In this installment of 'How I Write', Royal Literary Fund writers discuss the mysterious mechanism by which stories, plays and poems are born, taking in everything from the arrival of the idea and the slog of the drafting process to the joys of editing.
'Words are a re-ordering of dream, an attempt to drag down the superconscious into the good old conscious, where theatres are and publishing happens. But too much world-order and the dream-power is lost. I have to stop, dip back down into sleep.'
'Julia Cameron states that writer’s block needs to be radically reconfigured as a sign that the writer has too many ideas, not too few. When I read that for the first time, it wasn’t so much a lightbulb moment as a full-scale Son et lumière in my head.'
'I stopped to smoke a cigarette, talking aloud to myself in a near-fury that I had a commission waiting for me and no pitch to make, nothing to inspire the officer that she had done the right thing awarding money to a man who'd never written a play. '
'On that rainy afternoon in O’Connell Building, surrounded by my classmates, my love of drama ignited. You tasked us with devising a dramatic scene: recreating Joan of Arc’s last night on Earth. Maybe some of her rubbed off on me that afternoon.'
'I got the better end of the deal. Shosh, you proved to be a fantastic teacher. Often you didn’t need to say anything. I would read out some horribly clunky sentence and you would be grinning. I’d finish a dull passage and discover you were fast asleep. '
I wrote my version of Rapunzel — Zel: Let Out Your Hair: a child whose afro hair grows up and out, not like the version I’d grown up on. In that, Rapunzel’s hair is long and straight and grows downwards and she is rescued by a prince — not a myth I would like to perpetuate.
I took a blanket and the six scripts I was paid to read to the park. Seven pillows were too much — I couldn’t find seven pillows, let alone carry them. I would lie in the sun and work (for £6 a script but hey, early nineties). My job was to think about the words on the page.
The book I’d rewrite is Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I’d change it so Tess takes the money from Angel Clare and runs. In my version, she goes back to the dairy and starts an ice cream business. I’d give her a second chance and she’d grab it.
Zora Neale Hurston left an indelible mark on me as a young journalist. I was first inspired by her book Tell My Horse recounting her audacious expedition in 1936 to Jamaica and Haiti where she documented life and folklore. I wanted to follow in her footsteps.
The morning reading is eclectic. I’m open to the day’s political agenda. In the words of William Faulkner ‘Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!'
I remember my heart breaking for Joe when he goes to visit Pip in London, and Pip’s embarrassment at Joe’s starched collar and ill-fitting suit. I would recall this scene when my dad came to see my play; he turned up in a suit, thinking that’s how people dressed for theatre.