Tuesday, 21 May 2013

That strange moment when you see your writing acted out - in a pub


Over the past month or so I’ve participated in a scheme called Pens In Pubs that encourages writers from North Somerset to meet up and work together. Whilst we met in pubs to write and learn new writing skills the climax of the scheme was to have our work performed in a pub.

Drama and poetry hit The Kings Arms in Easton in Gordano (just south of Bristol) on the 20th May and surprisingly enough it was a big success.

Let’s put this in context: this was no red carpet show, the actors were refreshingly normal - sometimes they even had to change sex. They read from scripts they had only received a few days before and had to cover 16 separate pieces in two hours.

It was fair to say that some of the pub locals looked bemused by an invasion of people who dutifully followed the actors and their scripts around the pub. I wondered if one local might leave but he had a full pint in his hand and was not to be moved.

It was testament to the surprising power of this occasion that this man found himself chuckling during a sketch. His friend was left slack-jawed by the ending and ended up following the actors as they moved on to the skittle alley.

The work ranged from a rousing pirate shanty, to funny bar room sketches, via moving pieces reflecting on death, old age or missed opportunities. There was even an appearance from a slug fairy. Yes, a slug fairy!

I watch very little television these days. Sit-coms seem contrived and don’t make me laugh, I’m bored of reality shows and the news depresses me. Yet there I was laughing out loud or being moved almost to tears by these short pieces of work.

It’s the first time I’ve seen actors perform my work. I’ve published books and had some film scripts optioned, but have never heard my words coming out from someone else’s mouth. It gives a new perspective on how other people see or interact with your work and makes me want to do it all over again.

Perhaps my favourite moment of the evening was during the recital of a long (and beautiful) poem about an apple tree. The actress was reading it outside the pub and a couple with a child were heading home. The lady was in a hurry to get home and so was the child but the man wanted to stay.

Eventually they left him behind and he reluctantly drained his drink and trudged slowly off.  He looked more suited to watching footie in a pub, but as he left he was straining to hear the last words of an actress pretending to be a tree while standing in a wine barrel full of earth.

One for the road?

This is not the end for Pens in Pubs and there are all sorts of plans for new groups, performances and general creativity in North Somerset. If you want to join in the fun drop Becky a line at Theatre Orchard  or me here and I’ll make appropriate introductions.

I’d just like to thank…

While I’m having a luvvie moment I’d like to thank the Theatre Orchard team, David Lane for his fab guidance and writing exercises, Emma London for giving up her free time to help run the sessions and my fellow writers who surprised and amused me every week.

Also thanks to Felicity Peries who directed our little show and the actors who had to cover such a varied selection of scripts: Roger Hockedy, Lis Jeffrey, Margaret Hobbs and Mike Parish. They all volunteered to help our scripts come to life.

Finally The Kings Arms in Easton in Gordano (and its locals) who let us do strange things in their pub and even gave us some tasty food afterwards.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Happiness is: Discovering the right way of writing in a pub


A man walks into a bar. He asks the barmaid where he can find the Pens in Pubs group. She replies; “In the skittle alley”.

It’s not funny but it is true.

I recently joined a new initiative called Pens in Pubs run by The Theatre Orchard in Bristol who also perform plays in pubs and all sorts of venues in Bristol and North Somerset.

Whilst I work mainly from home I enjoy writing in pubs, hotel foyers, trains, cafes - anywhere I can people watch between bursts of writing. But I’ve always avoided writers groups; mainly because some writers will use more words describing their work than they actually wrote. It can be like listening to someone describing a dream they had last night in great detail.

But Pens in Pubs is not like that because it has rules.

When David Lane, our leader/mentor/chief surpriser, started a session by telling us he had some strict rules I tried not to sigh into my pint.

I don’t really do writing rules other than ‘sit down and write the bloody thing’, ‘get in late and get out quick’ and ‘edit until your eyes your bleed’. In my current novel I created the characters and their back stories, put them on a cruise ship from Scotland to Barcelona and left them to write themselves.

But we like David’s rules. They are good rules.

Rule no. 1. Don’t explain what you’ve written
Rule no. 2. Don’t apologise for what you have written.
Rule no. 3. Don’t give lots of feedback on what someone else has written. Just listen carefully and take it in. You can always discuss it with them later.

How do these rules work?

David has given us a number of exercises where you create anything from a character to an entire book/play/poem idea in 10 minutes. The inspiration can be listening to a piece of music, writing continuously on a topic for five minutes or just creating a scene from what David tells you.

The end result is startling. If you’ve created a new play in five minutes it’s not going to be perfect, but it works.

No. Really. It does! And you get through loads of different exercises.

For example, we had to pretend we had found a book and had to imagine what the cover looked like. Then we had to write the first two sentences. Shortly afterwards we had to open the book a third of the way in and write the first two sentences on the page. Next up we opened it a bit further on to discover there was a picture in the book and we had to sketch that. Finally, we had to write the last two sentences (not including The end).

Guess what? We all created a viable book plot in about 50 words and a really bad drawing. Even better, some of them were fascinating. The rules force us to listen and appreciate each piece just the way it is.

The group itself varies from people with significant writing experience to those who were just starting to enjoy the process of writing for pleasure. This includes poets, script writers, playwrights, bloggers and novelists.

The sheer variety of the writing we produced in response to the exercises was staggering. The human imagination is so powerful it’s terrible that we tend to stop using it in this way when we ‘grow up’.

So in short, I now like writing groups. Especially ones where you can have a drink, follow rules and be ridiculously creative
You can find more information about The Theatre Orchard here at  and click on Pens in Pubs to find out more about mixing writing and drinking. You can also read blog articles by David Lane and the fab Emma London who is kindly volunteering her time to help with Pens in Pubs on the Theatre Orchard blog.

If you live in the North Somerset/Bristol area and would like to come and join us we’d be delighted to see you at the Pens in Pubs sessions and there will be a performance of the work we produce as a group on Monday 20 May 7-9 pm at The King’s Arms, 12 St George’s Hill, Easton-in-Gordano, BS20 OPS. Come and join in the fun!

Did you notice I managed to resist the temptation to add in the “Don’t tell anyone about Fight Club” rule? Dead mature me. Oh, hang on… Oh bugger.