Today’s blog post, on the topic of last weekend’s (gay) ‘literary festival with a bent’ booQfest, is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. I was invited as a local author (and one of the few non-LGBT attendees but felt very at home and welcomed), my second year (and the second booQfest). Photos (other than panel shot), courtesy of booQfest website.
booQfest 2013 (part 1) – Friday 13th and Saturday 14th September
Friday night was launch party and after nibbles (including scrummy cup cakes) and drinks, we were entertained by the brilliant banjolele-playing Rose Collis (born in South Wimbledon and now resident in Brighton, Rose Collis is a multi-media writer, alternative historian and performer. Her work includes biography, journalism, short fiction, websites, exhibitions, radio, literary talks and guided walks. Since 1985, her features, interviews and reviews have appeared in over 30 publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including The Mail On Sunday, The Independent, The Times, TV Times, The Bookseller, Time Out, City Limits and Tribune – see http://www.rosecollis.com/trouser-wearing-characters-one-woman-musical-cabaret-show for more details) then were barded to by the current (2013 / 2014) Bard of Northampton, Peter John Norman.
The Saturday kicked off with a one-to-one interview between Joe Lidster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Lidster) and booQfest steward, Iain McLeod. This went as follows (please forgive the notes-style format, I wanted to get this post up asap):
Iain: How did you get into writing?
Joe: Did drama at university, didn’t get very far “as drama degrees don’t”. Submitted a Dr Who script for Big Finish, but it was the most hated (Ibiza theme) episode but the director liked that he’d come from a different angle.
Iain: Having written short stories, plays, TV episodes, what are the differences you have to adopt?
Joe: Thinks about how to use the medium and writes to that medium. The great thing about a short story is you can be more experimental because it doesn’t run as long as a play. Horror is great for audio because it’s all about imagination. Try and tell audio without the narration – latest audio 60-minute progamme (out Sept 2013) is just about two people running around a house. Think about your target audience e.g. for Torchwood you can elaborate and put in bits for die-hard fans but make sure it works for listeners / readers new to that episode. Also how old will your audience be? Children or adults.
Iain: How do you think your sexuality has influenced or affected your writing?
Joe: My whole life influences my writing, especially as “in the closet for a number of years”. Grew up without gay representation (TV, books etc) and have put in characters that are just geeky, another was gay but never mentioned, another (female) character had depression but learned to live with it. Fans have to trust you. You can be experimental.
His phone went off (and said it was strawberries growing in his Smurf village!).
Iain: Moved on to Sarah Jane Adventures. You wrote three two-part episodes. Watched and have very dark themes – trying to scare children, much like Dr Who? Was it your aim? How important do you think it is for children to be scared?
Joe: Absolutely. Doesn’t think Dr Who / SJA are sci-fi, more horror. Kids like being excited and like the drama of it. Less about monsters but more dilemmas for the characters with a redemption at the end. Joe thought about what scared him as a child. Sees what his nephews and nieces watch and is frustrated by the “rubbish programmes”. Children are harsher critics – will turn over if bored within 30 seconds. Prefers writing for children.
Iain: Wizards vs Aliens – legend Brian Blessed. Have you started on the new series?
Joe: Never met him as Brian doesn’t film on set (tried to put a character called Gordon but not done yet). Has finished Series 2 (due out in the next month) but not involved in Series 3 (yet).
Iain: Mentioned co-producing Dark Shadows, tell us about the move from writing to co-producing.
Joe: Friend was producing and wanted to step down. Mad series but great imagination. Soap attracts adults but the ghost and vampire appeal to children. Some of it is very scary but it’s full-on bonkers. (it sounds great!)
Joe then talked about his work as a producer, choosing the writers to talk to – two were former short story writers and although their scripts needed work, they had great potential.
Iain: Also written for theatre inc. 15-minute play. How did you approach writing plays so short?
Joe: Went to a lot of fringe theatre and bought books on writing plays etc. Got drunk, and wrote it ignoring all the rules! Loves Big Brother but loathes X Factor especially the early rounds; three millionaires laughing at supermarket workers. His Hull-based play was set around that – she worked in a supermarket, in an unhappy marriage, does karaoke. The people there tell her she’s brilliant and encourage her to do X Factor which she does (it’s a small cast where they play all the characters). She sings in front of the panel and audience then she kills (hangs) herself with a monologue saying that she’s won because they’ll cancel the show because they caused her suicide.
Joe gets annoyed by sexist adverts, those about the north / south divide and has complained about (a Christmas) one.
Iain: What are you working on next?
Joe: He’s currently working on a horror / Halloween short play and is going to research on straight actors doing gay porn!
Joe is a chain smoker – and said one play he went to had the best end of Act 1 he’d ever seen and wanted it to go straight into Act 2, even if it meant missing the interval for a fag break (which he didn’t need to).
Iain: Wrote online content for other characters inc. Sherlock Holmes’ John Watson etc.
Joe: Was approached in the pub by a fan fic website who’d enjoyed one of Joe’s plays and wrote for them for a while but then other pressures (inc. TV) took over. Still does Sherlock-related content but it’s so time-consuming although the fan base is huge. Wants to provide quality and quantity. Not just tie in content but they need to get something out of it, whether they are spending money or time.
Iain: How did Sherlock survive?
Joe: Can’t remember. John doesn’t talk about how Sherlock survived.
Iain: When introducing new characters in Dr Who, do you have free range?
Joe: Yes. Big fan of TV. We bring that to what we write. We know what’s worked and what is rubbish. Has to be careful though because if a character’s never mentioned a family member, they wouldn’t know of their existence or the viewers wouldn’t believe it. Think about how the new characters affect the existing characters. Important to mention characters who have left (moved away) so they’re not forgotten (the public will remember and wonder why).
The next session was a playwriting panel:
Moderated by Antonia Underwood. Antonia introduced Val (VG Lee) then Joe and Mark O’Connell (who I interviewed on the Sunday).
Joe only written one play.
Mark started writing when he was 18. Wrote a play which was well-received. Liked the fact that you could do writing on his own. Does different pockets of different writing.
Q: Antonia asked about the gay influence in their writing.
Mark and Joe talked about Captain Jack’s sexuality in Torchwood. Mark had projects turned down for being too colourful. As writers we want to make our writing fresh and interesting. His next project is about a closeted gay man in the 1950s but his sexuality is only 2% of the story, the 98% is about everything else in his life.
Val said she reverses typical soaps where the gay characters are the quirky characters whereas hers is mostly featuring gay characters where the
Q: Sum up your play in 5 words.
Joe: “I bloody hate the X-Factor”. Joe then talked about his play which he’d mentioned in his session previously.
Q: How different do you approach your different mediums?
Mark: Standup is mostly dialogue whereas scripts feature more stage directions – he prefers the latter.
Q: To Val, why did you make your play a one-woman act?
Val: Because it was done on an almost non-existent budget. Had no money If done again, she would have another actress in her place, although she can’t imagine her doing it like she (Val) does.
Q: Who is your inspiration?
Joe: Russell T Davis. Has changed TV and Joe’s approach to writing and reviewing other scripts.
VG: Rose Collis (our entertainment the night before, and who was in the audience). Seen Rose’s work ethic and is constantly inspired.
Mark: Jonathan Harvey – fortunate enough to be mentored by him and assisted Mark from becoming a wannabe writer to a fully-fledged
Q: Any favourite type of writing as an audience / reader?
Joe: Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus
Mark: Willie Russell’s shows
Val: No one in particular but reads a lot.
Q: Mark, you’ve been to San Francisco, how supportive is it for gay writing?
Mark: It’s a gay haven. Soho is charged like it wants to be 8.30 on a Friday evening all the time. SF more a relaxed community feel and more support with gay arts especially across the young / old divide.
Q: What comes first – the characters or the story?
Val: Characters but then the story comes out.
Joe: Most of his work is commissioned and episodes are mainly character-based.
Mark: Agrees. The characters have to work.
Q: Comedy – how do you know something is going to be funny / will work?
Val: As a child had a nose for humour. She’d find things that would be humorous.
Joe: Hasn’t written comedy as most of his work is dark but characters can be funny. Listens to people when he goes home. Taxi driver said that a murder had to be true because someone had said it in CostCutter.
Mark: Comedy comes from the ordinary. Not everyone thinks the same things are funny.
Q: What’s next?
Joe: Series 3 for Sherlock blogging. Writing four more 15-minute plays. Wants to do more theatre work.
Mark: Second book. Written so will move on to the editing. Doing comedy for Matt Lucas – a radio show set in the future.
Val: Just finishing a 20-year novel, ‘Mr Oliver’, which will either be very topical or outdated. Is writing more standup for 2014.
Audience Question: Do you find the queer population easy or hard to write for?
Joe: Yes. Finds Soho very difficult. Gay can be a drag queen, builder or both.
Mark: Was taken into an SF gay bar and was surprised at how ‘straight’ everyone looked. Loves John Inman, Larry Grayson and Kenneth Williams because they were fun. The two gay characters (Christian & Saaid) in Eastenders are so miserable.
Val: Write about the individual rather than the culture.
Joe: Eastenders handled it well because both characters are different.
Mark: Couldn’t stand the martyrdom.
Joe: Some was interesting though. 🙂
Q: (I asked) Do you friends think that some of your characters are them?
Joe: Uses friends as inspiration but doesn’t use them completely.
Val: Did use a friend, now an ex-friend!
Mark: If you use someone change enough about them: their name, give them tattoos…
Q: Do you read your critics / reviews?
Joe: Negative feedback on Dr Who goes to Ibiza.
Mark: Nothing goes down with Dr Who fans!
Joe: It made me more rebellious. If people are employing me, I’m doing all right. Has to take the positives from it.
Mark: Always reasons – they were having a bad day. Has a Google alerts. Slightly ignore the praise too as you can get complacent. No such thing as bad publicity. It’s nice to be written about. You need to sieve other people’s feedback.
Val: Received an US review. The woman in beige (in one of her books) doesn’t get started. “Made me laugh and made her tickle.”
Q: Funding – if you have an idea for a play. Do you wait to get a grant?
Val: Doesn’t go for funding. Can’t bear to fill in forms. Frightened of the pressure of having to come up with the goods.
Joe: No experience of requesting funding.
Mark: Tried to apply for funding and you do spend too much time doing the forms. Is submitting to the BBC and has to complete 200 words. In SF there are local funding ‘pockets’.
The next session I went to was storytelling with Alex Ultradish
I was late so came in halfway through one of her stories about a nightingale trying to find a rose for a student to give to his true love with a twist at the end where the man doesn’t get his girl as the mayor’s son gave her jewels.
Next was a twist on Goldilocks where Goldilocks is a male biker. The three bears are dark bear bikers!
Then Alex relayed Oscar Wolfe’s The Happy Prince, set in Northampton. It was delightful and very moving.
Alex then asked for audience participation and one man asked her to tell a story about a twink, a young naive boy, and true to form, Alex told a story about a friend she knew who… although this may have gone off-piste… went to a bar to see how many free drinks he could get and ended up going home with an older gent… Alex left the ending open.
She then talked about two lesbian friends who married and one received a wedding card from her Uncle Old saying it’s easier to go to war that get married.
As she said she was running out of stories, one lady in the audience asked for her favourite story; about a princess Ishbel who refused to marry any of the suitors presented. The king despaired and said the next man would be the one she would marry. He was poor but they left the kingdom past a huge estate and she asked who it belonged to and was told it was the last man she rejected. Her husband sent her back to her palace to work in the kitchen. The travelling musician turned out to be the last man she rejected (rich) and they lived happily ever after.
*I then did a workshop on blogging and if anyone reading this wants me to email them the presentation I used, I will gladly. My email is email@example.com.
I came in late (15 minutes) to Val Lee’s one-woman hour-long chat and performance. She was just finishing answering a question and then introduced us to one of her characters, Jean, and Jean’s friends (straight and gay) and that was funny in itself. She asked us to close our eyes then she counted to five and told us to open our eyes then she launched straight into her monologue (which was brilliant).
VG then spoke about her experience as her one-woman show and recommended to work with people you trust.
I asked Val whether anyone had performed her work. She said there hadn’t been but she would like to see someone else’s interpretation.
Daniel (one of the booQfest organisers) asked about the transition between being a writer and being a actress. Val said she based her character Malcolm on her next-door neighbour.
I asked Val if there was anything she’d not done that she would like to do and she said that she’d like to finish her novel and continue doing short pieces, of which she is proud.
Part 2 (Sunday 15th September) will follow later today…
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, tutor, speaker, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), freelance author of numerous short stories (available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk), novels, articles, and dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary and she loves chatting with other writers and readers. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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