Na-nu Na-nu. Writing resources for you.

HEMINGWAY

I’m not one for Nanowrimo – that’s National Novel Writing Month. In truth, it’s been a mystery to me for some time. I only got the acronym correct because I googled it, and previously to that I was confusing it with what Mork used to say to Mindy.

But in light of the feverish fecundity of what is often the dreariest month, I wanted to share some online resources I recently located and have been finding useful.

National Theatre’s Discover More section on their website have all sorts of lovely videos on a plethora of things. For dramatists they have Roy Williams on political   playwriting, with other videos giving advice on writing characters, building a plot and writing dialogue.

For those heading off into the month of furious novel writing, my old favourite Mslexia have reproduced some workshops originally featured in the magazine, including Jenny Newman’s ‘MA in Novel Writing.’

Writing, we know, is all about rewriting, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the choices writers make in redrafts. Mslexia’s Inspirations asks a writer to compare the first draft with the published version, and fascinating reading it makes, too, for literary geeks. Deborah Moggach discusses her prose editing choices here, whilst Wendy Cope compares poetry drafts here. Finally, in this little gift of interesting reading on process, poet Polly Clark is interviewed about a specific poem.

Whatever your preferred form, or your plans for November writing, I hope it’s a creative month and that these links prove stimulating. I’m off to teach Dramaturgy in Singapore and so escape this dark month, but I won’t be escaping the writing – as ever, I have a deadline to meet.

 

 

 

What is a dramaturg?

In preparation for my work teaching dramaturgy in Singapore at the Intercultural Theatre Institute next month, I’ve been collecting definitions of what is often, in the UK at least, a slippery customer….

My seminars will be part of four perspectives – the playwright’s, the director’s, the actor’s and designer/scenographer’s. I’m excited, as part of the time I will be co-teaching with collaborators from actual productions of my plays, or performances we have co-created. We will be deconstructing the text, roles, and decision-making process, as well as sharing play texts and video/documentation of those specific performances with the students. I hope this will demystify what can be a perplexing and opaque process, and is the most holistic and revealing approach I have yet to come across.

The role of the dramaturg and the definition of dramaturgy can vary hugely. The understanding of the role in the German state theatre context is immensely different from many examples in the US repertory theatre system – and different again in the UK. To kick us off on what I hope will be a regular feature on this blog is a definition culled from the RSC’s ‘Radical Mischief’, Issue 02 from May 2014, and the associate dramaturg for the RSC’s Midsummer Mischief Festival, Sarah Dickenson:

‘The term “dramaturgy” refers to the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation: the means by which a story can be shaped into a performable form. All performance works have a dramaturgy, mostly sharing a set of base principles but diversifying widely within that. This dramaturgy is first created by the playwright/ makers when they construct a story for the stage, is developed in rehearsal by the director, designers and actors and then comes to full fruition in the interaction the performance has with its audience. This process varies, particularly if the piece is devised or physical, but the key points remain.

A dramaturg is concerned with supporting this process at some or all of these stages. In practice, that job might involve many different tasks, from the identification of performable work, to working with a playwright through several drafts, to hands on support in the rehearsal room. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a cup of tea with a theatremaker as they wrangle with a particularly tricky aspect of their piece. However, always at the heart of the dramaturg’s role is the ability to constructively, clearly and sensitively question a piece of work towards making it the best it can be, without confusing, overwhelming or blocking those making it.”

Sarah Dickenson in RSC’s Radical Mischief. Issue 02. May 2014.   @sedickenson

I will be sharing further perspectives and experiences later on this blog.

 

20 Questions…. David Lane.

Continuing my series on the same 20 questions asked to creative professionals from across the spectrum – from Burlesque to Ballet, poetry to photography. Now as his latest play opens this week, David Laneshares his answers to my 20 Questions…

David Lane

David Lane

David Lane is a playwright and dramaturg. As a writer he has been commissioned by Half Moon Young People’s Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth, the egg and Engage programmes at Theatre Royal Bath, Chichester Festival Theatre, Forest Forge, Salisbury Playhouse, Theatre West, Travelling Light, Immediate Theatre, Proteus Theatre, Blue Brook Productions and The British School of Beijing. He is Artistic Associate of Part Exchange Co’s interdisciplinary R&D project The Engine House in Bristol and has worked as dramaturg with award-winning devising companies including Fine Chisel, Dirty Market, multistory and with rural touring producer Beaford Arts. He is author of the book Contemporary British Drama, has written published articles exploring dramaturgy and new play development in the UK and writes the weekly playwrights’ information bulletin Lane’s List. His new play Free is at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre from 15 – 18 Oct then on national tour including Plymouth, Bath, Bristol, Portsmouth, Norwich and Canterbury. Click here for a 2-min video preview.

 'Free' by David Lane

‘Free’ by David Lane

What first drew you to your particular practice?

The Drama degree I was doing at Exeter University started a dramaturgy module in my second year, and it was about adaptation and looking at how scripts worked: I was given an assignment to create a season of plays by Contemporary Women Dramatists that I would then have to justify and ‘sell’ to an executive producer and artistic director (competently played by my two lecturers at the time). I read about 40 plays in two weeks and got hooked on structure and composition and how plays talked about the times in which they were written: it was my first training in looking at all the different maps for crafting a text that could exist, how they could all be different but be equally effective on stage, and why they mattered to the audiences of the time. I then tried to put this sort of studying into practice by writing a one-person Greek tragedy at the end of my degree, slavishly following the dramaturgical principles of a tragic narrative. It was embarrassingly rushed, but that was the beginning of my to-and-fro relationship between the right-brain of craft and dramaturgy and the left-brain of playwriting and creativity.

What was your big breakthrough?

My first commission with Half Moon Young People’s Theatre for my play Begin/End in 2007. Getting paid to write and having a play on tour and reviewed in national press felt like validation and being a grown-up professional for the first time. It shifted my attitude towards what I was doing and I began designing (though I didn’t realise it at the time) my process as a playwright.

 What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

I find creating characters takes me more time than anything else. Structure and dialogue and language and a sense of the theatrical are all things that I find much easier, but getting inside somebody else’s head and making informed choices about their actions in a story takes me a long time. I’ll often do a lot of research and very often the characters will absorb that information into their dynamics. It can make writing a slow process and I’m trying to challenge myself at the moment by writing quickly, reaching more inside myself than outwards to other sources of inspiration.

 Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was something I read at university, didn’t completely understand, still don’t, but which did that thing that sometimes happens when you encounter a significant text or work of art, of overwhelming you with its complexity – the sheer heft of thought and the reach of its ideas was mesmerising. I’ve gone back to it countless times and would love to adapt it for the stage. It’s just been adapted for radio by Peter Flannery in fact, so I’m looking forward to listening to it.

What’s more important: form or content?

Content. Form can help the heart beat stronger, but if there isn’t a heart, it’ll never live.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When I’m happy to have conversations with the rest of a creative team about it without feeling the need to go back and fiddle and change things: when I can leave the rehearsal room knowing it can speak for itself.

 Do you read your reviews?

Yes. I think getting over bad reviews (I’ve had a couple) is a good way of strengthening your mettle and a healthy reminder that you will never please everybody.

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Create the space where you can practice being a writer: don’t wait for somebody else to give it to you.

 What work of art would you most like to own?

If you could resurrect Rachmaninov and have him in the corner of my room to play his third piano concerto on tap whenever I wanted, that’d be great.

 What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That inspiration will get you everywhere.

What are you working on now?

I’ve a new play for teenagers called Free about to go on national tour, which is exciting. I’m working on an adaptation of a brilliant adventure novel for teenagers called The Savage Kingdom by Simon David Eden for Chichester Festival Theatre; on Earthed, a site-specific audio-story in four parts about man’s relationships with the Earth across 40,000 years for Part Exchange Co; a play about the time-limited annual reunions of South and North Korean family members separated by the war 50 years ago, with director Sita Calvert-Ennals; and a play which is a response to the alleged chemical attacks by Al-Assad against his own people in Syria in August 2013 – a story that has now been consumed by much bigger media noises about Islamic State, but which I want to explore further. It’s about grief, parenting, art, protest and politics: so just a small undertaking. I also continue to work with other writers and companies as a dramaturg and workshop leader.

 What is the piece of art/novel/collection you wish you’d created?

I hope I’ve still got time to create it myself!

 What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

What my writing process was.

 What’s your greatest ambition?

It would be hard to beat a play at the National at some point.

 How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

I talk to my wife who is still my best cheerleader and first-reader-of-drafts.

 What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

That it was narrow-minded, unfeasible, illogical and hard to swallow. It was a script-reader’s report on a play I wrote one day (as in, over the course of one day) whilst at university. It was a good lesson: they were right!

 And the best thing?

‘We’d like to commission it.’

 If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

Cooking. A passion to mix up what’s in the world and create something new from it. Trying to perfect a recipe. Some slow cooking, some fast cooking required. Various different sources of heat and energy available. Continually re-invented.

 What is your philosophy or life motto?

Whatever decision you make, make it the best decision you’ve made.

 What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

From David Eldridge: ‘at the end of the day, it’s just a fucking play.’

 What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

Nicolas Cage.

'Free' by David Lane.

‘Free’ by David Lane.

 

Reinventing old stories, making the ancient contemporary

Sophie Stone in 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly

Sophie Stone in ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly

How do we take old stories and make them new, and relevant to our time?

We know (or we should know) there is no such thing as ‘original’ – the same plots have been going around for millennia (there’s only seven plots, apparently). I’m pretty sure the average soap opera concerns the same things ancient Greeks sat down to watch thousands of years ago – and I would like to include Chinese historical soaps in this, for they also cover warring dynasties and great battles.

Human beings are endlessly fascinated with other human beings. We gain great pleasure from watching ordinary people deal with extraordinary situations and grow, change, learn new skills, succeed, fail… We root for the underdog, we fair-minded gentle folk secretly love the dastardly ‘baddie’ – we project ourselves onto the protagonist, identifying with her, breathing with her. We have such an appetite for narrative it is extraordinary we never use all the possibilities up… Which brings me to reinvention, and finding perspectives pertinent for our times.

We know that Shakespeare used many received stories, and that the ancient Greek playwrights consistently revisited the same store of deities, symbolic figures, and conflicts. Today, adaptations of existing work are immensely popular. A glance at the mainstream London theatre scene for this week alone throws up reinventions of The 39 StepsThe Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare in Love and Ostermier’s participatory An Enemy of the People. I saw this update of Ibsen at the Schaubühne in Berlin two years ago, filled with cover versions of Bowie’s ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ done with acoustic guitar, live on stage. I don’t feel Ostermier succeeded fully in making the piece contemporary, but it was a bold move, and one that’s proved popular.

So how do we make the old new, with resonance for the times we inhabit? I ask this question often in my work. Over the past few years I’ve been involved in exactly this – reinventing existing texts and stories. My version of Aeschylus’s Persians for Mike Pearson’s 2010 site-specific production on MOD land for National Theatre Wales won the Ted Hughes Award for new works in poetry, and my latest play, currently touring, is a reworking of the the myth of Blodeuwedd from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

For me, the first stage is obsession. It’s all very well deciding to update an existing work, but if something about that story doesn’t grab you by the ears and pull you face-first into the narrative, don’t even consider starting.

I’ve been obsessed with Blodeuwedd for years, ever since I first moved to Wales and discovered the ancient text. It is fascinating and compelling: the woman of flowers made to be wife to a man cursed by his mother; the woman made to serve, who discovers desire and plots to have her way; the unnatural creature reared in nature red in tooth and claw, transformed into an owl as punishment for her transgressions… I could write many other versions of the story from different perspectives, which is what makes ancient texts so rewarding to work with. In my reworking of this myth in a commission from Kirstie Davis from Forest Forge, I had to settle on one approach, and one which I felt would have resonance to the times we inhabit.

The second stage is to find the angle that reverberates with current events. Without giving the game away too much, for me approaching Woman of Flowers, this involves the rise of all kinds of fundamentalism, and the corresponding belief systems, creation stories and values made through rhetoric and words. In the original, Blodeuwedd is made by Gwydion, the greatest living storyteller, from the flowers of the forest. I wanted to explore the power of language in this retelling, especially as we use visual language (theatricalised sign) as well and spoken and captioned English in the production.

I have also been very concerned with the rise of modern slavery – disturbing stories in the media of intolerable working conditions (the recent SOS written on clothes labels for Primark), and people kept against their will and treated as slave labour (a case most recently on a farm in Wales).

A further stage when remaking is to respect the original, but not to be strait-jacketed by it. As writers, we need to be free to work with the material as we see fit, but not to be directed into a dead-end by details, nor be imaginatively contained. I’ve had to shake off many ‘I really should…’ compulsions, ‘but the original…’ doubts. The aim is to have integrity in the handling of the material and its original elements, and to respect it, but not be dominated by it. We sometimes have to work against the authority of the text in order to find new ways of saying old things.

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1The text Woman of Flowers has been published by Aurora Metro and available at performances as well as here

The Forest Forge Theatre Company production opened in September and continues to tour nationally until November 1st 2014. Full tour details with links here and below.

Woman of Flowers tour

October 2014

Tue 14 19.30 Quay Arts, Isle of Wight, PO30 5BW 01983 822490

Wed 15 20.00 Brixham Theatre, Devon, TQ5 8TA 01803 882717

Sat 18 19.30 West Stafford Village Hall, Dorset, DT2 8AG 01305 261984

Tue 21 19.30 Ibsley Village Hall, Hampshire, BH24 3NL 01425 473065

Thu 23 20:00 Lighthouse Poole’s Centre for the Arts, Poole, BH15 1UG             O844 406 8666 BSL interpreted show

Fri 24 19:30 Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset, DT6 3NR 01308 424204

Sat 25 20:00 Dorchester Arts Centre,Dorset, DT1 1XR 01305 266926

Tue 28 19:30 Mere Lecture Hall,Wiltshire, BA12 6HA O1747 860163

Wed 29 19:30 Aberystwyth Arts Centre,Wales, SY23 3DE 01970 62 32 32

Thu 30 19:30 The Spring, Havant, PO9 1BS 023 9247 2700

November 2014

Sat 1 November 19.30 Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, BH24 1DW 01425 472613

 

Writing for Performance Masterclass. Ty Newydd. 9-14 Feb 2015.

Lloyd George's former home: Ty Newydd - writers' centre of Wales

Lloyd George’s former home: Ty Newydd – writers’ centre of Wales

I’m delighted to give exclusive advance notice for a residential course I will be teaching in February 2015 at Tŷ Newydd, Lloyd George’s former home, now the national writers’ centre of Wales on the beautiful Llŷn Peninsula.

This new course, the first of a series of three masterclasses, is for a small select group of writers committed to writing for performance. Course details are not yet available on the Tŷ Newydd website, and places will be offered on a first come first served basis. All enquiries should be directed to Tŷ Newydd at the contact details, below.

Writing for theatre and performance – a strong, arresting voice.

 9 – 14 February 2015.

From solo shows to dramatic speeches in multi-character plays, from Shakespeare’s rules of rhetoric to Mamet’s ‘beware the puppy dog speech’ – this course will take an in-depth study of the skills, approaches, aesthetics and practices that create dynamic, effective and effecting dialogue in performance writing.

The course will be highly intensive and for committed playwrights, offering a mix of theory and practice, practical workshops, sharing of work with mutual and critical support, and reading assignments set in advance.

We will consider:

  •  the different ways a story is told through dialogue – from contemporary solo performance pieces to reinventing ancient texts.
  •  point of view, back story, and how to create the world of the play through language.
  •  how to write credible, lively, engaging dialogue and reveal character and action through speech.
  •  how to manipulate pace and tempo-rhythm, create tension and sustain interest.

The skills and techniques explored will benefit all writers for performance, not just those engaged in solo shows, and ideally for those already with some experience in writing for theatre.

Those interested in this course, please contact Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre at the address below.

Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre,
Llanystumdwy,
Cricieth,
Gwynedd,
LL52 0LW.

tynewydd@literaturewales.org

http://www.literaturewales.org/course-bookings/

http://www.literaturewales.org/ty-newydd/   ;

http://www.llenyddiaethcymru.org/canolfan-ysgrifennu-ty-newydd/

 

BIOG:

Kaite O’Reilly won The Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her dramatic retelling of ‘Persians’, the oldest extant play in the Western theatrical canon, and produced by National Theatre Wales in their inaugural year. Other prizes include The Peggy Ramsay Award, M.E.N. best play and a finalist in the International Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. Awarded three Cultural Olympiad commissions in 2012, her montaged monologues ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ was produced by National Theatre Wales as part of the official festival celebrating the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics at South Bank Centre. ‘The 9 Fridas’ premiered at the Taipei Festival in 2014, and will transfer to Hong Kong in 2015. A Fellow at the international research centre ‘Interweaving performance cultures’ in Berlin, her work has been produced in eleven countries worldwide. www.kaiteoreilly.com

 

 

 

The spaces in between words… ‘Woman of Flowers’ published and reviewed

‘I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.’      Thornton Wilder

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge's 'Woman of Flowers' by Kaite O'Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

Sophie Stone in Forest Forge’s ‘Woman of Flowers’ by Kaite O’Reilly. Photo copyright Lucy Sewill.

I’m grateful that the difficult story I was trying to tell in my latest play, ‘Woman of Flowers’ seems to be communicating, and getting great responses. A reinvention of the myth of Blodeuwedd from The Mabinogion, it asks questions about our origins, and our duties, and how to deal with issues of autonomy and desire.

I’ve been obsessed with the story of Blodeuwedd for more years than I care to count. It can be endlessly reinvented, and interpreted through so many different prisms: The ‘perfect’ woman, made from flowers of the forest to be wife to a man cursed by his own mother… The ancient fear of awakened female sexuality and appetite… The amorality of one reared in nature, red in tooth and claw… The politics and rhetoric of belief systems, of honour revenge, of punishment…

I sought to explore this universe created solely by words in visual language, working with Jean St Clair and Sophie Stone in theatricalised sign as well as spoken and projected language. This collaboration between Deaf and hearing cultures has been warmly received by both signing and non-signing audiences, a rare occurrence, and one I feel particularly proud of, and grateful to Jean and Sophie for their willingness to experiment with me.

I was really touched by the thoughtfulness of this recent review:

THE spaces in between the words we say and our thoughts are explored with poetic beauty in Woman Of Flowers, a powerful contemporary reworking of one of the ancient Celtic myths contained in the Welsh treasury known as The Mabinogion

Written by Kaite O’Reilly for the supremely versatile deaf actress Sophie Stone, Woman Of Flowers is at one level a story of duty, desire and revenge, but it operates at many different levels – who are we and where do we come from, how do we reconcile the apparent facts of our life with what we don’t know, what is a woman, what is love, what happens when you want a different life from the one chosen for you?

Rose cannot remember what came before the house at the edge of the isolated forest. Farmer Gwynne says he magicked her out of the flowers, and he doesn’t want her to know anything about the world outside. He has chosen her for his nephew Lewis, but Lewis is ignorant, little better than an animal himself. He has no imagination and he cares nothing of the world beyond the forest.

Rose plays her part, whatever Lewis wants, whatever Gwynne wants, she gathers the eggs and kills the chickens, she cooks, she scrubs their backs, she obeys Lewis’s demands, she takes off their dirty farm boots and cleans them.

She is a little more than a servant and she seems to accept her existence – but inside her head she asks questions, she sees things, she imagines another life, she questions who she is.

Using what is described as “theatricalised sign language” Sophie Stone communicates powerfully with the audience – she is by turns a bird, a flower, a beautiful woman, a witch …

Then a stranger comes to the forest. He shows Rose the birds and the trees, he tells her about the owls, he tells her the story of Athene Noctua, the little owl.

The production, directed by Kirstie Davis, Forest Forge’s artistic director, uses live music, dance and surtitles (for both the spoken and the signed dialogue and Rose’s thoughts).

The action revolves, indeed it dances, around Sophie Stone who is on stage for virtually the whole performance. She is a compelling performer and her choreographed movement takes us into her consciousness, into the heart of darkness of the forest and above the trees to the mysterious world of the owls.

Lewis is played by Tom Brownlee. Pete Ashmore is the violinist and plays Graham, the scientist who comes into the forest. Forest Forge regular Andrew Wheaton plays Gwynne, a man who hovers on a strange border between brutal and kind – what does he know about Rose’s background, is he protecting her or did he kidnap her as a child to be their slave?

As you leave the theatre or village hall, the poetic words and the beautiful images of Woman Of Flowers will stay with you.

The production is on tour throughout October, including dates at the Victoria Rooms, Fordingbridge (Saturday 11th October), West Stafford village hall (18th), Ibsley village hall (21st), Poole Lighthouse (23rd), Bridport Arts Centre (24th), Dorchester Arts Centre (25th), Mere Lecture Hall (28th) and finally at Greyfriars Community Centre, Ringwood, on 1st November.

FC http://www.theftr.co.uk/woman-of-flowers-forest-forge-salisbury-arts-centre-and-on-tour/

woman_of_flowers-96x148-1

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The script is published as a programme with full play text by Aurora Metro, available at performances during the national tour and also here 

 

20 Questions…. Samantha Ellis

To celebrate this weekend’s Fun Palaces and Agent 160 Theatre’s involvement, here’s one of my occasional ’20 Questions…’ blog, when I ask novelists, actors, burlesque performers, directors, non-fiction writers, poets, the creative great and the good to respond as they wish to a series of questions. It is my great delight to present Samantha Ellis and her wonderful, witty, inspiring responses….

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and the author of the reading memoir How to be a Heroine; Or, What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much. Her plays include Cling to me Like Ivy (Birmingham Rep and on tour, published by Nick Hern Books) and Sugar and Snow (BBC Radio 4), and she’s just had Starlore for Beginners and other plays on at Theatre 503. Goat and Monkey Theatre are producing her immersive Victorian thriller Anatomical Venus in 2015. Her short play This Time I Win is part of  Agent 160 Theatre Company’s Fun Palace, celebrating Joan Littlewood’s centenary 4 – 5 October 2014 at Wales Millennium Centre.  www.samanthaellis.me.uk

What first drew you to writing?

When I was really small I used to sit under the kitchen table where all the women in my family were cooking—my job was to pull the leaves off the parsley for tabbouleh—and listen to the grownups telling stories. The stories took me to another place—Baghdad, where my family are from—but also gave me nightmares (not everything that happened there was good). I was told to stop having such an overactive imagination. But then I read Anne of Green Gables. She also had an overactive imagination and she used it: to become a writer and tell stories of her own. So I thought I would too.

What was your big breakthrough?

In my twenties I was too scared to write the plays I wanted to write, and I was working as a journalist, which was not what I really wanted to be doing. I was researching a piece about the premiere of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey and she just seemed so tough, so clear, so passionate, so angry, and I realised I wanted to write like that too, to give it everything I’ve got, to be brave. If I could. If I can.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

 Keeping thin-skinned enough to be open to ideas, and write from the heart, while also being thick-skinned enough to cope with the rest of it (meetings, rehearsals, reviews…)

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

The book that rocked my world, more than any other, was Wuthering Heights. For years I tried to date Heathcliff. With predictable results.

What’s more important: form or content?

Both.

How do you know when a project is finished?

I never know! I wish I did.

Do you read your reviews?

Yes. I like to know what the response is, and to try to learn from feedback if it’s useful. But I try not to get upset if it’s not super-positive (I don’t always succeed).

What advice would you give a young writer?

Stay curious, keep exploring, read everything, watch plays. And join a writers’ group or start your own—for honest criticism, for good advice, for the fun of being part of a gang, for drinking with on opening nights.

What work of art would you most like to own?

I just like looking at it.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That it should be easy. That you just lie back on your chaise longue and inspiration happens…it doesn’t, unless you really, really work at it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working with you! I’m so glad to be part of the women playwrights’ collective Agent 160, and to be making a Fun Palace inspired by Joan Littlewood at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff this weekend. My short play, This Time I Win, is about a woman discovering her inner (furious) feminist.

I’m also writing a book about Anne Brontë, called Take Courage (those were her amazing last words).

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

Wuthering Heights (both the book and the Kate Bush song). A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lace. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A Thousand and One Nights. When Harry Met Sally. Moonstruck and, most recently, Pride, which made me think about how outsiders can come together to change the world. Oh & certain episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

I wish I hadn’t been so eager to please, to write “nicely”, to plane off all the rough edges, to write characters that were familiar and non-scary…it turns out the more odd and specific the writing is, the more people respond to it. The more I’ve written from my broken, messy, awkward, confused heart, the bigger and more truthful the work has seemed when it was finished…much better than trying to write something perfect and general and “universal”. And writing about people who aren’t often written about is a radical act.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To keep doing what I’m doing.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

On my last day at university, a friend gave me a postcard of a Paul Klee painting and on the back of it he’d written out a bit of a letter Chekhov wrote to Olga Knipper, saying: “Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling. There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments… you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.” I think about that all the time…that it’s not going to be easy, but you just have to keep going. I also do a lot of baking and go for a lot of long walks.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

“Samantha Ellis has no humanity.” It was my first ever review, of a play I took to the Edinburgh Fringe when I was 21. My friends and I got the paper at a late night newsagent’s off Prince’s Street, and read it under an orange streetlight. I cried off all my mascara and then we got chips and vinegar and ate them as the dawn came up.

And the best thing?

I love that Lee Randall of the Scotsman called my book “a life-affirming feminist text”. But even better than that is if I write something my mum likes. She’s my biggest inspiration.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

Wow…I wish I knew…

What is your philosophy or life motto?

I love the improvisation rule “yes and”; when someone makes an offer you should accept (yes) but also offer something new (and). I think it works for life as well as art.

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

You don’t have to be perfect or finished or grown up to write; you can write out of rawness and uncertainty and doubt (in fact it’s probably better to).

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

My mum’s recipe for kichri (Iraqi Jewish rice & lentils) is the answer to most questions, I find… http://www.samanthaellis.me.uk/2010/04/lentils-are-for-consolation.html

Samantha Ellis's memoir of reading too much...

Samantha Ellis’s memoir of reading too much…

Links and further information on Samantha Ellis:

http://agent160theatre.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/Book/296/Cling-To-Me-Like-Ivy.html

http://www.hive.co.uk/book/cling-to-me-like-ivy/9697228/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-To-Be-Heroine-learned/dp/0701187514

http://www.hive.co.uk/book/how-to-be-a-heroine-or-what-ive-learned-from-reading-too-much/18159868/