This is a little shout out to people embarking on writing for Radio.
In the middle of October (2014 – yes I am that behind the time in posting this), in Chepstow Library in Wales, a crowd of us dragged a chair up to listen to the loveable Rachel Joyce talk about writing for radio.
It is difficult not to be drawn into Rachel’s world. With her long ruffled skirt and Victorian boots, just looking at her made you feel like you were in another world.
I don’t know if any of you have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. If you have you will be surprised to hear that she is not someone who described herself as a novelist beforehand. It turns out that she is predominantly a playwright, and has been one of the main writers for Radio 4’s afternoon play, and lots of plays for Woman’s Hour. She has also been involved in a lot of adaptation work, adapting the Bronte sisters’ works for radio, and her own novels.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry tells the story of Harold’s epic walk from one end of the country to another. When he walks out of his front door one day in his usual clothes and shoes, it is clear that he is completely unprepared for his journey. Rachel explains that this was a mirror of her own writing journey. She had no idea how to write the book and likens the writing process to Harold just putting one foot in front of the other and just keeping going every day.
Some of the points she made were relevant to anyone on a Creative Writing course, in particular the A215 Creative Writing Module with The Open University, or indeed any writing course, or journey, so I thought I would write them up and share them with you.
Please note, however, that these are just her thoughts, and not to override any advice from your tutor or coursebook! Just things to think about, I suppose.
When asked about her radio writing she said that you have to remember that the radio can be switched off very quickly and then you have lost your audience.
They are unlikely to turn it back on, or find you on ‘listen again’ once they have made that decision, unlike with a book where the reader may well pick it up again when they have more time or are back in the mood.
Consequently, she feels that radio plays need to have a strong storyline to keep the listener engaged.
Other interesting points Rachel made:
– In Britain we are one of the only nations left who still have radio drama, so we have to look after it, write it, listen to it, share it, review it etc.
– Character names are hugely important as they carry a lot of weight
– Rachel always knows what the end of her play will be, and feels as though the beginning and endings are answers to each other. However, she said that one of her most respected writers (named no names) said that anyone who knew their ending when they started out was dull.
– Writing every single day is vital to improvement
– Rachel likes to include a lot of truth in her work. She sees the truth as stepping stones. She will write about/fictionalise something truthful, then see another stepping stone stone of truth ahead of her and have to work out a way to get there.
– Predominantly a writer for radio, Rachel is not used to writing descriptions at length. She has mainly worked in dialogue, and she found that having prose to write descriptions was like having a load of colours to work with.
– She said that she often used sound to punctuate action and that certain sounds can be very effective in radio work such as rain and other weather.
– She said that different writing disciplines flex different writing muscles and that there is merit in trying your hand at all varieties so that you can draw from different ones when needed.
– In order to adapt prose for radio, especially short plays in episodes, you have to get very used to cutting and being brutal. You have to look for that hook for each episode and allow time to remind the listener of what happened in the previous episode. In her adaptations of one of the Bronte stories she had to cut whole scenes and remove whole characters entirely in order to give the main focus to the main characters.
– Her next book about Queenie Hennessy is being dramatised on the radio in 5 or 6 episodes so for anyone who has read it you can see how she adapted it for radio.
– The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was also on the radio and is going to be a film in a year or two so it could be interesting to see how the book, radio play, film differ.