My play about human trafficking is going to be at the Edinburgh Festival from 7-18th August. If you are up there – do try to see it! See more on the website.
Featured below – photos from the 2015 tour of the play.
My short story ‘The Space Between Us’ has been published on Alphabet Soup. The story is written from three points of view and tells the story of three characters who are linked by a terrible accident. The editors said about the story: “The writing is consistently beautiful, the characters interestingly developed, and the voices clear”.
Alphabet Soup is a blog dedicated to showcasing short stories, and publishes a new story each week.
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!
Sam Hall, organiser of Medway-based live literature night ‘Write Now!’ and founder of 17Percent, an organisation for female playwrights talks you through setting up a new live literature night.
I have been organising and hosting live literature readings under ME4 Writers’ ‘Write Now!’ banner for two years. It’s an occasional live night of readings, fun activities and cupcakes, with the aim of introducing and showcasing a variety of genres of writer, with the emphasis on local writers. I have also organised showcase and discussion nights for female playwrights, and am developing a new playwriting night to start in Kent in Autumn.
Organising events can be stressful and hard work, it can make you feel uneasy (especially waiting for the audience to turn up!), but it’s massively rewarding and fun, once the event is in swing. This article is to help you set up your own live literature event.
It gets easier really quickly
The first event I put on was a baptism of fire; though I had helped out at events and arranged fundraising parties for plays before, I had never really organised and hosted an event. But somehow I ended up organising and hosting four literary events in as many weeks. I was sick with nerves before the first event. But as soon as you’ve done it once, you know whether it’s for you or not. Fortunately, it was for me.
The key is planning and organisation. I’d also say you need a back-up plan and to be flexible as people always drop-out at the last minute. It’s all about what you can get done for free or very little money – you would be surprised how helpful people will be, once you explain what you’re doing.
Plan before you act
Think about why you are doing the event, what are its aims and where would be a good venue. I think that ‘because it’d be cool to do a literary night on a boat’ is as valid as ‘I want to introduce new writers to the community’ – as long as you can back up both reasons with solid planning. If it is on a boat – think about maybe giving it a nautical theme. If you do go for an unusual venue, check out that whoever owns it has the relevant public liability insurance.
Have a theme
When I became editor of a Camden magazine, the first thing I did was to introduce a theme to the issues. A random collection of articles doesn’t give the reader a satisfactory emotional journey, it’s more fun to dip in and out of. I think the best literary nights take you on an emotional journey, so think about the order and try to start and finish with your strongest writers. The theme could be very loose, and every writer will interpret the theme differently – at least, make sure they do, as no-one wants to hear five pieces of writing that are all of the same pace, and the same story.
Brevity is best
Keep individual stories down to 1000 words, or less (works out around 8-10 minutes when read). Unless you have a brilliant storyteller, listening to the same person telling a story becomes soporific – maybe this is due to where we are used to hearing stories, as children, at bedtime. In fact you want to try and get some brilliant readers involved if you can – a point I deal with later.
A slot for a poet should also be no more than 6-10 minutes. This could be as little as reading 1-3 poems – they can always do more later, if time allows, it is important to break up the sound of the reading voices and the styles of writing. Make sure you stick to the running order, so you don’t end up with writers who haven’t had a chance to perform as other people have run on.
Venues are the thing that cause me the most angst. Ideally you want the venue to donate the space for free in return for bringing an audience in to buy drinks and/or food. You also want a venue that can be shut off from other customers in some way – if it’s in a pub – a room above it is better than a space at the back next to the loos, where people who have just come in to have a quiet drink will be irritated by your literary venture. If it is a room in a pub, go to the venue at the same day and time your event will be held on, to check out the ambient noise. I once had a play performed in a pub where the men’s loos were right behind the stage. This meant at one point during a particularly emotional moment on stage, the actors were interrupted by someone in the loos having a loud argument.
What venue suits what you’re doing? If it’s a Halloween night – can you do your reading in a church crypt? If it’s a cafe – will they open after hours so that the coffee machine isn’t steaming away whilst your readers try to perform.
If the venue charges a fee for the space, then work out how much you will need to charge to cover your costs via an entry fee. Talk to the venue owner or manager, once they know what you’re doing isn’t going to make loads of money (sorry, but it isn’t), and will bring in new customers, they might give you a discount, or give you the venue for free in exchange for including their logo on your publicity. If it’s an unusual venue, check whether you might need permission from the owner, and think about insurance.
Readers vs writers
Do you have any actor friends who might like to showcase their reading skills for the night? Sometimes writers are brilliant at reading their own work, but sometimes a reader can bring something extra to it. For the writer, particularly of drama, it’s often really helpful to hear someone else perform your work, so you can check out what works.
Most likely you won’t be able to offer your contributors a fee, but you could offer 2 free tickets if you are charging, and reduced price tickets for friends. They could also bring copies of their pamphlets/books to sell. And of course they will be promoting their writing. If you have a friend who is well-known or already on the live literature circuit – invite them as a guest and let them do a 10-minute guest slot. Make sure you put their name on your fliers and other promotional materials.
Always have a Plan B in case somebody is ill on the day or can’t make it. If you are a writer yourself bring some extra poems or a story, just in case.
What else could you do to make the evening more fun – can you do a quiz or some sort of raffle? We usually giveaway free cupcakes! Books are always good prizes, you could choose second hand books to fit the theme.
Have you got an artistic friend who can design you an eye catching flier? Think about unusual fliers – there are many online companies who will print 250 business cards very cheaply – could you use these as fliers? Do you have access to b+w printing at work? Printing black on coloured paper can be eye-catching. You need to start thinking about your fliers and posters about 6 weeks before the day, so that you can get willing helpers to plant them about.
Use all your social networks – set up a Facebook page and invite people to your event, Tweet about the event, make a blog – but don’t send out too many invites to the same event. It’s annoying. At the end of any email messages ask people to pass it on to someone who might like it – you’d be surprised how many extra people this will get your message out to. Make sure the venue has copies of your flier and lists the event on their website. If there are local writing and reading groups, let them know about it too. Libraries are a good place to put an A4 poster.
Find out the local papers contact info and get your event listed – this normally takes just an email, and a lot of listings websites have an online submission form. If your event is a bit wacky or topical you might even find yourself interviewed by the local paper, as I was for an ME4 Writers Alternative Royal Wedding Open Mic event!
Finally get your contributors to bring all their friends along! If you are charging entry maybe offer a pound off for contributors’ friends and family, using a guestlist. That way you can usually get a bit of an idea about numbers before the day – which can be quite reassuring.
On the day you have to get to the venue at least half an hour early – sometimes audience members will turn up early and you have to decide whether to let them sit there and watch you set up, or whether to ask them to go to the bar. If your venue has a bar or cafe, that’s great, but if not you have to decide if you want to risk sending that person away, as they might not come back. You might have to set up seats and move tables – so if you are concerned about spoiling your clothes – bring your best stuff to change into. Now is where it really helps if you’ve got some friends to share tasks with. Check audio is working if using a mic, (hopefully you will have a techy friend or group member who can sort the audio-visuals out for you.) Make sure you know where the toilets and the fire exit are and let people know in your introduction.
If there are a few of you – assign roles, one person to meet and greet, one person to collect entry fees, one person to look after the contributors and let them know where they are in the lineup and how long their set is. Let them know where and when they can sell their pamphlets/books if they’ve got some. If one of you is a good photographer, get them to take some photos of the event or video, and post them on Facebook and Youtube after. You should let people know that there may be photos/film taken of them and let them say no, if they don’t want to be on film.
In your intro make sure you let people know the format of the evening – eg, half an hour, followed by a break, followed by another half hour, and thank the audience and writers/readers for coming.
At the end thank everyone again and let them know they can join an email list to find out about upcoming events – have a book and pen ready at the back of the room!
So that’s the event done.
It doesn’t end there though! Now’s the time to collect some informal feedback and use it to make your next event even better. You can do this with a comment form, or just ask people what they thought and if there was anything they would like to see next time.
I really enjoy arranging live literature events because from the point of view of a writer, there is nothing like hearing your words read by someone and seeing the effect they have on the audience. It’s hard work but it is worthwhile, and I think it’s an essential way for new writers to get their work out there. Good luck with your event!
Sam Hall is a writer, mostly of drama and short stories. Her stories have been performed at ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ and are published by Ether Books. She hosts ‘Write Now!’ events with other members of ME4 Writers, the Medway writing group she leads.
I interviewed Gill Kirk for the Inspiring and Interesting women series for 17percent.
We met up in Bath exactly a year to the day that we first met, at the 17percent mini-festival of new work and discussion ‘Why? and What Next?’, where her play ‘The king was in his counting house’ a satire on the banking crisis, was showcased.
We talked about how she’s been getting on – really well – with a couple of plays due to go into production and several in development. We also talked about the growing South West theatre scene, which seems incredibly vibrant – and I’ll be doing a feature on it next month for 17percent.
We also talked about juggling caring responsibilities and whether there is a place for political theatre in an apolitical world, though as Gill points out, there is political in the personal, and I think we’re all getting a bit more politicised right now. Gill also offers some advice to other writers especially those who may have changed career and come to writing later.
You can see the interview with Gill on the 17percent Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/17percentcampaign
I delivered this ‘lecture’ as part of ME4 Writers live literature event on 5 March. You can find out more about ME4 Writers at http://me4writers.wordpress.com.
Trend it like Beckham
Deciding to permanently alter your body is the ultimate statement of self-possession.
For centuries people have altered the way they look – temporarily with clothes and make up – or more permanently with tattoos, scars and piercings.
This body is mine and I reclaim it from fashion and fad by making the additions and refinements that please me.
The first piercings and tattoos were used for the dual purpose of ritual and decoration.
Giant holes in the earlobes of the ancient Mayans signify not only high standing, but also participation in the important religious ceremony of piercing.
In Africa scarring on the face represents a complex language in itself.
An old Maori endurance ritual involves being tattooed from head to foot with no anaesthetic.
Sailors of former and latter days used tattoos and earrings as a corporeal chart, their bodies mapping their voyages in a secret language.
The swallow is similar to the bluebird tattoo in that they both represent hope, but the swallow is also considered to be a nautical tattoo. Sailors would celebrate after seeing a swallow as it meant that their journey was almost over and that they were close to land.
For many sailors each journey would be represented by another swallow on their sleeve and a swallow with a dagger through it would mean that they had lost a friend at sea.
Across the globe people have reshaped their bodies – by removing ribs, elongating necks, or flattening foreheads in the attempt to transcend the everyday into the holy.
It was perhaps the ultimate empowerment: this body is mine and I can do with it as I please.
But what of modern body art? We have transformed these early individualistic, ceremonial urges. The desire to have the same tattoos as Robbie Williams or David Beckham. Is that a work of living art? Is that holy? Does it tell you a secret about you?
We have decided to stamp our lack of individuality on our skin, like a brand. Brand it like Beckham. A trend no more extreme or ritualistic, but simply mundane.
The history of sci-fi on British TV is very much one of a reversal of fortunes from decade to decade, and a gradual growth in the popularity of the genre with both British audiences and critics.
The BBC produced and broadcast the first known television sci-fi programme in 1938, only 18 months after the station was launched. This was an adaptation of a section of Karel Capek’s play ‘R.U.R.’, a play about a future world where robots revolt against their human masters. It was performed live, as all BBC programmes were at the time. Quite soon after, the BBC shut down their TV operations as the Second World War began. The entire play was performed again in 1946, when the service was reinstated.
Further adaptations of well-known literary works, such as ‘War of the worlds’ followed, but it was not until 1953 that an original TV sci-fi was produced. This was ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ by Nigel Kneale; a hugely popular six-part serial that spawned a number of sequels and feature film adaptations. The use of SF themes as allegory was apparent here, with the Martian infection in ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ paralleling real life racial tensions in ‘50s Britain.
‘Quatermass and the Pit’ was immensely popular – anecdotally it emptied the pubs each week – and a live adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen eighty-four’ achieved the highest rating since the Coronation, and whether to ban the repeat, as the programme was considered so subversive, was debated in Parliament.
But despite this apparent popularity of sci-fi TV with the viewers in the ‘50s, it was still produced rarely and mainly as one-off drama on the BBC, (and there was no alternative to BBC programming until 1955 when the independent television network – ITV – was founded.)
1960s – ITV leads the way
In the 1960s, ITV got interested in sci-fi, and their more commercial outlook gave the BBC pause for thought. Whilst working for ITV franchise holders ABC, a Canadian producer Sydney Newman instigated a number of original popular science fiction serials and space anthology series including ‘Pathfinders in Space’ and ‘Out of this world’.
In 1962, the BBC, not slow to catch on, wrote a report on the viability of creating a brand new TV science fiction series. The year after, Sydney Newman moved to the BBC to become Head of Drama, a situation which led directly to the creation of ‘Doctor Who’. Taking advantage of the research already done, and his background in creating popular sci-fi television for ABC, Newman initiated the creation, and oversaw the development of the new series, along with Head of the Script Department, Donald Wilson and BBC staff writer CE Webber.
‘Doctor Who’ was for British television what ‘Star Trek’ was to American television; a cult programme with only a small audience at first, but which grew bigger than its roots and has impacted upon all high concept genre programmes after it; it has now become part of mainstream popular culture, successfully re-invented for today’s audience. It lasted for 26 seasons in its original form, spawned two feature films, has been revived twice after being cancelled, and is now the BBC’s flagship Saturday evening entertainment show for the whole family. The current series (started with Russell T Davies and now has Steven Moffat at the helm,) has shown a weekly level of inventiveness and playfulness that has reinvigorated the show, and brought it to a whole new audience.
Back in the 1960s, ITV-produced sci-fi looked more glossy, more American, compared to the quirky, home-grown feel of ‘Doctor Who’. Now that its programming was not all broadcast live, the BBC filmed on videotape. This gave a resulting image quality not as high as film, which was the preferred method for American production. Consequently, American sci-fi series from the same era tend to look more glossy and higher in quality. ITV used film, like the Americans, rather than videotape, so their sci-fi series – ‘Danger Man’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Saint’ had an immediate, international appeal, enabling them to sell the series abroad.
Another important independent producer whose work became popular in the ‘60s, was Gerry Anderson. Although he wanted to make live action films, he couldn’t get any funding so turned instead to making animated series with puppets. He wanted to make the best puppet shows that anyone had seen but their success was a double edged sword, as the puppets came to have a more enduring quality than his later live action productions. With their generally high production values; ‘Thunderbirds’, ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Stingray’, are the series the audience remembers, not ‘UFO’ or ‘Space: 1999’, his two short-lived live action series.
1970s – Doctor in the house
The 1970s is generally considered to have been a very fertile time for British sci-fi TV, with landmark productions for both young and adult audiences. ‘Doctor Who’ was going through its strongest period with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in the lead role, and there were a number of other intelligent and enduring programmes, doing what speculative fiction does best, raising thought-provoking questions using allegory. For adults, the BBC’s series of MR James’ ‘Ghost stories at Christmas’ (1971-78), ‘The Stone Tape’ (1972, by ‘Quatermass’ writer Nigel Kneale) ‘Sapphire and Steel’ (ITV, 1979-1982), and for a younger audience, where the acceptance of a greater range of possibilities is very much a part of being young, ITV’s ‘The Tomorrow People’ (1973) and BBC’s ‘Children of the stones’ (1977).
1978 saw the BBC’s creation of another landmark in popular British SF; ‘Blake’s 7’. ‘Doctor Who’ regular writer Terry Nation, pitched the idea as ‘The Dirty Dozen’ in space, and it featured a gang of criminals who escape from the corrupt Galactic Federation. The moral ambiguity of the leading characters made them interesting, and it was not afraid of shocking the audience by killing off leading characters, ending its relatively short run in 1981.
But after the sci-fi TV heydays of the 1970s, Britain changed; not only in the sort of programming people wanted to watch, but the mood and aspirations of the viewers…
Read Part two of this article – The ’80s onward.
What’s your favourite British sci-fi TV series?
(Title quote from Calvin and Hobbes)
This blog is a place for thoughts and words that don’t fit into any of my other writing projects. That might be articles and reviews or it might be something else. You can find links to the other projects on here too.
First up – a series of articles on TV sci-fi.
NB. Orson Scott Card’s How to write science fiction and fantasy gives this useful distinction; ‘If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it’s science fiction. If it’s set in a universe that doesn’t follow our rules, it’s fantasy.’
In these articles, just to save on wordcount, I’m grouping both together and calling it TV sci-fi.