The Big Rewrite

Vintage typewriter Writing is rewriting.  That’s what Paul Abbott says anyway.  His little quote pops up frequently on the BBC WritersRoom Website, maybe you’ve seen it?  (It’s a great site for any playwright or new writing buff). It’s alongside the picture of a fountain pen with the words ‘Use Your Weapon’ scrawled underneath it. (I love that.  Admittedly I’ve barely written freehand this century and my handwriting resembles that of an intoxicated toddler, but I heart the message).

Gone are the days, it seems, when I just sat down and Wrote Plays. I’m taking a wee break from Without a Paddle Theatre at the mo and I’m writing a TV treatment for a drama series.  It’s fantastically exciting and challenging to say the least!  OK… it’s bloody hard.  I have to really use my brain; properly engage.  There’s no ‘Lets chuck half a bottle of Jacobs Creek down your neck and see what happens’. As a playwright there’s not a lot of method to my madness. I write best with my ‘Half-Brain’; very early in the morning, very late at night, a little hungover maybe.  Or under immense pressure (OK:  The play is cast, we open in five weeks and you haven’t actually written it yet, dick face! Believe me, it’s happened.)  The words spill out onto the page in an outrageous and ridiculous fashion. Then I have a sandwich, fret, look at it again, fret, then send it to my agent and wait feverishly for her response, convinced its shite and I’ll be discovered a fraud. Thankfully, she usually comes back and says ‘Yes, that’s good and that needs work’ and then the real work begins.  I am wildly condensing here, but blogs are meant to be short and sweet aren’t they?  Brevity is not my strong point.

The Half-Brain won’t wash with a TV treatment. Sigh. Neither will it wash with the rewriting of my play Chicken Shop, which follows sixteen year old Hendrix who is so desperate to rid himself of his virginity that he goes to a brothel and meets Luminita, a sex trafficked prostitute. It made it through to the final ten at new writing competition theVerity Bargate Award at the Soho Theatre, and I was lucky enough to get some great feedback from two of the panel’s readers.  They feel they may be able to do something with Chicken Shop if I develop it in the right way.  So I need a new draft. Wowzers.

So, where to start?  Chicken Shop is the play I am most proud of.  Rewriting it means I am surely going to have to get rid of some of ‘my darlings’, (the bits of dialogue, or in my case usually gags, which are no longer serving the plot but I want to keep because I like them so much).  Terrifying.  They are not after any huge transformation, I don’t have to kill anyone off or anything nuts like that, it’s more of a subtle change in the angle the story is told from.   I’m learning so much from my work with Little Brother Productions, and a big part of that is that all story stems from real and rich characters.  So I am starting there, examining each character’s back story, really delving into what makes them tick, in the hope that a clear path will present itself.

So our main protagonist – Hendrix.  What I like about Hendrix is that he is the perfect encapsulation of a teenager: Beyond self conscious, impossibly impatient, consumed by all things sexual, old enough to be aware of his own flaws and yet still with the boundless energy of a child.  He is isolated: bullied at school, tormented by his mother and her lesbian lover, paralysed by his own dark lust.  Very occasionally you write a character that suddenly sort of leaps off the page and sits down and starts talking to you.  Hendrix is one of those.  It is wonderful, but tough –because in a way you don’t really feel you have ownership of them anymore.  They argue with you.  They know what’s best for them. They want you to stop creating these lame story-lines, just give them a break, man.  Perhaps it doesn’t help that it he was played so dazzlingly by Rob Ostlere at the readings we had.  It doesn’t feel like Hendrix is mine, and I am afraid he won’t want to talk to me.  I feel like one of those irritating mates who rings and texts all the time wanting to ‘catch up’.  I feel he might have outgrown me, and I am worried about that.

But time will tell, and so now I begin the seemingly momentous task of rewriting my play.  (It is through writing this blog I have discovered there is no such word as Monumentous.  It is actually a bastardisation, a mixture of the words Monumental and Momentous.  Interesting fact.) Moving forward, I just try to remember the fantastic advice given to me by John Link at LAMDA, which was to ‘approach everything with joy and purpose’.  I know I’m going to have to be ruthless. I know I am going to have to kill my darlings.  I know I am going to have to use my brain.   Now… where was that bottle of Jacobs Creek?