Interviews

Pleasure & Grief

What was your inspiration for writing Pleasure & Grief?

Pleasure & Grief started life as a long short story. If anyone wants to see the story it is available on the Outsider Ink website. Many people assume it is autobiographical, but it isn’t. It was sparked off by some images/ideas that popped into my head: a mysterious woman living on the edge of a village, walking on the seashore, things like that. After finishing the story I thought it would make a good play for radio. When I wrote the story I was primarily interested in contrasting two points of view of a relationship. The story alternates between the viewpoints of Simon and Polly. When I came to write the play version I was also concerned to explore the contrast between the present and the past in the form of the two voices of Simon, one the young self of the story and the other the older self of the present who reflects on the past. I like the way on radio there are no boundaries so the listener can be inside the head of the characters.

Thoreau said: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation’. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. And there is a lot of heroism in everyday life, in just keeping on. And that is one of the things I like to explore in my writing.

Another thing I wanted to explore in this piece was how hurt is contagious. If someone has been hurt in the past (like Polly) there is a tendency for that damage to be carried through their life; and for them to inflict that hurt onto others, without even knowing they’re doing it. That is the situation of the protagonists, Polly and Simon, in the play.

As Heidegger pointed out, the past is not behind us, as one commonly thinks, the past, our past, lies before us. It is something we must move through in order to move into the future. If one thinks of it in that way it is easy to see how the past can block one from moving forward.

Polly is damaged by her past. At the point at which she meets Simon she hasn’t managed to overcome the hurt and so, mostly unintentionally, she passes on the hurt to the young Simon. The older Simon is in turn damaged by the hurt caused by Polly’s sudden disappearance. He has not been able to overcome it and though his life seems okay on the surface there is a great well of pain underneath. He has become stuck, blocked by the past, and can’t get through it. He leads a life of quiet desperation.

Has Pleasure and Grief been performed anywhere?

No. A part of the script had a rehearsed reading in London at the time I was writing it. But this is the first performance of the complete work.

What are your hopes and plans for Pleasure and Grief?

I’d like to get it produced as a radio play. I sent it to the BBC but they turned it down. At one point an independent producer was interested in it but they turned it down in the end because they thought the ending was too sad.

How long have you been writing plays? How did you get started as a playwright?

I started out writing prose fiction: stories and novels. However, I’ve always been interested in the theatre and my favourite writer is Samuel Beckett. I started writing plays in 1997 as light relief from the grinding work of writing a novel. My first play came to me late at night as one of those exhilarating moments when the characters just speak through you and the writing is like taking down dictation. I wrote that play in one night and it went on to win a writing prize. The judge was the playwright Paul Sirett who at the time was Literary Manager of the Soho Theatre in London. He invited me onto a theatre writing workshop at Soho Theatre. At the time I was getting all my stories and my novel rejected so I switched to just writing plays at that point since I was getting more encouragement about my scripts. Last year I returned to writing fiction and have just finished work on a new novel.

What kind of training have you had as a writer?

In the past I’ve taken part in theatre writing workshops at Soho Theatre in London, the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and Chelsea Theatre in London. That’s the only training I’ve had. I think ‘training’ to be a writer is of limited value. The real training is to live a lot and write a lot. It is only by doing it that you learn about it. I think you only get better at writing through the experience of doing it again and again rather than being told about it by someone else. It is a question of personal growth rather than learning some ‘thing’. You can tell someone everything they can be ‘told’ about writing in an afternoon and the rest is the long hard slog of actually doing it.

How did you get involved with Readers Theater Television?

Some years ago my short play ‘Touch’ was given a wonderful production at the Malibu International One Act Play Festival and Regina Mocey (of Readers Theater Television) acted in that play; and did a brilliant job. We have been friends since then and Regina spoke to me about Readers Theater Television and invited me to show her some scripts that might be appropriate for a reading. I’m very pleased that Regina chose to do ‘Pleasure & Grief’ and would like to thank everyone at Readers Theater Television for all their hard work on it.

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