‘This radio lark’s a wonderful hobby, y’know. I’ve got friends all over the world, all over the world… None in this country, but friends all over the world.’ – Tony Hancock.
I’m not entirely sure why this particular witticism comes to mind when I think of my writing work. Happily it’s not true to say that I don’t have any friends in the UK; however, as the writer of several online audio dramas, I am lucky enough to have come into contact with numerous people around the world via the internet, many of whom I’ve never met, who are kind enough to let me know what they think of the little stories I like to write to keep myself amused.
I get asked a lot of questions about my writing, many of them via Twitter (@SueCasanove). Most of these questions are a little too complicated, certainly to be answered in 140 characters. So I’d like to take this opportunity, first of all to thank everyone who has listened to the plays I’ve written so far, to everyone who’s sent me messages, comments and questions, and I’m going to try as best I can to answer some of the questions that I’m asked most often.
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
This is the question I find most difficult to answer because it feels as though it doesn’t really apply. I will attempt to explain this: I have honestly never tried to get an idea from anywhere for a script, because pretty much everything around me is almost always presenting me with ideas to dramatise. The only considerations I have are to figure out which ideas are the strongest, which would make the best stories, and how best to tell them. When I attended the wedding of two seventy-something friends of the family, I was genuinely moved by their devotion to each other and their joy at finding love again later in life; soon after I started writing Leaves in Autumn – not based on, but certainly inspired by that wedding. And my visit to Hamburg’s Dialog im Dunkeln, an exhibition in which blind people lead the audience in small groups through a series of completely darkened rooms was the inspiration behind my 2010 play, Angels in the Dark, coupled with a modern-day retelling of my favourite story, A Christmas Carol. My more recent scripts, including the ones I’m working on now, are less obviously inspired by any particular event, but more a mishmash of ideas.
‘How do you write characters?’
Before I started writing scripts, I trained and worked as an actress. I love everything about the acting process, in particular, I really enjoy preparing for a role. At ALRA, were we taught what I consider to be the best method for building a character; I’m not talking about making any of the life changes associated with so-called ‘method acting’, the best tool I was taught was to answer as comprehensively as possible ‘the 10 questions’. With each acting role I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be given, I relish really getting into someone else’s head – who is this person? What makes them tick? What do they want? And here’s the secret (OK, it’s not a secret, but none of the books on scriptwriting I was advised to read mention it) – you can apply it to scriptwriting too. And the great news is, unlike an acting role where the script has already been written and you have to work within those boundaries, discussing and agreeing your character choices with your director and fellow actors, as a scriptwriter, you can do what you like! It’s a bit like being in charge of your own little universe, and instead of only getting to do character preparation for roles I’m asked to play, as a writer, I can build back stories for people who are older, younger, male, less privileged, more privileged … there are no limits other than my imagination. To find out which kind of characters work well together in a story, all I can say is watch copious amounts of TV and film and think about what has worked well in the past. Once you have an idea of who your characters are, I’ve never come across a more useful tool for building a character than the 10 questions, either as an actor or a scriptwriter.
‘How did you come up with a character like Rob Sterling Davies?’
Back in 2008, I wrote a one-woman show called The Diary of Bulah Clack. It never saw the light of day, partly because I realised that I wasn’t brave enough to give up a full-time office job to go and do my own show, but mainly because it wasn’t very good. It was my lame attempt to write something a bit like The Diary of a Nobody, but sadly my diarist, Bulah (basically a version of me) was nowhere near as endearing a character as Charles Pooter, therefore the script was doomed. In spite of this, what I did like about The Diary of Bulah Clack were the unseen characters: those that Bulah talked about in her diary. There was her boyfriend Talfryn, a self-proclaimed great writer who had never actually written anything as he didn’t have time, and an annoying man called Rob Sterling Davies, a pompous, stuck-up member of the Swansea Gilbert and Sullivan Society that Bulah attended. So when I came to write We Are Not The BBC, it was a question of righting what I had got wrong in that previous script. With a clean slate, I wrote a different story in which Bulah became simpler, Talfryn did turn out to be a great writer after all, and Rob, as well as becoming more evil, also became the main character.
‘Is Rob based on someone you know?’
No, Rob isn’t based on any one person. His character is an amalgam of many different ideas, including aspects of about 20 people altogether, some I’ve known and worked with, some historical figures and others from fiction .
‘What was it like working with Stephen Fry?’
I’ve been a huge fan of British comedy since the 80s when shows like A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder first got me hooked, so it was of course a joy and a privilege to work with Stephen on my play, We Are The BBC. He also kindly tweeted a link to the download when it was released bringing many new listeners to the series and to the Wireless Theatre Company. I wrote about working with him in more detail in an earlier blog entry which you can read here.
‘Will Rob ever get his comeuppance?’
Well … the final instalment, Better Than The BBC will hopefully be released by summer, 2013. Please follow me: @SueCasanove and/or @WirelessTheatre for Twitter updates.
Perhaps another reason why Hancock’s one-liner seems apt is that, although I receive messages from people in countries I’ve never visited, a small number of people I do know – some friends, work colleagues and relatives, have yet to hear any of my plays. It’s not a complaint, radio drama’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I will say to anyone who hasn’t really tried audio drama yet, you could do a lot worse than start with The Wireless Theatre Company – with over 150 plays to download or stream any time, for free, you’ve got nothing to lose, so why not give it a go?
Susan Casanove’s website: susancasanove.co.uk