. More accurately, we have been catching-up with our backlog of his scripts. In the last couple of months, we’ve published The Pied Piper of Hamelin – A Question of Rats, a highwayman romp called Stand and Deliver [Kids Play] (to distinguish it from a pantomime of the same name), Smugglers, and Oh, Mr Shakespeare!, all comedies, and the relatively serious Five Days in May, dealing with the relationship between three secondary school children, one of whom is confide to a wheelchair.
  • A Journey to Oz is Richard Coleman’s rhyming (non-musical) version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
  • Whilst it may seem a little early, we’ve added a couple of pieces to our Christmas selection. Firstly, Bill Siviter offers God’s Messenger Department, an irreverent approach to the nativity (the story is all there, but the perspective is unorthodox and so likely to appeal to older children). A cast of 16 or more.
  • Then there’s A Double-Decker For Santa Claus by Olivia Arieti which leans to the secular side but takes a moral approach along the lines of A Christmas Carol (only without the ghosts!)  A cast of 6.
  • Maria’s Mask by Andrew Weaver is a play with suggested songs (that is to say, we don’t supply music, but the script includes suggestions for appropriate songs). A haunting, lyrical love story overlaid with knock-about comedy! A story of a ghost haunting the theatre where she used to dance.
  • On the more educational side, there’s Sue Russell’s Divali Assembly, a piece for a full junior school class, with a good balance between straight information delivery and drama around the Indian festival of lights. Sue’s Pirates Ahoy! is also surprisingly educational, covering a history of piracy.
  • Peter Bond delivers Androcles and the Lion as a short rhyming fable for a cast of 8 or 9.
  • A Forty-Minute Antony And Cleopatra is Bill Tordoff’s latest Shakespeare abridgement (as discussed above), and comes complete with literature’s second-most famous snake.
  • What would happen if a teacher was supplanted by a fairy with a magic wand? That’s more-or-less the premise of Ambition by Tony Best, a simple, short comedy play for a cast of four or five.
  • Nicholas Richards delivers broad-brush, knock-about comedy set in a restaurant in Everything All Right, Sir?  This is a flexible piece with two alternative ways of staging (and castin) the protest by the kitchen staff!
  • The King’s Spell by Sherrill S. Cannon & Kerry E. Gallagher is a class-sized play for elementary schools, embedding mixed-up versions of well-known nursery songs.
  • According to Louise Arnold, Everybody Wants to be a Cat.  It’s a short play about friendship for a cast of 6 to 9 actors.
  • Finally, in this section, there’s James O’Sullivan’s Once Upon A Time In Fairyland, a comical twisting of some well-known tales.

Musicals

  • Gerald P. Murphy’s The Fish and the Ring – The Musical is a one-act musical fable for kids – that is to say, it is designed to be performed by a school or youth theatre company. A fable about meddling with destiny. (For a company of 17 actors or more.)
  • The Pirate Queen by Tim O’Brien is intended for performance to a audience of children by an older company. A time-travelling musical with a healthy dose of piracy thrown-in! (Requires at least 29 actors.)

Sketches & Very Short Plays

  • I’m Famous is a Gerald P. Murphy adaptation of an Anton Chekhov short story, for anyone who thinks that celebrity culture is a recent invention! (2M, 2F)
  • Carol Kline’s Bud and Jewel – Busted and Bud and Jewel – Predictable could well be the start of a character comedy series. I do hope so. A well-drawn, bickering middle-aged couple.
  • Damian Trasler has produced Looking for Mr Evil (an interview for a galactic dictator) in his own right and, with added puns by David Lovesy, Shakespeare Re-imagined. Each one is a comedy sketch with a cast of two.
  • Every now and again, I tie myself in knots trying to characterise a piece. This is a case in point. What is Jonathan Edgington’s Quanto Sei Bella? A Short drama? A light romantic comedy? A play about relationships with a mild dose of magic realism? An interesting piece for 2M, 1F.
  • Windmills and Millstones by Louise Wade explores the life of fictional characters in the great maybe – before they have been committed to the page. (Minimum of 2M, 2F)
  • Mike Smith has contributed two delightfully odd shorts. There’s Lost and Found where the starting point is a pair of matching ‘small ads’ from a newspaper (1M, 1F), then there’s Point of Departure which sets off from a chance remark as a passenger leaves a car (1M, 1F, 1 Either – the cameo by the passenger who lights the fuse then stands well back.)
  • All Your Future Endeavors is a ten-minute bitter-sweet comedy by Molly McCluskey for a cast of 1M, 1F, in which an employee being ‘downsized’ after 20 years is not going to go quietly.
  • Multilayered is the word for Polytel by Nicholas Richards. We’re watching a couple discussing Polytel, the new revolution in technology… No, wait, we’re watching the filming of a commercial for Polytel, and the actors are rebelling against it… No, wait, we’ve been watching a short film arguing against modern technology… Haven’t we? (3M, 1F)
  • Peter Stallard didn’t think we’d publish Diary Of A Squirrel Hunter on the grounds that the irony is so heavy that it might be mistaken for extremely bad taste!  Essentially it’s a monologue, with an offstage police voice at the end.
  • Coming Home by Roger Woodcock is set in a private room in a nursing home.  A short, poignant drama in which a father’s failing memory throws up some surprises for his son. (2M, 1F)

One-Act Plays

  • At the beginning of March, we published Watch This Space [Comedy Play] by Karrena Dewhurst. (The bit in brackets is to distinguish it from the [Pantomime] with the same title by TLC Creative.) Karrena’s piece is a comedy, set on the bridge of a spaceship. This was followed-up by her friend Leo Finn who added to the comedy with Watch This Space Too, set on the same spaceship and largely using the same set of characters. Six characters in each case, including the voice of FRED the ship’s computer. The first script runs to a shade over 20 minutes, the second to a shade under.
  • George Freek’s Catch As Catch Can is a comedy, which is not what one expects from Othello. An alternative history, playing with our preconceptions of Shakespeare’s characters. (4M, 3F)
  • We published Baby Sparklers some time ago, but it’s listed here as a new script because Frank Gibbons mounted his own production for a drama festival and found that it was running slightly over the 50 minute limit, and therefore he revised it down to 45 minutes. A nostalgic evocation of childhood in the northwest of England. (4M, 4F).
  • Stewart Boston’s Problem In Judaea is an Easter Play, which gives some clue as to who is causing the problem. Three sets, but designed for minimal staging. (Needs 12 or 13 actors.)
  • A Trifle Unwell by Jane Lockyer Willis is difficult to categorise, but offers plenty of scope for characterisation. Set on the periphery of a party. (1M, 3F)
  • Duncan Battman has delivered two new plays. The Substitute is a long but dramatic monologue delivered by Frank, an ex-footballer who is now confined to a wheelchair. As he packs up his room he relates the ups and downs of his life, right up to the startling conclusion. Consequences, by contrast, has a cast of four (3M, 1F). A very theatrical presentation, without being melodramatic. A young policeman and his older sergeant discover a dead body, along with a letter that casts new light on a long-closed case.

Full-Length Plays

  • Geoff Bamber’s The Second Friday Of The Month is a farce in two short acts. Dan meets the psychologist who lives in the flat above him on the second Friday of each month, but their routine is broken by the arrival of some of Dan’s diverse acquaintances. A clever, funny play, exploring some rather unconventional relationships. (3M, 4F)
  • Merely Players is, surprisingly, Damian Trasler‘s first solo full-length play – and it’s brilliant. It morphs from light back-stage romantic comedy into a murder mystery and back again. Starting with a bare stage, under the guise of tidying the theatre’s store of props and costumes, the characters accidentally build the set of a drawing-room murder mystery, which then comes to life. (3M, 2F)
  • The Ghosts Of Halfway House by Richard James is a play for Halloween (or a play for whenever else you want a ghost story) with a single, haunted, set. (4M, 3F)
  • Sarah Reilly’s A Mug’s Game Poses questions of inner versus outward beauty (in the guise of a dinner party with drunken revelations). (3M, 4F)
  • A very dark tone is struck by Jessica McHugh’s Fools Call It Fate in which threads of tangled lives are interwoven with scenes in a form of purgatory. An intriguing, challenging and very well constructed play with lots of depth to the characters. (Needs at least 9 actors, of whom at least 3M, 4F)
  • Nursery Crimes – The Catnap Kidnap Caper is a full-length addition to TLC Creative’s popular Nursery Crimes series. A daft detective story set in the worlds of Fairytale and Nursery Rhymes. Think of it as Charles Perrault meets Raymond Chandler. Not a pantomime, but in the ‘family entertainment’ category. (10 characters, of which 5M, 3F).
  • Likewise, A Taste of the Orient by Vivienne Wilkes is a family show which could fill a similar slot to pantomime in a theatrical season. Includes two optional storytelling sequences (with roles which might be mimed by younger cast members). Large cast (at least 8M, 13F, with lots of chorus roles)

Pantomimes

  • Peter Bond’s The Magic Tinderbox is a panto based on a Hans Christian Andersen story (although the conventions of pantomime means that the story moves quite a way from the original, containing, for example, considerably more pizza.)
  • Rapunzel II – Back To The Tower by Sian Nixon also moves a fair way from the original story, but also contains appropriate dollops of pantomime fun and mayhem.
  • Our latest version of Cinderella comes from Mark Jack, and, because of the distinct period setting, is identified as Cinderella [Sixties] – Groovy!
  • Then there’s Peter Pan – see below

Peter Pan with a new pantomime edition, a few remarks about the Peter Pan range seem to be in order…

  •  Peter Pan (The Panto) is James Barry’s full-length British pantomime treatment of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Whilst it’s done in a modern panto style, the story remains faithful to the original. Includes flying sequences.  (Needs a cast of at least 16)
    In the original professional productions in Aldershot and Winchester, the initial flying sequence was done with the actors behind a gauze onto which a video sequence was projected so that the characters appeared to be flying over and around a London cityscape.   We will shortly be able to offer the video sequence as an optional extra, and I’ll put a demo video (from the Winchester production) on the web site as soon as I can sort the technology out.
  • For companies looking for a version of Peter Pan without the flying, Richard Coleman’s Captain Hook’s Revenge is very popular. (All the flying takes place off-stage, mainly indicated by the sounds of collisions with trees). Richard has also written a short rhyming version called Rhyming Captain Hook
  • Then there are the musical treatments – firstly a musical ‘prequel’, in the form of Hook and Peter Pan – How it All Began (Songs by Helen Dooley and Bob Walsh, book by Giles Scott). This was published in December, and we are just in the process of compiling a backing CD for it.
  • The second musical version is George Douglas Lee’s Stinkerbell which takes a much less reverent approach, and we meet the brother of Captain Hook who also lost a hand, but had it replaced in a slightly different way.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet Captain Plunger.
I wanted (this is me again, by the way!) to add links to all these plays individually, but that would be horribly time-consuming and make the page very blue-heavy. Do feel free to use the easy search facility on the Lazy Bee Scripts website to track down any of these fascinating and extremely performable scripts. Remember, they can all be read online, complete and free of charge, then all it takes is a short process to have the complete script downloaded to your computer.

Real Theatre: “The Trespassers” at The Vancouver Playhouse

Tickets, programme, brochure....

Today’s secret is a biggie, one so shocking, I really had to think about confessing or not. Folks, I don’t go to a lot of live theatre.

I know, a lot of you just fell off your chairs, or stormed out in indignation. “Why, this fellow claims to be a playwright and script reader, yet he does not regularly attend stage performances of a theatrical nature! Disgraceful!’ Please, calm down, mop up your coffee and I’ll explain.

When I was small, my father wrote plays for our church. They were (and are) very good, and I got to act in them. Since I was around the house a lot, I got to help with making the props and scenery. I acted in Dad’s plays all through my youth, and then joined a Youth Group that also put on Pantomimes. I joined a couple of village Community Theatre groups, one of which performed “Charley’s Aunt”. See me in that production below, second from right.

TOADS - The Old Alresford Amateur Dramatic Society

When we took up our nomadic RAF lifestyle, I joined the Royal Air Force Theatrical Association (RAFTA), and entered a couple of their One Act Play Competitions. This was my first attempt at writing. Of course, along the way, my wife and I attended many performances of many great things at various theatres. So, to be fair, I’ve had a lot of experience of live theatre, both on and off stage.

Perhaps I should have said I don’t get to see as much live theatre as I feel I ought to. This last week I got to go to “The Trespassers” by Morris Panych at The Vancouver Playhouse, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law’s generous Christmas present of a gift certificate. Mrs Dim and I picked the production almost at random, and I did not have high hopes.

You see, I dread the theatre sometimes. People so often write plays to communicate with melodrama, to wring the last drop of angst out of a dire situation. Sometimes, yes, that’s effective, or moving. Often it’s excruciating. In “The Trespassers”, we were promised a “poignant, thought-provoking and sardonic drama”. I would have said they missed out FUNNY. Not clown funny ( or clown CREEPY, more like) but with genuine wit and warmth. The lead character has a condition, but we don’t get medical analysis, or hand-wringing over diagnosis and treatment. We see Lowell is different, but since he’s our guide and narrator, we take him as he comes and see the story through his eyes.

You want to know what it’s about, well, go see it. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you still have time, it runs till the 16th of April. What I want to talk about is the brilliance of it.

A single set, with one central exit on the back. Light bulbs overhead that could simulate the peach orchard when necessary. A stool on one side of the stage that was Hardy’s shed from time to time. A table that was in Lowell’s house, or Roxy’s house, or the interrogation room of the police station. What was brilliant about the staging of this piece was that there was no attempt to define individual locations in space or time. The police officer (while in the interrogation room, we assume) would ask a question and Lowell would begin to answer. But because he was relating what had happened in the past, the characters he was talking about would interrupt him, explain things. One part I remember vividly was a section where the police officer had no role in the scene, but he was still onstage. He simply sat on a stool to one side, but when Hardy talks about the view from the orchard, pointing off into the distance over the audience’s head, the policeman looked back too, as if he was watching like we were. Which, in a sense, he was.

What excites me so much about this play and its presentation is that I read so many scripts each month that don’t do anything as challenging as this. I wondered if I had read this piece, would I have been able to envision it as clearly? Morris Panych (an experienced actor, writer and director)has written a play about a complex series of experiences leading up to a difficult choice. He has five characters interacting, creating multiple locations and months of passing time without set changes. Watching the play, it’s easy to overlook the simplicity of the set, but this play could be performed in a school hall, or a church – you don’t need any moveable flats, you barely have any props, the only special effects were for grace touches.

I doubt I’ve managed to convey the point I wanted to make. Too often, we view plays as a kind of movie. We forget what theatre IS, what it can be, that audiences at a play will accept quite radical and strange ideas because this is theatre. I didn’t want to stand up during the poker game and yell that they were playing cards on the interrogation room table. For that scene, it WASN”T that table anymore, it was in Roxy’s house. Everybody knew that, everybody accepted that, and we didn’t need anyone holding up a subtitle s card to explain the change of location.

No, I don’t go to live theatre often enough. And if plays like this are everywhere, then I am really missing out.

What was the last piece of live theatre YOU saw? Did it challenge you, or disappoint?

How I didn’t make it big….And you could too!

I once thought juggling would take me to the Big Time….

We all know the odds of hitting the lottery jackpot are small, but we don’t care about the size of the odds, just the size of the cash prize. It’s the same for authors, for the most part. We all start to write because we have the story there, the characters marching around inside our heads, making us laugh, or cry or forget to put the dinner on. But what we’re all hoping for, our guilty secret, is that this is the story that will be THE BIG ONE.

You know what that means, right? That this story will be our Harry Potter, or Catcher in the Rye. Well, maybe not Catcher in the Rye, poor guy never published another thing, did he? Hmm, wait a moment…J.K.Rowling. J.D.Salinger. J.D.Robb…. Maybe all I need for success is TWO initials before my surname! And one of them has to be a J!

Oh. Yes, I still need a cracking story. Damn, thought I was on to something there.

Anyway, they key thing here is that as authors we dream of getting that letter (or email/carrier pigeon/ text/ singing telegram) telling us our book is number one and we can send out for gold-plated egg rolls and book a compartment on the Gravy Train. No, we don’t write for the MONEY, we write because we HAVE to, but the money would be really, really, nice. Mainly because it would mean we never had to do anything but write ever again. If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t go back into work to greet people (Sorry boss…) but I would keep writing. Even though I wouldn’t ever need to sell another play to feed my tiny weasels, I would still write. If people asked me what I did, I wouldn’t say “I’m a millionaire, I don’t do anything!”, I’d tell them I was a playwright. I might also hint that I was vastly wealthy, but that’s just ego.

Today’s secret is that the big hit is not only unlikely, it’s not necessary. Yes, things would be great if you made the bestseller list on your first go, but there are other ways to achieve success.

There was a man called Mark Robson. He was a pilot, and spent a lot of his downtime writing the novel that he thought about as he flew. After numerous rejections (well, actually, not many, but we know how disheartening a rejection can be, don’t we?) he gave up on being published. Until his Mum presented him with a printed, bound copy of his novel for his birthday. Seeing how cool his book looked all, you know, real, and everything, Mark shelled out for self-publishing. This was before the days of Amazon and e-books, so he filled his house with 1500 copies of his book and went to work. While still, as it were, going to work. Despite his heavy piloting schedule, he sold all those books, getting onto the bestseller list in his local bookshop. That made the national chain interested and they took on his book. Then people asked about the sequel because he had put “First in the trilogy” on the cover. (You should really think these things through, folks…) But he produced a sequel and worked just as hard on the sales. The last I heard of him, he’d finished the third book, a major publisher had taken him on and he was earning as much from writing as from flying.

Once upon a time, I had written only three short plays. I had won awards and had the plays produced, but I was not rich. How could this be? I found a better way to get the plays to the audiences, joining forces with friends (TLC Creative) and finding a new, forward looking publisher: Lazy Bee Scripts .  It’s been years since those first three plays, but now I earn more from writing than I do from my part time day job. I’m a long way from the gold-plated egg-rolls, but each day gets me closer. Tell yourself you’re in this for the long haul, that writing these books/plays/greetings cards is keeping you sane, not bankrolling your old age, and you can relax a little about it. Concentrate on building your author profile by using your blog, Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll find that when you do present your product, there will be a ready market.

The resolutions will not be televised

Writer Bob likes to party. Alcohol fuels his sensitive creative spirit. Or something.

January is a terrible temptation for writers. It just screams “Fresh start! Here’s a brand new year in which YOU CAN FINALLY FINISH THAT PROJECT!”

But at 2am on New Year’s Day, when Mrs Dim was collecting resolutions from the family, I was careful not to include any specifics. Yes, I want to write another full length play this year. I have an outline for a musical that Steve at TLC is determined will see a final draft. But after ten years as a writer, I am all too aware of the “sprint start” phenomenon of the New Year.

STAGE ONE

Full of the potential of a New Year, Writer Bob makes his resolutions: “Write my Novel. Find an agent. Go to the gym.” He’s excited, it’s all going to happen this year.

STAGE TWO

A fortnight in, Writer Bob is struggling. The novel isn’t going well, because there have been loads of people off over Christmas, so work is demanding a lot of his time. Until he finishes the novel, there’s no point in looking for an agent. He doesn’t have time for the gym either. Besides, they’re probably full of idiots trying to lose the weight they gained over Christmas…

STAGE THREE

As February closes, Writer Bob realises he’s lost his grip on writing. He reapplies himself, drawing up a new timetable. A more realistic timetable. More…flexible. But he’ll definitely be finished by the end of the year. As long as he takes his laptop on that two week holiday. And writes every day when he’s there. THEN he’ll get an agent. Bugger, he forgot to go to the gym again. Perhaps he can join online, then he can just drop in on the way home….Shame he can’t work out online. Isn’t there an app for that yet?

STAGE FOUR

Summer is here, and Bob can tell because the rain is nice and warm. His novel is nagging at him, calling to him while he struggles through his day job, but the weird thing is, as soon as he sits in front of his computer, every brilliant line that occurred to him vanishes. The characters clam up, the plotline fizzles out and he finds himself writing dull, pointless details of events that don’t move the story along. He found the details for an agent that represents an author he admires, but now he’s too scared to call. What’s he going to say to them? “I’ve written part of a story where the hero takes three pages to negotiate the purchase of a second hand car…” . No. The novel needs an overhaul before he calls. To be completely honest, the novel needs a plot and another eighty thousand words. He still hasn’t been to the gym, but last week he did ten sit ups. Well, eight. Alright, five proper ones and a couple that were almost there.

STAGE FIVE

Writer Bob is excited again. He may be kicking his way through the leaves of autumn, but he’s just read THE GREATEST BOOK OF HIS LIFE! It’s all about how to write a novel in just forty three days! Everything is laid out in simple steps! Just follow the steps and you can’t fail! He read the book in a frenzied night, too excited by what he saw to do the mini-tasks at the end of each chapter and the Maxi-Tasks at the end of each section. I mean, obviously, he’s GOING to do them, how could he not? Forty three days, that’s just…well, okay, it’s just this side of Christmas, so he’d better get a move on. Tonight, he’ll sit down tonight and…no, wait, damn, there’s that thing he has to do. Tomorrow. Definitely. The weekend at the latest. Why, in only forty three days he’ll be chatting to an agent about his new novel! He can’t wait! Bob kicks leaves happily as he strolls past the gym. He stops on the way home to buy more beer.

STAGE SIX

It’s the work Christmas Party. Sorry, the company Winterval Socialisation Event. Bob is almost completely socialised. He’s been leaning against the wall by the bar for the last hour, telling people how this book he read by…you know…er…someone…wrote that book…got made into the film with that actress….you know….yes, just a small one, thank you. Anyway, it’s a great book, given me a real kick up the…I said a small one!No, don’t take it back now, good health! Yeah, I’m really gonna finish that novel now. How long? Well, I’ve been, you know, dipping in and out. We can’t all be full time writers, can we? Need to get out in the fresh air from time to time, get some exercise. What’s that? Yeah, I’ve been meaning to join a gym, why do you ask?

Happy New Year, Writer Bob.

Who I was twenty years ago.

Never got the hang of juggling ON a unicycle, but I'm one of very few people who juggled WITH a unicycle.

I was surprised and shocked yesterday morning: picking a t-shirt out of my drawer, I noticed it was from a juggling convention I once attended. In 1991. I was shocked because I realized that’s twenty years ago. You may find it shocking that I have a twenty year old t-shirt, but what got to me was the thought of how long ago that section of my life was.

I got into juggling as the result of some unlikely coincidences. I was watching a TV show (The Paul Daniels Magic Show, I think) and there was a guest star on it, who was dressed in a green felt suit and juggling Snooker balls. He’d catch these balls in special pockets he had sewn to his shoulders and hips. I was impressed, and determined to learn to juggle. (I was around thirteen or fourteen, still at an age where these impulsive decisions can be made. Now I would sit back, shake my head and imagine how many times the juggler had injured himself to perfect his act.) One of the unlikely coincidences I mentioned was us having a snooker table in the room where I was watching television. Another was that I picked up some of the snooker balls and figured out the basics of three ball juggling in an evening WITHOUT BREAKING ANY HOUSEHOLD ORNAMENTS.

I had to wait a couple of years for the next coincidence. My college were putting on a big show for the end of the term, and they needed everyone in it to juggle for a big street scene. To achieve this, they asked an ex-student who was now a street performer to come and give lessons. When he discovered I could already juggle three balls, he leant me a set of juggling clubs, and, worse, the catalogue of a juggling supplies shop. By the end of that year I was running a juggling course at the college, and by the end of the next I was running an Adult Education course in juggling.

Paul teaches Toyah Wilcox some tricky juggling moves in our TV appearance

For around ten years, juggling was a big part of my personal identity. I tried quite hard to make it my profession, forming a troupe called “The Juggling Fiends” and performing at parties, festivals, running workshops. We even had a spot on a tv programme. But it’s hard to make a living from juggling, harder than it is to make a living from writing. The troupe drifted apart as life intervened, and though we all stay in touch, we’ve never had a full Fiends reunion. We all still juggle though, it’s not a habit you have to kick when you grow up. I brought a trunk full of juggling stuff over to Canada with me, and the clubs will come out over the summer. The Weasels like playing with the stuff, but none of them have been bitten by it the same way I was.

But looking at that t-shirt yesterday made me see how our view of ourselves can change over time. For about ten years I was a juggler who had to do other jobs to earn a living. For the last decade I’ve been a writer who sometimes takes a day job while minding the weasels. For a glorious year here, I was just a Playwright, before the falling exchange rate sent me off to The World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer. Maybe the next ten years will bring another change.

Taking my own advice

It’s an old cliche that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. It was one of the reasons I was nervous about handing out advice about writing plays. I knew how I wrote plays, but did that entitle me to tell other people? Fortunately, reading plays for Lazy Bee Scripts was a logical step, since I was just helping out administratively. Then I began to notice that there were some common errors in the scripts being rejected, things that seemed basic and obvious to me. If I could mention these things to the authors, they could make their plays better….

I bring up this ancient history because in this last week, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take some advice that I hand out regularly. One of the best ways to find out if a play works is to take the draft script along to your local drama club and get it read. Note: A complete draft, folks. Make sure the story has a beginning, middle and end. I know there are playwrights out there, probably some great ones, who closet themselves with a tame theatre group and workshop a storyline, in some cases for years. That’s all well and good, but to my mind the result is a group effort, and if that playwright has any conscience at all, theirs won’t be the only name in the author position on the play cover. No, if this is YOUR idea, YOUR story, then get it written down, THEN take it to the drama club. Their job will be to tell you if the story hangs together, if the characters are real or cardboard, if it’s even interesting at all.

That last point was my greatest fear. My full length play that I began way back in January, has stalled and been re-ignited several times. I threw away the first ten pages and started again with a different central character. The basic idea remained, however, and I made it over the word count that I use to judge length in Script Apppraisals.

SMP Dramatic Society are a local group who welcomed Steve, David and myself to watch their rehearsals of Fawlty Towers back in September. They’ve performed a couple of our pantomimes, and they were eager to meet us. When I asked if they could help with a read-through, they readily accepted and so last Sunday I was welcomed to a member’s house, offered a warming drink and settled in to hear the play read.

It’s an odd feeling, because it’s rare the words are voiced as you heard them in your head, but the reading was very well done, with feeling, enthusiasm and a good deal of laughter. They pronounced the script workable, but had a list of suggestions which were all positive and worthwhile. As I’ve mentioned before, rewriting is a chore I haven’t enjoyed, but this process has made that easier, and I intend to have the new draft completed by New Year’s Day – from concept to complete inside a year!

I’m writing this entry on Christmas Eve morning – our friends in Australia have already begun to Celebrate Christmas Day, our friends in the UK are gearing up for The Night Before Christmas and our weasels are thinking about going skiing before the afternoon Nativity Play in Church. Wherever you are, whenever you’re reading this, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Don’t tell me about it….

Firstly, an apology. This entry will sound arrogant and dismissive. Sorry.

Nearly two years ago I started writing this blog because I wanted to have a record of the emigration I was making with my family. Don’t tell me I should’ve kept a diary, because I know I wouldn’t have. Tried that, didn’t work. Blogging involves the computer (score!) and the chance to regularly appeal for other people’s attention (score!) as well as the opportunity to check statistics and combine endless hope with depressing reality (score!).

Along the way, it’s naturally evolved to take into account my writing efforts. I’ve talked about the production of my e-book, my occasional frustration with projects that haven’t worked out well, and of course, having to give up full-time writing to go and get a proper job. I like to think that these are as much part of the emigration process as buying a house and learning about the school system – a change of life we’ve made as a result of coming to Canada. But, because I blog about writing, I’ve been reading OTHER blogs about writing. Many, like the previously mentioned Mr James Moran, or Jane Espenson, or Lucy V Hay, are fantastically good. Not just because they are ‘proper’ writers, but because they write their blogs well. They are interesting. The ones that make me groan are the ones that say “I am writing my first novel, and am going to use this blog to chronicle my progress.”

Now, by all means, write your first novel. Please. Writing is wonderful, and your first novel may turn out to be THE book of the decade. By all means, write a blog. It’s useful to have a place to vent your feelings, and an idea is never fully realised until it is expressed. But before you combine the two, please think carefully. What is it, exactly, that you will be chronicling? If you are not careful, you’ll end up sounding like Ernie Macmillan from “Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix”, boring everyone with his recitation of how many hours of revision he has done each day. When you’re writing a novel, word count per day is important to you, obviously. You want to feel you’re making progress, that the number of pages to go are getting fewer. But would you want to read a blog that goes “Wrote another fifteen thousand words today! Started just after breakfast, had a break around ten thirty when I walked the dog, but then got straight back into it and reached a real cliffhanger moment just as I broke off for lunch!” Who, honestly, will care?

What your readers would like to know is what’s going on in the story. Yes, if you’re writing your novel, it would be more interesting to tell us about the developments in the plot as you go along, but you know what? No one ever will because then by the time the blog is complete, who needs to read the novel? We’ve been spoon-fed the whole thing! And what about re-writes? Assuming you get someone reading your blog, aren’t they going to use the comments section to tell you exactly where you’re going wrong?

I think these are the reasons that the blogs I’ve read seem to peter out shortly after they begin. Writing doesn’t seem to be something you can blog about. A writer’s life may be, but only if you have something to say about that: Being a single mum who’s working on a novel – if you have time to blog about that and still be writing the novel then I not only take off my hat to you, but I’ll comb my hair and bow too.

Why should I blog about the failures of other blogs? Well, because this week has seen me wrestling with my rock musical screenplay again, and I’m conscious that the writing projects I talk about tend to be the ones that work, or the ones that fall flat. I don’t, as Felicia Day says so sweetly in “Commentary”, discuss my process. The reason I don’t is that it would be at best dull, at worst, incomprehensible. I talked about the mechanics of writing in the entry on collaboration, and even I struggled to stay awake during that one. So, today’s moral is this: Forge ahead with your writing, but forge a more interesting subject for your blog.

Haven’t we been here before?

Just have to take the next step....

It doesn’t seem that long ago that every post I published was about my frustration with the jobhunting misery. First it was resistance to the idea of going out to get a ‘real’ job at all, something I have resisted since going freelance all those years ago. I really, really didn’t want to, and that was all there was to it, no clever arguments, no belief that my writing income would suddenly triple, no great Business Plan to grow that income….I just didn’t want to.

Go ahead, picture me slumped in a corner with my thumb in my mouth. I know how childish I was being. Really I do. After all, Mrs Dim told me.

After the fit of pique had passed, I got stuck into looking for work and the second gloom descended. Finding work was difficult and for several reasons.

First, the economy was not good. Remember the banking collapse and global financial EEEK!? Guess when I was looking for a job?

Second, I hadn’t had a real nine-to-five job since Eldest Weasel was born. I had precisely two people I could call on for references, and they were both connected with my writing. They couldn’t comment on my ability to get into the office on time, dress myself, or talk on the phone coherently.

Third, everyone else I had worked for had either gone out of business, moved on from my last point of contact or, in one case, burned to the ground. That doesn’t inspire confidence in a future employer.

Fourth and lastly, I needed a job that still allowed me to get the Weasels to school and back, at 8.45 and 2.50 every day. So, work hours of 9.15 to 2.30, if I don’t have far to travel.

And honestly, the childish thing crept back into it. Thanks to my portfolio career to date, there is a long, long list of jobs that I never want to do again. I found the one I want to do, I’m doing it, I love it, but sadly, writing plays does not earn enough money to buy essentials like clothes, food and Wii games.

I’m sure there are jobs that fit the hours. Other Mums (and face it, that’s what we’re talking about here: employing a Mum) get jobs and still get their kids to school. But search as I might, I couldn’t find a job I was qualified for that fell within the insanely restrictive parameters.

Finally at Mrs Dim’s suggestion I went along to the hiring session held at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer and lucked out. A job I could do, at hours that suited, for some money. Within driving distance and time allowance. SUCCESS!

It’s not a fulfilling job. It’s challenging enough, trying to remember the location of forty thousand products, trying to placate angry customers who just want a dozen electrical or plumbing questions asked and they can’t speak to the electrical or plumbing guy because there are ten people already talking at him. It’s hard staying on your feet in pretty much the same spot for four hours at a time. But it’s a job.

But this week we had to admit something else. Since June I’ve only had one complete weekend off. I’ve booked holiday here and there, but I have worked almost every weekend since I started work and Mrs Dim is beginning to unravel. She works long hours at her job, which is far, far more demanding than mine, and then she has to spend her whole weekend wrangling weasels alone, and then go back to work Monday morning. Plus, when do WE get to spend time together? We don’t count slumping on the same sofa at nine thirty in the evening spending time together, by the way. On Wednesday we both fell asleep in the middle of whatever we were trying to watch.

So I’m jobhunting again, off in pursuit of the magical job which will only require me to work weekdays, 9-3, preferably closer to home, something clerical, at least $12 an hour, no heavy lifting. And if possible, something that leaves me enough energy to keep on writing, reviewing and appraising scripts in the evenings.

And while we’re wishing, Middle Weasel would like her own Millenium Falcon….