1) How did you become a writer?
I suppose you could say I started writing with a view to being published when I was in my late teens. This was when I began to think seriously about the possibility of someday making my living as a writer. I’d discovered at school that I had a talent for it, had written poems and stories for the school magazine, written short sketches to perform with my friends. And when But it was when I was at college, helped by the encouragement I received from some of the lecturers there – two in particular I can think of – that I really began to work at writing, and to think about publishing it. But that didn’t start to happen until I was in my early twenties, and for a few years then it was mostly poetry that I was writing and publishing. It was having two poems broadcast on Radio 3, on a programme called “Poetry Now” that was produced by the poet George MacBeth, that in a roundabout way turned me towards playwriting.
I found I liked the medium of radio and began to think of other ways I could have work broadcast, and one of those ways, of course, was to write plays for radio. So I started doing that. It was some years before I wrote one good enough to be broadcast. There was a lot of learning to do, trial and error, listening to radio play, thinking about the medium and the form and what was required to make them work.
This is what’s true about all forms of writing. They all have their own particular challenges, strengths and limitations. You need to learn what those are, work to their strengths, try and make the limitations into strengths too. And, once you have a hold of the form, practice manipulating it, shape it to your own particular voice, so that you’re speaking through the form, and it feels natural to you. There are areas of crossover between the forms of course. What it was that attracted me to playwriting – first for radio, then a little later on for theatre as well – was that of all the forms I’d worked in – poetry, mainly, and some short fiction – it seemed the most fluid and adaptable, seemed, and still seems, to contain within it and to embrace the most important elements of poetry and narrative. Theatre especially has the same kind of tight restraints that poetry has that force you into a compactness of language and structure that combined with its narrative drive, it it’s done well, creates for a real forward thrust of energy. And what live theatre has that the other forms don’t have is that it takes place with and for and audience, who bring their own energy to the piece. So, while I do get a lot out of writing poetry and prose fiction, it’s writing for theatre that gives me the sense of being most deeply involved in the actual act of writing itself.
3) What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, a character?
I suppose it’s the search for that initial spark of energy in writing a play that gets me started. Trying to find that piece of action that will get the whole thing started. And a play does for the most part start with action. At least one character has to come onstage before they can speak, and they have to come onstage for a reason, have a real need to be there, a real need to say or do whatever it is they say or do first. It usually takes me a long time to get at those first few moments and I find the play can’t really take off until I’ve found them. Once I’ve done that – or once they’ve found me – then I try to imagine the whole theatre space, create it as real, and watch the characters as they enter the space and start to move and speak, listen to what it is they have to say, while at the same time being in control of the plot and the action, the story I want to tell. Those two modes of imagining are more often than not in conflict at the beginning, but once they come together, and the story I’m trying to tell is in harmony with the real, inner lives of the characters, and what they say do and do is both what is natural to them and what I want them to say and do, then I know that the play is really working.
Part 2 COMING SOON – Check in after the Character Workshop
Huge thanks to David for giving us an exclusive interview for INKSPILL.