On Writers and Writing
13 March 2018
My husband has ended a thirty year stint as a postman to become a full-time playwright.
By and large, I’m bursting with happiness, pride and a whole heap of smug. If you have a tremendous, life-altering talent, then surely you have a moral obligation to make use of it, rather than spend your days toiling as a service sector wage slave. His plays have made lives better, richer, more fulfilled; woken minds, stirred feelings: he needs to write more, and have his words heard.
And I need to bask in his reflected glory.
However, it does mean there are now two writers in the house. I’ve got a (non-life-altering) novel and dissertation on the go: he’s working on two plays. And writers are selfish, egotistical monomaniacs, with a wonderful capacity for procrastination. Before he resigned, when I was home alone, writing, or pretending to, I had time-wasting down to a fine art, and most of it consisted of housework. Meditative, useful, calorie consuming, is there anything more splendid in the known universe? And until last week, it was entirely my domain. How could I possibly tackle that chapter when the shower looked so scuzzy? Verily the doctorate must wait until the grill pan gleams! But now, with both of us trying to avoid work, the house is permanently spotless.
It was funny at first, and rather charming. “Is there anything I can do?” he kept calling, dolefully, as I rushed from laundry-folding to pie-making. “Anything at all?”
“No, not a thing, dear heart!” I trilled back, revelling in my entirely legitimate busyness. “Don’t mind me. You bump up that word count!”
But then he stopped asking and started just doing. The bins are forever emptied, the grates swept, the dogs walked, the mushrooms stuffed. I’m reduced to producing words, which I flipping hate doing, taking occasional pause to race through the house and scream at him.
“You selfish beast! You’ve ironed all the sheets, haven’t you?”
“Well I heard you tidying the shed, so now we’re quits. I’ve made dinner too, so don’t even think about any shopping or chopping. Now, now, pour all that passion into your work!”
“Oh, you are the most - the most - aaargggh, you know I can’t do dialogue! Haven’t you some lines of your own to scribble?”
We both prize ourselves on the quality of our insults, so if it does escalate to a full-blown screaming match, it makes for some excellent material. But who can claim ownership? We have a rule that the first to record it to paper can claim any conversation for their own creative endeavours, which shortens rows considerably. He argues this is unfair as he needs vastly more dialogue than I do - I’m all about the description, me - but I counter that he’s much more talented. Usually he wins, the rat. His deadline is nearer.
It’ll all be worthwhile when I hear Diana Rigg recite my own scurrilous filth at the Royal Court.
Meanwhile, my own word count grows at a rate to rival only my wifely pride.
Hags Ahoy- remember the name!
How do you upset an actor? Ask them if they have a proper job too.
It seems obvious now, and I promise I was only trying to be nice, and network, and more importantly, discover if there’s actually money to be made in this playwriting lark. But my clumsy query was not well received. “This IS my proper job” she trilled, testily, before stalking off to eat her mung beans elsewhere. Oops. We’re still going to see her show though, and in a bid to make amends, here’s a flyer for it. It’s at the Brighton fringe next month.
5 April 2018
She makes those masks herself. Amazing eh?
Networking isn’t my natural forte. My instinctive relationship to the world is hostile and suspicious. But watch me go, networking like a demon, because my husband and I have formed a theatre company called Hags Ahoy, and that’s my job now. He writes the plays, I flog the plays. He stars in the plays, I flirt with theatre managers until they agree to show the plays and let me flog the play merch in a corner. And so on, ad infinitum.
Husband has spent 30 years writing and acting, performing all over Thanet, and his work is flipping terrific – clever, funny, insightful, truthful. Now he’s left work, he wants to tour, and make a tiny bit of cash if possible. So, while he scribbles I seek out grants and opportunities, learn about contracts and budgets, and then network, teeth gritted. I’ve always felt he deserved a wider audience.
His stories – any stories, well told, truthfully told – have the power to affect lives, give lives meaning. I’m thrilled to be part of it. Thrilled also at the chance to learn something new. I’ve always run businesses, they’ve always made money; I’ve always loved theatre and wanted to be part of it. Most days I’m so ecstatic at the way my life’s going I can scarcely sleep.
Running a business with your spouse can make or break a marriage, they say. So far, it’s going alright, I think, largely because we have such different roles to perform, and also a three storey house. I wouldn’t try it without at least a floor to put between us when we’re sick of each other’s faces. Why, you can barely hear the screams, particularly when your teenage son blasts out the odd helpful guitar riff.
There’s so much to learn and do it’s overwhelming. I have to fool myself into getting on with it. “If I were to do any work this morning”, I think, “rather than, say, faffing about on twitter for hours, what would be the first step?” Usually it’s to find a phone number, and once I’ve done that, I think, I might as well ring it. What a trooper! Man, I hate phones, unless I’m idly scrolling through twitter on them. Yet bravely I force myself into endless awkward phone calls, for I’ve a tour to book.
For art, and money, my twin Gods!
Hags Ahoy. Remember that name. Then you can tell your pals you were there at the beginning, before anyone would do anything for a ticket.
Coming soon - Our first production
Mr Todd is putting on a couple of plays in November! 16th, 17th and 18th November, in fact, at the Sarah Thorne theatre in Broadstairs. Get your tickets now. It’s selling fast. I’m not performing, but I’ll be there every night all the same, conducting interviews at the interval, demanding to know what you thought. Why, if you’re sufficiently complimentary, you might have your thoughts filmed and placed on our website, hagsahoy.com, where your face might be seen by two or perhaps even three people! First, there’s a serious play about social mobility, then for pudding a Jeeves and Wooster-based romp. Both truly excellent, thought-provoking and funny in turn. Seriously, see husband now before he takes the world by storm. You’ll want to boast how you knew him before he was a household name.
But that’s two months hence. For now, rehearsals are busily agogo, and mostly, happening at our house. I come home from work each day to encounter scores of actors, not, as one might expect, emoting busily all over my kitchen, having melt-downs, pouting lovingly into any reflective surface, but instead, by and large, drinking my gin. Gosh, they’re a thirsty bunch. Hungry too. I thought I’d stockpiled in plenty of time for Brexit, but five actors and one teenage son have made a mockery of my carefully ordered larder. It’s yawningly empty as I write, as if we’d been simultaneously overrun with lusty locusts, workhouse waifs and army ants. I suspect son is to blame for the disappearance of baked beans, pasta and tinned peaches, but look to actors for the vanishing olives, cashew nuts, crisps and wine. They’ll never fit into their damn costumes at this rate.
Cheering moody actors with cheap wine - is that tax deductible? I’ve genuinely no idea. Awkward, as I’m in charge of the budget, as well as the marketing. I seem to spend a lot of time blubbing near council officials, begging them to put up posters and take leaflets. Men will agree to anything, I’ve discovered, to stop a woman crying, a fact I’m prepared to shamelessly, wholeheartedly exploit. Other than that, now the script is typed and printed, my job seems to consist of buying crisps, perfecting Instagram tags, and staying out of the way. Lord knows, I’ve had worse jobs.
So please book tickets, or my gin will have vanished in vain. Anyway, it’s dead good - the show, that is, not the gin. Definitely the best thing that’s ever happened in Broadstairs. For heaven’s sake don’t miss it.
Right of Entitlement and An Aunt too Many are showing at the Sarah Thorne at 7.30 on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th November, and Sunday 18th November at 2.30. Tickets can be purchased by calling 01843 863701 or visiting sarahthornetheatre.co.uk
A blog post from Melissa in the press
Read about some of the logistics of being 'on tour' in the Thanet Gazette