So I spent Thursday and Friday at a BBC Radio drama lab in Edinburgh. It was the first section of what will be a five and a half day workshop about writing, creativity and writing drama creatively for radio. I wasn't sure what to expect and was almost dreading it a little when I walked in. I'd had a bad seven days with my writing, several projects were coming apart at the seams [I've save the details about that for tomorrow's blog posting] and I've got several deadlines looming in a particularly nasty fashion. All in all, the last thing I needed to be doing was spending five and a half days at a workshop about writing, when I should be at room doing some bloody writing, right? Wrong. So wrong.
The first two days of the lab have reminded me why I'm a writer - the joy of creativity, the moment when you have a notion that blossoms into idea and then grows into a story. I saw two words juxtaposed on Friday afternoon and my brain start ticking. Within twenty minutes I had a plot, an intriguing central character and even a great title for the story. I'm not sure if it's right for radio, but it's definitely a story I want to write for whatever medium it suits. It was such a breakthrough, to rediscover the joy of writing, the excitement of ideas colliding, the thrill of anything being possible, the thought that a blank page is an opportunity and not a thing of tyranny to be feared and fretted over.
Day one of the lab was full of games and roleplaying, listening and talking, exploring and discovering. The lab's being run by David Ian Neville - who produced, directed and nurtured my first radio play, Island Blue: Ronald - and another BBC Radio Scotland drama producer, Kirsteen Cameron. There are eight writers including me, all experienced in a variety of fields and most with at least one radio credit under their belt. It's an exciting group of people, all with different life experiences and backgrounds, but we're meshing remarkably well. Our homework after the first day was reading Angela Carter's short story The Kitchen Child and imagining how we would dramatise that for radio.
Day two started with our discussion about The Kitchen Child, before we heard the finished radio play [due for broadcast later this month and much recommended]. It was fascinating to hear how much the adapter had changed - and yet remained faithful to the spirit of the source material, the language of Angela Carter's prose and kept the essence of it at the heart of the radio play. I think it opened a lot of the writer's eyes [and ears, obviously] about how brave and bold an adaptation has to be. Funnily enough, adaptation is the subject I'm writing about for the first piece of assessed work on my screenwriting MA this term, so it was already much in my mind.
In the afternoon guest writer Louise Ironside came in and banished any post-lunch stupors with her vitality and passion for writing. I first met Louise at an Adrian Mead TV drama writing seminar and she was very helpful with advice about how fledgling scribes should approach the BBC Scotland soap opera River City. [Louise is a regular writer for the show and has an episode being broadcast on Tuesday.] She was also one of the writers on the Island Blue radio project, so it was great to meet her again and catch up. I think my schedule is busy but she puts me in the shade.
Her session was chock full of useful exercises and exciting methods of sparking creativity when you're feeling drained and hollow - brilliant stuff. Peerhaps my favourite sequence was when each of us wrote a short monologue based on 26 random supplied words, which had to be used in alphabetical order. I was in tears of hysterical laughter by the time I get halfway through reading mine out loud. The others were creepy, moving or twice as funny as my effort. By the end of the afternoon we were all buzzing, and would happily have stayed for more.
Our homework for next Thursday's session is writing a three minute scene that will - after much rewriting, I suspect - be recorded in a studio by professional actors. We're being asked to challenge ourselves, experiment, test our emotional levels, and not play safe or be lazy with this opportunity. My only problem now - what the hell do I write?