Sheena MacDonald considers the life of the Lone
Writer and the hard gr
This one‘s easy. I thought. Just before Christmas— we‘ll do the old Letter to Santa
number. "I‘wenty things I want . . .’ ‘Twenty things I don‘t want . . .‘—surc. it's
tacky. easy. a cop-out — but you read them. don‘t you? You may feel you‘ve wasted another sliver ofyour precious life by the time you‘ve finished. but you read them. and what more can a writer ask for? Well. yes. there’s money. but these days unless you‘re a ﬂamboyant television pilchard-parboiler or Stephen King. you can't expect to actually sellthe stuff. Anyway. real writers tell me they don‘t do it for the money. they do it because they ‘have to‘. Arts Council Bursary"? That‘ll do nicely.
No. said the editor. Not that — not yet. But he liked the ‘tacky' element — how about ‘Confessionsofa. . . ?‘ he said.
Easier said than done. This is the season of hibernation. when all wise northern animals are well advised to keep head and feet on as near the same latitude as possible (old oriental trick this— Churchhill and Noel Coward were the most celebrated occidental exponents) (OK. OK — it's also known as Staying in Bed'l‘ill Lunchtime . . .) so frankly. my dears. there ain‘t much to tell. Except the truth. So here goes.
When I changed my passport a few years ago. I mused long and hard about the OCCUPATION bit. Journalist? Dodgy. Broadcaster? Come offit. Housewife? Hardly— who was it who said ‘a house no more needs a husband than it does a wife‘? Spot on. anyway.
In the end I put ‘Writer‘. I know. I know — vain. inaccurate. pretentious — imagine how I feel when friends innocently ask to snicker at my photograph and then encounter this blatant self-delusion. But at the time my reasoning seemed sound. It will force me. I thought. to do it. Maybe it will now that I‘ve shared it with both of you. dear readers. And I have done so because I know you understand. Everyone wants to be a
2'I‘he List 27 Nov— 1() Dec 1987
aft between the lines.
writer. Or Woody Allen.
What nobody wants is what‘s involved. Let me put it another way. Did Dorothy Parker have a secretary? And if not (and my researches haven‘t produced a positive response). who actually recorded her bon mots. aphorisms. wisecracks and one-liners — who notched up the palpable hits?
Actually. she did. Behind the brittle. brainy. bubbly facade. Miss Parker was a puritan. Waste not. want not — and very few pithy pearls were cast before one single swine when veritable herds were willing to pay the going rate for a rueful smile — and still are. by Jove!
And that is the writer‘s discipline. Ask any of them — the real ones — and they will agree that the essential tool in the kit is the willpower to get it down on paper— that stray perception. that really quite brilliant comeback. that absolutely natural poetic interchange. Or. more sinisterly. that row. that final word. that last goodbye. Don’t you remember the uncharacteristic eloquence which rage produced in you? Don‘t you remember— admit it — how you rather relished'it'at the time? Where is it now? You see — you‘ve got to act on the moment. Don‘t worry at this stage about him/her reading it — we‘re still a world away from getting the thing actually in print (perhaps I should have put ‘Published Writer’ in my passport) — just preserve it. If you don‘t, you’ll lose it, your memory will not file it — so do it now. Ifyou're really serious. it‘s never too soon to start being the nerd with the notebook.
True story: way (way way) back in the seventies. I was one of ten privileged film students. At the end ofeach intensively hands-on day. nine of us would retire to The Cock and Puttnam for an evening of serious semiotics (and a chaser). One of us. the large, unprepossessing. sad one. went home to his lonely room and wrote. Ten years later— you guessed it — he‘s not only a swan (nothing like earning pounds for losing pounds). he‘s writing screenplays for Ken Russell
Hm. on the other hand. . .
Pass me the paper. ‘Dear Santa. . .
‘The lirst job I had was as a stage hand at the Kings Theatre. Edinburgh. with Florence Opera Company. I was a lousy stage manager.’ recalls actorTim Woodward. laughing. lt’s probablyiust as well. Woodward went on to rather greaterthlngs. This month sees him getting involved with the nuts and bolts ol theatre again. however. touring Britain as Petruchio in ‘The Taming ol the Shrew' with the newly lonned British Actors Theatre Company.
The idea lor the company was initiated by Woodward's brother Peter (both are sons ol Edward Woodward). when he and Kate O’Hara were playing Glasgow's Theatre Royal with Compass Theatre Company. ‘He went out into George Square and organised a tour with a phone card.’ says Woodward. who. lor one, was unable to resist his brother’s enthusiasm.
The company leltthat there weren't enough classical plays being produced around the country and were inspired by the nationwide response to Compass Theatre's tour at ‘King Lear'. ‘What we've lound is that people are very keen to see great plays in theatres where they might not see them normally,’ says Tim Woodward. ‘I think there's a lot less Shakespeare being perlorrned around the country than there used to be.’
Their manliesto. then. is to produce ‘quallty productions at classic plays'. This particular one was largely the choice at Kate O'Nara, who plays Kate ‘She wanted to do it a lot because it’s a part she'd played twice and not been satistied with. And it’s good to do a comedy that’s not
done very otten - it's also a very good ensemble plece.’ Not only does the
company hope to provide audiences with the chance
; to see plays they rarely see then, but also to otteractors parts that don’t otten come their way. ‘You start getting
too old lorthings.’ says
‘There are certainly some ‘ parts I'd like to play.’
at course . . . and Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost again. because I think it was one at Shakespeare’s
have a crack at Hamlet,
Having more say about
the production. as an actor.
is one at the ideas olthe company. There is no director and all the actors
at all levels oi the tour. lor the same, mlmlmum. wage. ‘I think it's a good
little more control olthelr work in both artistic and practical terms.’ says Woodward. ‘Actors are olten a little loath to get involved in the administrative side. But
don't get the ‘us and them‘ 5 thing- actors olten leel alientated lrom the oilices
above. it's a good company
, ieeling.‘ it's one that can only occasionally be indulged
have a mortgage and a lamily.’ says Woodward. ‘You need to sponsor
i Vourselt to do thlnos like this to a certain extent by
doing telly.’ 0n the phone. he does
I sound a little mid-tour
l momlng-atterlsh, but is still
I relishing the idea oltourlng
to Glasgow. He has strong
l associations with the
Citizens Theatre - recently giving a very line perlorrnance as Bill in Miller’s ‘Death ot a Salesman' there - and great allection tor Glasgow audiences: ‘They’re usually
Woodward. rather ruelully.
Pressed. he becomes more speciilc. ‘The Scottish play.
linest comedies.‘ ile grows ; bolder. ‘lt'd be really niceto
having been Laertes twice.’
are expected to be involved
idea to have actors taking a
learning about it doesn't do anybody any harm. And you
in. however. ‘You can't live on 119 a week lor long liyou
very warm. They do have quite a reputation tor comedians though—they can give you a hard time too.’ (S.ll.)
The Taming oi the Shrew. Theatre Royal. Glasgow, horn 30 Nov. See Theatre Listings.
lnllnnary Street Baths goes tropical on the evening at Saturday 28 November lrom 7.30pm to midnight in a watery party extravaganza called Aquarhythms. Organised by the Fringe Film Festival in association with Edinburgh District Council. the event will translorrn the popular baths into a jungle paradise lor the occasion and see the screening ol a weird and wonderiul selection at
, surrealist short lilms
l (including Bunuel and
l Ball’s celebrated ‘Un Chien l Andalou') with live [an accompaniment to boot.
= Relax in the poolside bar.