The evening will showcase six new short plays that look at the theme of mental health in an entertaining and engaging way.
Whilst my play ‘Black Dog’ looks at the impact of depression/suicidal thoughts on those closest to us, I could easily have written about my own issues with mental health over the years.
I suffered with crippling anxiety and panic attacks in my late teens and twenties. It was one of the worst times of my life. Whilst I should have been enjoying life, I was agoraphobic as a result of these attacks.
In fact, due to my anxiety and panic disorder I was housebound for six months aged twenty. I got off two aeroplanes as I was terrified of panicking. I avoided supermarkets and queues for over ten years. I quit university six months into a course as I was too scared to do the presentations (and there was no support for mental health issues back in the 1990s). It affected my whole life. For decades. What helps me is meditation, exercise and breathing techniques. It’ll always be there but I’m aware of when I’m prone to these episodes now.
Greetings in what has been a time of hibernation, self-care and contemplation for me over these months since I last posted.
Towards the end of last year I suffered a sudden and unexpected bereavement which has taken some time to process. Grief certainly affects creativity. In fact it’s a m@ther f@cker!
One minute you can be relatively okay, and then grief can creep up behind you, chew every ounce of your normality and spit you out into a broken, fragile mess.
Everyone experiences it. But it can sure take the wind out of your sails for a while. If not, forever.
So, I’ve been struggling with the writing. Actual sitting down on my seat and typing words has felt like a huge mountain to climb for months. A combination of mustering strength to keep the day job in tact has meant emotional exhaustion of an evening.
Resulting in me having to learn kindness to myself. Learning to accept how I am feeling and try not to force creativity. It just doesn’t want to venture out. Made all the worse for those dark winters nights which are a struggle at the best of times. Never mind the worst of times.
Thank goodness for great TV dramas and superb novels and scripts to keep my brain ticking along. Killing Eve, Sex Education, Russian Doll, Keeping Faith and The Haunting of Hill House have kept me occupied from real life.
The words may be currently in drought, but what I have managed to do is to keep meeting my writing tribe.
This has been greatly aided by organising the Manchester branch of the Write Then Socialise group.
This group was started in London to provide a regular meet-up for writers. It’s exactly what it says on the tin. Write Then Socialise. Get a couple of hours writing time, and then hang around and chat with fellow writers.
It can be a lonely business being a writer, so I was delighted when I was asked at last years London Screenwriters Festival if I would organise Manchester’s first group.
Organising is a piece of piss to me. Of course I can organise a writers meet up in Manchester. No problemo.
So I have. We met in October for the first time, and our February meeting last Sunday was our fifth.
It’s a cracking group which I love being part of. We have screenwriters, novelists, creative writers, short-story writers and playwrights.
Any writer in the North-West who would like to join this friendly group can join the main group on facebook and can come along to any of the monthly meets. They just need to reply to the event so that I know how many to expect on the day. Simples.
And my meetup in March is extra special.
Whilst the ‘normal’ meet-up is two hour writing sprints which are followed by a brew and a chat. This month I am extending it to a whole day. A whole day to focus on the writing. We will have a 2 hour writing sprint in the morning, followed by a one hour break to get food and drinks and then a further 2 hour writing sprint in the afternoon.
This meet is taking place in Ziferblat, Edge Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester – 10:00 – 15:00 on Sunday 24 March 2019.
The reason I mention this is that I have three spaces available so if anyone fancies a writing day.
It will cost you £18.75 which includes all the refreshments you would like over the five hours. A bargain if I may say so. I would also like to add that we don’t read each other’s work. We literally use the time to focus on our work in progress in a supported, kind, safe environment.
Anyone interested in this can email me on email@example.com it is first come first served as I would love for this day to run at full capacity so that I can run it again in June/July.
Finally I’m currently mentoring a small number of undergraduate television and radio students with their scripts that they will be filming for their final year project. This is a wonderful opportunity for me, and I’m delighted to share my knowledge and passion of scriptwriting with young creators. I ran my own playwriting group last year which I enjoyed every second of so to be able to work with young people is a joy.
The irony is that I’m writing my summer update whilst wrapped up in a blanket trying to keep warm on a cold, winters day.
Summer seems like such a long time ago.
But what a summer 2018 was.
Day after day, week after week of glorious sunshine, eating breakfast in the garden each morning and forgetting what it felt like to have to wear a big coat each day.
Sunshine makes everything feel so optimistic, which included my writing.
I experienced a real surge in two projects that I was working on.
A new radio play and a new stage play which I was developing through my placement on the Liverpoool Everyman Theatre’s Playwright Programme.
What better way to spend a week than hiring a glorious, spacious house in picturesque Norfolk with three wonderful writing friends and nothing but friendship and words to keep me company.
I’m a huge fan of writing retreats as I find it difficult to switch off if I am at home. So to get away from it all and to only think about my current writing project was much needed tonic.
I also didn’t realise two things. How flat Norfolk is – and how much sleep I needed to recharge my batteries.
Later in July I had my final feedback session from Liverpool Everyman.
It felt sad to be finishing this fantastic development scheme and I feel very much like I’ve learnt so much along the way. The introduction to some prolific and brilliant playwrights through their reading list has been a real highlight for me.
I’d decided to take the whole of August off from writing to recharge my batteries.
I’d made the important decision to fill my well with watching theatre and reading.
I couldn’t imagine the power of giving myself permission to just take some time out and not write for a month.
Normally I give myself such a tough time if I haven’t written anything for a few days, so having already planned this down time meant that I didn’t give myself shite for a few weeks.
I saw the fantastic Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End which gave me an injection of life and excitement. What a brilliant, uplifting and inspiring play. The first time I have leapt to my feet just before the final chopped to give the cast and creatives a much deserved standing ovation.
September started with the three-day London Screenwriters Festival and alongside doing that I crammed in more theatre shows.
An Adventure which was an epic three-hour affair at the Bush Theatre and Little Shop of Horrors in the Regent’s Park Outdoor Theatre. Talk about a complete contrast in genre, theme and tone.
Screenwriters Festival highlight for me was every session led by Scott Myers. His delivery of screenwriting craft is both eloquent and easy to follow and I had a real break-through on a project that I’d shelved for a number of years.
Half a day with Scott and his in class exercises on character gave me a new theme for my feature idea which I hope to execute in 2019.
I’d also started running again this year.
During the summer I continued with Park Runs each Saturday morning which have been incredibly helpful for my mental health. I also joined a local running group to keep the momentum going.
Running is a lot like writing in that it is an isolating activity but if you can find other participants then you can form a tribe and really encourage each other.
I can’t emphasise how important it is to find your tribe. Whether it be writing, running or any other interest that you have. Being able to share the journey with like-minded people feels powerful and accountable.
Greetings and I can’t believe that we’re half-way through the year already. Time certainly flies. And what glorious seasonal weather that we’ve been having in dear old Blighty.
I’m the first to admit that I love the heat-wave that has graced us recently. There is something very European about being able to read and eat breakfast whilst sitting in the garden. So I took exception to all the moaners on social media who were praying for some rain.
Come and live in Manchester if you want rain. This city usually never stops. Anyway they got what they wanted as I’m writing this post with the weather having turned and Manchester being back to its familiar, drizzly self.
I was excited to attend a three-day scriptwriting workshop at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Writing school led by playwright Simon Stephens.
Being taught by Simon was the main reason that I booked onto the workshop in the first place, and he didn’t disappoint. A wealth of knowledge and experience oozed from his very being. I learnt several new approaches to writing from Simon, and I particularly enjoyed his writing prompts which he’d start the day off with.
Creative juices flowed and I adopted a similar method when I taught a masterclass in creating characters during May.
The opportunity to teach the masterclass in creating characters was given to me by Alty Word Fest, a brand new writing festival in Altrincham. Each of the delegates left the session having created brand new characters and hopefully a new enthusiasm for writing.
Most people who know me know about my lifelong love affair with Coronation Street, so I was delighted to be asked to co-present a talk at Salford Museum and Art Gallery as part of their Tony Warren exhibition.
Myself and a colleague discussed the role of villains of Coronation Street and listed the top eight. We couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried as it was the same week that Corrie was running its demise of Pat Phelan week long episodes. It was pure fluke that the timing was perfect as we were booked back in October 2017.
I decided to hold a read-through with three professional actresses to hear it read out loud and make copious amounts of notes to help with the editing. There is never a short cut when it comes to writing. Getting to the end of a first draft is an accomplishment in itself but then beginning re-writes is a whole other ballgame.
I also began to develop a brand new radio play which I took to my online script development workshops in June. Beginning new writing projects is always exciting and this piece will certainly be challenging for me.
Finally, some life writing that I submitted as part of Manchester Womens Words project was displayed in Central Library Manchester at the end of June. I felt absolutely privileged to have my work included with other outstanding pieces of writing by incredible women across the city.
On top of all of that I started running again which is instrumental in maintaining a good mental health state for me. Parkrun 5k races have been incredibly motivating for me and I’ve just completed my fifteenth as I write this post.
January – and what better way to start 2018 than joining a new writing group called Writers Support Group. I love many things about this group; it caters for writers at all levels, it is flexible so you can just turn up, the group is a mix of actors/writers which is incredibly beneficial for script reads and each week there are different writing exercises to do. In fact, the new play that I have just started working on was sparked from one of those exercises.
Speaking of writers groups. I attended a weekend writers retreat at Whalley Abbey with another writing group that I’ve been part of since I finished my MA and that is the outstanding Scriptwriting North. Spending three days in a relaxing, tranquil Abbey in Lancashire was a perfect setting to write with no interruptions or distractions (photo @scriptsnorth) .
I began teaching a beginners playwriting course at my local library in January. A six-week absolute beginners programme that I’d written for people who live in Wythenshawe. What a wonderfully, fulfilling six-weeks it was. A perfect introduction to teaching for me, and one which I would like to develop further later in the year.
February – and I attended a magnificent celebratory evening at Manchester’s Central Library for the Suffragette Tea Party organised by Manchester Women’s Words. Cucumber sandwiches, cake and tea hosted in a room fit to burst with incredible females. Spoken word artists, singers, actors and musicians all came together to celebrate 100 years since the vote for women was rolled out to a few. I felt incredibly privileged to even be there, let alone sip tea with novelists, poets, teachers and even the the Mayor of Manchester.
Speaking of tea. I met with one of organisers of Altrincham Word Fest in a Didsbury tea shop to discuss becoming involved in this years festival. One of the most enjoyable parts of scriptwriting for me is the creation of characters. I use a number of processes when developing characters which I’ll be displaying in my workshop at the festival.
March – and it was a busy month for me as my Everyman deadline whooshed by. Slight relief to let it breathe for a couple of months until it has a read through. Read about how that went in my Spring blog post.
I also attended a storylining workshop for a well known continuing drama show. A brilliant experience at how stories are created and developed. And even more thrilling was that I got to see inside the new studios. Pulling a pint in the Rovers to selling a copy of the Weatherfield Gazette at The Kabin. As a lifelong fan it was a magnificent treat to tour the studios and see where it all happens.
The last bit of news is that I’m now reading scripts for two Manchester theatre companies which I am thrilled about as I enjoy reading new writing.
I’ve been reading a lot of play texts too. My top three winter reads are:
As 2017 drew to an end, an important deadline for me was rapidly approaching.
By the beginning of March 2018 I had to hand in the first draft of a new play which I was writing as part of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre’s Playwright Programme.
What was terrifying me as I was tucking into my Christmas dinner, was that I had no story, no characters, no theme and no bloody idea what the hell I was going to write.
And anything that I do write has to planned meticulously.
I’m not one of those writers that can just let their keyboard run wild. I need to know who my characters are, what is their story, what are their flaws, how their flaws drive the story, what happens at the mid-point blah blah structure blah.
A lot of writers hate structure. I don’t. I love it. Which is why I was panicking whilst chewing on a sprout. I had nothing. And in nine weeks time I had to hand in a first draft.
Shit! I needed to find some motivation and inspiration. And quickly.
I’d stumbled across Jenn Ashworth’s novels as we are both originally from Preston. Last year Jenn publically talked about fear and her writers block on social media. She set herself a #100daysofwriting challenge which I’d discovered when she was mid-way through.
I liked the sound of it though. A simple and gentle approach to falling back in love with writing.
No obligation on word count, time or anything else. Just turn up. I could try that.
Actually, more than that. Knowing myself and how I hate failing. I knew that I would do more than try. I would totally get on board with it through to day 100, or I would never have started it.
So, I began my own #100daysofwriting with the prime goal to be to turn up everyday and work on the new stageplay.
Some days I managed a line of dialogue, other days I would write pages. Often I would encounter difficulties as balancing writing with a full-time job is always a challenge.
But however large or small the words were. It didn’t matter. As long as I was present – every day.
And documenting the achievement by photographs on social media was also something to consider. I do most of my writing in my loft, but I didn’t want each photo to be the same.
It was always a bonus when I wrote away from the house.
Whether it be a café, library, lunch break in work or the wonderful Writers Room at the Everyman. I kept my instafeed posts full of colour, even if it was just me. Or a keyboard. Or a cup of tea and and a keyboard. Or one of the cats. Or one of the cats sitting on the keyboard with a cup of tea. Or both of the cats.
#100daysofwriting gave me the focus to write the first draft of my new play ‘Chums’, but it’s also given me more than that.
It’s made me invigorated by the process of writing and especially writing with a pen again. #so1980s
Why not have a go yourself and see what you can do in 100 days?
One of my goals for 2018 is to blog every quarter.
I’ve been checking out other writers websites to see what content they generally post.
Firstly, because I’m dead nosy and secondly that I’ve become quite militant with my writing time. I’ll divulge more about that when I post about my current regime of #100daysofwriting.
I enjoy reading what my fellow writers have been up to each two to three months of the year. So, I’ll be trying hard to do that too.
First update will be posted during the early few days of April.
Now I need to get off my ass and do stuff that I can write about. Plus I need to emerge with a bang from the post-Christmas hibernation that seems to be calling me during these cold, wintery nights.
But in the meantime, I thought that I would write about 2017 as it proved to be filled with a few highs and a lot of lows.
January 2017 began with a meeting with a television production company as a result of a script that I sent to a producer there. It was a good experience for me, but at the time I had nothing to pitch for the telly. I’ve been concentrating my writing on radio and stage. But, every meeting is a valuable contact who when the time is right I will go back to.
In February I was invited to a second storylining workshop for a well known northern continuing drama series. It was a joy to sit in a room for a whole day and talk about the soap, the characters and then write a story document. I received excellent feedback on the back of it and found the whole experience to be super-productive for me.
I also spent a week in Spain with three other female writer friends which was one of the best things I’ve done. There was something truly magical about being with amazing women and I came away from it a much better person.
At the beginning of April I received one of those rejections which completely floored me. The writing life is one hundred rejections to one yes, okay that might be slightly exaggerated but you get the idea. I can’t even remember what this one was as I submit my work to so many outlets. But the blow was tough and I remember taking a couple of weeks away from writing and wondering whether to keep going.
Then I received a wonderful email from a radio producer which changed my mind and thrust me back into my creative world. Someone liked my work and invited me in for a chat. The discussions are still ongoing as I write so I won’t divulge too much on here, but the rarity of a yes to something does give a writer a sense of validation.
July was a huge month for me. My stageplay Bleeding with Mother was in the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival and it was a bloody brilliant production. I retained the original cast members and brought in Emma Bird as director who is talented, friendly and absolutely delivered the story that was in my head when I wrote the play several years ago. It was my debut as a producer which was challenging at times. However, it was great to be in charge of production as I wanted it to be as professional as possible. We even got nominated for Best Drama at the Greater Manchester Fringe Awards, and I got runner-up for Best New Writing.
Three days after the curtain went down on Bleeding with Mother, I went on a three week road trip to USA. From rehearsal rooms in Manchester to driving down the Pacific West Coast Highway. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA and Vegas were some of the stops. Highlight was visiting Santa Cruz (aka Santa Carla in The Lost Boys) and even better for me that my boys were equally as geeky about visiting it.
I loved the outdoor camping in Washington state. Picturesque lakes, trees and little towns. I wasn’t so keen on LA and Vegas where I felt there was something missing. A soul perhaps.
In September I was shortlisted, interviewed and given a place on the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Playwright’s Programme. A 12 month development with this fabulous theatre which was co-incidently the first time I’d gone to a theatre as a 17 year old A’level English Literature student.
I also participated in Hyde Festival Theatre‘s 24 Hour Plays. On a cold, dark Friday night I drove to Hyde at 10pm to meet four actors and four props. I then went home and wrote through the night to produce a 15 minute play. The script was delivered at 8am and the actors rehearsed through the day and performed to a packed out audience that night. What a rollercoaster that was. I was having nightmares for the week before the event. I kept dreaming that I would fall asleep at the keyboard and have nothing to present in the morning. Luckily, it was all good on the night thanks to strong coffee and haribo starmix.
October saw me back in London and observing a real-life writers room experience which was superb. It’s made me even more determined to keep doing what I love to do.
The remainder of the year was mostly reading and being all consumed by a busy day job. Thankfully a rested Christmas brought with it some much needed down-time to start writing a new play. Watch this space.