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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Not Making a Crisis Out of a Drama: Why I No Longer Call Myself a Playwright.

Quartz with Liam Brennan
I used to be a playwright.

Over the past decade or so, however, I've slowly but surely moved from writing plays to writing fiction, mostly historical fiction, with the odd feature article or contribution to an online magazine such as the Scottish Review. 

Now, if asked, I think I would call myself a novelist.

This wasn't so much a conscious decision, or not at first, anyway, although latterly, circumstances and inclination did force me to make some hard choices. I'm still occasionally asked to speak about drama to writing groups. I always enjoy the variety of people and their interesting questions. But recently, I've realised that I shouldn't be speaking about drama at all and have taken a conscious decision to stop doing it. (Although I'm delighted to speak about fiction instead!) Why? Well, you need a certain enthusiasm for your topic, coupled with a certain amount of up-to-date knowledge about the practicalities.

I can do this with fiction. I'm happily published by an excellent small independent publisher, Saraband but I know about self publishing too. I know about learning the craft, and what the current market is like, the difficulties, the potential avenues. I know what might sell and what might not, about whether or not you need an agent, about supportive professional organisations. I know all about research and writing historical fiction in particular.

But I don't think I can do this kind of thing any more with drama. And what's worse, I don't think any advice I might have to offer to people just starting out will do them very much good at all.

Let's face it, drama writing was always a hard row to hoe. But back when I started out, a certain amount of enthusiasm and application might get you some way along the road to success. Now, I just don't know what to tell people any more. Years ago, if you wanted (as I did, then) to work in radio drama, you could listen to a lot of radio, find a producer whose work you liked, submit a piece of work to them, and receive encouragement. Moreover, if a producer was willing to work with you, and you were willing to put in the hard graft, you were pretty much guaranteed a production at the end of the process. My first couple of short half hour radio plays were produced here in Scotland. I cut my teeth on those before moving onto anything more ambitious, and the late Gordon Emslie taught me so much about writing for radio.

Anne Marie Timoney and Liam Brennan in Wormwood 

With theatre, I again submitted work - an early draft of a stage play about Chernobyl, called Wormwood - to the excellent Ella Wildridge who was then Literary Manager at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. That play went through a long development process, including workshopping with professional actors before eventually being given a full professional production to glowing reviews. None of this was easy and the money was woeful, but it was hugely rewarding in so many other ways. Wormwood was followed by Quartz, and then later on, I had three shorter plays produced at Glasgow's Oran Mor. I did some television and a lot more radio.

And then, it all dried up.

Partly, this was my own fault. Sometimes you just grind to a halt with a particular medium. But I had ideas. I was proposing them - often I was even writing them - and nothing happened. After a while, it struck me that I couldn't in all conscience advise people to send work here, there and everywhere, knowing that I myself, with a decent track record and contacts in the business, could send work out to be met with complete silence, without even the courtesy of a rejection half the time.

In many ways this was something of a blessing. I started again and this time I concentrated on fiction, with all the knowledge of dialogue and structure that I had learned by writing plays. Nothing is ever really lost where writing is concerned. And some years later, fiction has been good to me. I love what I do and so far, fingers crossed and touch wood and all that, I've had a certain amount of success.

I would never say never with plays and in fact there are possible plans afoot for a new production of one of my Oran Mor plays next year. And I'd be absolutely delighted if one of my historical novels was made into a film or television production. (Rights are available!) We'll see. But I don't much want to teach people about plays any more.

If somebody asks me what I do, I tell them I'm a novelist. And extremely happy with that title.



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