Sunday, 20 March 2011

Shakespeare and me...

It’s not often that I’m compared to Shakespeare. Well, OK, never. However, my son was moved to remark, recently ‘very Shakespearean, Mum.' Because I am writing a play. No, it’s not in iambic pentameter and it doesn’t have people wandering around accepting the frankly ludicrous premise that a beautiful young girl is actually a virile young lad (or any of the other frankly ludicrous premises in the comedies, or even tragedies - trial by hanky always struck me as ludicrously flimsy stuff - of Wm Shakespeare Esq). It’s a play about Dickens but we’ll come back to that in a minute. What prompted the filial Shakespearean reference is the fact that I’m trying to write a play that will appeal to all kinds and ages of people. Something for the Dickens enthusiast, something for people who know nothing about him apart from the fact that he wrote the odd book, something for kids who don’t care who he was, something for teenagers who know who he was thanks very much and don’t want to be here anyway…
Which brings me to the sort of play it is. You probably know that 2012 marks not only the year the Olympics come to London (insert hooray or boo here according to your preference) but the bi-centenary of Charles Dickens’ birth. And I've been commissioned to write a play for performance in Rochester cathedral to commemorate this event.
Those of you who knew it was Dickens’ bicentenary next year will know why there's a Dickens festival every year in Rochester: Dickens spent most of his first ten years in and around Chatham (contiguous with Rochester) and, once he was famous, bought a house in Rochester that he had admired as a small boy.
The Dickens festival is a big annual deal for Rochester and the bicentenary festival is going to be a good deal bigger deal, as it were. So I’m very gratified to have been asked to write a play that is going to be the cathedral’s contribution to the proceedings.
Long-term readers of this blog will recall that I wrote and produced a play for the cathedral in 2010. That experience taught me a lot and it’s why I know that – with the likely crowds coming to the cathedral during the festival – I will have to appeal to all kinds and manner of people.
More on this, no doubt, anon; though I suspect that’s the end of the comparisons of my work with Shakespeare.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

World Book Night

How did you spend World Book Night? Were you a ‘giver’? Did you go to an event? I was kindly invited to take part in a WBN gig at Crawley library by fellow-writer Neil Ayres and duly went along to do a reading, listen to other writers reading and watch lots of people (well, the specified forty-eight, I suppose) get a free copy of Cloud Atlas, the book Neil had nominated to give away.
There has been a certain amount of controversy over the whole idea of Jamie Byng’s World Book Night. You can read some of the controversy here. And, whilst I was making my way (thank you Google maps) to and from Crawley library, I wondered what I would do if somebody asked me to come up with an alternative idea for WBN (which should, strictly speaking, more accurately be called National Book Night since nobody outside Britain seems to have caught the vision).
I think that giving away books is a grand gesture, in more senses than one, but when the books are chosen centrally, we are missing the opportunity for people to rave about books they personally care about. Maybe your favourite book appeared on the list but none of mine  did.
I quite like Nicola Morgan’s suggestion but instead of just buying a book and giving it to a friend, I’d combine it with the kind of event I was part of on Saturday, plus some other stuff.
It would go something like this. There’d be a barn dance (or quiz, karaoke or any other kind of activity that brings people together. Since WBN is supposed to be about getting people reading, you need to encourage people who don’t read much to come – they need something they know they’re going to enjoy) and something to eat and, at some point in the evening, the book giving would commence. Anyone who’d like to speak about the book they’re giving to a friend would be able to do so. (A surprisingly small number of people are prepared to speak publicly, even when actually asked.) Any writers giving a book away might, in passing, mention their own work. The band would provide live entertainment during the eating part of the evening and they could sell their CDs. Everybody would be a winner.
So that’s my World Book Night. What would yours look like?