2016 has been a pretty tumultuous year in every way and the bad news keeps on coming. Meanwhile, however, writers keep on writing and trying to make sense of the changing world through our words.  To be good at anything takes hours of practice and I’ve treated the last couple of years as an apprenticeship to the art of stringing words together in a coherent and meaningful way.

January: 2015 ended on a low note for me with a couple of rejections that stung. Obviously rejection is par for the course in this business but I felt particularly frustrated by these. Added to this a play reading didn’t work out how I thought it would and I seriously wondered about chucking it all in and taking up basket-weaving or astrophysics. In the end I gave myself a stern talking to, rewrote the play in question and polished up a new play which I submitted to the Red Women’s Theatre awards. Just to get back in the saddle as it were.

Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister in rehearsal for Subjunctive Mood
Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister in rehearsal for Subjunctive Mood

February: I rewrote a short play and sent it in to the fabulous Actor Awareness. It was chosen for their scratch night at Canal Café Theatre and I ended up with two super actors (Krystel Mendez and Jules Bannister) and directed it myself. Canal Café Theatre is also home to News Revue, the world’s longest running live comedy show. I submitted a song to them and they added me to their list of comedy writers. I submit sketches, songs and voiceovers and sometimes, sometimes, they get chosen and performed. It’s great discipline writing humorous responses to news stories although the news in 2016 has often been a parody of itself. I’ve written about Danny Dyer, Trump, and libraries closing and at the time of writing my Marmite song is in its ninth week of performance! Bit gutted that my sketch about Honey G becoming a UKIP MP didn’t make the cut but hey ho!

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Alex Appleby and Fiona Whitelaw in Spurn The Dust, Greenwich Theatre

March: The play I submitted to the Red Women’s award got long listed and I was thrilled, particularly when I saw the calibre of fellow writers on the longlist. One week later and suddenly my name was on the list of the four finalists. When I’d picked my jaw up off the floor I was excited to work with director Kate Saffin and actors Fiona Whitelaw and Alex Appleby on the play which was staged at Greenwich Theatre. The night before the performance I picked up a vile stomach bug and barely made it through the show but loved every second anyway. I even blagged an interview on Wandsworth radio.

April: A learning month: I attended a comedy writing course led by legend Dave Cohen and this helped me focus my writing more. I attended a Writer’s Guild on writing for radio and discovered how complicated it is getting a story on the airwaves. Funny Women invited me to take part of a performance masterclass with the legendary Josie Lawrence. While I’m not really a performer, comedy improvisation really gets you thinking on your feel and Josie was incredibly generous with advice and experience. What a legend! I also went to the premier at the BFI of the short film I was in last year. Directed by up and coming director Rob Savage (who will be huge one day- I’lm willing to stake money on it), Dawn of the Deaf is a superbly executed horror film in which I was one of the zombie horde. It was great fun to film and the film is garnering all sorts of awards around the world in various film festivals. Most importantly, I was able to observe how films are made from close by and who wouldn’t want to be a zombie for a weekend?

Dawn of the Deaf poster. Spot anyone you know?
Dawn of the Deaf poster. Spot anyone you know?

May: I submitted a short play to Director’s Cut theatre company. The brief was to write a monologue or duologue of a draft email you wanted to send but didn’t. I went full on comedy and wrote a piece about the perils of wearing contact lenses. It was brilliantly interpreted by Nicola Kill and directed by Edward Land and showed at Southwark Playhouse to a packed house.

June: I started on a play about the four Romanov sisters last year and abandoned it as it just wasn’t working. I always intended to take it up again, however and when I saw a submission shout out from innovative Doughnut Productions it seemed a good fit. They were looking for four plays that used their unique space to tell a story entitled Trapped. They sit their audience on swivel chairs and the action happens around and between the audience and this spurred me on to start the play again. I submitted a proposal, was shortlisted to write the play and then mine was chosen to be one of the winning four to be performed at The Cockpit in August.  I wrote about the process in this blog post.

In rehearsals for Trapped
In rehearsals for Trapped

July: it’s all about the connections in this business and Tessa Hart who directed Life Sentence at Southwark Playhouse last year put together a week’s run of plays on the theme of Alone Inside The Box at her own theatre the Bread and Roses. Tessa directed Life Sentence again and Vicky Porter reprised her role and blew the socks off the audience every night.  While it’s brilliant making an audience laugh at your worlds, if you can make them cry real tears it’s even better! We had a great review which I wrote about here.

August: rehearsals for Trapped were underway with Catherine Lord the director and four amazingly talented young actors. The quartet of plays played three times on one day- it was quite a feat getting the whole kit and caboodle of chairs and staging into the theatre space. It was an amazing experience and we ended the night at theatre hangout the Phoenix Arts Club. I was also an extra in Rob Savage’s new short film Verity. This time there was proper costume, hair and makeup and I can’t wait to see the result even though I looked like a slightly sterner Mrs Danvers!

Simon Desborough in Secret Life of Sally, Southwark Theatre
Simon Desborough in Secret Life of Sally, Southwark Theatre

September: I treated myself to a ticket for the London Screenwriters Festival. While there were loads of pitching events I wanted to just enjoy, watch and learn from the best in the business. It was an amazing experience and I’m still processing all I learnt.  I wrote and submitted another piece to Director’s Cut and was thrilled to be selected again.  The clever brief was The Secret Life of Sally and writers created stories related to her life. I wrote for a man (for a change) and talented actor Simon Desborough gave a warm and sympathetic performance under the direction of Sakia Van T’Hoff. The evening was brilliantly curated by Heather Ward and Director’s Cut and sold the Little theatre at Southwark Playhouse. Such was the demand for tickets that a second evening in October was put on and sold out again within minutes!

October: Earlier in the year I contacted James Haddrell the artistic director of Greenwich Theatre to ask if I could send him my revamped and rewritten full-length play. To cut a very long story short, it turned out that he liked it and offered a rehearsed reading in the brand new studio at the theatre. A bit like hosting  a party, I worried that nobody would come and despite contacting a host of theatres and agents had pretty much no response. I do, however, have incredibly supportive friends who came along and were so enthusiastic that James is taking a punt on Gazing At A Distant Star and putting it on in January for a three week run. My first big break after a huge amount of hard work.

November: I spent a lot of time just writing and working on a spec TV drama created by friends of an actor I worked with earlier this year. Draft one done, I tidied up Gazing and started a couple of other projects.

December: we had a table read for gazing At A Distant Star and talked about style points. I tidied up the play a bit more (it’s an ever evolving life-form) and we start rehearsals in earnest in January. I also attended a panel talk at Soho Theatre with a lineup of superb emerging writers (including Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame and Vinay Patel who penned my favourite drama of the year Murdered By My Father). I was also lucky enough to attend the premier at Bafta of Sally Wainwright’s Bronte drama To Walk Invisible. The woman herself was on hand to talk about making the film and the actors talked about bringing the sisters to life on screen.

In between all the writing I’ve been busy at the day job of course, have attended and reviewed loads of shows for London Pub Theatres and attended a few shows just for fun. I was also commissioned to write an education book for Jessica Kingsley Publications so much of 2017 will be spent in writing that.

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject then I reckon I racked up a few more this year. Goodness knows what will happen in next year’s world. In fact I dread to think but I know one thing- whatever form it takes I’ll be writing about it.

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