Over the past two months I've been working on the first draft of the Burning Books script. As I predicated might happen, I came back from the Arvon course filled with the joys of writing and creativity and that quickly tapered away when I realised that my neighbour's fly tipped sofa isn't quite as inspiring as the rolling hills of Shropshire. I lumbered on though.
I've talked to more teachers than ever before over the past 8 weeks; I ran two focus groups at the Exchange in Leicester where we discussed teaching over pizza and wine, my friends, Jamie and Dan invited me over to their house to interview them over nachos and my Mum and sister let me interview them during dinner. Basically I've eaten a lot.
I recorded all the conversations and they've been really useful for informing the themes of the play and for reminding me why I want to write it on the days when it all feels impossible and I want to sack it off. I realised that those conversations were important for making sure I really was writing about the experiences of teachers and not just my vicarious experiences of teaching when I go in to schools for 1/2 a day or so to run a poetry workshop.
One of the key things that came out of those interviews which has become a main theme in the play is the generational gap in teaching unions. Most of the young teachers I spoke to weren't part of unions, felt that union representation wasn't relevant to them and in some cases were reluctant to join a union because of what they felt it represented - the hard 'whacky' left of Corbyn supporters, shouting more than listening.
At the same time as talking to teachers I was reading a stack of plays which had been recommended by my mentor, Louise Stephens, by some of of my script writer friends and some which I've been meaning to read for a while and never got round to. These included The Effect - Lucy Prebble, One Minute - Simon Stephens, Little Gem - Elaine Murphy, A Number - Caryl Churchill, Lela & Co - Cordelia Lynn, The Wonderful World of Dissocia - Anthony Neilson, The Kitchen - Arnold Wesker, This House - James Graham and Pests - Vivienne Franzmann. If you're in any way interested in knowing what I thought about them, I rated them on my Goodreads page. Take my opinion with an absolute pinch of salt, I am not someone who actually knows what they're talking about!
In terms of the writing, I bashed out a first draft in about 8 weeks, including the time spent on it at the Arvon course. I felt I was going really blindly in to this process having never written a script longer than about 20 minutes before but I managed to cobble something together. With some help from Louise and my writer friend Lee I worked on a redraft, figuring out what the actual story is rather than just 90 minutes of 6 characters shouting at each other about politics.
At the beginning of this week I started the first set of R&D workshops at Curve with 6 real actors, which was equally exciting and terrifying. We spent 3 days, supported by director, Julia Thomas bashing through the script, working out who the characters are (including drawings their portraits) and why they behave like they do and trying to get the narrative a bit clearer. I've come out of that process totally knackered and with 40 pages of notes to plough through but reinvigorated to get working on the next draft. I'm going to have a couple of days thinking time to let the dust settle and start work next week. The following week I'm heading down to Devon for a family holiday so I'm hoping for a nice sea view to sit in front of while I write.