An interview with Jan Woolf
Jan Woolf, member of the Writers' Guild Books Committee, originator of the Guild's Off the Shelf at Blacks events and recipient of the first Harold Pinter writers’ residency at the Hackney Empire in 2010, considers herself a late starter. However, her earlier working life: teaching, activism, events production and a brief stint as a film classifier gave her plenty of material. She talks to author and screenwriter Brendan Foley about finding a life in writing and her recent collection Fugues On A Funny Bone.
Brendan Foley: Your writing has been described as ‘quirky’ and ‘eclectic’. If you had to use your own adjectives, what would they be?
Jan Woolf: I’d be happy with pithy or sharp. Also wabi-sabi – a Japanese term for art that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete – a bit wonky, like this answer. But I don’t mean anything goes. I liked Lisa Goldman’s piece in the last issue of UK Writer about breaking the rules and pushing at the edge – but not for its own sake; that’s arrogant. There are no right answers and I think you find your voice when you become present to the writing, the point at which it keeps you company. That’s when you find a style that suits your personality and you become own authority yet listen intelligently to what others say. I think it’s about cultivating a kind of writer’s wisdom, knowing what writing form should carry which idea. My piece about two film censors fancying each other but having to watch porn together found its way into a play – Porn Crackers for the Hackney Empire. My stories about kids in a Pupil Referral Unit needed to be linked – so they were fugues.
Andy Walsh's speech at the Performers' Alliance Parliamentary lobby
Yesterday the WGGB, as part of the Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group (including Equity and the Musicians’ Union) lobbied Westminster. Issues ranged from arts cuts to not only low pay, but no pay, for writers, actors and musicians.
The lobby was well attended by members of both Houses, including Culture Minister Ed Vaizey and Shadow Culture Secretary, Dan Jarvis. All listened to what we had to say and the Guild, as ever, will continue the conversation.
Andrew Walsh, our Treasurer, spoke eloquently on behalf of the WGGB. Here’s his speech.
Good afternoon, my Lords, Ladies and gentlemen, and it is quite nice to be able to use that greeting in a place where it’s actually applicable. Coming from the games industry I have to say that the Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen here today aren’t as well armoured, or armed and, despite what the tabloids say, as disreputably behaved as the ones I normally spend my days with.
So, a games writer? A bit of an odd choice to send to stand before you today? Games to some people are this strange peripheral thing, a novel industry. To some writers we are still something set on the side, the junior medium. Even though we’ve been around for 40 years. There are those in the games industry who don’t understand the role of writing in games, despite the fact there are games out there with two million or more words in them. And yet. . .and yet. . .
The latest Call Of Duty, the first game to earn more than $1 billion, and it’s only been out a couple of weeks so it will earn more. This game has chosen to put the story, the writing, at the heart of its latest advertising campaign. And why? Because they understand that writing helps to build a brand; it sells.
The next one-day residence in the Guild's literary afternoons features poets Leo Aylen (pictured) and Alan Brownjohn on 17 December. Please book with Jan Woolf for a day of coffee, poetry and lunch in the beautiful rooms of Black’s club Soho.
Leo Aylen is an author, film director and prize-winning poet. He will read from his ninth collection The Day The Grass Came, which Melvyn Bragg describes as 'a triumph', Geoffrey Heptonstall as a 'very real achievement', and Simon Callow as 'virile, vital, virtuosic'.
Alan Brownjohn published his first poetry collection, The Railings, in 1961, and has been a major figure on the British poetry scene, chairing the Poetry Society between 1982 and 1988 and serving as poetry critic for the New Statesman. He has also sat on the Arts Council literature panel and has written four novels, two books for children and a critical study of Philip Larkin. His Collected Poemswas published by Enitharmon in 2006.
Elsbeth Lindner introduces bookoxygen.com
I’m not a writer.
I know this because, even though I’ve published a novel, I’ve learned that writers are only happy when they are writing. And I’m happier reading.
How do I know this about writers? Because I’ve spent my professional life, some four decades now, working alongside them. I’ve edited, published, interviewed and, I hope, assisted writers while working for publishers, literary magazines and now my website bookoxygen.com which, as it says on the masthead, is a ‘breathing space for books and writers.’
I like writers. Not only do they use language with invention and delicacy, but they think for a living. Writers are often prescient, which comes, I assume, from thinking just that little bit harder about what’s going on and where it’s leading than the rest of us do.
Perhaps it was a spark of rubbed-off authorial foresight that inspired me to launch bookoxygen, although in truth I think the notion came from having written book reviews for some years and noticing (especially in the USA, where I lived for a while, but here in the UK too) that with newspapers under increasing financial pressure, space for culture generally and book reviews specifically was shrinking.
The Writers’ Guild would like to register deep concern at the exclusion of the arts as qualifying subjects in current proposals for the English Baccalaureate. While recognising the importance of certain subjects – such as English, maths and science - we believe that core recognition of cultural and artistic subjects, both appreciation and practice, is also a vital component of a rounded education.
In addition the UK’s education system needs to recognise that culture, the arts and education do in fact contribute greatly to the economy. The creative industries provide six per cent of Britain’s GDP, £16 billion in exports, and employ at least 2 million people.
In particular, the Guild is concerned about:
- The lack of any prior consultation with teachers, students, parents or creative writers before EBacc was brought in
- The disincentivisation of schools to offer arts subjects, through the retrospective recalculation of the school league tables according to EBacc subjects
- The particular impact of EBacc on the teaching of drama, and the knock-on effect this will have on plays, playwriting and performances in schools.
The Theatre Committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain presented its annual awards for the encouragement of new writing at a lunch ceremony at the Royal Court Theatre Bar at the end of November.
Awards winners and nominators: Front row: Sayan Kent (writer), Janet Steel (Artistic Director, Kali Theatre), James Hadley (Relationship Officer, Arts Council England), Josie Rourke (Artistic Director, Donmar Warehouse), Stewart Permutt (writer) Back row: Anne Hogben (Deputy General Secretary, WGGB), David James (writer), Robin Soans (writer), Nick Quinn (agent, The Agency)The awards, the brainchild of the playwright Mark Ravenhill, were set up to give Guild members the opportunity publicly to thank those who had given them a particularly positive experience in new writing over the previous year. This also gives the committee and the Guild a welcome opportunity to celebrate, rather than focus solely on members’ problems.
The winners are:
James Hadley, nominated by David James
At a time when Arts Council England (ACE) is deeply challenged both by funding cuts and seemingly endless restructuring, and one hears a great deal of disquietude from so many ACE officers, James's energy, enthusiasm and commitment to his specialist field of musical theatre is huge. We have worked together for almost three years, and he has guided me through three successful Grants for Arts applications to support the BOOK Music & Lyrics (BML) musical theatre writing workshop programme I founded in 2010. He has answered endless questions, pointed out numerous places where points of argument on the applications could be strengthened, and always had time for another telephone conversation or meeting to discuss not only the applications but the BML programme as a whole and how it is strategically developing as an ongoing asset for musical theatre writers for the foreseeable future. He is a warm, friendly, and stable support for me. We meet regularly, and he has made the time to visit the workshop sessions. James had to take on a very responsible role as the major supporter of musical theatre at ACE in quite a condensed period of time. He also realises the complexity of the collaborative process of musical theatre and how far the British sector still has to go to achieve its full potential. More importantly, he is also aware of how much he himself still has to experience and learn to guide the sector forward most effectively.