On Thursday of last week, I went over to Edinburgh to the Playwrights' Studio summer party, and the launch of Scottish Shorts, a new anthology of short plays from Scotland, edited by Philip Howard, just published by Nick Hern Books and which includes my own play, The Price of a Fish Supper. This was the first time I had actually met Nick Hern - and it was a great pleasure to meet a publisher who (a) seems to enjoy his job so much and (b) is tremendously positive about books in general and plays and playwrights in particular. Some years ago now, Nick Hern published my full length play about Chernobyl, Wormwood, in another anthology called Scotland Plays, and has kept it in print ever since. The play was first produced at the Traverse in Edinburgh, and I have already had tentative enquiries about another production to mark the 25th anniversary of the disaster. Nick Hern says that these anthologies are still selling pretty well and I can vouch for the truth of it because a nice little payment arrives each year . He offers writers a small advance and a royalty, and also handles enquiries about licensing of the plays for professional production. The books are well produced and edited, and - unlike so many publishers - he keeps things in print, with small runs. Wormwood is on the Scottish Higher Still syllabus, so schools which offer courses in drama (not - sadly - South Ayrshire, which seems to approve of neither drama nor history at secondary school level) buy a number of copies.
But, as talented playwright Jo Clifford remarked to me at the launch, what a pity that, although all these plays are kept in print, they are seldom if ever produced again. There is a vast body of vibrant and exciting work floating about out there which can be read, thanks to Nick Hern, but not seen and heard. And there is an argument to be made that - unlike, for instance, a novel - a play which is not being produced, which has no audience to see it, and interact with it, is frozen, static, not quite alive.
Years ago, when my son was studying English at school, it saddened and infuriated me in about equal measure, that there seemed to be no notion of taking students to see productions of the plays they were studying. They were being asked searching questions about the text which could only really be illuminated by seeing the play as an entity on the stage.
In the current financial climate, and with current government attitudes to the arts, things are clearly not going to get better any time soon - but with that small light on the horizon of a possible new production of Wormwood, I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed!