Creative writing – using archives to inspire

Workshop poster I jointly led a creative writing workshop at the Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre on 11 July.

The idea of the workshop was to find out how to use the Archives’ amazing collection of local information as a basis or inspiration for a short story.

The three hour session was attended by a group of 13, and comprised of writing exercises and a time for the participants to research and begin writing their own stories.

Here are some of the interesting and inspirational local facts (and fictions) we discovered…

Noted 19th century artist and patricide Richard Dadd was born in Brompton and murdered his father near Cobham, before calmly walking back to The Crown in Rochester and washing his hands, before fleeing for France!

In 1661, Transylvanian prince Cossuma Albertus was buried at Rochester Cathedral. According to Samuel Pepys in his diary Cossuma was murdered by his own coachman near Gad’s Hill. Rumours still persist that the unlucky prince was a vampire!

On D-Day in 1944, an American bomber crashed on Corporation Road in Gillingham after a mid-air collision.

And then there’s the legend of the Medway Bogman… Neck broken, lolling backwards, hunting dogs straining at the leash from either arm, hangman tattoo on his shoulder, haunting the streets of Medway in the dead of night. This mysterious legend, myth or outright lie, (from Medway Towns, Ottaker’s Local History Series, 2001) tells the story of a mysterious Neolithic zombie who may or may not have been involved in a child’s murder in the 1930s, and may or may not have escaped from Eastgate House during the war, never to be seen again since the 1950s when an exorcism was carried out at Upchurch.

Witchcraft, wife-selling, ‘beastly intoxication’, a ventriloquist in court, and a female bargeman are all other local factual stories that could inspire fictional stories!

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‘Maid in Kent’ at Lounge on the Farm

She Writes is 17Percent’s Whitstable-based, popular showcase of new playwriting by women, which I programme and produce. For Lounge on the Farm we have been invited to present a selection of new short plays by Kentish women writers, entitled ‘Maid in Kent’.

The show at Lounge on the Farm will feature five of our most popular short plays, all written by Kentish authors, myself included. The plays chosen have aliens, a sea monster (that’s mine!), a psycho-killer, a date that goes horribly wrong and a pair of women whose interest in celebrity cookware goes too far.

She Writes is a showcase organised by 17Percent, the organisation I run, which supports and promotes female writers. Currently only 17% of the plays which get onto UK stages are written by women. She Writes brings women’s playwriting to a bigger audience and shows that women’s writing is as diverse, funny, touching, unexpected, and lyrical, as are women themselves.

My play is called See monsters and it’s about story-telling in the days of the sagas. It features a shady story-teller and a clever barmaid… and a couple of glove puppets!  

Picture of sea monster glove puppet

‘See monsters’

‘Maid in Kent’ will be performed in the Playhouse Theatre, Lounge on the Farm, Merton Farm, Canterbury / 6 July 2012, time TBA / Ticket info: http://www.loungeonthefarm.co.uk

We will be repeating the show at The Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable, CT5 1AF / 18 July 2012, 7PM / Tickets: £5 /4 concs / Time: Doors 7PM, Finishes: 9.30PM / http://www.horsebridge-centre.org.uk

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17Percent showcases

Maid in Kent flier

Lounge on the Farm, 6 July 2012

17Percent is an organisation I founded, which supports and promotes female playwrights. We run regular showcases on a 2-monthly-ish schedule in Whitstable in Kent, highlighting new plays by women. The events give Kent audiences an opportunity to see new work by women.   There are several events coming up over the summer.

20 June 2012 – ‘Lucky Dip’ at the Horsebridge, Whitstable

She Writes showcase presents 7 short plays by writers on an open theme. There will be a surprising revelation about a glamorous Hollywood actress, a sixteenth century food taster, and a ventriloquist’s dummy to just give a few hints as to the varied contents of our lucky dip!

6 July 2012 – ‘Maid in Kent’ at Lounge on the Farm, Canterbury

We are pleased to be able to announce that we will be performing a show at Lounge on the Farm, in the theatre tent, on Friday afternoon. The time is still to be confirmed – so if you are going – look out for us!

18 July 2012 – ‘Maid in Kent’ at the Horsebridge, Whitstable

And for those who couldn’t make the Lounge on the Farm festival, we will be repeating the plays for our Whitstable audience at the Horsebridge. ‘Maid in Kent’ features 5 of our most popular short plays by Kent-based writers. In the line-up we have aliens, sea monsters, a psycho-killer, cookery show obsessed matrons and a disasterous first date.

WPIC 2012  

I have also been invited to speak on a panel at the Women Playwrights’ International Conference in August, in Stockholm and will be happy to represent 17Percent.

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Shadow poem

Beasticide (with apologies to L Carroll)

‘Twas an icy earn and the skully cross

Did shriek and bixter cross the waves:

All frosty were the Rodericks

Along with the smiling Maves.

 

Hast thou seen the Rochester Beast, my friend!

Dripping jaws and horrible teeth, scranning oysters on the beach!

Beware the Rochester Beast, my friend

Lest you should come to a horrible end!

 

“My ducks!” Their keeper then exclaimed.

“Oh how it crunches, yums and scoffs,

The empty nest, downy remains.

Will no one slay this termonious monst?”

 

And, whiles he stood in watery eye,

The Rochester Beast, of whom they sang,

Came flupping right out of the sky,

And landed with a bang!

 

We sought the beast, we found it here,

We took our sticky-things in hand

Bashed it, crashed it, slopped it in the ear!

Joyelous singalogue filled the land.

“The monst is slain?” “Yes in its brain.”

“ Fan-hoorah, fan-hooray, tovarisch moy,

Ducks once more I will regain”

He chortled in his joy.

 

‘Twas an icy earn and the skully cross

Did shriek and bixter cross the waves:

All frosty were the Rodericks

Along with the smiling Maves.

The shadow puppets in the film

The shadow puppets in the film

A little bit of fun for a cold Thursday in April. See the video! Part of the Medway Meanderings  poetry-writing-walking project.

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A night of short plays with an international flavour

Kevin Molloy - Anna Farnworth in 'Under Trust' by Hannah Rodger

Kevin Molloy - Anna Farnworth in 'Under Trust' by Hannah Rodger

I programmed and hosted the latest 17Percent ‘She Writes’ evening on 21 March. Nine plays with a loose international theme were selected. Plays covered a broad range of topics and styles, including my own Nordic saga; ‘Sea monsters’, and can be seen on the 17Percent youtube channel.

She Writes gives women writers a chance to be heard.  

Currently only 17% of the plays which get onto UK stages are written by women. There has been much research about the gender discrimination faced by female playwrights in the theatre. Women are simply less likely to have their work performed, especially if they don’t have a track record. So how is a possibly new female playwright ever to get her work on? She Writes is a place where this can happen.

Writers with little or no experience are as likely to be chosen for the showcase as those with more experience. We have showcased work by first time writers and writers whose work has been shown internationally. It’s not about your writing background, just a case of if your writing grabs us. It’s also an opportunity to develop your writing, I read all the plays and give short development notes. It is also extremely helpful to see your words spoken by actors, because you get a feel for the theatricality of your work.

It also gives female actors a chance to be seen.

Another problem in the UK theatre is lack of good roles for female actors, especially older actors. I aim to programme a balance of writing, which has diverse roles for young and old, male and female. In reflecting this, our actors also have varied backgrounds; some of them are drama students, others are more experienced, some run their own theatre companies. All are local to Kent.

Anne + Kevin Molloy, Sam Pearson in 'Sea monsters' by Sam Hall

Anne + Kevin Molloy, Sam Pearson in 'Sea monsters' by Sam Hall

The next She Writes evening is on 20 June. It will have a lucky dip submissions policy. To find out more visit the She Writes website.

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From Aphra Behn to the angry young women – 400+ years of female playwrights

Picture of Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn

I am giving a lecture on the UK’s female playwrights on Thursday.

When I was first asked to do this talk I thought it would be quite a simple thing to do – after all how many female playwrights can anyone name, who’s not a specialist? Even I didn’t have a very big list. So I was going to do a top ten starting with Kent-girl and spy Aphra Behn in the 1600s and finishing with the recent batch of next big things.

However as I started researching, I discovered to my joy, that there have been far more women influential not only in playwriting, but also in theatre management and shaping the theatre as we know it today.

So my talk today will focus on a number of playwrights who you might not have heard of – or you might know, but not realise you knew –  but also have the foolishly ambitious aim of giving an overall context of the last 400 years of British women’s contributions to the theatre. Go girls!

More info on the talk in The Medway Times.

My article about Aphra in WOW magazine, (click on current issue, then go to p16).

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Meandering the Medway (2)

Keep Out sign

Keep Out

This poem is composed of found words from our second walk along the Medway, from Horrid Hill to The Strand in Gillingham. These were not the only signs forbidding us to do things, just a few of them. Read all about the journey here.


Little red circles

Little red circles with a line through the middle
Mark the passage of our walk

These hazards are present on this site:
Sudden drop / deep water / slippery surface / danger – deep mud /
ragged edges / subject to flash flooding / beware tidal conditions /

From youth the first word we hear
Is no,
You can’t hold the lead,
You will let it go.

If you fail to clear up after your dog you will be liable
to an on-the-spot fine. Please do not be selfish, think of others.

Don’t ride your bike there –
Careful boys, come away,
You’re going to fall.

Warning – deep water

Where’s your sister?

Any person caught damaging boats
Will be prosecuted

Clean it up

Warning. Keep Out.
Danger of being struck by golf balls.

Private Keep Out

Trespassers will be violated

This space is ours on sufferance
They won’t let us forget it is really theirs.

We negotiate this space

We forge our own lines of desire
But they’re not even our own
Scrubbed into the earth, just
Following those who went before us.

Please don’t light fires
Please don’t pick wildflowers
Please don’t disturb the wildlife
Please put your litter in the bin

Little red circles with a line through the middle
Mark the passage of the walk
Mark the passage of time.

Read more about this walk on The Estuary Monologues.

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Meandering the Medway (1)

Picture of a rusty boat

Horrid Hill abandoned vessel

I have been persuaded to do some walking along the River Medway. Phase one involved a walk from Otterham Creek  to Horrid Hill. And here is a poem that the walk inspired.

Interrogating the detritus

It is interesting to see what people throw into the river
/ or what falls from boats
/ or what people bring specifically to leave behind.

Though once they liked this thing
They don’t care about it anymore.

Abandoned and rotting hulls of vessels,
Poking up green and skeletal from the mud
Like the carcasses of mammoths, or more pertinently, whales.

We make up stories about
The smuggler, or the pyrate, or the asylum seeker,
Or Bonnie and Poppy’s dad,
Who sailed the boat, but

Though once they liked this thing
They don’t care about it anymore.

We see the trolley freed from its supermarket shackles,
Still pristine, made from some rustproof alloy,
Wallowing in the mud.
How many years before it sinks completely from view?
We see tyres, miles from any roads,
We see traffic cones (of course),
emerging primeval from the goo.
Plastic bags flutter in the trees,
in the breeze like grungy ghosts.

We see a rusted box the size of a small safe,
that fell from somewhere a long time ago.
No longer metal, just flaking green and red.
Weed latches onto its sides;
The salty water corrodes it;
And one day it will cease to exist.
Dissolving to be a part of the river.

And though its owners once liked it,
They don’t care about it anymore.

 

*You can find more info about the walk on The Estuary Monologues site.

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She Writes – another wonderful night of short plays by women

Pic of Cast and director
The cast and director

I programmed and hosted the second of the 17Percent ‘She Writes’ nights on 7 December.

The range of plays showcased was very wide – even though it fitted to the theme of a meal. Cannabalistic aliens, angsty ad execs, a couple of murderesses – one more psychotic than the other, the story of Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden, and a grown-up (and gone to seed) Mary and Joseph were amongst the treats on display.
What I enjoy most about these nights is seeing how the plays change from page to performance. Sometimes a play has something that you can’t define when you’re reading it, but you know that there is something there and it becomes magic once it’s read out loud. Sometimes a play that reads well and you think is great doesn’t work as well on stage. Getting to see (and acknowledge) which your play is, is an important part of the development process for a writer, and as someone who programmes the event, is also important, though I think we’ve managed to achieve a high proportion of plays that really work in the She Writes nights so far.
Thanks to the cast and director who interpreted the plays, and thanks to all the writers who have submitted work. The next She Writes night is on 21 March 2012. It has an international theme as it is during International Women’s Month.
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Seeing what you say: words inspiring pictures

 

Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011

Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011

 

‘By shooting these set of black and white photos, I want to show our state of mind as a collective, living in the city of London.’ Naomi James, photography student, UEL

I responded to a call out on the ArtsJobs website for writers to send work to inspire photography students at the University of East London. I sent a selection of work from Barry and myself (mainly from the Encyclopaedia) and was delighted that one of Barry’s pieces – a prose poem called ‘Glow’ about how it never gets dark in cities, was selected.

We went to The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club at the end of November to an event organised by the photography students and their tutors, to see the photos and read ‘Glow’. I documented the night in a short film. We were really impressed by the work on show.

Several students chose to interpret Barry’s text and I interviewed one of them, Naomi James, about her responses to the poem and how it inspired the pictures.

‘As people who live in one of the most lit cities in the world, (…) We are in a state of constant distraction. When do we ever get the chance to be in complete stillness whilst being in our ‘awake’ state in darkness? Are we afraid of the dark? Are we afraid of hearing our own voices without diversion?’ Naomi James

I have been thinking a lot about creative collaboration recently, so I think it’s great that the first year photography students at UEL are being encouraged to respond to, collaborate with and investigate other artforms from the very start of their course. It occurs to me, that so often once someone becomes a little successful in their artform that they seem to focus in tightly on that, becoming very protective of it, and lose interest in working with artists in other disciplines.

Working with artists in other fields has always been what excites me, to develop my own practice and to hopefully stimulate other’s thinking too.  Perhaps this is because my primary focus has been writing for the theatre, and I’ve been involved in a very hands-on way with producing my plays, so I have always been very aware of cross-disciplinary working. And always been willing to have a go at things I wouldn’t call myself an expert in, (including making props, hanging sets and giving notes!)

The brief for this project, part of the course was, ‘Seeing what you say’ and the photographers had to respond to pre-existing writing. A further, and more exciting, step would have been to create some new work together; a new mix of words and pictures, and perhaps there will be a possibility to do that in the future.

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