Two or three ways of thinking about a sieve
A very Itchy birthday

Writing for radio 8: a streak of evening sun

So now the dust has settled, and my story 'Calling', broadcast on Radio 4, has vanished into the ether (except for me, since I've got a lovely CD of all three Lost in the Lanes stories), and my writing brain's moved on to other projects. But there's no denying that even if I'm commissioned again, it's definitely one of the landmarks that will be visible for a long time, when I look back over my shoulder. So what does the landmark consist of? Some of these are my perceptions, some I gathered from friends who listened.

My work read by someone else gains as much as it loses. Coming as I do from a Drama background, I'm always thinking in terms of reading my work aloud, and I think it's a pity when writers don't read well because it always seems to sell the work short. On the other hand my PhD supervisor, the poet Maura Dooley, says that she thinks that even if a writer doesn't read well, there's an authenticity about a writer reading, which transcends technical limitations. Of course Philip Voss didn't read every inflection as I would, and to that extent you could argue that the story was less authentic to my work than if I'd read it. On the other hand, because Philip Voss's take on the meaning and shape of the work was his take, it created a different but still complete whole: the way he read it was formed by the internal logic that he found in the story. And there's another tradeoff of this difference. Whereas as the writer I can - you might argue - transmit my words from page to listener most authentically, as an actor Philip inhabited the character of the narrator in a way that I can't.

People can't (or at least don't) easily listen to the radio while doing nothing. It's worth remembering that, I think. The producer had already said that because it's aural, it's important to establish very quickly the setting and circumstances of the story, and I was aware that as a listener you experience a story more inexorably in time, than you do as a reader. So I'd deliberately used a pretty simple narrative structure. But it's also true that we listen while doing something else. One friend was making a blackberry and apple pie, another was driving, a third ironing. I'm sure that in writing for radio, as in any other kind of writing, it's a mistake to try to allow for every grade of distraction: just like trying to please (or fool) all the people all of the time, that way madness lies. But it is worth putting yourself in your reader's place, and asking how best you can get them to hear your words.

If the story exists in time, so do your listeners. Having pushed my willingness to self-promote to its limit with Tweeting and emailing, I was rewarded by knowing that friends were actually listening at the same time as me. To my surprise I actually felt quite a prickle of tears in the throat at this sense of connectedness. And within five minutes of the end of the story, I had three or four emails and a couple of Tweets, from friends. By the end of the day I had many more, and they continued to arrive for the full seven days the story was on Listen Again. It was almost as immediate as doing a reading myself, and far more so than when a friend has my novel as their book-for-commuting for weeks on end. And yet because I wasn't reading, I was much closer to the experience of others.

Figurative language wins every time. Among lots of general nice comments, many people commented specially on two phrases: "the chimney pots looking like the stumps of a wood that’s been felled" and "A ginger cat, sheltering under a tipped-up cart, fled like a streak of evening sun." It seems to me these particularly caught people's attention for two reasons. One, because they're both visual, and we're such a visual species; it takes more practice to be able to imagine the other five of our six senses, and as a writer the vocabulary for them is often more limited and less concrete, so you have to work harder to be as evocative. And Two, they both help the visual imagination along, by providing a different, physical analogy for the object being described.

So I've learnt a lot, and enjoyed a lot. I've even got an idea for a radio play... But that's a whole different game.

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