Extracts from a new book by producer Claire Grove and writer Stephen Wyatt
For a new book published by Nick Hern Books, award-winning radio writer (and long-time Guild member) Stephen Wyatt teamed up with radio producer Claire Grove to guide newcomers through the world of radio drama. As we reported last month, on 18 November Claire Grove died from cancer: you can read an obituary in Ariel magazine. Claire worked with numerous writers during her career in radio, and we publish these extracts, with kind permission of Nick Hern Books, as a tribute to her.
Writers’ Guild members can buy a copy of the book with a 25% discount and free UK postage and packing (total price £9.74) by ordering from Nick Hern Books using the voucher code WGGBRADIO at checkout. Voucher valid until 31 March 2014.
Introduction, by Claire Grove
I love radio drama. I am a shamelessly enthusiastic listener and I’ve had the enormous pleasure of working in it for many years as a producer and director. Why do I love it? Because it can take me anywhere the writer wants to take me. It gives me the freedom to imagine complete worlds. It can take me to places where I could never actually go in life. I love the vast range of subjects that it embraces and the sheer volume of it splurging out of the radio on a daily basis. Thrillers, romances, fantasy, gritty urban; there’s something for everyone here. I love the fact that the word is king, that I can imagine complete characters from the timbre of an actor’s voice and that a sudden silence can stop me in my tracks because I simply have to discover what happens next. And it fits in with a busy life. I can listen to it on my iPod while I’m walking, in the car while I’m driving, or at home while I’m doing other things.
Working with Claire, by Stephen Wyatt
Claire Grove and I worked together in radio for over ten years, most recently on the Classic Chandler dramatisations and two original plays about Raymond Chandler’s experiences in Hollywood, Double Jeopardy and Strangers on a Film with Patrick Stewart as Chandler. My other radio work includes many dramatisations and original plays, including Memorials to the Missing (2007) and Gerontius (2011), both of which won the Tinniswood Award for best radio drama script.
I had been in discussions with Nick Hern about doing a book called So You Want to Write Radio Drama? for some time when I had one of my best ideas ever and asked Claire to write it with me. She accepted and immediately the project came alive. There have been books on radio drama before by writers and books written by producers and script editors but so far as I know this is the only book which represents a genuine collaboration between a writer and a producer/director.
And Claire was a wonderful person to collaborate with. Totally positive, totally focused, totally enthusiastic, totally generous. Writers without hesitation gave permission for extracts from their work or their insights into their work to be included because they loved her and loved working with her. Anybody within the BBC who could help or provide information gave it because it was Claire who was asking and they all knew, respected and loved her too.
We were always in total agreement about how we wanted the book to be. As honest, practically useful, up to date and informative as we could make it, based directly on our own experience. We wanted to take readers through the whole process of what’s involved in writing a radio drama, from having the germ of an idea all the way through to commissioning and production. We wanted to create exercises to encourage writers to explore their own ideas and offer extracts from outstanding radio writing to inspire them. And we wanted to avoid pomposity, condescension and above all any whiff of contemporary academic media theory.
As a result, very early on we made a decision that a single anonymous voice simply wouldn’t work. We needed to write in our own voices about what we each knew about best as a writer and a producer/director. What Claire wrote in this book is, for those of us who knew and loved her, a reminder of her enthusiasm, her generosity, her perception and her no-nonsense intelligence. For those who didn’t know her, I believe she has left words to help and inspire new radio writers and I feel very privileged to have collaborated with her on it.
Colin Chambers remembers Bob Leeson, children's writer and former Chair of the Guild, who died last month
Not many people, I suspect, have music played at their funeral that moves from The Song Of the Prune to Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs by way of Yes, We Have No Bananas, but for those who knew Bob Leeson, this selection celebrating the serious and the absurd was spot on. For Bob, a former chair of the Guild and a versatile, pioneering children’s author who has died aged 85, was a man of deep commitments and loyalty who always displayed a keen eye for the ridiculous wherever it appeared and turned it to good effect in his writing.
Born in Barnton, Cheshire in 1928 to a working-class family as the youngest of four children, he loved reading and storytelling from an early age, and much of his later writing drew on the experiences of his youth. Although the nearby grammar school, to which he, like his siblings, won a scholarship, had no library, he eagerly looked forward to the arrival of the monthly ‘library box’ from which he was allowed to borrow one title on each of its visits. Ever resourceful, at the local library, which lacked a children’s section, he began to feed his imagination, aged 11, by using his mother’s ticket.
Writers' Guild General Secretary sceptical about consultation over theatre tax relief
A tax break for theatre was an unexpected component of the so-called 'autumn statement' or mini-budget today (Thursday).
There will be a consultation next year on corporation tax relief for new commercial theatre productions, including touring versions. The Government said the move recognised 'unique value that the theatre sector brings to the UK economy'.
Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett commented: 'The coalition government has spent the past three years skinning and gutting Arts Council England, so that all subsidised theatre has had to cope with massive cuts, with the knowledge that there is worse to come. Even Little Orphan Annie would choke on the thought that George Osborne has changed his spots.
'In reality the money that has been taken away from innovative and community-based new writing is to be recycled into big-business theatre, to enable it to compete more ruthlessly with all these awful local reps and studios who have somehow survived (so far). Doubtless it will be eagerly accepted, to the benefit of proprietors and shareholders – at least, until they start to wonder why the supply of great new writing, previously supported by ACE, has begun to dry up.'
If approved the tax breaks will take effect in April 2015 – one month before the next general election.
A librettist is part lyrical poet, part dramatist, says Dic Edwards
The librettist has traditionally been regarded as less important that the composer in the creation of an opera. But in an age of musicals and music theatre, the distinction between these hybrid genres is less clear and the librettist’s work is increasingly seen as the engine driving the project.
As with Rogers and Hammerstein or Lloyd Weber and Rice, equal billing for the librettist seems reasonable. If we can use the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy so often invoked by Western aesthetes, the librettist is the Apollonian – the provider of the form, the structure on which the composer, the Dionysian, can practise the ecstasy and exceptions of his creativity.
The librettist is part lyrical poet and part dramatist.
Annual Writers' Guild awards recognise those who support playwrights
Theatre Encouragement awards winners, nominees and guests - Back row(left to right): Bob Shannon, Andrew Curtis, Paul Milton, Mark Shenton Middle row: Gillian Hambleton, Juliet Forster, Mandy Fenton, Bill Hopkinson, Donna Worthington Front row: David James, Pippa Roberts, Anne Hogben
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 on Friday.
The awards, the brainchild of the playwright Mark Ravenhill, were set up to give Guild members the opportunity 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 of the ninth annual awards are:
Mandy Fenton, Equal Writes
Nominated by Andrew Curtis
'Mandy Fenton launched Equal Writes earlier this year to help redress the gender imbalance in UK theatre, where for every female role there are two male roles. Deciding that discussion and campaigning alone was no longer enough, Mandy launched a showcase with an open submissions policy. Over 600 writers entered 800 pieces of work, with 12 being selected and performed in March 2013. Of the 12 writers, four were male, including me. Sex was not a barrier in this sense; it was about what we writers, male or female, could offer in terms of writing female roles.
'The whole experience has really helped me develop as a writer. A writer finds out so much in the rehearsal room and during the performance, and I feel my writing was stronger for the experience. Mandy has been fantastically supportive. With her boundless energy and creativity, she has helped me and other writers bring their work to stage, while at the same fulfilling a broader social purpose.'
Lend your support to the new campaign from the Writers' Guild
'We really like your loaf of bread but we haven't got any money to pay for it.'
If that doesn't work in Sainsbury's why should it work with writers' ideas?
The past few years have seen a disturbing increase in the amount of work that writers are being asked and expected to do for free. While this has long been a problem with small, new or simply unscrupulous companies, it is fast becoming the industry standard even for large, well-resourced production companies dealing with established writers with significant credits to their name.
More and more, writers are being offered ‘shopping options’, asked to do ‘sweepstake pitching’, bake-offs’, free rewrites and ‘pre-writes’ – all for no money. It is becoming the norm to ask even established writers to write a trial script before they are even considered as a writer on a long running show – in some cases when they have previously written for that very same show.
The unpaid commitment now routinely expected of a writer constitutes weeks of work and time consuming, expensive research. If it is unacceptable to ask other professionals to work for free then it is unacceptable to expect writers to work for nothing. How are writers to feed their children and pay the mortgage?
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is launching a campaign ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ to address the problem of writers being expected to work for free. The campaign will highlight the scale of the problem and challenge production companies and broadcasters to address indefensible practices that are in no one’s best interests.
To give statistical weight to the campaign two online surveys have been published, ‘Free Is NOT An Option’ and ‘Free Trials’. The findings of the surveys will be confidential and anonymous and only used as statistical evidence in publicity campaigns and negotiations with major production companies and broadcasters. The surveys are open to all writers (whether Guild members or not) and can be accessed via the following links.
Free is NOT an Option https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/X8L8F2R
Free Trials https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XL8H6KP
Closing date of survey 1st January 2014.