Turning the Memories, By Gareth Brownbill
I can’t believe it’s almost been two years since Turning the Tide was first launched onto an unsuspecting public. It was a dream come true for me, the result of a bet I made with myself to finish a forty five minute radio drama, just to see if I could.
The fact it had to be a radio drama was no accident. I’d been fascinated by radio comedy and drama for years. As a teenager, I discovered a vinyl Aladdin’s Cave in Liverpool Central Library, where the Goons, Monty Python, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore and many others lay in wait for me to unearth their comic gold. When I went to drama school it was always the radio classes that held my attention the most. I wasn’t surprised at all when I started writing and thought that trying my hand at an audio play would be a good idea.
The problem was, of course, I needed a story.
My only other attempt at writing anything for radio was a half-hour comedy for a BBC scriptwriting competition. Looking back, I’m not even sure if the piece I finished covered the full thirty minutes requirement but I sent it to the BBC convinced it was the best script in the world.
Fortunately, no copies survive today. I think it’s just as well.
By the way, I didn’t win!
Fast forward many years later to summer 2003 and I was rehearsing a production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap. It was while we were taking a break that I suddenly had an idea for a scene; just a scene, nothing more. When I got home I started writing and finished five pages of A4. Just like that. I was quite pleased with it. It described a confrontation between a headmaster, and a father angry that his son had been suspended for fighting a bully.
I had a scene in the bag.
Over the next couple of years I worked on further scenes whenever I got the chance. I opened with a short monologue for the father character (Larry), then wrote a scene where he’s confronted by a neighbour over a parking space. This was loosely inspired by an incident that actually happened to me. How many times have we all gone over an incident in our heads, imagining how much better we could have dealt with it? It lead to me repeating the first part of the scene, then carrying on with the father imagining that he puts the neighbour in his place. Of course, this is only in his mind.
To be honest, at this stage in the writing process it was just nice to have ideas for scenes that could be put down on paper. I decided to make a deal with myself. I would try to complete a forty five minute radio drama, just for the hell of it. I wasn’t following any rules, just a gut instinct that the scenes and subject matter I’d written about so far might be something people would like to listen to. I wrote up scenes as ideas came to me, in no particular order, and it became fascinating to build up a gallery of characters and a storyline that linked them all together. The title for the play came from a movie trailer for J R R Tolkien’s The Two Towers, and a line spoken by Gandalf the White: “I come back to you now, at the turning of the tide.” It seemed like a good title for a play about a man learning to stand up for himself.
There did come a point when the play was two-thirds finished that the gears of motivation ground to a halt. The plot was completed, all I had to do was write the unfinished scenes, but I simply couldn’t continue. I was so pleased with what had been written so far that I didn’t want to carry on and ruin it. For a while, it looked like things would stay that way, and I comforted myself with the thought that it was unlikely to get produced anyway. What were the chances of that happening?
It was only when a friend sent me a link to a writers website that I saw an interview with the Wireless Theatre Company. It seemed to be just what I was looking for – almost too good to be true: an independent company of professionals that produced their own audio dramas. I had nothing to lose by getting in touch and asking if my script would be read. The response was swift: send it to us when it’s finished and we’ll let you know what we think. How could I not attempt to finish it now?
Writing the final scenes was nowhere near as difficult as I had anticipated. I couldn’t understand what had held me back for so long. I emailed a completed script to WTC and didn’t have to wait long for a response. They liked it! The forty five minute challenge I had made with myself was going to be produced. A read-through with the performers was an exhilarating if strange experience (not reading the script as an actor, for once) and apart from minor tweaks to the script it was recorded as written: a completely different experience to a stage play that I wrote (but that’s another blog!).
Two years later it still seems incredible that my hastily scribbled first scene grew into a full length, professionally produced drama. I more than made the forty five minute target: the final running time for the play was just over an hour, and I can remember listening to it for the first time with an elated mix of nervous pride and thinking, “Bloody hell, I wrote this!!” I never really got the chance to thank everyone properly so here, in writing, to Mariele, Fran, Joe and a terrific group of actors I offer my very grateful thanks. You were all great.
And the future? Well, I had this great idea for a scene the other day…