My first plays were all for radio, and happened at about the time I began writing, in the late 70s. At the time I had been seconded to BBC Radio Sheffield to write and produce programmes for schools, and in those two years I learnt a great deal from the education producer, Dave Sheasby, about radio drama. I soon began writing plays for BBC Radio 4 as well, starting with original plays and then moving on to dramatisations of my own novels, then on to adaptations of children’s classics. I think radio is a wonderful medium to write for, inviting as it does both writer and listener to use their imaginations, to ‘see’ with their mind’s eye. Later I began writing for theatre and television too, and they all have their own challenges and excitements.
Questions from Brian Podmore (Writing in Education)
Q Tell us about the moments when you realise that you are wanting to take an idea/germ towards drama rather than towards poem or story/novel.
A When I began writing I was interested in drama rather than fiction. More often than not, these days, plays that I write are commissioned and the novels/stories/poems just happen. My first play was for Radio 4 (The Drowned Village) and at that time (early 80s) radio was my great love. It didn’t even occur to me to write it as a novel – I could hear the voices, the sound effects etc – I just knew it was a radio piece. I was then commissioned to write a play for Sheffield Crucible Theatre (Vanguard), and from then I’ve gone on writing plays for theatre, radio, television and publication at about the same rate that I’ve been writing fiction, but most have been commissioned and many have been dramatisations of my own or other people’s novels. The exciting thing about play-writing, for me, is in developing a drama from an idea that already exists in another form. It’s a technical challenge, and it’s a very creative process. But to get back to the question, my moment of choice would be entirely intuitive, just as the choice between poetry or novel or short story would be.
Q Does a principal pleasure and impetus for playwriting (as against other forms of writing) come from anticipating a) the collaboration involved in bringing a play to fruition or b) the subsequent audience response?
A The actual first lonely process of writing a play is a pleasurable one in itself. A play by its very nature has to be very much more structured than a novel (a commission will specify length, size of cast, performance space etc). I never plan novels but I plan plays very thoroughly. A huge part of the enjoyment then comes from the discussions/developments with the producer and director, the designer and composer and all the members of the production team who bring their own skills and care into realising the play, and then, wonderfully, from the bringing to life of my characters by the actors. I can’t begin to tell you how exciting that is. Seeing the play in performance, sitting with the audience, whether in a theatre or a school, is a terrifying and deeply rewarding experience.