Last year, after Chapel FM’s Writing on Air festival, Rosalind Fairclough (aka the poet Rosalind York) and I decided to write a radio drama for the next one. We had no idea what to write about, how to approach it, or what would happen if we disagreed, but once we were in the schedule it was too late to back out.
Ten weeks before the festival, we sat down to discuss Rosalind’s Victorian melodrama idea. I made a passing remark about a bride and her mum having different views of a wedding, and five minutes later we had a complicated plot for a sixties drama involving blackmail and a wartime affair, instead. We soon realised we were the only available performers, and to counter my lack of acting experience we opted for monologues as being the closest thing to a reading. There’s music included, mainly to give us a rest as we knew we’d be broadcasting live in a small studio and wanted to be able to have a drink of water without the other microphone picking up the clunk of a glass. On the day, we also used the opportunity to encourage each other or let out suppressed laughter. A line can still be funny even if you wrote it.
Hampered by a fear of directly contradicting Rosalind’s lines, I had next to nothing written by the time she sent me the bride’s mum’s part, and I wrote the bride to fit around what was already there. I thought writing in response would save editing time and make the plot more coherent, with hindsight Rosalind thinks I was influenced by her character and wishes we’d both written our parts in isolation before we revealed what we’d got.
With the first drafts of each part in front of me I could definitely see problems in mine, but there were also sections of Rosalind’s I wasn’t sure about. I know Rosalind can write scripts, she was on last year’s Significant Ink course writing TV drama, so I wasn’t sure how to broach the idea of rewriting each other’s first drafts. Rewriting someone else’s monologue, trying not to spoil their character’s voice or trample over their stand-out lines, is not something to approach lightly, and certainly not when you have way less scriptwriting experience than them. Luckily, she tentatively suggested it first, though she did ask me to send her the rewrite by email before we met up, so she could ‘have a hissy fit in private’.
When we dared read each other’s rewrites, we found it had shoved us in the right direction. Sometimes we’d interpreted a line in a different way than how it was meant and while that resulted in the odd mistake to be rolled back, for the most part it had taken the story down a better route and we kept it. The parts had gone from being Jacqueline’s and Rosalind’s to being Pat the bride’s and Marjorie the mum’s.
With four weeks to go we spent almost five hours in a supremely tolerant local pub, laptop and papers spread over a table, while we took the first drafts and rewrites then deleted, rearranged, rewrote, discussed motive and flow and dramatic effect. And sipped our way through a half of ale and a pot of tea each. This is not what I’d imagined when I thought of writers spending all afternoon in the pub. We returned there four days before broadcast to rehearse.
In the meantime, we each tidied up our lines – for example I kept falling over a particular phrase Rosalind had written, and had to alter it – and rehearsed. We only managed one rehearsal together, where we concentrated on the timing between our speeches. That definitely paid off on the day, particularly where we accelerate towards the end.
Without checking my original script I can’t tell you for definite which bits I wrote. There are many genuinely collaborative lines, where one of us suggested part of it and the other finished it off. We both sprinkled bits of family history and overheard conversation in, too, and it was nice to chat about why we’d chosen some detail or what made us think of a line.
We learnt to trust each other and our own judgement, we came up with ideas we’d never have had by ourselves, we had great fun. And we’re still friends. So, go on, collaborate!
- let anything restrict you at the start.
- hold back out of politeness.
- get precious about the parts you wrote.
- automatically defer to experience.
- be even more flexible and build in more slack time than usual.
- explore avenues you wouldn’t go down on your own.
- be open to suggestions.
- let practicality creep in eventually.
- have fun!
Listen to Lavender Ink by Jacqueline Saville and Rosalind Fairclough.