Thursday, 2 December 2010

'Winter kept us warm', Wasteland

Perhaps it's the enforced solitude of the snow (which I secretly love), but have just written a new and very mad character - even for me. The moral maybe comfort-eating can kill, in more ways than one. (And this time it's definitely not about chocolate.) Am planning to do a short monologue at the Hull BUDS in new year, so the demon may get excorsized.

Weird how the snow comes and us being so rubbish at keeping mobile through it, we're suddenly plunged into this very interesting and rare world of hush outside.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Writer blocked, but ramming through.

Haven't had time to write lately and at risk of sounding like a scouser, 'it's doing my 'ead in'. So this morning just sat down and wrote a short drama piece straight off. Feel so much better. Now am watching 'True Blood' recorded from last night (while have stomach for it) and typing the piece up for what it's worth.

Went to Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds last night for its 5th birthday bash along with Mick in our ActONE capacity, having put on studio shows there each of the last 3 years. Met the general manager, a very charming Scot, and he seemed impressed with what we'd done, good publicity and feedback we'd received etc. Also talked about the recent SY event with Alan Bennet, which they seemed very proud to have hosted.

Have had to step down as SY branch co-ordinator, due to pressure of legal work and desparate need to find time to write. I suppose it's good that at least I want to and feel creative - no shortage of ideas for new stuff. I know from past experience that real writer's block is when you can't write, whether you have time or not, and that it horrible. I used to think it didn't exist and was used as an excuse to be lazy but when it hit me, I found out it was real enough. Wouldn't wish it on anyone - except maybe the odd TV writer when you see some of the rubbish churned out (but then the finished product was probably not very like their original script).

Sunday, 19 September 2010


‎'Doublecross' has gone much better than dared hope this weekend in Leeds. Both nights had good audiences, but last night the actors got into their stride and there was a lot of laughing and clapping - fortunately from the audience.

The hard work put in by the director, Colin Lewisohn, and the actors was clear. . Hard to select best bits, but some I was really pleased with were Richard Dipple's dapper journalist with his slow verbal seduction of dour legal eagle, played by Hayley Briggs (we all knew he'd get her and would keep pressing those buttons until he got the right ones. And boy, has Richard come on as an actor lately, but then he tells me lately he's been working with someone who worked with Alec Guiness); Hayley's mix of vamp and little girl lost as Sam, the rather dubious 'nurse'; Rachelle Vernelle's touchingly desparate vulnerability as would-be mother, Kay, caught between older husband and the Byronic journo; and finally Asadour Guzelian's moving portrayal of unlikely hero, the local councillor, as he copes with both bemusement at a rampant rabbit and the tragic yet hopefully redemptive revelation at the end of the play. For Michael Yates and I, it was great as writers to see our characters coming to life in this way.

We're now into the final push for the performance at Otley Courthouse on Friday. Bit nervous as we've never done this venue before, but prepared to put it down to experience whatever. Please come anyone who can - whether you up for something different drama-wise (or even if you just quite like the odd scantily-clad actress and a plot that involves handcuffs and gimp mask!)

It's a dark comedy drama with a La Ronde structure, based on the premise that life - like drama - is based on lying. There's always a subtext and the real question is whether trust just gets in the way of seeing it. Otley Courthouse Fri 24th 7.30pm tel 01943 467466 tickets £9/7 conc.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett came to address Script Yorkshire members at Carriageworks, Leeds on Friday (long story but I was sort of instrumental in this happening, and very glad it did). He was fascinating. A 75 yr old with a schoolboy sparkle in his eyes and still rosy cheeks. He began by reading an extract from his writing about his childhood in Lower Wortley, prose with poetic elements in it, which is saying something based on Lower Wortley. (Don't mean it. I'm from Bramley so how can I talk, and besides my Auntie Connie was a lollipop lady on the junction where he used to live.) The passage evoked back-to-back life of 50s pre slum-clearance West Leeds, but not all the bad bits by any means. But the passage dwelt much on the significance of names, showing that writer's fascination with words and what things/people are called - or more importantly chosen to be called.

The main part of the evening was question and answer, ranging wide over topics of interest to writers. I learnt a lot. AB's observations included such as that in some ways censorship had helped 'intensify' drama and its demise meant that 'your armoury decreased'. This seems to touch on the debate that crops up so often now about the usefulness of constraints. (Maybe Aristotle's 4 unities should be revived and we should go back to pre-Lady Chatterley prissiness.) AB explained why art is not a craft, in that in working a craft, you know each time you can produce an item to standard or in a certain form, whereas with art you never know it if will work or get anywhere. (Story of my life, though I suppose that's what makes art exciting as well as such a bitch - you never really know how it will come out.) So many bon mots and tips, perhaps summed up with AB's warning to 'protect your own endeavour'.

Come to think of it, wasn't that Captain Cook's ship, 'The Endeavour'? Another worthy Yorkshireman, who had quite a journey (though not from Lower Wortley).

This week sees me tied up and doublecrossed, as in 'Doublecross', latest ActONE production, co-written with Michael Yates, dark comedy drama with the premise that life - like drama - is based on lying. There's always a subtext; the question is whether trust only serves to get in the way of seeing it. On at Carriageworks this Fri/Sat, then at Otley Courthouse the following Fri. Bit nervous about this one, as it's different, but at least we're trying 'different'.

Monday, 16 August 2010

'About Chocolate', Edinburgh Fringe, Surgeons' Hall

First show tonight went well, with decent-sized, very appreciative audience and we suspect at least one reviewer. Irene was marvellous and her acting had them spellbound. I got choked up at one point, and I know the story inside out (having written it).

Edinburgh's buzzing. Way too many shows these days. You don't know where to start. When I came for the first time 5 years ago with a show at Pleasance Courtyard, it all seemed very different. Pleasance seems dominated by childrens' shows and stand-up this year. The Free Fringe (which concept I totally agree with) is having an effect, but that also tends to focus on stand-up. (Would be happy to do drama in it, but they have a limited amount of venues for plays and tend to insist on the full 3 week run - not that easy for non-students, with bills to pay and a need to keep earning a living.)

Our Surgeons' Hall venue is in its second year and has a great atmosphere. The venue itself is in a modern building, with 4 theatre spaces. Ours is theatre 3, capacity 40, but a super little space for an intimate play like 'About Chocolate'. Our two tech guys, Peter Meese and Paul Beswick, who've come with us, have also found it fine to work in and both have done an excellent job. Charles Pamment, who runs 'thespaceuk' venues, is good to deal with.

Surgeons' Hall adjoins the Royal College of Surgeons on Nicholson Street. Its courtyard is therefore flanked by some interesting, historic buildings - including one where the original bodysnatchers stashed away and disected their snatched bodies! This doesn't seem to have put people off their beer though and the courtyard is one of the best spots to chill out, with bar and cooked food available -without the crush and long queues to be served of the Pleasance Courtyard.

So here's hoping they'll all come and get the chocolate! 5 more nights to go.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Attended the Script Yorkshire second BUDS in Bradford on Sat, which had learnt from mistakes of the first in Leeds before Christmas and went much smoother. It was particularly useful to be able to give and get feedback there and then. The stricter timing and frequent breaks helped a lot, and we didn't have any early exodus (last time, the pieces which over-ran seem to have had the effect of making most of the audience run too). Most of all, it was fun. (When it stops being that, I shall stop writing.)

Colin Lewisohn directed an excerpt from my work-in-progress play 'The Black Prince', with Eddie Butler in the title role, Warwick St John as Hugh, my limp lettuce lawyer would-be hero, and Alissa Juvan as the femme fatale of the piece (with Colin as her pimp). It went great and I'm working on it further, with some research to do to help the development.

BUDS brought forth a lot ov variety, from my own favourite talking statue to goon a type radio play, Scarborough vikings and a Vicky Pollard stylee Virgin Mary.
The discussions/feedback were helpful too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Rain, Rain, don't go away

Went to a rainy but inspiring Authors North, Soc of Authors get-together today in Carlisle. Speakers were John Murray (former editor of the sadly deceased but excellent 'Panurge' and a writer/editor committed only to what is best, not best known or most saleable) and the talented and intriguing writer, Clare Sambrook.

If only we had another 'Panurge'...! (Though I do have several other urges.)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Haworth, Yorkshire

Took New Zealand playwright friend, who is over staying with me, up to Haworth today, as she'd never been to the Bronte Parsonage. It was fairly quiet there (impending world cup factor?), so its charm came through - even down to being served by a dead-ringer for Mrs Overall/Julie Walter's 'Two Soups' rolled into one, in a cafe (just never ask that waitress for a latte, is all I can say). Heading off to the Dales afterwards, I realised how good it is to be based in Yorkshire, where there's no shortage of inspiration around.

And it seems I've won the World Cup sweepstake at work. Better than a kick in the teeth, I suppose (or should it be a kick in a lower zone, judging by some of the fouls around).

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

You win some...

... Enjoyed working with actors to pitch 'The Black Prince' idea/play for LightNight at Stage@Leeds last Fri, but the prize went to a performance art piece. I still believe in my idea/play though.

My fantasy novel 'The Fixed Lands' was yet again the bridesmaid, being highly commended in the Red Telephone Publishers' competition, and the critique came through. Very useful and heartening that they found a lot right with it, but felt the things that were wrong would be 'fixable' - ironic as the novel in a way concludes there is no 'fixity'.

All busy with 'About Chocolate' for Edinburgh and other projects. We've lost a very good actress, Sal Fulcher, for 'Doublecross' as she's got a film part and been swept off her feet and to France. However, interest from others has already been good, so hopefully we'll get someone else suitable to play our 'closet call-girl'. (If anyone out there feels like donning black stockings and pink marigolds, get in touch with ActONE's director.)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Grassington Festival

Our Edinburgh preview was on at Grassington Festival last night and proved a great, useful pre-Fringe opportunity. And we did a damn sight better than Mr Gerrard and his team!

Irene was superb and we're all systems go for August!

('About Chocolate' 16-21 Aug, 4-5pm, Venue 53, The Space @ Surgeons Hall
Royal College of Surgeons, Nicholson St £7/£5

Monday, 14 June 2010

In the pursuit of eternal optimism (25th Grassington Octagon plus WYP workshop with Penguin writer and director)

On Sat, I attended one of the best drama-writing workshops I've been to, at West Yorkshire Playhouse, given by Tom Wells writer of 'Me, as a Penguin' and his director Chris Hill. Both very young, very talented and very enthusiastic/supportive. Workshops etc can too easily get clogged up by ego - either that of those leading them or of those attending. This had a great 'we're only here to learn' atmosphere. It was invaluable to be able to put questions to both a writer and director of new writing at the same time on such as presentation, voice, interpretation. It only lasted 2 hours, but I learnt a lot and we also did some useful writing exercises, 'cast' amongst us and read aloud, with feedback given. So good on yer lads!

In the pursuit of eternal optimism, our preview for Edinburgh takes place in Grassington Fringe Festival at Grassington Octagon, Fri pm 18th June 10.30pm £5 (still under the earlier title of ‘Maltesa Falcon’ but is newly-developed version).
Yes, turned out not such good choice of date and Mr Gerrard shall have to excuse us for stealing his viewers!
We're hoping the anti-football lobby will forsake 'girls having their nails done instead' events and come and see us. Another good show on before us, so a more cerebral night out is to be had.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Time zones/Arundel Festival

Jet-lag wasn't good. Worse coming back here, maybe as lose time and literally go backwards. Not sure what Einstein would have made of it, but I did think about his twins theory. However, I think the astronaut one would get so 'space-lagged', dehydrated and fed up with in-flight date movies, that his 70 yr old twin on the ground would look younger - 'relatively' of course.

Manic at work etc. Not much time to write, but did manage to get to the launch of Arundel Festival last Friday (baking hot English weather - where did that come from?). Bill Brennan is the dynamo behind the drama initiatives there (which seem to range from plays on the river to inside the castle). This year there doing a 'Theatre Trail' third week in Aug (24th onwards? which is the week after our Edinburgh show). My short play 'Fit Piece' will feature, with 8 performances, along with several other dramas, including one by Simon Brett, a very entertaining excerpt of which we treated to at the launch (albeit apparently not written yet!)

I'd met Simon briefly at my inaugural 'sherry reception' on joining the Society of Authors a while back and it was nice to meet him again (especially as he liked my script, having been part of the selection process).

Off to Script Yorkshire meeting in Leeds tonight.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Int- eruptions

They say every cloud has a silver lining, but what about volcanic ash clouds? I wanted to get back on time, so could attend lunch being given for writers selected by Drip Action Theatre for their performances in forthcoming Arundel, Festival in W Sussex. In the immortal words of Hugh Grant, yea even when he was in '4 Weddings a Funeral' no less and not with the Partridge Family - 'bugger!'

Saturday, 15 May 2010

All good things must...

Last night here now. Met some cool alpacas today (so I take back what I said about sheep). Back to battling through the volacanic ash tomorrow. Yee-a, as the Kiwis say.


On the wildlife cruise, the guide took me a bit aback by saying we'd see a lot of shags (pronounced shaegs, of course - can't get away from the dipthongs here). Briefly I wondered if we were to take a detour into sheep farming territory, but was relieved when he added, 'You may know them as cormorants'.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Never work with animals

After the wildlife cruise, I now know why the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross. Forget lit crit of Coleridge's metaphor for original sin, random acts etc. It was simply so he could get a photo. For such a large bird (we saw Royals which have 3m wing-span) that glides above boats from one side to the other, it's remarkably elusive when you try film it. (Where's david Attenbrough when you need him?)Wonderful to see though!

Also saw a great brute of a seal basking, as only seals can do.

Love the black swans here, a whole flotilla of them just off shore, eating weed but fussy that it has a covering of seawater first (like us having salt on our food, I suppose). They're first in when the tide's in and last out when it leaves. (Just like the Germans, hey?) Apparently, as they age they get whiter like us - only they don't panic and reach for the Grecian 2000. I suppose no one can grow old more gracefully than a swan.

Monday, 10 May 2010

The north-south divide

It's the opposite in New Zealand. North Islanders like to look down on the south for its cold climate and as being less developed/sophisticated (though I have to say that the latter word is not one that springs to mind a lot anywhere in New Zealand, but that's part of its charm and strength).

From my time on South Island, my view is that 'less developed' really means a whole lot of beautiful and varied landscape. (maybe a bit like Yorkshire - though have to say there's an argument for 'Move over, Yorkshire. This is really God's own country.)

Am off to see the albatrosses now.


Bus drivers in Dunedin are a jolly lot. They say 'G'day' to every boarding passengfer. All that 'G'day-ing' makes you 'gid-dy' after a while.

No-one here understands a Yorkshire accent, with its flat vowels. I've discovered that the trick is to say everything as if you were simultaneously saying the favourite Australasian word, 'daeg' (officially meaning the disgusting black bit that dangles from a sheep's bottom). So with a hint of daeg, they get you. Today, I stopped asking directions for the bus stop, and asked for the 'baes staep'. (Gosh it's almost like being back in a Latin class.) However the twang of 'daeg' works every time, and I got the directions I needed.

Also discovered chai latte today. With cinnamon on top, it's heaven.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Faux pas

The house I'm staying at in Dunedin (that of my friend, NZ playwright, Denise Walsh) is full of fascinating items, trinkets, ornaments, souvenirs... Everywhere. I've been reading up on Maori art recently. At supper tonight, I commented on a straw, basket-weave type, vaguely spoon-shaped object hung on the wall.
'That's a Maori symbol, isn't it? The figure of eight that denotes the path of life.'
Denise and her Maori husband looked at each other. If this was in a play, there would be a (PAUSE), before Denise answered, 'Helen, that's a carpet-beater'.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Coast to coast

Was taken on a drive round Dundedin's coast today - what a joy! Fairly big harbour, loads of surf/surfers, plus stretches of solitude.

Just to add to my reference to the 'War Brides' art exhibition yesterday, the artist commissioned for this was Bev Tosh, herself the offspring of her Canadien mother's wartime marriage to a New Zealand serviceman. The marriage lasted 10 years, then her mother took her back to Canada. Her mother is one of the brides portrayed and you get the sense that the artist was looking for answers herself through completing the work. I do hope she brings it to Britain.

In New Zealand, they talk of 'back home' and it means us - the UK (a very divided united kingdom just now), but we're their 'home country', even into 3rd/4th generations, who've never been there. Oddly, makes you feel sort of proud.

Heading south

In Dunedin, South Island. Probably furthest south have ever been in my life. Hope to get a bit further down to see the albatross colony here.

Went to an interesting rehearsal of the American play,'Wit', on my last night at Waikato on Thurs.

Hoping to see some theatre here too. Back home, one of my short plays won a trophy at York Theatre Royal last week. The York press described my piece as 'Minghella-esque', which I was very pleased about.

Went to a museum and art gallery today - both fascinating and, like most things here, not as stuffy as in UK. The museum had a fascinating art exhibition in it (they do seem to mix art and history a lot here). This was on 'War Brides' i.e. women who had married NZ soldiers and moved over here (several from Canada as well as UK). Hope this gets to tour in UK, as think it would resonate there.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Met some fascinating people today. Started with a cab driver from Fiji (understandably homesick) director/theatre producer, Gaye Pool, who does some interesting work, Albert Belz, a Maori playwright (with some Polish ancestry, not Dutch as I had been told) who says his chief influence is probably graphic novels (and was jealous I'd briefly met Niel Gaimon) and an astute SU President (I think from Ghana) whom I'll kidnap for our next Prime Minister, as likely to do a better job than the current candidates.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

More NZ

I keep thinking New Zealand is sort of England without the bad bits. Only sometimes you could do with some of the bad bits. Like trains and such like. You tend to assume that you can get from one big black dot on a map to another. I suppose in theory you can – but it might involve a bus that only runs on Wed afternoon in high season (oh, and you weren’t thinking of coming back again, were you? What, in the same year?!).
Am planning my visit to south island, not as easy as it seemed – but will be worth it.
Meeting ex-pats here, there seem to be two camps 1. never had a day's regret and pity us back in UK 2. Those to whom words like 'water' and 'back' keep creeping to mind. I met a commercial contracts lawyer here who had worked in London, but moved to be with his partner. I wasn't sure whether he was being ironic when he said he missed Britain. I told him that when Dr Johnson had said 'He who is tired of London, is tired of life', he hadn't had to commute. The answer came, 'Dr Johnson may not have had to commute, but no one ever said that about New Zealand'.

Actually, I intend to be the first.

Monday, 3 May 2010


It's great here. Love the University. Hamilton has its charms. Went on a river cruise, plus wondered round Hamilton Gardens and the museum. Latter was very informative on the history, but felt pretty ashamed at what the Brits did in taking land from the Maoris. They seem such an artistic race. Have been hearing some music and seeing the art. Hoping may meet a Maori playwright (Alber Bensz - he has some Dutch ancestry apparently) later.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The mystery of the missing blogs

Just busy, busy. Finished my play-writing class, which I thoroughly enjoyed, with my students to present script in hand performances of their work tomorrow night at York Uni.
'About Chocolate' is now registered for Edinburgh Fringe (presented by Sweet Dreams Productions, week 2, 16-21st Aug, 4-5pm, Theatre 3, Royal Surgeons Hall, The Space @ Surgeons Hall, off Nicholson Street, tel 08455088515). I've been working intensely with talented actress, Irene Lofthouse, and Ray Brown, theatre pratitioner and broadcaster, who will direct it. Had to take some serious but constructive crit, and cut/change a lot. It hangs together much better for it now.
My visit to Waikato, New Zealand is fast approaching, so lots of prep. Sadly my mother-in-law died recently, so there have been family matters to concentrate on.
Last night we put the clocks forward and today it feels like spring at last!

Friday, 29 January 2010

So much for NY resolutions

Well, my blog a lot in 2010 one didn't work. However I always intended this blog for writerly matters in the main. With the new year off to a slow, snow-bound start, and everyone chilled to the marrow, not a lot of writing activity going on. Mea culpa!
That said, I tutored the first of my play-writing classes at York Uni last week. Really enjoyed it. A great bunch of students (though some fourteen of them brings a time pressure in trying to hear everyone's contribution). I came home exhausted.
Last week, went to an interesting Script Yorkshire talk by Christopher Reason, an Eastenders writer-veteran of the Pat Butcher earrings line fame. (I think Pat's earrings were quite classy compared with Bette Lynch's toilets. Now they were seriously common and vulgar bling.)
Am desparately trying to finish a first draft of scenes for my collaborative play with Mick Yates, 'Doublecross'.
Also have a poem to write for a competition deadline, but it's a very personal and painful one, so not easy.
This morning, am off to West Yorkshire Playhouse to meet the actress, Irene Loftbouse, whom I'm working with on taking 'Malteser Falcon' to Edinburgh Fringe. We're talking to a couple of potential directors who may be able to help develop it further (one being Ray Brown, who I think could be great, but Irene has to decide on who she feels can best 'stretch' her, plus the chemistry is so important between actor and director. Being merely the writer, I'll be leaving them to it a lot - except when it comes to my own favourite equivalent of the Pat Butcher's earrings lines. I've already had to persuade Irene we cannot cut out Derek the winkle-seller. Huh, the very thought of it! He's the nearest we get to a hero.)