Welcome to the two hundred and nineteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with scriptwriter and spoken word director, editor (and more), spotlightee and guest blogger Rachel Cochrane. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. Our thanks go to Ross Parker for the main photograph of Rachel.
Morgen: Hello again, Rachel. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Rachel: Originally a pharmacist, ten years ago I gave up a this well paid profession to realise a long-held ambition to become a writer, something which I have never regretted despite lack of financial gain. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities for writers, I decided to create my own and with the advent of digital media I set up spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com bringing my own and other writers’ work out to an audience on the world wide web.
Morgen: It’s a great-looking site (I especially love ‘Celia – The Film’). I’m leaving my job a week today so maybe I should ask for some tips. 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
Rachel: Initially, I was part of a creative writing group where I was able to test out different types of writing – poetry, story, drama. This helped me to realise that I was a very visual person as far as storytelling was concerned and that I realise stories in terms of pictures and dialogue rather than in descriptive terms. Therefore I decided to develop my skills as a scriptwriter and have undertaken many courses and workshops in writing drama for film, radio and stage.
Morgen: Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your work… in any unusual locations?
Rachel: When I uploaded my photo drama ‘Couple’, a conversation between the two figures of a statue situated on a breakwater, it was seen by the trustees of the local Maritime Centre who asked if it could be performed live at the centre as part of an evening of local culture. I am thrilled to be working with the two actors in preparation and to have the opportunity to take my work out to another audience.
Morgen: How exciting. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rachel: My ‘published works’ are the radio plays that I have written and made available to listen online or download from listenupnorth.com. Working on a virtually zero budget, I have no resources for marketing and publicity. I have had bookmarks printed with the listenupnorth.com logo which I designed myself. I have found a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend publicising listenupnorth.com and its content on social media and the number of hits to the site. I also use traditional media for publicity and have had several features in local newspapers. I try to angle the story that will have a relevance to something relating to that area. I have also appeared on local radio and placed low cost adverts in local amdram productions.
Morgen: Funnily enough, bookmarks have been a topic for discussion on LinkedIn with them being suggested as an inexpensive means of advertising. Quite a few people said they’d used Vistaprint for their business cards etc. but they don’t (yet?) do bookmarks which seems a shame. Maybe they will. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Rachel: I have been short-listed in several competitions but was always pipped at the post. However, it was receiving just one too many rejections that became the real driving force for setting up listenupnorth.com. I was determined not to invest the time in writing anything else unless it was going to reach an audience. With the advent of digital media, I decided to take charge of my own work, produce my dramas as ‘radio plays’ and make them available on a dedicated website.
Morgen: A good thing to come out of rejections. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Rachel: I have just run a writing competition with Writers’ Block NE to celebrate the centenary of the iconic Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge. I have been recording & editing the winners, writing up the web pages and publicising the new content of short stories & poetry (for links see the feature page). I am so busy running the website these days that ironically struggle to find time for my own writing.
Morgen: I know how that goes. 🙂
Rachel: However, I am working through a drama set around a park bench and the relationship that strikes up between a young single Mum and a ghost from the past!
Morgen: That sounds like fun. 🙂 A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Rachel: I don’t look for ideas, they just pop into my head when I’m not expecting them. Something I hear or see just suggests itself as an idea to explore and expand. For instance when I was on holiday in an old cottage on the Northumberland coast, a noise awoke us in the night. We got up but couldn’t find the cause but it set my mind racing. I sat up in bed with my notepad as dawn was breaking and scribbled all the possible thoughts that came into my head; something supernatural suggested itself and I wanted to use the ancient stone fireplace that was in the cottage. The result was the play ‘Dolly’s House’. When I’m stuck with a plot, not sure how everything is going to link up or be resolved, I find that taking a break and relaxing the mind is key. I try to swim every morning and it amazing how the way forward seems a lot clearer after a few lengths.
Photo depicts actors recording ‘Oranges and Lemons’ radio play (photo by Ross Parker)
Morgen: Because you have nothing else to do but think. I find the same when I’m out with the dog and have forgotten my iPod. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rachel: I get an idea then write down all the random thoughts associated with it, bits of plot, characters, locations, dialogue. It’s like an electrical storm firing in the brain and when it starts to quieten down, then I look at what I’ve got, try to work out what the story is saying to me and what the theme is that will run throughout the narrative. After that I will try to shape the plot with sub-plots into a 5-act structure and do a back-story for the characters. I always find that the first draft is quite a slog then it’s edit, edit, edit!
Morgen: Yay, my favourite part of writing (ha). What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Rachel: When I am writing, I don’t want to think about anything else, I just want to live inside the story I’m creating. However for the bum-on-seat sitting down to write process, I think I have quite a short attention span. I wish I could be one of these dedicated people that write continuously in their turret for hours and lose track of time. I can only write for an hour max without a break, perhaps a drink or a walk for 10 mins then back to it. Even then I probably drift off and dream about far more than I write.
Morgen: It’s not good to sit for too long so you’re probably wise – I can’t as I get sciatica so my back / legs tell me when I have to move. Plus having a dog is a great distraction. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Rachel: I start with paper; preferably a really pretty A4 spiral-bound pad and a black gel pen. I find I can get my ideas down much quicker with pen & paper. As I commit this work to the computer, it becomes the first edit that I carry out on what I’ve written.
Morgen: My pads are all spiral-bound. It’s funny how we need specific ‘tools’ for the job. 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rachel: I have written a 6-part TV series ‘Full Throttle’ and a feature length film ‘Tommo’s Journey’ which I developed with the script reader from our local screen agency Northern Film & Media. I am still very proud of what I created but the opportunities for an unknown writer to have that kind of work taken up are virtually non-existent.
Morgen: Never say never. If you’re proud of it, hopefully someone else be one day. That’s the whole thing about rejections (unless something’s really badly written) – it’s just finding the right person for it. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rachel: It’s important to meet with other writers for peer review and objective advice about your work. Sometimes it’s necessary to shut yourself away to get on with your writing but it’s also important to make time to live life, observe, listen and draw inspiration and ideas from what is going on around you.
Morgen: It is. Although I won’t be going to a job I’ll still be going out, and actually probably meeting more people as there are only four of us in the company. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Morgen: And that’s what we all need the most of, and a great way to end this interview. Thank you again Rachel.
After many years of scriptwriting full-time and several shortlists, Rachel decided to bypass the cumbersome commissioning process and take advantage of the advent of digital media. After being selected for the Creative GLEAM scheme at Durham University Business School and a DigitalCity Fellowship at the Institute of Digital Innovation, she has now set up a spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com, recording her own dramas and inviting other writers to submit their quality work for you to enjoy. Rachel is about to launch the pilot episode of her webdrama Celia, the deliberations of a middle-class, middle-aged woman which bears no resemblance to her own life – honest.
Update August 2012: Celia now has her own blog – where she blogs as a person in her own right. As a writer this is helping me to develop the character and helping her to engage with the audience. The blog site is www.celiatime.com where you can also view ‘Celia – the film’.
Celia is running a writing competition looking for spoof short stories, highly romanticised tales, in the
style that she herself writes for genteel ladies magazines. The winning entries will be read & recorded by Celia actor Penny Lamport & uploaded to listenupnorth.com for everyone to hear. Celia has even managed to find
some prize money from her housekeeping! Details of the competition can be found on www.celiatime.com or
I have just been accepted onto The Digital Bridge scheme with Northern Film & Media to develop Celia as a transmedia project.
Morgen: Yay! Congratulations. 🙂
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