I’ve had a lot going on over the past 18 months, both good and bad and it’s culminated in a huge swathe of doubt, bigger than I’ve had before. I’ve been getting this strike of fear that sits between my head and my chest and in the back of my throat. It creeps up on me at the most mundane of moments and swells until I don’t know what to do except embrace it and wallow for a few moments. Then it’s back to normal, back to emptying the dishwasher, cleaning my whiteboard, parking the car.
My fear is that I’ll get a few years down the line and wonder why the fuck I’m still attempting to do what I’m doing now. My future self will ridicule my present self and tell me I’ve been stupid chasing this dream and I should concentrate on other more important things.
I’m being honest. I pride myself on being honest because if I’m not honest with myself who else is going to be.
Here’s an insight into my life: it’s all writing. Scoff all you want, I do very little else. So when I get another rejection, get pipped to the post for another scheme, don’t place in an award it’s a large cavernous dent in my thinning armour. I do not know how to switch off and stop working, I have a fear that I’ll miss an opportunity. It hurts. It hurts a lot to know that my mountains of work, my paper children I’ve birthed, will sit and stack in the corner of my overcrowded room.
I’m running on the spot and I’m not sure if I’m learning anything new apart from years of experience of not being heard. I want to share my work, I do not have money to mount my own productions, I do not have a sponsor to kindly do it for me, I can’t even afford to move out of home. I sit here writing knowing that more people have probably read this blog than seen my stage work and that’s fairly minimal. Why do I do it? Why do I insist on carrying on knowing it’s a waste of time and that there’ll always be someone else who reaches that destination before me? Why the fuck do I think I’m different? And why the frilly heck do I feel the necessity to compare myself to others?
I don’t know. I simply don’t know. I’m tired. My heart aches at the thought of not writing, although I’m suffocated at the prospect of carrying on. I’ve lost the spark that I used to run towards, now I’m frantically searching around for it. Actually, I’ve passed that and I can’t be bothered to look around. This may seem bombastic, but all I do is write because I want to, it’s the only thing I’m good at. Maybe you’ll read this and think, “maybe no one’s paying you attention because you’re a shit writer?” And maybe you’d be right. Maybe that’s the thing, maybe I’m not being honest enough with myself to say that I cannot write well. I don’t know. That’s the worst thing, I do not know how to find this out.
I’m going to be quiet for a while (writing wise) because I’m a bit lost. And when you’re lost you don’t really make a lot of sense. This isn’t a cry for help or the cue for you to send me reassuring words, it’s an attempt at an explanation as to what’s going on, why I haven’t done anything, and to maybe quash the questions for a bit. I know people are only trying to be kind, and I love them for it, you are the people I’m writing for. Real life has meant that I’m putting writing on the back burner for a bit. I’ve lost the passion and I don’t want to force it. I’m pretty sure in a few months this post will be redundant, I would like to think so.
No doubt you’ll see me in real life or on the usual social platforms soon. If you do, let’s talk about anything but me writing. And bring gin.
Riddled With Niggles August 20, 2013
Another Collaboration – But Online With @Gerryhayes March 15, 2013
I’ve been working on a thing, yeah another thing. Because I like being busy, but also because I like exploring different avenues of creativity. And I’m a sucker for coaxing people into a collaboration to make them think differently. And one of my victims/co-collaborators is the delightfully grumpy yet loveable Gerry Hayes. Gerry and I got chatting to each other on Twitter many years back now, and were also contributors to an online magazine called Metazen. Whether we found out about each other on there or vice versa has yet to be remembered. We shared mutual writers that we spoke to online and also a sense of humour, which is what Twitter used to be about (!) and since then we’ve embarked on a project that has kept us tinkering away the last couple of years. It’s not a whole wealth of work we admit, but the idea is that the work actually exists. If we hadn’t created this project then nothing that is held within it would come to fruition. So there. Check out the link below for the work that’s been done so far (and obviously keep checking back, we’re both very proud of each one of our nuggets.)
But excuses aside, that’s the very point of this project. It’s unfurling at a deliberate pace because that’s how the project works. These projects never have an end goal of a timeline, it’s meant to breathe and wheeze in and around real life. The Beloved Box was pitched to Gerry by email in March 2011 and as you’ll see by the time stamps on the website, sometimes we’re flowing quickly and other times we’re taking our time. It’s about creating the time and space to fail but also flourish. It’s a creative exercise to keep the brain ticking knowing that there will always be a response but an unpredictable one.
Gerry is a brilliant photographer and has a keen eye for capturing visuals that I find exciting, lyrical almost. After email discussion we decided on keeping the theme open so we didn’t restrict ourselves and also really explored the content we could create. The idea was that we would respond to the other’s piece of work and it could be in any medium – photograph, film, sound, text – but each offering had to have a title and this was as important to the project as the content itself. The title comes from the first photograph that kicked the project off, taken by Gerry.
So this has become The Beloved Box which is a fluxing sprawling narrative based on what has been offered up before. A creative tag-team, a more inventive wordplay game passing on the creative beacon. With Gerry based in Ireland and myself in Hertfordshire, we’ve been in contact by email passing on our creative responses. Gerry kindly created the website and updates it as and when our new works are finished.
What I personally enjoy about this project is that it’s not demanding, it’s a creative stimulus that pops into my inbox every so often and I have the urge to reply. It’s part of a bigger project but I’m focused on the pebble sized chunks and it’s keeping my brain ticking over. This is the main reason why I start these projects with other people – you have the incentive and necessity of not letting someone down and in return produce new work. Everyone’s a winner.
[The above has also been posted by the author Emily Benet on the Mslexia blog here.]
Writer Collider with M.J. Starling February 16, 2013
Back sometime last year, the writer M.J. Starling approached and asked me to be involved with his podcast about inspiration and be the first creative to launch it. Of course I do love to gabble about writing to anyone who will listen, so I said yes. Writer Collider is all about the generation of concepts, where ideas come from. From a few randomly selected prompts thrown on the table by other people, narratives are formed on the spot and a discussion is opened about the process.
The particular writing prompt I plumped for was the following: “a boxer crying alone in his car on an overpass“
What I found refreshing about this idea of talking about the process, was the freedom to be able to sprawl across all decisions. Play, film, novel, you name it. And I am always telling people that it’s great to vocalise ideas or narratives out loud because you can hear them. Our brains are very clever and will disregard things before the mental sentence is even finished.
So here is the podcast with me murmuring about boxers and film: Katie McCullough on Writer Collider.
Keep an eye on M.J. Starling and the #writercollider series on his Twitter, website and on iTunes too.
Interview With A Playwright (Part Two) December 7, 2012
Regular readers (if there are such a thing) of this blog will remember that I was interviewed by a lovely French lady called Vanessa Jaunet back in August. The first part can be read here: Interview With A Playwright (Part One)
Maybe because it’s the translation of the French to English, but I find Vanessa’s questions really pure and quite probing. Their simplistic nature catches me off guard, like when you think you know how to get to somewhere but then as you start off your map unravels…
Vanessa has kindly said I could post the second part of the interview up here.
Do you believe that the main character of a story is always connected with the writer’s personality?
Good question. My response is that I rarely put all of my personality into my characters as that can be extremely painful (or at least odd) to hear aloud or see. What I will say is that I thread in elements of my being more than I realise, but I don’t do it purposefully. At a post show Q&A for my play, “I Still Get Excited When I See A Ladybird” I was asked if there were any bits of me in it. And there were – fragments of my life or my thoughts or those close to me. But I’d never flag them up as to what they are because that’s not what a play should be about. It should be about what it reflects onto the audience and what they take away from it. I think the main purpose of writing is to excavate ourselves as humans – we’re unfurling an idea of how we’re trying to understand the world. So to a point you do write with a connection, but it could possibly be the disconnection of yourself to those around you and we’re seeing the exploration.
And do you think we write to speak about something hidden inside us as a therapy?
I think I personally write to understand myself a bit more, to understand myself as a human and the effect we can have on each other. Other playwrights will disagree, but I don’t think you can rely on writing as a therapy. Even if you were to write nonsense you’re still confining yourself to sentences, punctuation, grammar and the urge for a structure. I do, however, feel that you unlock different caveats of innermost thoughts when you write… But it could be that you never use them but the journey was there to inform your writing.
What do you find more fulfilling writing plays or seeing your plays on stage?
Writing plays is a long stint of anything I do and seeing them on stage is the goal obviously. But that doesn’t always happen so you become mother to these piles of pages that you desperately want to morph into real movements on a stage… So I’d say, for me, it’s a strange concoction of the two. I realise the ultimate goal of any script is seeing it on its feet on a stage in front of an audience… But there’s also a perverse notion of whittling down your idea in your head on to the page and the motion you take as a writer to do so.
What do you feel when an actor acts your words?
My brain is always looking to work on the next project so as soon as I’ve finished one script, I’m on to another. What this means is that I more than often don’t remember what I’ve written. Actors could fluff whole paragraphs of text and I may get the notion that they’re saying it wrong, but I wouldn’t be able to tell them what is correct. It is an alien sensation to watch something that you have pinned to the page, as a two-dimensional act of printing words on paper, suddenly unfurl into real living human beings. I feel extremely grateful whenever I’m in that position because the theatre industry is a busy one, and when you get the opportunity to truly see your work come alive, you realise why you still do it. No matter how many times it happens, the first time I watch a piece of my work with an audience my heart sits at the back of my throat and beats loudly, my ears feel like they’re breathing. You’re an unidentified speck in among a crowd and no one knows you’re the one responsible. You try and not make any sudden movements, breathe too loudly to not draw attention to yourself. But at the same time you’re trying to read your audience – are they focused on the action? Are they laughing? Are they crying? You find yourself trying to decipher different types of silences. Your body becomes this sensor and overrides your ability to sit and receive it like the rest of an audience. That’s what it feels like to me and I crave all of that.
If you could choose any actor for your plays who would you choose?
I’ve always wanted to work with Eddie Marsan. I think he’s got such an intricate way of expressing his character, his face especially. He’s a really physical actor I think. I’ve seen him play fragile and also gut-wrenchingly disgusting and his range is superb. I’d be very happy if I got to work with him, I’d be ecstatic!
Peter Capaldi is another actor who I have huge respect for because of his range, his eyes are so expressive. Alfred Molina is someone who I would openly beg to be in one of my plays, his voice is brilliant. Philip Seymour Hoffman is another actor that I would do anything to get to work with. I’m being cheeky here and listing more than one!
Female wise I’d really like to collaborate with Laura Linney, I adored her in The Savages (a film I wish I had written, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays her brother) and she is phenomenal in You Can Count On Me (also a phenomenal film). I’d jump at the chance to write specifically for Julia Davis, she inspires me with her approach to writing when she merges the dark with the tragicomedy of life. Tilda Swinton, now there’s a lady I would sell what little I have to put on a stage with my words, she’s powerful. And who wouldn’t want to work with Olivia Colman? She is superb.
Would you been interested to write a movie? Or even to direct one of your plays on big screen or TV?
I initially trained in writing for film and television at Bournemouth University and would love the opportunity to write for the screen. I’ve dabbled with short films as they’re cheaper to do and more flexible, but I haven’t put my heart and soul into anything larger as my heart is truly in theatre. If someone where to give me the opportunity though I would definitely jump on it. As for directing, I have done some in my time but I would never take on that role right now. Not whilst I’m still trying to make a name for myself with my writing. There are plenty of other people who do that job well and sometimes having a fresh set of eyes on a piece can raise it higher than you realised.
Have you ever considered writing a book using photographs you have taken because I understand you are a keen photographer?
When I write I’m always thinking of the visual impact on an audience, what they will see and always aim for striking images. So I suppose I’m very visually led and I often get distracted by colours or naturally framed objects when I’m travelling around. I’m a very spontaneous photographer. If I tried to go back to using proper cameras and plan things I wouldn’t get what I’m after. I use my iPhone and nothing more. It’s handy because I always have it and I can take pictures of people without them realising too. And if I’m honest I take photographs for my own pleasure, things that catch my eye, and then share them online (Facebook/Twitter) if they’re interesting or representative of where I am. People seem to enjoy them, but they’re just moments that I’ve seen and tried to capture. A bit like holiday photographs really, for some people it’s interesting and for others it’s boring.
I like taking photographs when I’m out and about. I live in a rural village so there’s lots of natural beauty, but I would never call myself a photographer as such. When I was at school I studied it as an A Level topic and the frivolous nature of it all appealed to me. I could wander with a camera and just see what stories unfurled before me. Occasionally I’ll look at a situation that’s going on around me and I’ll reference photographers in my head, “oh that’s very Martin Parr” or “that reminds me of Bresson”. Aside from that I’ve forgotten all knowledge of the darkroom, the chemicals, the lenses. It’s sad really, I’ve forgotten a lot of the things that I used to do when I was younger. I miss painting but my attempts now would seem idiotic, painfully naive. I also miss dance, that too would be a horror to see me do.
If you could be collaborated with another playwright who would you choose?
Good question! I have a feeling that it fluctuates every time I see or read something. But I’ve always wanted to melt my brain with Martin Crimp’s and see what came out. I’m pretty sure I could write a raucous collaboration with Simon Stephens too.
Interview With A Playwright (Part One) August 9, 2012
I recently received a request from a lovely French lady called Vanessa Jaunet. She asked if she could interview me for an article as part of her studies which would include translating my English into French. Vanessa’s questions were interesting and she’s allowed me to post the first part of our exchange here for you to read if you fancy it…
For how long have you been writing plays ?
I’ve been writing since I can remember to be honest. I have a peculiar memory where I remember smells, moments and feelings rather than huge swathes of my childhood. So I can remember very clearly the moment I spelled the word, ‘holiday’ all by myself. When I was at primary school we were very oversubscribed with students so our teachers didn’t have enough time to spend with us on the subjects we found difficult. They would tell us to go and do something we enjoyed so I always ended up writing or painting. I would end up writing the stories that the teacher would read to us in the afternoons. So I’ve been writing since I was very young, but I suppose I’ve been writing theatre seriously since 2008.
What inspired you to write plays?
For me the idea of a story being performed in front of you live is thrilling. My university degree was three years of Scriptwriting For Film and Television and to be honest I was fed up with writing screen. It felt very limited and I wanted to have a more freeing experience of bringing it to an audience. I wanted to be in the rehearsal room to see what was working and what wasn’t and to help untangle the story and shape it with others.
Also I wanted, and still do, to bring in a different audience to the theatre. It still has the ‘middle-class’ stigma attached to it and it’s something that I want to dispel. We can learn a lot from theatre like we can from any media. But the power of theatre is that it is in front of you, anything can go wrong. There are no multiple attempts to get the scene right, no pause button – it’s all there for you to experience and I think that is admirable. I also think it can have more of an effect because it is immediate and as an audience member you can see another human being portraying a story with all the guts and glory that you cannot hide from.
I saw on your website that you use boards. I would like to know how you use them. For example do you use them just when you have got an idea or do you develop you plays?
Ah, my whiteboards! I love them. I’m a firm believer in writing down and talking about ideas. Our brains are very clever in quashing an idea before it’s fully formed so by writing it down (even if it doesn’t work) we’re narrowing the chances of figuring out what does work. It’s a simple case of elimination. With whiteboards you can erase things quickly so it doesn’t hang heavy on you if you’re struggling with an idea. Also the physical act of writing does wake up the brain even if you write absolute rubbish. It’s a bit like breaking down the barrier, brushing off the cobwebs, before you then hit your stride and before you know it you’re writing your idea and you wonder why it took so long to get on with it.
I have four large whiteboards hanging on my walls. I usually have at least one with fragments of ideas or snippets of dialogue that I’ve either heard or thought. I’m writing a play at the moment which needed a lot of research so I used all the whiteboards including a fifth one that I have resting against my desk. I think it helps to be able to see everything at the same time so you can tell if you’ve missed something or if a part of the plot doesn’t work, or maybe doesn’t resurface again.
How would you describe your method of working? Are you a ‘‘junkie writer’’ or an organized writer? For example are you someone who sticks to 9-5 routine or do you write when an idea comes to you even if it’s a middle of the night?
I used to write in the middle of the night when it was quiet and no one would disturb me. I would write from 12am till about 5am. But then that would ruin me for the next day. I also needed to be awake for work so I had to stop doing that when I got a full time job. Finding time to write can be hard, but essential. Some writers work from 9-5 but I find it depends on what you’re working on. If I’m writing a commission for someone else then I schedule time because someone is expecting a draft for a particular date. If I’m writing my own ideas then I tend to be more relaxed about it and organise it around my work. I work freelance as a Film Festival Distributor so every week is different. Some weeks I’ll be working on a script for a few hours in the evening and sometimes just a weekend. The important thing for me is that I’m enjoying what I’m writing. If I’m really enjoying a script and I have a busy week then I will wake up at 5am to do some writing before work. If you enforce a strict writing method it can sometimes backfire and you don’t get any work done.
I’m definitely more level-headed than I used to be. I’d start several projects in one go and spend weeks getting very little sleep. But now I have to consider my sleep for my work which earns me my living. I’m much happier now than when I was writing at university and I think that’s because I’m allowing ideas to formulate rather than forcing them.
What do you feel when you write?
I feel knackered from having all these new, and sometimes not particularly nice, people in my head. But I also feel like I’m a problem solver and that rejuvenates me. Because you’re using your brain to separate different characters and travelling through time, in a literary sense obviously, it can be quite disorientating. You can get so engaged with what you’re writing that hours can fly by and you don’t realise. That’s when you know you’re on to something good. When you’re counting the minutes until you can do something else, that’s when you have to worry.
Which kind of emotions do you experience?
It can be quite emotional finishing a play, and sometimes even a draft. You do become very aware that these people you’ve pinned to the page would not have existed if it hadn’t been for all your hard work. As a writer you’re conjuring people from thin air and adding layers to their life so they are real, so the world they exist in is as real as you can make it. So of course it’s tiring always having to think and second guess what they’re going to do and how to get them through the story. You often hear writers say, “I’ve become too close to the story” and it’s easy to see why. You’re having to drop yourself in the middle of lives and explore and mine for the story. It can play on your mind when you’re out shopping or talking on the telephone and sometimes cloud your judgement. All the thinking you do away from the page is just as important as the words you order on the page.
What do you need to write? Which kind of atmosphere?
I can drown out any noise by being focused. I come from a very noisy house so have become good at tuning it all out. But what can cause my attention to waver is if the television is on or if someone is talking to me. I think it’s a visual thing. I think if I’m staring at the computer screen then I still acknowledge I’m doing work. The moment I start watching a film or television then it completely takes my attention off what I’m trying to do. Which is probably why I don’t watch television and for me, to watch a film is a treat. I don’t always use my laptop. At the beginning of my writing career I wrote everything by hand and typed it up. If it’s a sunny day or I need a change of scenery I’ll resort back to my trusty pen and paper. I listen to music sometimes – I like putting on an album that I know like the back of my hand because if it gets to the end and I’ve noticed I’ve hardly listened to it, I know I’ve been working hard. It’s a good gauge of how invested in the project I am.
As much as I would love to be more focused on my work I also need stimulus in other areas to get me motivated. Twitter is a good one for me because I can dip in and catch up with folks and also moan about having to write. It’s a typical writer thing to do, moan about having to write. I know a lot of other playwrights and authors on there so it’s good to have a chat and a laugh. Making tea is always a good stimulus for me too, I use it as a goal. ‘If I can just finish this scene then I can have a cup of tea…’ that kind of thing. And most of the time it’s a good excuse to step away from a play and sit with my dog for a bit or bake. I do a lot of baking because it’s something I can do on autopilot and allow my mind to wander. You’ll find that just as you think you’re relaxing and taking your mind of your play, the answer you’ve been searching for tumbles into view.