Tag Archives: play

**Friends and Traitors Blog Tour** Getting to Know John Lawton.

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome John Lawton to the blog. His latest novel ‘Friends and Traitors‘ is available now. 

Many thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions today.

Vic x

Nick Shot Close

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
I really don’t know. I’ve written most of my life. Certainly since 1957 when I first encountered Shakespeare’s history plays. And in the years that followed, since you can’t imitate Shakespeare’s dialogue unless you’re Tom Stoppard (and whoever watched or read him for his plots?), I came under the influence of writers who were writing stunning dialogue. My first sight of a Pinter play about three years later is still vivid.

Peter Cook’s EL Wisty monologues were compulsive and when the Dagenham Dialogues with Dudley Moore came along … well, I think I learnt as much from them as I did from Pinter. The really odd thing is the switch from writing drama to writing novels, which happened about 1983 … cause? … failure. Wasn’t getting anywhere as a playwright. That said, much of what I write, certainly in earlier drafts, strikes me as reading like a two-hander play. That’s how most of my books begin  … two voices talking in my head.

A taste for dialogue, a course in Russian at University, reading Gorky Park, watching Ian McEwan’s The Imitation Game (not the recent film of the same name) all fuelled the plot line that became my first Troy novel.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Dunno where they come from, but I know where they arrive. Usually in trains, and almost as often out walking. I do a lot of walking.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I think my favourite scene might be towards the end of A Little White Death, when Tara Ffitch takes about a page to slam the morality that put her in court. I stand by every word of that. And I’m quite partial to the scene in Friends and Traitors when Guy Burgess rattles off the list of things he misses in his Russian exile. My favourite characters would be among the minor figures … Fish Wally in two or three novels, and Swift Eddie in most of them — a part I wrote hoping Warren Clarke would play him one day.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not sure I quite understand the question, but I usually have a plot fully worked out in my head before I write a word. Only book I’ve ever plotted on paper was Black Out.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes. But not books by anyone doing what I’m doing.

I spent last autumn on a Mick Herron binge, and I think I’ve just begun a Timothy Hallinan binge. Neither of them write historicals.

I keep picking up and putting down Illusions Perdues. I think I might have to wait for a new, better translation, but if that theory works why do I have six different translations of Ovid?

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
“Write a book a year and take control of your life” – Gore Vidal. Somewhere I still have the letter.

I’ve never been able to do that of course. Come to think of it, I turned down a book-a-year offer from Penguin ages ago. I’m a fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series which appears very regularly and I don’t know how he does it. My ‘mentor’ Ariana Franklin got up to a book a year in her seventies, but I honestly think it was exhausting for her. With hindsight I wish she’d slowed down. So good advice as yet unheeded.

What can readers expect from your books?
Writer vanity prompts me to say that I hope I can shatter expectations with the odd surprise, but a running character creates expectations otherwise she/he would be rather inconsistent. So expect politics, romance, a touch of mayhem. Do not expect a who-dunnit, as my books can bang on for another fifty pages after the who of dunnit is obvious. I cannot change Troy’s character, he will change only as the time-setting of the novels change (and I’ve never liked the idea of fiction existing outside of time …  Troy ages and hence changes) but I quite deliberately move the locations around. Black Out is set entirely in London, with Old Flames I went rural and in Friends & Traitors has a lengthy continental journey before settling back in London.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yep. Abandon all social media. Leave it to Trump, he’s welcome to it. I am looking forward to his ‘Twitts from Prison’. Shut down your twitt and bookface accounts, resign from your readers & writers group, bin your iphone, stop talking about writing and write.

If anyone asks why they haven’t seen much of you lately tell them you’ve been studying for the civil service entry exam and are hoping for a job with the ministry of [fill in blank as appropriate]. My usual choice is the ‘White Fish Authority.’ Such a wonderful name for a government ministry, alas it shut up shop in 1981. I wonder if there was ever a ‘Chips and Mushy Peas Marketing Board’?

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Like … the doing of it. One of the best narcotics around and it’s free.

Dislike … promoting a book. Best regarded as a necessary evil. I hate being photographed. (Sorry, Ali Karim.)

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yep. Third book in the Wilderness trilogy. And another game of with Zoë Sharp. All done by email as we live in different countries.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Dunno. I live by writing, which I consider most fortunate, but to say my moment was the first time I received a fat cheque would be both crass and untrue. I’m not interested in prizes, the gongs and daggers, and winning one didn’t engage with me much. I think it has to be ‘finishing-summat-that-had-me really-foxed’  … which has happened from time to time, but I’m not saying which book or books it was.

Review of 2015: Becci Sharrock

Today sees the wonderful Becci Sharrock reviewing her 2015. Becci is a writer, blogger and creative producer, she currently produces for Precious Cargo and Leo Burtin. Becci blogs  mainly about food but with the odd political rant. 

Thanks to Becci for taking part in the 2015 reviews. 

Vic x

Becci Sharrock

Favourite memory professionally:
It has been a massive year professionally.  On 6th January 2015 I handed in my notice to become a freelance producer.  It seemed like a very scary decision when I started thinking about it in December of the previous year but actually, once I made my mind up, it was like a huge relief and I haven’t looked back. So it’s hard to pick a favourite memory as everything has felt really exciting and new but I’d say it would be very difficult to top having a rehearsed reading of my debut play Yes Chef! at ARC, Stockton.  I was really lucky to have an exceptional cast and director (Cast; Chris Foley, Shane Headlam, Lauren Pattison and Phil Corbitt, Director; Ali Pritchard) and I was really pleased with the result.  It surpassed all of my expectations.  That’s not to say the writing was perfect by any stretch of the imagination but there is nothing that compares to having the words you’ve written, worried about and rewritten, finally read aloud in front of an audience of people you love and to have them laugh or cry or just get caught up in the action, caring about the characters you’ve created.  I’m not sure I would ever have got the play written if it wasn’t for my brilliant mentor Ali Taylor (Fault Lines, Cotton Wool, Overspill) and the wonderful warm fuzzy support and encouragement of the other members of Writers ARCADE.  There was something very special about eight playwrights all going through this process together, learning and making mistakes along the way that I’ll never forget.  It’s also given me the confidence to realise that writing is not just something I enjoy but something I’m good at.  Again, that’s not to say it’s not going to take a lot of development and hard work but I’m now ending the year having made the decision to cut down on my producing to allow time for me to focus on writing and my own creative projects.

Favourite moment from 2015 generally?
I’m not sure I could pick a favourite moment from the year but I’ve definitely been working hard to get a better work life balance, a perk of having control of your own workload and not commuting every day.  So it’s been a year of seeing old friends, making new friends, spending more time with my family and in particular my beautiful cheeky nephew and weekends away in the Lake District.  I’m very lucky to have a partner who supports the slightly chaotic lifestyle that comes with being freelance and working in the arts and it’s been brilliant to be able to spend more time with him this year.  Something else I’ve done more of this year is to have more dinner parties.  Food is a big love of mine and there is something so heart-warming about bringing some of your favourite people together and sharing nice food and conversation around the table.  I’m constantly surprised that people might not all know each other when they arrive but leave feeling like they’re old friends having had lots of laughter along the way.

Favourite book in 2015?
As part of my research for Yes Chef! I read lots of books about life in the kitchen.  The best one was Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.  It was a really gritty, no-holds barred telling of a chef’s life and so vividly described all the kitchens he worked in and the characters he met along the way.  It gave me lots of really useful terminology and helped me think about the setting for the play and what my central character might have to deal with.

In terms of fiction I’ve discovered a couple of chick-lit authors who I now always look out for in my local charity shops; Jenny Colgan and Jane Fallon.  I love Jenny Colgan as there’s more often than not a strong food element in her books (sweet shops, cafes and chocolate shops) and Jane Fallon because though still chick-lit, the stories are less predictable and the characters more ‘real life’.  These are complicated love stories simultaneously exploring complex family relationships, modern moral dilemmas or hidden secrets.

Top song of 2015?

Whenever I’m working from home I always listen to 1xtra, not least because I’m in love with Trevor Nelson.  One of my favourite songs of the year has to be Lady Leshurr’s Queen’s Speech 4.  The song includes the lyrics, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe the cheek, some girls wake up and don’t even brush their teeth.  That’s a dead ting, that’s a bad breath ting’.  It’s a song that always makes me smile and I’d recommend a listen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyodeHtVvkA).  I heard a great interview with Lady Leshurr where she said she was trying to bring back the fun into hip hop.  She referenced Missy Elliott who I’m a big fan of and it made me think of the likes of Ludacris and the Beastie Boys, who I used to love growing up.  I remember watching the music videos on MTV and these guys always made them a piece of entertainment in their own right.  And of course, when you’re working from home and barely remember to get dressed it’s always good to be reminded of the importance of dental hygiene…

Any downsides?
The biggest downside of the year for me was seeing a Tory government re-elected in May.  I won’t get too political (if you want the full rant I wrote an immediate response blog on the morning of the results here) but it really felt like I was witnessing something important, and not necessarily positive, take place.  Nothing since the election has changed my mind that this is not a good thing for our country.  The plus side of it is that it has made me much more politically aware.  I’m more sure than ever that the arts and theatre in particular has a role to play in encouraging political debate and providing a voice for people from different backgrounds and communities.

Resolutions for 2016?
My main resolution for 2016 is to find more time to write.  As a creative producer, I find it immensely satisfying to play a role in helping artists to get their projects of the ground, particularly working with new and emerging artists.  I don’t think that will ever change and next year I’ll be mentoring recent graduates as part of Northern Stage’s NORTH scheme.  However, I think I also owe it to myself to give some of that same time and energy to my own practice and finding out what kind of writer I could be if I put my mind to it.

What are you hoping for in 2016?
I’ll be kicking 2016 off by embarking on a new participatory arts project called Letters to Myself and an exciting new project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. For Letters to Myself, I’m thrilled to have been awarded seed funding from Cultural Spring which will allow us to spend time in communities in South Shields and Sunderland working on the project.  The main focus of the first 6 months will be asking people to consider writing a letter to their past, present or future selves.  I’m really interested in what we would say to ourselves when given the time and space to reflect and within this looking at shared knowledge and experience and how we become better at being our own best friend.  Later in the year, I’ll be creating a new theatre piece, using some of the text from some of the letters (where permission has been granted).  In a world where tragedy and war is common and the news a sometimes constant stream of horror, I hope this piece will be a gentle revolution helping us to take a step back, reflect and learn to love ourselves and those around us.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and wishing you many brilliant things for 2016.

For anyone interested in taking part in Letters to Myself, please email Becci at rjsharrock@hotmail.co.uk


Review: ‘Song of the Hive’ at ARC Stockton

‘Song of the Hive’ was the final act of the eight week stint of Writers’ ARCADE Rehearsed Readings and, although I didn’t manage to see any of the other plays, several of the writers involved in ARCADE intimated that they’d saved the best for last.

Song of the Hive

The bees are dying, Claire’s marriage is on shaky ground and lately she’s had problems finding the right words. When you lose control of your cognitive ability who do you become and what matters most?

Claire used to be able to taste words, now it’s all she can do to find the one she means. Told through a series of fragmented memories, this play is bang up to date in terms of environmental issues – fracking, selling areas of natural beauty to developers. It also felt particularly relevant following the recent general election. I think everyone in the audience could empathise with the helplessness felt by Claire during her struggle to preserve a place – and person – dear to her .

This heartfelt piece combined wider issues of environmentalism and politics with one woman’s struggle to save her marriage whilst trying to overcome progressive aphasia. Every aspect of this story was handled sensitively and the way my allegiance swung between certain characters was expertly crafted to reflect real life. Although this was a script in hand performance, there was no nuance missed and every actor really committed to the piece.

On the drive home, I had a discussion with The Boy Wonder about the play and we both realised we’d come away with different interpretations of certain events. That’s one of the many clever things about ‘Song of the Hive’, it’s ambiguous in the nicest possible way.

I really hope ‘Song of the Hive’ gets the recognition it deserves – and hopefully a tour.

Read more about Allison Davies and ‘Song of the Hive’ at Narc.

Vic x

Allison Davies reviews her 2013.

Allison Davies is one of the best friends a gal can have. I met her – like Michelle – when we did our Masters together and I am so happy to see how her writing career has progressed since we graduated. Now it’s over to Alli to review her 2013.

Vic x

Allison Davies

2013 has been a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?

2013’s been pretty good so it’s hard to pin down a single favourite, though seeing my debut play Weather to Fly get the full production treatment is definitely up there. OddManOut https://www.facebook.com/oddmanouttheatre?fref=ts and our actors did a brilliant job, we got some lovely reviews and it spurred me on to complete another theatre script which may well get an airing in 2014. There are rustlings in the undergrowth so watch this space. And Weather to Fly is touring again in 2014, in the north east and beyond.

And how about a favourite moment from 2013 generally? 

Can I have 20? No? OK. 19 then. Over the course of the year I met some wonderful people and enjoyed a shedload of special moments, but one in particular stands out. It’s got nothing to do with celebrity twerkers or royal shoe sizes mind.  I travel to Nepal occasionally with Danusha, the ethical jewellery project that I help run along with a couple of friends. Back in April we were in Kathmandu when one of our jewellery makers brought her disabled son to the workshop – 6 year old Hitesh. He was a shy kid with huge brown eyes, and all I really wanted to do was get him to crack a smile. He had a battered old toy car and I started playing with it. It didn’t take long before Hitesh and I were legging it up and down the balcony, doing our best Ferrari engine noises, and giggling like, well, 6 year olds. It was pretty special.

As adults I think we often discount the power of play, of letting go and just being, and of seeing what comes. Hitesh is my 2013 hero for reminding me about the things that really matter – relationship, humanity, connection, finding joy in the moment.

I do need to give a special mention to Meerkat TC too. Kats, you are outstanding! Your creative company has been a source of energy and laughter throughout the year and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings.


Favourite book in 2013?

It wasn’t published in 2013, but on my birthday a family member took the trouble to send me a copy of When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson, which has been on my wish list for years. It was a childhood favourite for reasons I won’t bore you with here. Suffice to say I have very few keepsakes from the first 20 years of my life, so when this arrived in the post I was bowled over, especially as it was the edition my Dad gave me on my 7th birthday.

Favourite film of 2013?

Hmmmm. If you’re talking about films released this year it’s a toss-up between The Invisible Lighthouse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_vGHqIvoHg  and Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the cinematography in Life of Pi too. But the best film I saw in 2013 was Lee Chang-Dong’s Poetry. A moving, powerful, thoughtful story and 100% superb!

Favourite song of the year?

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago I’d have said Take These Bones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8bJu5HEnH0   by Fran Smith. I love belting it out at full bore when I drive the Military Road to Cumbria to visit my Mum. But then November came and Pharrell Williams released this understated groove http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM which makes me grin every time I hear it. And then there’s Arcade Fire http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7E0fVfectDo and Alt-J and Nick Cave and London Grammar and Daughter and Thundercat and… Well, you get the picture.

Any downsides for you in 2013?

Nothing major. A few health niggles, and a few people behaving like knackas at times. Grrrrr!  (knacka: Geordie term of mild abuse, meaning idiot, dipstick, plonker. Also testicle. Make of that what you will.)

Are you making resolutions for 2014?

In common with many of your reviewers I don’t really do resolutions, though I’ve come up with a few simple rules for living. Eat more cake. Don’t forget to play. Learn something new. Try not to be a knacka. When, inevitably, you behave like a knacka, apologise. Forgive other people when they behave like knackas, even if it costs you to do it, or alternatively, bop ‘em on the nose with a frozen kipper.

What are you hoping for from 2014?

It would be wonderful if people took a bit more responsibility for their consumption of resources, cared for each other and the planet and lobbied for fair working conditions for those who manufacture the stuff we wear, eat etc. (I’m looking in the mirror here.) We could all do with being more open, and less mean spirited, and I get really angry at some of the things I hear people say about their fellow human beings. Oh, don’t get me started or we’ll be hear all day.

Oh yeah, this is meant to be about writing, isn’t it? Well then, I’d like to get better at it as there’s always something new to learn. I’m interested in working collaboratively so am open to opportunities for that. The magic gets turned all the way up to 11 when there’s more than one person in the room. Otherwise it’s just me at my desk, talking to the people in my head. Cue chicken noises.

I often find it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, so in 2014 I’d like to be a bit more focussed about life in general. I’ve been practicing meditation (mindfulness, breath) for a while now and I find it incredibly helpful.

If Santa was to bring you any one thing you wanted on Xmas morning, what would it be?

I’m spending Christmas and New Year in India which is fab, but I do miss my friends back home, not to mention long walks on bright, cold beaches. So if you’re reading this Mr Santa and if your tuk tuk does late deliveries, please deliver the sound of the North Sea at Druridge Bay when the wind’s blowing easterly and the waves tear up the beach, along with a massive hug from my friends.

I guess what I’m really asking for is a little soul warmth to end the year.

Getting to Know You: Rachel Cochrane

Rachel Cochrane has fancied herself as a scriptwriter for the past 11 years and has now set about producing her own work in radio play form and inflicting it (her words, not mine) upon an unsuspecting public. She also contributed a poem to I Am Woman’s first anthology.

Rachel runs her spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com as a creative entrepreneur but in truth the housekeeping is still a hell of a lot of money down (Shhh!)

You can follow her on Facebook (listenupnorth.com) and Twitter (@listenupnorth)

What is your genre of writing & why?

Despite calling myself a writer, I genuinely find it difficult to be descriptive with words; I see stories in pictures and dialogue and so my natural inclination is to write drama mostly as film and radio plays with some stage plays.

What are your greatest influences?

I live in a village in Northumberland and being from a working class background, I love observing the middle class comedy of manners that exists within such communities.

Also being part of the village am-dram, I am influenced by Alan Aykbourn farces & I love the work of fellow Yorkshireman Alan Bennett which may explain why I enjoy writing monologues.

I have written and produced several radio plays and audio monologues to listen online or download.  These include themes as diverse as windfarms & Alzheimer’s Disease (Tilting at Windmills), running a middle class brothel (Village Notes), domestic abuse (Oranges & Lemons) and the supernatural (Dolly’s House) available to buy as a download in 6 episodes.

You took the decision to start producing your own work.  Can you tell us about this?

As with all writers, I found great difficulty in getting my work taken up and so with the advent of digital media, I decided to have a go at producing my own work as radio plays & putting them out on a dedicated website and available for an audience to hear.

After being accepted on a GLEAM, a creative entrepreneur scheme at Durham University Business School & a Digital City Fellowship at The Institute of Digital Innovation, I developed my spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com. This spoken word entertainment website showcases my own & other writers work in the spoken word form of drama, short stories, poetry, book extracts & interviews.  So far I have uploaded to the site over 200 audio recordings by more than 60 writers.

Any regrets about doing this?

My own writing is no longer a priority and sometimes I long for the time prior to setting up the website when I had the luxury of spending my day as a writer and doing just that. But I realise that if I did return to how things were, then it is highly likely that I would also go back to consigning my finished works to the bookshelf, never to be brought to life.

However, I feel that I have learnt so many new skills setting up & running the website that the experience has been invaluable and a great confidence boost.  I now also feel that my creativity does not just extend to a finished piece of writing but is also a way of thinking and solving problems as well as joining together in collaborations with different artistic people.

What are your current projects?

I recently wrote a series of 6 short films which together make up the story of Celia, Housewife 49ish. With actor Penny Lamport and Digital Media Specialist Shirley Anne Wood, we shot and released the first pilot episode and are developing Celia as her own character on Facebook (Celiatime), Twitter (@celiatime) and through her own blog www.celiatime.wordpress.com.

listenupnorth.com has also launched a spoof short story writing competition based around Celia.  We are looking for highly romanticised tales in the style of our heroine Celia. We want everyone to have fun writing them and the winning entries will be read by Penny Lamport who plays Celia and uploaded as audio files for everyone to hear.  Celia has even found some prize money from her housekeeping! Click here for short story competition details.