The Writer's Prize for Radio Drama 2014: The Winner's Story
Writer, Actor, Director
Editor's Note: The Writer's Prize is an innovative and prestigious new writing award for Radio Drama which ran for the second time in 2014. The scripts were judged by Jeremy Howe (Commissioning Editor, BBC Radio 4 Drama), Kate Rowland (BBC Creative Director, New Writing) and award-winning writer Katie Hims. The winner is Christine Entwisle for her script Doyouwishtocontinue which has been commissioned by BBC Radio 4.
This is a strange position to be in. I have been asked to write a blog style piece on my experience of winning the BBC Writer’s Prize (I don’t even allow myself to write status updates on Facebook anymore – long story). People – real ones – will read it. This makes me feel a bit panicked. I may be writing this whilst partly lying down, but I am still panicked. In the same way that I am panicked at the thought that in May, people – yep, again, real people – will hear the words that I wrote as the sun streams through their kitchen windows on an idyllic spring afternoon… and they will think: blimey, Radio 4’s gone downhill a bit.
I’m not used to this. I’m used to the effort. I’m used to the rejection - no, actually, you never get used to the rejection but I am familiar, let us say, with the emotional equivalent of being repeatedly punched in the face. And, of course, I’m used to hoovering.* But this? Winning? Writing something that wins something? Nope. Never happens. Never gonna happen to me. Just isn’t.
When the call came with the unbelievable news that I had won the BBC Writer’s Prize, I may have burst into tears in the street. If you were the man with the black Labrador that was walking towards me, then I’m very sorry and I hope the rest of your day went a bit more smoothly. They were tears of shock and happiness. But the overwhelming feeling was one of relief. Massive relief. It felt as though I’d been underwater for ages and was finally able to come up for air.
The avenue of limes on Hampstead Heath
I have never really been sure if I could write or not. I’m still not. It seems perfectly possible that all three judges could have experienced a collective moment of madness or simply got my name and telephone number mixed up with someone else’s. Believe me when I say that I have seriously considered these possibilities. I am a glass half empty kind of a lass. I know I shouldn’t admit to this because the other sort are more likeable aren’t they? The half full brigade? Understandable, I guess. If you were throwing a party you wouldn’t want a load of half-empty types lining the hallway ... you’d want a load of devil-may-care effortlessly successful rock climbing half-fulls about the place – the sort who have “Carpe Diem” written in cross stitch, framed and hung by the door in case you’d forgotten to kill yourself already by the time you leave their house …
Sorry what just happened? To continue the story:
Flash back. At school the closest we got to being creative was in English language lessons. Not grammar and all that (you may have surmised), but essays. Fiction. Making stuff up. I was a troubled teen (yawn) so writing stories was a great outlet for my angst. Most of them were about sensitive boys dying in house fires. But there was also comedy.
After a degree in performing arts where the only thing I wrote was scorned at by my most erudite friend, who had written entire plays and been to a proper school (where they did teach grammar), I decided to become an actor. I was ill -equipped for the world of acting however, with no agent and absolutely no idea how to get work. I didn’t go to drama school because you had to pay … and also my parents would probably have shot themselves. So, being young and naïve, I wrote my first play ‘Slipper Trips’, so that I could cast myself and get an agent. Then I wrote two more, got an agent and stopped writing for theatre. I started writing comedy for my double act WonderHorse and became interested in screen writing, supported by the UK Film Council (RIP) to make several short films. But always directing or producing my own writing.
Things are looking up for Christine's dog Spanner
In June of last year I was commissioned purely as a writer for the first time ever by the Royal Court Theatre to write a scene to go in a sketch show curated by Anthony Neilson. It was three pages long but I felt like Harold Pinter. 'Doyouwishtocontinue' will be my second ever proper writing commission and my first for radio.
So now I am going to try my very best not to mess up the opportunity of a life time. All sorts of monsters lie between me and a decent rewrite. But I have been matched with a great producer, I have dates and deadlines, and I know that everything I write will be read carefully and responded to. I feel supported and understood and I am being encouraged to write the piece I want to write. The decisions are ultimately mine. Pretty much The Holy Grail?
The definition of hope
I don’t have any advice. Writing is messy. I’m a mess. My life’s a mess (you should see my kitchen drawers). But here’s the thing. I have spent twelve years writing a play that nobody wants and I’m still writing it. I spent four days writing Doyouwishtocontinue and it won the Writer’s Prize. Possible conclusions: life is totally random; my theatre play is sh*t (completely possible); I was the only person to enter the BBC Writer’s Prize.
So here we are – and this is the reason why life is a mess. You could either think: “if the door you keep knocking at doesn’t open, try another door”. But this seems to fly in the face of “just keep going”.
I would say “good luck” but it always makes me feel like I’m in a raffle at the fair. Plus if you’ve been bloody unlucky for ages, why would that suddenly change? What I will say instead is: tell the truth. In your writing and to yourself. And write about whatever you want to write about, in whatever way you want to write it. Oh yeah. And keep getting up in the morning.
A note to lasses
I was talking to a very successful playwright recently and she told me that in a writer’s group she ran, all the young writers were asked to submit a play at the end and the best one would be produced. The class was evenly split men and women. But here’s the thing. All the lads submitted work and only half the lasses. Upon investigation it was found that those lasses who hadn’t submitted had held back because they didn’t feel that what they had written was “good enough”. Come on lasses. You have enough enemies already without becoming your own worst. Get cracking. Just write the bloody thing and send it off.
*displacement activity, not progressive form of rewrite
Listen to Doyouwishtocontinue until 6 July 2015