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"Ally and foe locked together"

on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 20:45. Posted in Theatre

Paul Herzberg on the development of his play The Dead Wait, now showing at The Park Theatre in London

dead-waitI 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.

Looking back: something understood

on Tuesday, 19 November 2013 16:19. Posted in Books and Poetry

Rosemary Friedman introduces her new collection of short stories, The Man Who Understood Women

-man-who-understood-womenOn 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.

Free is NOT an Option

on Monday, 18 November 2013 16:10. Posted in TV

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.

David Edgar honoured by Writers' Guild

on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:41. Posted in Theatre

Playwright recognised at Writers' Guild Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Writing and Writers.

Lee Hall and David Edgar-240The 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.

Writers' Guild Awards winners

on Wednesday, 13 November 2013 10:37. Posted in General

The Writers' Guild Awards were presented in London on Wednesday 13 November 2013

Olivia Hetreed-440

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)

Continuing Drama
Winner: Coronation Street
Shortlisted: Holby City, Casualty, Waterloo Road, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, Doctors

TV Comedy
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)

Children’s TV
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)

Radio Drama
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)

Radio Comedy
Winner: Susan Calman is Convicted (Susan Calman)
Shortlisted: Fags, Mags & Bags (Sanjeev Kohli and Donald McLeary), Meet David Sedaris (David Sedaris)

Books
Winner: The Universe versus Alex Woods (Gavin Extence)
Shortlisted: Big Brother (Lionel Shriver), The Card (Graham Rawle)

Videogames
Winner: Thomas Was Alone (Mike Bithell)
Shortlisted: Tomb Raider (Rhianna Pratchett), Lego City Undercover (Graham Goring)

First Screenplay
Winner: What Richard Did (Malcolm Campbell)
Shortlisted: Sightseers (Alice Lowe, Steve Oram), Good Vibrations (Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson), Grabbers (Kevin Lehane), 

Screenplay
Winner: My Brother the Devil (Sally El Hosaini)
Shortlisted: Byzantium (Moira Buffini), Skyfall (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan)

Theatre Play
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.

New Faces: Radio Drama In The Midlands

on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 14:28. Posted in Radio

A Writers' Guild West Midlands event - Wednesday, December 11, 7.30pm - 9.30pm

In recents months two important chairs have been filled in BBC Radio Drama. Sean O'Connor has taken the reins at the The Archers. Meanwhile Jessica Dromgoole is helming the landmark World War I drama, Home Front. Sean and Jessica will join us to talk about their shows, the craft of Radio Drama and opportunities within the industry.

Sean O'Connor was a producer on The Archers in the late 1990s, before moving on to TV shows such as EastEnders, Hollyoaks & Minder. He has also directed extensively in theatre, including his own adaptations of Vertigo, Marnie and Romeo & Juliet, as well as producing a film version of Terrence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea. His book Handsome Brute was published this year.

Jessica Dromgoole has directed in theatre and radio, winning various awards including the Prix Italia for Original Radio Drama, a BBC Audio Drama Award for Best Audio Drama, and a bronze Sony Radio Academy Award for Best Drama. Between 1988 and 1991 Jessica was Artistic Director of the Finsborough Theatre, since when she's been New Writing Co-ordinator for the BBC.

This event is FREE to members of the Writers' Guild and £5 for non-members. Attendees are invited to a festive drink in The Mailbox afterwards.

Booking details