Nick Wood explains how he became a writer-actor to perform his latest play
Nick Wood in A Girl With A Book (photo by Alex Esden)
There’s a knock on the dressing room door. I follow James the duty manager up the stairs to the back of the stage. I bend to put my keys down under the second step. Before I can straighten up the house lights are coming down. I take a breath. The pre-set is brought up and I walk on to the stage at Square Chapel Halifax for the first night of the tour of my new play A Girl With A Book.
One third of the way through. The words are coming out in the right order. I haven’t tripped over the scenery. Then I cut the last three words of a paragraph. I’ve lost the rhythm. I’ve no idea what to say next. I suddenly realise sweat breaking out your forehead is not a cliché – I can feel it. I look at the chair where I’ve established Malala is sitting. I walk back to the desk, look at my notebook. Look at the spot where her father stands. I have been silent now for at least an hour and a half. I’m thinking do I say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I have no idea what happens next’ or just walk off the stage. From nowhere the word Ziauddin comes out of my mouth and we’re off again.
Afterwards I’m complemented how I had the nerve to pause and let my character, the writer, think about the implications of what her father asked Malala to do. On my own I walk it through to see how long it really lasted. Top estimate? Four seconds. Let’s get things into proportion – it’s not coal mining and nobody died, but, at that moment, it did feel pretty scary.
I wrote the play for another actor. I said. But I didn’t really. I would have been happy if we’d found another actor after the showcase at Nottingham Playhouse. I was overjoyed when it was suggested by my director Andrew Breakwell that I do it myself. I knew what I was trying to do from the start. Use the story, not tell it. But I could see the problems. In one try out where I only did an extract I was asked what did I think I, a white, middle aged, male, had to contribute to the debate? I was able to tell my questioner she had almost quoted one of the lines from the play. ‘What have I a white middle class middle aged playwright of no fixed belief living safely in the West got to say on a subject he knows nothing about?’
At the top of the playtext it says: ‘The writer can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or ethnicity.’
I wanted to do it because I wanted to react to this event. The play isn’t ‘about’ Malala. I wanted the disjoint that would come from seeing a middle aged man wrestling with attitudes and prejudices he finds far too near the surface as he researches the event. Tying himself in knots, making a fool of himself, venting his anger at the evils religious differences have brought on the world, wondering how a father could let a daughter run such risks, before arriving at the one quality that undercuts all our fears of the different – empathy.
Tom Green introduces a case study from a new book he has co-written with Kevin McCann about authors doing it for themselves
In the time that I have been editing writersguild.org.uk and the Writers’ Guild magazine, one of the biggest changes has been the new technology enabling writers to become increasingly independent. The rise of self-publishing has come on the back of a range of innovations, most notably relating to digital printing, e-books and social media. Whereas once an author’s options outside mainstream publishing houses were almost non-existent, now it’s possible to publish and promote a book with little or no outside assistance.
In writing Getting Started In Self-Publishing (Hodder 2013), Kevin McCann and I have sought to provide practical advice on all aspects of the process. The book also contains a number of case studies; an extract of one, by Guild member Martin Cloake, follows below.
Martin Cloake has self-published two mini-books in a series called Spurs Shorts that he launched with his writing partner Adam Powley. One is about Danny Blanchflower, the other concerns Arthur Rowe. They have also republished the first full-length book they wrote, We Are Tottenham, as an e-book after the rights reverted back to them.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
I'm a journalist and I've worked in production for years. I'm also interested in technology and the media business, an area I covered as a journalist. So I've been interested in and involved with new publishing platforms and methods for years. Digital publishing has changed the game in so many ways, one of which is to change the view of, and the opportunities offered by, the self-publishing route. Essentially, digital makes the whole process more nimble. The idea for the ‘Shorts’ series came from the kind of thing The Atlantic Review was doing in the US, and The Guardian in the UK. Those publications are mining their archives to produce collated volumes on particular subjects.
Shortlists have been published for the Tinniswood and Imision radio awards 2013, administered by the Writers' Guild and the Society of Authors.
Tinniswood Award 2013 Shortlist
The Tinniswood Award 2013 is presented to the best original radio drama script by any writer broadcast in the UK over 1 July 2012-31 October 2013. The Award is jointly administered by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and the Society of Authors with the prize of £1,500 sponsored by the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society. The judges were Louise Doughty, Marcy Kahan and David Pownall. We are pleased to announce the shortlist:
Dusty Won't Play - by Annie Caulfield
In 1964, at the height of her fame, Dusty Springfield was arrested in South Africa for refusing to play to segregated audiences. Detained, deported and accused of publicity seeking by some fellow celebrities back home, she inspired others to cancel segregated tours. She didn’t change the world, but she did do something
Once Upon A Time There Was A Beatrix - by Lavinia Murray
Combining fact with fantasy, we imagine a day in the life of the young Beatrix Potter as a child, and glimpse at the roots of her creativity. 19th century London: Helen Beatrix Potter is 14 years old and lives in Kensington with her parents. Her younger brother, Bertram, has just gone off to boarding school. Life has changed irrevocably and Beatrix realises that she faces years of isolation and parental indifference. She is on the verge of vanishing within the social mores around her. Today, Beatrix has to find her own life. When she visits the local cemetery, she finds herself at the centre of a rather frightening hunt for a young rabbit, and discovers a way to excel.
Imo & Ben - by Mark Ravenhill
Benjamin Britten's Gloriana, commissioned for the Queen's Coronation Gala in 1953, was, according to Lord Harewood 'one of the greatest disasters of operatic history'. This play tells how Imogen Holst moved to be near Britten in Aldeburgh to support him as he worked on the score in the months leading up to the premiere
Marathon Tales - by Colin Teevan and Hannah Silva
This play ingeniously combines the stories of a number of Marathon runners ancient and modern; the original Pheidippides, Atalanta, Hippomenes, Abebe Bikila, John Tarrant the “Ghost Runner”, Dorando Pietri the “People’s Champion”; pioneer of women's running Kathy Switzer, and contemporary amateur and professional runners preparing for the London Marathon
Mark Tuohy on how self-publishing has helped get his writing back on track
'It's a mighty long way down rock 'n roll… From Top of the Pops to drawing the dole,' as the song says – and that's kind of how its been. My first novel The Tide was published back in 2005 to good reviews and okay not great sales but I kind of thought I'd arrived. I was invited to read from it at the Edinburgh Book Festival and being heralded by some as a great new literary voice. Surely getting the next novel published (assuming I could write one) was going to be fairly straight forward.
Things started well and before I knew it I was writing two very different novels, a literary thriller and Something Brilliant, a challenging but uplifting love story. I even managed to secure a £5,000 grant from the Arts Council. In the meantime I wrote a couple of plays for Radio 4 and then by around 2009 I thought both novels were ready to go.
Well, the good people who published my first novel (Mercat Press) were no longer interested in me and were anyway already headed into the more burly arms of Birlinn. There was to be no place for me there. I wasn't desperately disappointed and was confident I would find a home for my work elsewhere. This was something I'd have to do on my own as my agent, who was more of a theatre person, had already ditched me. But again I felt sure I could stand on my own two feet and that a publishing deal was just around the corner.
Minimum fees for BBC TV writers are going up by 2% with effect from 1 November 2013, bringing the flagship rate for a one-hour teleplay to £11,040 – the second increase this year. The new rate for series/serials is £10,020 per hour.
Children’s drama and comedy, and any scripts under 15 minutes, will be commissioned at a minimum of £184 per minute, with online-only commissions at £92 for teleplays and £84 for series/serials. The minimum for television sketch material is £103 per minute, or £83 for children’s sketch material.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett said: “This is another example of the Guild’s determination that even at a time of large BBC cuts, writers should not get left behind. These increases are fairly close to the latest inflation figure of 2.2% and compare with a pay rise of 1% or £800 for BBC staff.”
A full list of all new minimum rates is available to download. These rates are negotiated under three separate collective agreements by the BBC, Writers’ Guild and Personal Managers’ Association (representing writers’ agents). They were last increased by 1% on 1 January 2013, and will next be revised with effect from 1 November 2014.
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.