Writing in music

relaxed-writer_1This week I’ve completed a first full draft revision of my radio drama. It’s left me feeling hopeful because the writing has relaxed. I know where I’m going and what needs to be said, it’s no longer a case of that first write-itis where everything (for me) has to be in, clear, overtly stated.

Snip, snip. Less really is more.

Next task. Radio (sorry to state the obvious) is a listening medium, and listening to a radio drama perhaps somewhere between hearing a story and listening to a piece of music.  We listen to stories and music with cultural expectation, cultural training, we respond to it emotionally, assess its quality, its aesthetic, the way it resonates with us and becomes memorable (or not). We latch on to its shape and structure with its rises and falls. When listening, I think, the sound and sound shape of the story grabs and compels us more than characters.

Part of my editing process will be to consider and apply this understanding to the musicality the words, syntax and structure. Musicality in writing is poetic, a major aesthetic component. Can I recommend a book to you? The Poetry of Radio by Sean Street.


Critiquing Unfamiliar Genres

This week my writing group very kindly gave me feedback to the middle section of the script of my radio drama. None of the other members have written scripts in any script writing genre. Two are many-times-published fiction and memoir writers, and the other has a fascinating memoir well underway which anyone WILL want to publish.

They made astute comments and helped hugely.

We talked about setting. One member could not imagine how a soundscape could do the same job as descriptive writing of setting, or at least make it very specific, e.g. a study. Another couldn’t see how you could convey such sudden switches in location by sound alone. We discussed collaboration – the drama being completed by the sound engineers, the actors and director rather than the writer – and this was a challenge to some – much bigger additions, they felt, than by those of an agent or publisher who altered rather than finished off the work. (Though I think that raises interesting questions about what cover design, book layout, marketing etc does to the book’s aesthetic.)

One writer felt there needed to be much more of what could be termed backstory. We talked about whether that was as necessary, and if so, how would it be conveyed in a medium where narrative exposition is and audio challenge within a 44.14 minute time limit. We concluded it was not so much about the history of the characters as wanting the characters to be rounded.

The absence of narrative also showed how tricky it is to convey information purely through dialogue – though I think there are creative alternatives to the conversational – interior monologues, announcements, advert style, broadcasts. I’m now looking for the radio equivalent of the flashing up in lights of Bridget Jones weight, cigarette and alcohol consumption in the background of the places she was shown walking in London. Any suggestions?

Someone wanted to know why two characters weren’t married to each. Well they’re just not, they’re neighbours. But what does that serve in the drama? Actually, nothing. I have married them. Just like that. It makes the writing easier, loses a question that might distract the listener’s concentration, and, as less important characters, they are less in the way of the more important.

I’ve realized that writing a radio drama is a great medium for honing editing skills and focussing on the essentials of the text, on what MUST be there to tell the story and show the characters in an as alive a way as possible, and the kind of material and information that’s completely unnecessary to achieve that end.

baftaApart from the very helpful feedback from the group, there was a huge surprise. MAJOR, MAJOR BONUS. One member of the group’s son is a Bafta winning script writer. His mum asked him to read MY script to help HER!!! Location changes? No problem, he said. Information imparting? Needs a bit more work. Characters? Pretty good. Dialogue? Some very good, well on the way. Story? Great.

It doesn’t matter what you look like

David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh talk about the challenges and pleasure of acting in radio drama


You produce a piece of work very quickly.

It’s a different technique from theatre or film – there’s a very technical aspect to radio, everything comes down to the voice and you’re relationship with text in front of you.

On radio you can sort of be anyone that your vocal cords will allow.


I feel I both go back in time [at the BBC] every time I do a radio play, and I also feel I’m at the cutting edge at the same time.

It’s unique, different, fun and very, very, very, very enjoyable.

How to Approach a Year

Poet Jo Bell has started a new blog ‘52‘. She’s inviting followers to write a poem a week for a year. There are two wonderful poems in her first post:

Everything is Going to be Alright, by Derek Mahon
and Everything is Going to be Amazing, by Lauren Zuniga

The first is reassuring and the second a kick up the butt.

If I can get my head in the Samsung Laserjet, I’m going to print Lauren’s poem on my mind.

Everything is going to be.

The bugs, the bugs

A brief excursion from the kitchen…

The bugs (and sales of large, 3ply, with balm, tissues) had a better time of it than I did this last fortnight, especially into the New Year. Out damn bugs, out!

Sympathy call over, and in spite of the nasty little virus, Christmas with friends in Leeds was good. I hope yours was as you wished it to be. The festive season continues, some of my family are coming later for another lazy day and another feast.

As a result of kind Christmas gifts, my place is booked on one of Alice Oswald’s writing courses. It will be a new experience – a course with a writing idol, whose words make mine stumble into the pit of silence. But, it’s 2014, the Year of the Challenge!

I hope your Christmas was as you would have chosen, and the new year finds you open to surprises. Some will be welcome, others will not.

angelakaysmlThe first surprise of my 2014 was the news that Angela Kay, who conducts the choir I sing with – the East of England Singers – and founder and director of the wonderful Music for Everyone, had been awarded an MBE. About time too!! Congratulations, Ang. That was one surprise I’d been hoping for.

The second was a phone call from a friend in Switzerland. We met in Cambridge 37 years ago on the day we moved into the Nurses’ Home to embark on our nurse training at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. I taught her how to boil an egg. Happy days.

OK. Post written, back to the washing up and preparation, and continuing to ponder why it is that even though we own the DVD of a film, we still like to watch it when it’s ‘live’ on TV. For the next post.