Friday, 21 October 2011


This is an old piece I wrote almost a year ago. The original was written for therapeutic purposes, but this is the edited version which I think is safe for public consumption.

I read a blog post today by Jeff Goins, Don't Avoid Painful Writing, the basic gist being that painful writing can not only be healing for the writer but healing for a reader as well, letting them know that other's go through similar situations.

Apologies if anyone feels that posting this is in someway self-indulgent, but it's a piece I'm quite proud of, and I hope that maybe it can be of use to someone.


There's a stillness that doesn't feel like it should be there. Energy is lacking and will, in whatever form, has become negligible. All that happens from time to time is a brief tightening, a release of salted water and forced breath.

So many things that need to be done, should be done, want to be done, but the only thing that does, is sitting. The world passing by that darkened room where shelves creak with books begging to be read, words scrawled on the walls that want to become coherent literature, the images and the sounds sweeping around the brain that have only the desire to be released and made real.

But all that happens is the sitting, alone in that darkened room. The friends that are left ask hey where are you do you want to do something? 
I'll be at work at the weekend, is the reply, come find me there.

The energy that makes that shield at the weekends is exhausted in 3 days, there's none left for the rest of the week. They don't need to see this, don't need to know this, and so the sitting continues until Friday when just enough energy can be mustered to make the shield again.

But those 3 days the music is too loud the voices to harsh the attitudes so obnoxious, the teeth grind, the skin prickles burns itches raises and reddens. Ice soothes it and soon the swellings go down. No-one ever notices. No-one except him. Wow he grins as his fingers run over the bumps. He knows. But he doesn't judge. Can I bite your nose? As the palm connects with the back of his head he whines, at least I asked. Silly boy. He knows. He sees the tactile need simmering beneath the surface and always gives freely. Maybe he knows the stillness too. The sitting.

Every night standing there, ears abused, nostrils choked with the smell of stale alcohol unwashed bodies and lingering cigarette smoke. The crowd is scanned for familiar faces, someone to relieve the tedium, someone to provide a much needed connection to the real world.

So many times the flash of that colour and the trill of that voice breaches the assault on the senses. The heart quickens and adrenaline rushes and for a split second the corners of the mouth begin to twitch up then the crushing remembrance that this joy is no longer allowed, and it immediately turns to dread when the dark hair and low voice follow close behind. Does she notice or is she oblivious? Does she care or is she repulsed? She hugs all the people she knows and the memory of her weight so easily lifted, face pressed to neck as her legs wrap around waist, the tightening is there again and the distance imposed for the rest of the night, as the fear of being the only one available to provide service to her or her cold-eyed love follow throughout the hours. Awareness of her is torture, and the only desire is to witness the smile that used to be, to know that fragment of love in whatever form still exists. Missing her is painful. But when the lights go up and she leaves hand-in-hand with the other, breath comes easier as space is unrestricted and existence is allowed.

The softness of pillows and the tantalising warmth of the blanket block out everything as the oblivion of sleep beckons and is welcomed, all energy gone, spent.

Time is irrelevant. Do this by now but now comes and goes with such speed and yet little recognition. Hope is given then snatched away, the tightness comes and demands release. Then the stillness returns. The stillness that builds, but into what? More sitting. Darkness comes and goes, just like consciousness, awareness, inspiration, energy. 
But there's always sitting.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Story Wall

Hi folks!

Today I'm going to tell you a little bit about my story wall on the request of my friend Julia (she's a much better blogger than I am by the way! Thoroughly spooked me out with a post last night about Mr Able!)

Anyone who's been over to my place since I got back from New Zealand has been confronted by this monstrosity. One friend suggested it was my hit list, last week my new housemate stopped in my door,  pointed at it and said simply "what the hell is that?".

Every time I've done a story wall it's turned out different, but the basic idea is that it's where I can play with my idea's all in one place.

When I was working on my film Stageplay (it was a working title, I still don't have an alternative!) my story wall was loads of scraps of paper and post-it notes with scene summaries so that I could move them around as needed.
The scribbles for Letter's
The play I started working on at Easter Letters To My Mother was and still is in the embryonic stage so it was an opportunity to brainstorm, get down some early character idea's and the major events. It's still up above my bed in case I get a sudden burst of inspiration that needs to be written down. This story needs plenty more time to stew because I don't currently know where it's going.

Now the wall for The Pirate's Daughter has gone a bit crazy over the last few days. For more than a year now it's been 3 large pieces of paper with very few details on them. Names of the main characters, their ages and a photo that looks vaguely like how I imagine them to look. It also had the year the story is set in so I wouldn't forget, and a map of the region, including my imaginary islands.

Something clicked the other day and now you can't see that wall at all. It's covered with wall paper liner.

The section that's grown the most is the character profiles. Over the last year a whole host of new characters has appeared, including a new one last night. Each character gets their own space to tell their story; sometimes it's just fragments of personality, their quirks and habits, while others like to give me a coherent rundown of their history.

Even the ships have their own profiles. I went exploring in the National Maritime Museum while I was working in Greenwich and must have spent well over an hour in the model ship gallery, but I found both my ships, I know what they look like although I've had to bend their histories a little to fit the story.

Right now, probably the most important thing on that wall is the premise sentence. I'm hoping this will help me to maintain focus in the coming months as I make progress on the outline and eventually the first draft.
And just for fun, there's a mock-up of my book cover on there as well :-)
Of course there's plenty of room left over, and a number of strategically placed marker pens, just in case I get any middle of the night Eureka moments.

One slightly odd thing I've noticed about doing this is I can't use straight lines. Sharp edges simply don't have a place on that wall. All the photo's and most of the sheets of paper have to be torn, when I tried to use scissors it just made me cringe.

On the other side of the room, behind my laptop, there's a couple more important pieces of paper, things I need to keep in mind to make the story as good as possible.

The cross-sectioned plan of the ship has become my bible! I had no idea where anything could be found on a ship before I found this, and hopefully it will allow me to guide my readers around the vessel without getting them completely confused.

In the next few days I'll be adding a list of each of the characters key personality traits.

The point of view list has proven invaluable already. Back in August I read a post by Kristen Lamb (author of the best-selling writers social media guide We Are Not Alone) about P.O.V Prostitution. I don't recall ever being guilty of head-hopping but I was definitely guilty of switching from the omniscient P.O.V. to third person shifting, at which point I think every character in the book was fighting over the "camera". So I took her advice and locked it down to just the three primary characters, which has caused a few problems, but I'll work around those eventually.

Does anybody else use something similar, or completely different to explore their stories?

Monday, 3 October 2011

"Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied" - A comment on Shakespeare

Hamlet and the true star of the show :-)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are mine alone, and not necessarily reflected by the theatre company.

I'm not exactly Shakespeare's biggest fan. I have a lot of respect for the bard, he was a prolific author, a great story-teller, and as a writer-in-training I've learned a lot from him. But ask me to go see a Shakespeare production and I'm unlikely to jump at the chance.

So when I got a call from the Galleon Theatre Company asking if I'd be interested in stage managing their upcoming production of Hamlet, I was a little wary. I do have a habit of zoning out during shows once I've been op-ing them for more than a week; not to the extent I miss cues, my brain has usually trained itself to wake up when I hear key-lines, but it takes a very special production to keep my attention throughout an extended run. I didn't expect Hamlet, a show that normally comes in around the four hour mark to be one of those.
At my interview, the producer and director quickly changed my mind. Just the energy and enthusiasm they had for this show was infectious, and as I spoke to them I garnered more about their ideals and values when it comes to theatre. I wanted to do this show.

Bruce Jamieson, the director, and co-founder of Galleon, has an uncanny knack of zoning in on the crucial elements of Shakespeare's works, unpicking the threads and thus slimming down the play to it's core story-lines. This production of Hamlet sees four hours reduced to two and a half (with the interval!) and twenty scenes across five acts reduced to fourteen.

The set design, complimented by Robert Gooch's lighting
To compliment this streamlined script, the design team took it into the gothic-romantic Victorian era. Russell Fisher's set design consists of an intricately detailed, slightly ambiguous image on the back wall that seems to morph with the lighting and changing atmosphere of the play. We've had audience members go up and touch the wall after the show to prove to themselves it is a 2D texture-less painting. The only set dressing is a "stone" bench and two gothic torches. Eleanor Wdowski's costume design gives the gents a dapper edge and the ladies are understatedly glamorous.
All in all, the design transports you to another place and compliments the action without distracting.

Claudius and Gertrude
Now add to this a phenomenal cast. Bruce Jamieson as Claudius is actually scary, unlike many portrayals of the character you get the impression he'd happily handle the problems he must delegate to others himself. Darren (or is that Derek?) Stamford's Horatio is stalwart and endearing; Kevin Millington's Osric deliciously camp; Barry Clarke's Polonious wonderfully funny, intentionally and obliviously; Andrew Leishman's gravediggers apprentice is doting yet moronic; Peter Rae's Laertes stoic and constant to his goals.

Robin Holden has to be applauded in his role as Hamlet. It's a daunting enough task just learning all those soliloquies, but unlike a number of Shakesperian performances I've witnessed, he feels and understands where every word is coming from. Jane Stanton plays Gertrude, and though younger than commonly cast for the part, her grace and modesty shine through as she transitions from love-struck newlywed to doubting and suspicious wife. Rosencrantz and Guildernstern (played by Millington and Leishman respectively) have a delightful dynamic, in synch with each other, but also competing for the influential favour. Currently Guildernstern has Hamlet's favour, it'll be interesting to see if this shifts by the end of the run. You can't help but smile at Elana Martin's Ophelia; she's sweet and a little bit cheeky, which makes her descent into madness all the more distressing.
The gravedigger and her assistant

Of course mention has to be made of Elizabeth Donegan's varied roles in this production. She successfully makes the player queen, Ophelia's lady and the gravedigger very different and lively characters. The same can be said of Christopher Peacock in his roles as the ghost, the player king and the priest.

And Hamlet is not complete without a proper fight. Phenomenally choreographed by Ian McCracken, the intimate nature of the venue means the audience feel the danger of every sweep of the blades.

But where would any show be without the love and support of it's producer. Unlike so many theatre producers, Alice De Sousa is hands-on in the process and is constantly letting the company know that she's enjoying their work, rather than just telling them what needs to be improved. This lady has been a steadfast advocate of the arts for many years, and despite all the hardships the industry has no doubt thrown at her, her passion is unwavering.

The dual between Hamlet and Laertes
In my opinion, this is one production of Hamlet that won't be easily beaten. Yes, I work for the company, call me biased if you want, but I don't rave about the shows I work on that I don't enjoy. Remember what I said above about zoning out during shows after a week? We're three weeks into the run and it's not happened!

I believe this is the direction Shakespeare productions need to move in. I sympathise with the traditionalists who feel it's verging on sacrilegious to edit Hamlet the way it has been here, but in order for the bard to maintain his status, we have to acknowledge that this generation simply don't have the attention span for traditional Shakespeare.

I studied Hamlet at A-level, spent two months scrutinising and analysing the text. When I got asked to work on this production, how much of that did I remember? Not much! I had to go back through the text one night in search of speeches that had been reclaimed in rehearsals and I got lost. Who were these people? What was going on?

Shakespeare was a master at weaving together story-lines, and that's all well and good to have lot's of extra characters and action happening around the main plot, but you'll have more chance of that being appreciated in a novel than a play. In a novel you've got your own time to get your head around who everyone is and what's happening, but when you're seeing a play, you're being bombarded with information from start to finish.

It's understandable that those who do know the plays extremely well may have been slightly jarred by the absence of a scene or the moving of a soliloquy. But ultimately, this generation isn't as aware of Shakespeare as previous generations. That's a sad fact, but entertainment has to evolve in much a similar way as species do. Even with my advantage of being slightly more tuned into the language as a result of taking part in Tudor re-enactments, I find it difficult to engage what's being said in front of me. If you're lucky you get a company who are very in tune with the text and convey it effectively, but woe-betide if you get a company who can give a great dramatic delivery but actually don't know what they are saying.

The same can be said of the world of publishing. Recently I've been reading a number of Victorian novels as research for The Pirate's Daughter, and despite being brilliant stories, having to wade through information dumps and pages and pages of description can be extremely tiring. Modern novels are a lot more streamlined; adjectives, adverbs and similes are frowned upon unless delivered with great skill.

Ophelia in her madness
Ultimately, adaptations like this are the only way to prevent Shakespeare (many generations from now) slipping into obscurity. Galleon Theatre's streamlined production of Hamlet remains true to the core of the story, while being accessible to the new generation.

Hamlet is playing at the Greenwich Playhouse in London until 9th October 2011.
Tickets can be booked here.