Paul Herzberg on the development of his play The Dead Wait, now showing at The Park Theatre in London
I left South Africa in 1976 after returning from the Angolan border as a conscripted soldier. The country was caught in volatile times: Black Consciousness had exploded in the townships, the Portuguese had fled Angola and Soweto was in flames.
The war in which I had been involved, set to continue for another 13 years, was like no other in that it was almost entirely secret. Soldiers were forced to pledge their silence. The apartheid authorities were determined that word did not get out as to what was going on beyond the Namibian border. It was South Africa’s Vietnam.
Long after I left I began a conversation with a man on a British train. He told me of an incident involving his nephew as a young soldier in the border war. While on an Angolan mission his unit had captured a wounded black freedom fighter. The unit commander had it in for the soldier and suspecting their captive might be important, ordered the soldier to carry him on his back until they reached the border for interrogation.
The freedom fighter whispered into the soldier’s ear as they moved through the bush and in the mayhem a bond began to grow. The commander responded to their unlikely friendship with catastrophic results.
This image, ally and foe locked together, haunted me. Using my long absence from the country I found a way to build a play round that anecdote, to connect it to contemporary South Africa. The notion of these two older men — an iron-willed Afrikaans officer and a black freedom fighter doing battle for the soul of this callow white kid — while around them a war is raging, was simply to tantalising to ignore.
Rosemary Friedman introduces her new collection of short stories, The Man Who Understood Women
On clearing out my attic I discovered a large cardboard box filled with very old magazines, in various stages of desuetude, dating from 1956 until 2013. They were mostly aimed at women and published not only in England but in a dozen languages in as many different countries.
As I turned the fragile pages I was fascinated to find advertisements for `Salon Style Home Hair Dryers’, recipes for `Mutton Saucer Pies’, `Twenty Uses for Vinegar’ and coupons for Vogue Patterns from which the `housewife’ – when she wasn’t trotting down the high street, suitably hatted, her wicker basket over her arm - could create a fashionable `fur fabric jacket’.
Reading through forgotten short fiction which bore my name, in publications such as Housewife, Good Housekeeping and Women’s Realm - titles which in themselves reflected women’s then preoccupations - brought home to me the cataclysmic change in women’s role in society and their burgeoning independence over the past 50 odd years. Might there be some mileage in resurrecting these stories? After 26 full length books, three plays and various screenplays I regarded it both as relaxation from the creative process and as a challenge, not the least part of which was translating the texts from the rapidly fading printed page (no computers then) and digitalising them for which there is a magical program entitled OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
No one was more surprised than I to discover that, read consecutively, the collection comprised a social document which reflected a gradual but heady change over the years in women’s circumstances and provided a picture of inner lives which contemplated a future for women brighter and infinitely more exciting than any they had hitherto imagined. From the spinsterish Miss Phipps, The Magic (1956), with her lending library, who opens the door for her female readers to fulfil their fantasies - through the man whose life is haunted by an adolescent misdemeanour Mea Culpa (1958) and the sad and sexually predatory New York millionairess Southern Comfort 1998) - to the modern divorcée A la Carte (2010) who briskly road-tests her internet date, the stories depicted the changing role of women in a rapidly changing world.
Playwright recognised at Writers' Guild Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Writing and Writers.
The award was presented to David Edgar by Lee Hall – here's the text of Lee's speech
It is an enormous privilege to be asked to present this award to David Edgar. Not least because it allows me to acknowledge my personal debt. If there was one reason I became a writer - it was David Edgar.
I first encountered his work when I read one of the early short plays: Ball Boys - in the school library and decided immediately that I had to put it on.
It is a blackly comic tale of two ball boys who plot to assassinate Sven Svenson, a Bjorn Borg - like tennis ace. Not only is it uproariously funny, witheringly sharp in its social satire, it is full of ideas, from thumbnail explications of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach to comic fusilades condensing the insights of the Frankfurt School into machine-gun-fire, coruscating invective.
But unlike so many plays where bravura philosophising are some kind of window dressing. The ideas in the play weren’t just tacked on - they were central to the piece. Here was writing that was as keen to be entertaining as it was to be thoughtful, as keen to be political as it was to use the dialectical nature of theatre to make a problem of easy sloganeering. But most importantly for me it was writing which was effortlessly ‘theatrical’. And it was a huge success in the Tynemouth Sixth Form College Assembly Hall.
So I devoured all the other plays I could find: TeenDreams, Destiny, Mary Barnes, Albie Sachs.
The thing I liked most about them was how taut they were, how vivid they were as pieces of drama, they were proper grown up plays, searingly intelligent, but always poking at political, psychological and ideological contradictions. They were phenomenally diverse: Mary Barnes was an intimate examination of the anti-psychiatry movement, Destiny an Epic about the rise of a fascist Right. But all these plays were concerned with the same thing: how we might transform the world. They were not evasive about the personal or political problems of doing so - and that was why they seemed exemplary. These were fearless, fiercely intelligent, grown up pieces of writing. Thrilling and life changing for me. I knew this is what I wanted to do.
The Writers' Guild Awards were presented in London on Wednesday 13 November 2013
Writers' Guild President Olivia Hetreed introducing the Awards (Photo: WGGB/Simon Denton). More photos: www.facebook.com/thewritersguild
TV Drama Series
Winner: Silk (Peter Moffat)
Shortlisted: The Village (Peter Moffat), Broadchurch (Chris Chibnall)
Winner: Coronation Street
Shortlisted: Holby City, Casualty, Waterloo Road, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, Doctors
Winner: Getting On (Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine, Joanna Scanlan)
Shortlisted: Fresh Meat (Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain), Him and Her (Stefan Golaszewski)
TV Drama Short Form
Winner: The Girl (Gwyneth Hughes)
Shortlisted: Room at the Top (Amanda Coe), Murder:Joint Enterprise (Robert Jones)
Winner: The Dumping Ground - What Would Gus Want? (Elly Brewer)
Shortlisted: What’s the Big Idea - What is Art? (Alan Gilbey), The Dumping Ground - The Truth is Out There (Emma Reeves)
Winner: Tennyson and Edison (David Pownall)
ShortlistedL The Go-Between (adapted by Frances Byrnes from the novel by LP Hartley), Once Upon a Time There Was a Beatrix (Lavinia Murray)
Winner: Susan Calman is Convicted (Susan Calman)
Shortlisted: Fags, Mags & Bags (Sanjeev Kohli and Donald McLeary), Meet David Sedaris (David Sedaris)
Winner: The Universe versus Alex Woods (Gavin Extence)
Shortlisted: Big Brother (Lionel Shriver), The Card (Graham Rawle)
Winner: Thomas Was Alone (Mike Bithell)
Shortlisted: Tomb Raider (Rhianna Pratchett), Lego City Undercover (Graham Goring)
Winner: What Richard Did (Malcolm Campbell)
Shortlisted: Sightseers (Alice Lowe, Steve Oram), Good Vibrations (Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson), Grabbers (Kevin Lehane),
Winner: My Brother the Devil (Sally El Hosaini)
Shortlisted: Byzantium (Moira Buffini), Skyfall (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan)
Winner: Quietly (Owen McCafferty)
ShortlistedL Brilliant Adventures (Alistair McDowall), The Thrill of Love (Amanda Whittington)
Theatre Play for Young People
Winner: Whole (Philip Osment)
Shortlisted: I, Cinna (Tim Crouch), Mr Holgado (Christopher William Hill)
A special Writers' Guild Award was presented by Lee Hall to David Edgar for his outstanding contribution to writing and writers.
Christopher Reason on how his family's experience of mental health problems have shaped his life and his writing. The article is based on a speech he gave to the 'Time to Change' Mental Health Conference at the Royal Medical Society.
I've been invited to share my experiences of 'writing about mental health'. But as soon as I started to think about this, I realised that virtually everything I write is about mental health. That's because my work is almost always character centred. Whether it's soap opera – I've been on the EastEnders writing team on and off for nearly 20 years – or any of the adventure stories, political thrillers, comedies, domestic dramas that I've written, I always begin with the character. The reason for which will become plain.
So how do I create a character? My starting off point is: 'We're all nutters but some of us are nuttier than others'. For there's a continuum that stretches from relative mental health (I'm not sure if I've ever met the person who was entirely sane) right through to psychosis, and all of us dwell somewhere on that continuum. Nor is it a static point we occupy. One day we might be feeling fine, then something happens – a bereavement, a separation, an illness - and we find ourselves struggling to cope. How we handle or mishandle this crisis is what teachers of creative writing like to call a character's journey or their arc. A leading character's arc is often congruent with the plot – in many cases it is the plot – so understanding the psychopathology that underlies a person's character has always been crucial to me. Other writers, and I'm not knocking them, take a completely different approach. They think of the big concept – Independence Day or Avatar say - and only then create the characters that will fit into it. One approach is not better than the other, they're just different.
So why do I take this character driven, psychology centred approach? That's entirely bound up in my own personal history.