So, just had two pieces of new writing on over three days. Both short monologues for female actors. Blacks and Greys, at Awayke 4 (which saw amazing musical performances by Ruby Tingle, Tsinder Ash and The Dyr Sister), performed by Rachel Harris, and Fluidity, read by Charlotte Sellers at All Will Flow, a collision of artforms and the first @whatiscollectiv event, with art by Sarah Mole, live music provided by The Speak Easy (cheers to Adam Brodie), light and stuff by Diana Tanase. Really nice to be part of both of these unique events. Here’s a few things that cropped up over beers/mulled wine, and my pretentious responses…
Are they autobiographical?
There are traces of me all over the place. But, um. Blacks and Greys is about Tilda, a 20-something, broken-hearted dreamer with dissociative identity disorder. In Fluidity, Meg is a 20-something, broken-hearted, melancholy, literate, Sylvia Plath wannabe. I’m neither of those people but I am expressing how I think and feel through them. A bit. A lot, maybe. There’s a limit to how much I could express myself writing for a bloke that was like me, my age, my weight, and with my grey hair. And that would be boring, too. I’m working through some personal stuff with both pieces, but it’s the kind of personal stuff that most people are working through too. Including 20-something, broken-hearted women. Unless I’ve not been listening to them properly. It helps that I know the two actors that did the pieces pretty well, and I wrote each specifically for them. And they both brought some incredible pizazz and life experience to the party.
Why have you written two pieces about people with mental health issues?
Because of my mental health issues, I suppose. I’m up and down like a yo-yo. Different people on different days. Meg stands on her doorstep having a cig one night, banging her head against the door frame. And I found myself doing that recently. Not hard – I didn’t damage myself or anything – but hard enough, I suppose. Asking all those daft, big questions that crop up in the early hours. Who am I? Why me? Why does it all hurt so much? Not sure if other people have found themselves doing that in the early hours too, but I reckon there’s a lot of similar things going on right now. The 21st century seems to be full of people succumbing to ennui; we don’t have enough time, nor the energy, to get round to doing all the things that we want to do and, for the most part, because of work and domestic chores and all the other shit we each have to handle, we don’t have enough life in our lives. We’re all dealing with that, aren’t we?
That conversation we had… some of those lines sound familiar.
There’s a subconscious scattering of those late night chats, maybe. Like, stuff just seeps in, there’s a process of osmosis. In x2 15 minutes there are some universal truths, I hope. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. Or to stop having honest conversations with you. But writers are magpies. We borrow and steal and rework and reshape. Hopefully there’s enough distance between what we might have spoken about, over a pint or a coffee or whatever, and how it’s come out. I never wrote any notes down at the time. I was listening to you and thinking and talking too. The truth is that the things that keep you awake at night keep me awake at night too. And loads of other people too. If you can trust me, you lot, I look forward to loads more conversations.
I had to re-read The Bell Jar recently, before interviewing Kathryn Williams about her new album Hypoxia. And, because of the subject matter of both pieces, Plath’s only novel was nagging away at me. There’s references to Sylvia Plath in both Blacks and Greys and Fluidity.
Writing in response to art on canvas?
Never done it before. I looked at Sarah’s large canvas pieces, probably interpreted them incorrectly (if there is a correct way to interpret them, I didn’t ask), and quickly found myself with 10 pages of script for Meg to utter. Some of it directly references the paintings, other stuff’s tangential. I pondered what artists do when they embark on filling a blank canvas. Strikes me as more terrifying than filling up blank sheets of paper with words. It was a very interesting thing to do. And I found Sarah’s art very inspiring. And I would like to do more of it.
Are you ok?
Someone came up to me at the end of the Awayke night and asked me if I was ok. They were worried about me. There is nothing to worry about. But how nice to be asked. Do remember to ask your friends if they’re ok – it will mean the world to them. The following night, at All Will Flow, I was told how happy I looked. Which suggests to me that most of the time I must look a bit down. But I was/am very happy right now.
What happened to that funny stuff you used to write?
Some days you wake up with a load of gags and ideas for funny things and some days you don’t. For most of the last two years I haven’t had many ideas for funny things. But I’m optimistic that might happen again. There were a few laughs in the otherwise bleak Blacks and Greys and Fluidity and it was interesting to hear the responses to those comedic beats. I have just written a (fourth) panto for Middle Child which will be funny.
Did everyone you want to see these two new pieces turn up?
Sometimes you hope and wish that the people you wrote these things for were stood watching by your side. But that can’t always happen. Because they are busy with life or they are no longer around or no longer in your life. And people that kind of think that they know what I do, it would have been nice for them to see these two pieces and realise that I don’t just write shit about rugby league or Hull or to be performed on trains or whatever assumptions they’re making that keeps them away. But lots of people did turn up and they were all amazing and enthusiastic and kind and applauded and made me feel warm and lovely and loved.
Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Tilda has DID. Unfashionable, I know, but I quite like Counting Crows, and singer/songwriter Adam Duritz has DID and I read some things about him and thought it sounded like a complete nightmare to live with that, and I realised that, after I had a car crash a few years ago, I’d experienced some of the symptoms when I was getting over the trauma of a lorry almost driving over me. And Tilda was going to have another condition but that wouldn’t have worked out well. And I’m not sure it’s ever been written about before and so it felt important. As important as 15 pages of monologue can be. Probably not enough to make a difference.
What makes you cry?
The list that Meg comes out with. And plenty more besides. Not being able to see my kids enough. And saying goodnight to my youngest son when we talk on the phone, or when we hang up, and there’s just a gap, without him in it.
How’s the mindfulness and meditation going and is this having an impact on your writing?
It has been incredibly helpful to live a more mindful existence over the last few months. And also to meditate on a regular basis. I’ve come to realise that writing’s something of a powerful meditation practice in itself. Breathing’s cool. It helps to increase creativity, creates the right conditions for writing, allows me to claim a space for me to be me, enables the writing to flow. I’ve also come to realise that writing’s not the only thing, and is certainly not the most important thing; the ride itself is what matters. Now, now, now. And, of course, being mindful allows me to post inspirational quotes on facebook and twitter and that opens me up to all sorts of ridicule and criticism.
What are you up to next?
Panto. Then writing something short about legendary aviatrix Amy Johnson that will be performed in a public space.
Why did you write these two pieces?
Because the opportunity arose. And I wanted to give myself a birthday present. And work with the two actors. And get involved with two really unique events. And to write something new when, a couple of months ago, I thought it had all gone away. And to show off, because I can be a prick like that.