My first commission as a writer was for BBC schools' radio. Since then my radio work has spanned original plays, dramatisations, commercial soap opera, children's drama, BBC World Service education programmes, and features.
Speech radio's a wonderfully flexible medium. It provides rare opportunities to explore the links between drama, poetry, prose and music theatre. Its timescales and production costs demand direct collaboration between writer, producer and actors. I love its juxtapositions of sound and silence.
|Review by Sue Arnold, The Guardian|
Some of my most satisfying radio work has been dramatization and adaptation, which requires a mixture of deference and arrogance. You have to work on the original text until it sinks into your subconscious and then risk your own, new act of creation. I also love working on audiobooks, as a reader, a writer, or both.
All this, along with current audience growth and the creative possibilities of online listening, keeps bringing me back – not least because the comparative briefness of the actors' time commitment in radio can lead to incredibly exciting casting.
My first television scripts were written over thirty years ago, for UK children's, educational and documentary programmes, commissioned by the BBC and ITV. Like my writing for radio, they began as extensions of my work as an actress and voice artist, and eventually led to commissions for original tv dramas and contributions to returning series.
The longer I live, the more I look for rigour, subtlety and wit in creative art. In television drama I want to tell stories about real people's fears, stupidities, inconsistencies, idiosyncrasies and triumphs, revealing the everyday as well as the extreme. A tv drama needs inner logic and resonance, a crafted structure and pace. It also needs humour and warmth, even – maybe especially - if the subject matter's dark. And, I'd argue, it needs characterization and casting that reflect the reality, not an airbrushed version, of the communities, societies and periods it deals with.
For all tv writers the challenge of the unknown is thundering down the track, as analogue switchoff and convergence sweep away boundaries between delivery methods, and television as a concept will become history.
If we're going to meet that challenge the current boundaries between media, between art-forms, and between creators, producers and broadcasters, have to be re-examined. It's a creative debate that so far, inevitably, seems to be throwing up as many questions as answers.
Tim Williams, a former colleague of mine and founder of White Label Media, is at the forefront of that process of questioning and analysis. I love his blog at www.nolabelsmedia.com
Words have always been central to my work. So some years ago I became interested in the challenge of writing a screenplay driven by visuals in which dialogue was minimal.
The result was the first draft of The Stock, a feature-length psychological thriller set in contemporary Ireland, written with funding from The Irish Film Board.
The Stock’s setting came out of the experience of seeing the effects of four forces - declining agriculture; growth in technology; immigrant labour; and the consequent cultural and economic disenfranchisement of the rural poor.
Its central theme is the underlying psychological truths in traditional folk rituals and beliefs. The characters are two middle-aged brothers, their mother, and one brother’s twenty-four year-old, pregnant Polish girlfriend.
This is an extract from an appraisal by my script editor, novelist Kate O’Riordan:
"The Stock is a dark and intense work with a deliberate sense of claustrophobia and well delineated throb of menace throughout, culminating in what is essentially a bloodbath. It’s about the rivalry between two brothers and how the characters see new life as a threat to the secret bonds and unspoken agreements that a mother and her two sons have sealed together…... much of the language, …. lies in tiny details, nuances almost. Much is implied .It’s a powerful, deliberately stylised piece of story-telling."
For much of my life I've studied the interface between oral and literary traditions, and between language and the visual arts, subjects I came back to in my memoir, The House on an Irish Hillside.
In the last few years I've been thinking about how the internet parallels the processes of linking, sharing and preserving that are central to oral cultures. I'm not sure where that thought's going yet but it's found a new focus in the creation and maintenance of an online relationship with The House on an Irish Hillside's international readership via the book's Facebook page.
It's also led me to re-examine ideas I first came to grips with in 1997/8 when I co-created a ground-breaking CD-ROM. (The Art Of Singing JHM/Notting Hill, BIMA (British Interactive Multimedia Association) Award winner 1998)).
The aim of The Art of Singing was to combine games-based entertainment with deeper, wider exploration of facts, and conceptual analysis. Our starting point was an exploration of intuitive navigation and non-linear narrative. These are often seen as unique to interactive digital product but, in fact, you find them in every art form - my favourite example in literature is Sterne's Tristram Shandy.
Collaborating with programmers whose dominant language is maths-based is good discipline for a wordsmith. On The Art Of Singing things were complicated by yet another language, music notation. (There was an interesting moment when the notes of a piece by Mozart were rearranged by a designer to whom they were just visual images, not symbols for sounds.)
I co-created the disc's concept and visual interface, conceived and scripted non-linear, dramatic audio and video material, and wrote the 120,000 word text database. Subsequently I worked on localising the disc for Japan. The translation and associated cultural issues were complex and required constant refocusing on what we intended to say.
I also worked on concepts and interactive audio script for The Evolution of Life, Richard Dawkins Notting Hill CD-ROM (1997).