Author of the Month Interview – Nick Wood

a-girl-with-a-bookCAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK?

There are four plays in the book. Each one has been performed several times in the UK and in Europe. All except A Girl With A Book were first produced by companies knows for their work with young people but have also played to adult audiences. They are all different in form and style. I’m not the best person to tell you what they are about but I believe if they have anything in common it’s that they all look at how people behave when they are under pressure.

HAVE YOU VISITED THE PLACES YOU WRITE ABOUT IN THE BOOK?

A Dream of White Horses is centred around climbing and I have climbed since I was a teenager though I have never done the route that gives the play its title. A lot of Birdboy is played out on the top of the Knoll, a small hill on the outskirts of the village where I lived as a small boy, and use the historical events that were supposed to have happened up there, the defeat of Caradoc by the Romans. I often played up there as a child but that’s as far as the similarity between me and the characters goes. Mia came out of me becoming aware of the growing prejudice against ROMA people first, while I was working in Germany, and later, when I got home to the UK. A Girl With A Book was written out of a sense of outrage, a realisation that I had no understanding of the background to the shooting of Malala, and a growing awareness of the demonization of Muslims and Islam. The play found its form as I gradually tried to overcome my ignorance by going out and talking to people who knew more than I did. As I did so the primary narrative moved away from being about Malala and the event itself and became an examination of how easy it is, even for a wooly liberal Guardian reader, to absorb prejudice almost without noticing. I had contact with someone who was working in Pakistan but I was never brave enough to visit.

HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA/COME TO WRITE THE BOOK?

Most of my ideas come from something that’s been nagging at me, something that I need to examine, explore or confront.

IS THIS BOOK A DEPARTURE FROM YOUR OTHER WORK?

Not really. All the plays are different in the way they work and I try to explore different ways of making a play every time I sit down to write.

HOW DO YOU WRITE? DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE OR ROUTINE?

I have an office at the top of the house where the attic used to be. I start by writing all sorts of stuff, images, ideas, bits of dialogue, notes on place, character, because I don’t find it easy to sit down and plan in advance, this is what happens in scene one, scene two, scene three and so on. Generally I have a feeling about how it might start, how it might end and who’s involved, but that’s all. I have to find the story. Once I have the characters and I can hear their voices I feel more certain. Next I’ll probably have an impression in my head as to how it might start, and if both of those elements feel strong enough then I’ll start writing and see what happens. The first draft is usually a huge sprawling mess because I’ll have tried out different approaches, different ideas, situations, written whatever came into my head without worrying about whether it’s ‘good’ or not. Once the first draft is out of the way – which can take a long time if you include all the thinking – it’s into the rewrites, and that’s the part I really enjoy.

WHO READS YOUR WORK? GIVES YOU FEEDBACK?

I’ll work with the director. We’ll discuss the possibilities offered by the first draft and go from there. I’m pretty objective about my work, once I have something on paper I can usually tell if it’s working or not and I have no problem with my work being criticised during its development. I’ll go with anything that helps to make it better.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO TEACH WRITING?

Yes, you can teach people how to write in the sense that you can help them to understand how the different elements of a play work, structure, character, sub plot etc. But there are limitations – you can teach technique, you can guide them into looking at different ways they can approach their work, but you can’t teach someone to have a good ear for dialogue, or a feel for how theatre works. You have to want to learn that kind of stuff yourself through experience.

WHAT ADVICE TO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE TRYING TO GET PUBLISHED?

First be passionate about your work and prepared to believe in it and yourself through many rejections some of which are likely to be desperately disheartening. You have to want it. Not because you want to see your play on a stage or your name on a title page but because you know that it is what you are meant to do. If Zidane and Beckham were meant to play football, you were meant to write. There is no easy way in, no people you have to know to get on. Do the best work you can, look for every possibility to meet people who are doing the same as you, take every opportunity to get your work on – workshops, scratch nights, form a small company and put it on yourself, anything that will give you the experience of seeing your work in performance in front of an audience. And submit your work to theatre companies who accept unsolicited material. But make sure you know what kind of work they do – don’t send a piece that has a cast of twenty six to a

company that usually tours its work in the company Transit. And remember any rejection letter that offers a positive comment and constructive criticism means somebody has seen something in your work that makes them want to encourage you, and no-one’s going to do that out of charity, there’s too many awful scripts being submitted every day of the week to want to encourage someone who can’t write. Your first script is a calling card so make sure it is impressive. If your work is good, sooner or later you will get the invitation to drop in for a coffee and chat, and when that chance comes don’t waste it.

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