Guest post: ‘Setting up a spoken word website’ by Rachel Cochrane

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by Listen Up North’s Rachel Cochrane.

Setting up listenupnorth.com a spoken word entertainment website

Ten years ago I gave up a professional post in the NHS to realise my ambition to become a scriptwriter. Many years and countless rejections later, I was determined that the next thing I wrote was going to find an audience.  This decision coincided with the advent of digital media and for the past year I have been setting up spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com showcasing my own and other writers’ work.  Visitors to the site can listen online or via downloads to radio plays, short stories, poetry and book extracts.

Having built up content and a following, I am now exploring ways of monetising the site to make it a viable concern including advertising and sponsorship. I would like to share with you 10 things I have learnt along the way:

  1. Be prepared to be out of your comfort zone – I am not the world’s most outgoing or confident person but to achieve what I want I have had learn to fight my corner, become self-assured about what I am doing and shout it from the roof tops.
  2. Take responsibility – You have to be the driving force that ensures that your project is on course and comes to fruition.
  3. Networking – Many writers spend solitary lives avoiding communication with others!  You need people that can help you build and support what you are trying to do both creatively and as a business venture. Find network groups that are not just other writers.
  4. Numbers matter – Not only is it very satisfying to get your work out to an audience but the number of hits and especially subscribers matter when you wish to attract funding, whether from public or private sponsorship or advertising.
  5. Publicity – There are lots of ways that you can raise awareness of your work without spending huge amounts on marketing.  Encourage those involved with your projects to spread the word about what you’re doing. Try a workshop on how to exploit social media for business.  Whom are you trying to attract?  Where can find you find them?  How you can target them? Networks made on social media can pay dividends at this point.  Are there any current topics or issues that your creative work can hook into?  Any blogs posts you can write for other sites? Don’t forget traditional media: a story in the local newspaper, a guest spot on local radio, a talk to local groups in village halls.
  6. Look for opportunities – I undertook a creative entrepreneurship course to learn business skills and then a digital fellowship to develop my digital awareness.  Both these university-based schemes had mentor support.
  7. Be prepared to learn new skills – To make my radio dramas and other recordings, I had to learn about directing (i.e. just stand there and sound like you know what you are doing!), producing and I undertook a course at a local college to learn technical skills such as recording and editing.
  8. Collaboration – Some projects, whether business or creative, are too big to manage alone and this is where networking is invaluable.  Other people may have the skills and knowledge that you need and vice versa.  It is important to establish at the outset the role of each party, what they expect to achieve and any boundaries. At present I am collaborating with another writer on a joint package to attract advertising to support both our businesses.  My soon-to-be-released short film Celia was a joint venture between myself, a producer / director and an actor, each of us looking for a vehicle to showcase our talents. Click here for a link to the trailer for Celia.
  9. Run it as a business – Money should not be a dirty word to creative people! Make sure that what you are doing does not just become an expensive hobby.  Fact: without bringing in money I cannot hope to maintain what I have worked hard to create not only for myself but also for other writers.
  10. Make sure you still find time for your own writing!

Hear hear! Thank you 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.  Catch the trailer http://listenupnorth.com/drama-page/338.

You can find more about Rachel and her work via the links above and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. You can also email her at enquiries@listenupnorth.com. I shall be interviewing Rachel later this month but in the meantime you can read her author spotlight.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with novelist Laura-Wilkinson – the one hundred and eighty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

Guest post: Writing for Radio and Theatre by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writing for radio and theatre, by Dal Burns.

‘Writing for Radio and Theatre’

I began writing for radio while working for a local Theatre group.  I had worked my way into writing articles in the play programs and they were happy with what I was producing. After listening to the radio ads produced by the local station, I knew I could do better and sat down to write.  I found it takes real discipline to write an ad that can be narrated in either twenty-nine or fifty-nine seconds. A lot depends on the narrator and the speed at which they normally speak in an ad. I timed my own narrations at different speeds and it soon became clear what words were easy to speak at speed and which ones caused me to require the Heimlich maneuver.

Most ads are poorly-written. Trying to generate excitement by using buzz-words and an excited tone of voice is so tired, so I decided to use the best medium for getting out a message. A little touch of humor and the use of subtle picture words is where I headed. Funnily enough (no pun intended) that worked.

Here’s my formula. Don’t preach. Use a little humor and seek for the picture words that will get your point across. It takes quite a bit of banging on doors to get work at local stations but it’s worthwhile as once you are in the door, the different style you employ helps the station to sell more ads. A writer who can generate good ad copy is worth a lot.

Once known at the local stations, I tried my hand at radio plays. This type of play relies on a combination of sound effects and picture words.  I always had my plays broadcast or recorded in front of a live audience. This brings an ambiance and life to the play that is simply not possible in a regular studio recording.

One great technique in a comic play is to have the actors break character once in a while and speak to the other actors. One of my favorites is to have one actor ‘steal’ another actor’s line. This generally leads to a short argument, before the engineer breaks in and gets the show back on track.

The long history behind radio plays makes them an ideal resource for research. As most people have never heard a radio play, it’s easy enough to take the basic idea behind an old play and bring it up to date with new words and ideas. Case in point would be the old Richard Diamond series from the 1940’s. Diamond was one hard-boiled and whip-smart private eye.

This was too much to resist, so I took Richard and married him to a 1950’s style of British comedy and suddenly he was a major goofball with a very cool-dude voice. From there, it was simple to write a script that highlighted Diamond’s strengths and weaknesses. Several examples were:

“Hi, I’m Richard Diamond, private eye but my best friends call me diamond dick, swinging detective…I wonder why?” and “I was sitting in my office the other day when a man came through the door (crashing sound). I wish he’d opened the door first!” Speaking of his secretary, “Now there’s a gal who carries a pair of 38’s, and a gun, wherever she goes.”

Corny as all get out and yet the studio audience howled with laughter and the local critics loved the show.

Theatre plays are another animal entirely. Theatre is the actor’s medium, much more so than the writer’s. Once the curtain goes up, it’s the actor’s play. They are in control of the process of bringing your words to life.

It’s said there are only three types of play:

  • American: Man gets girl. Man loses girl and spends the rest of the play getting her back
  • French: Man gets girl and spends the rest of the play trying to get away from her
  • Russian: Two people, who neither want nor get each other, spend two hours complaining about it

Forget about them. As the writer, you have three tasks:

  • A plot line that is coherent
  • An emotional dilemma for each actor that is slowly revealed during the play
  • A sharply defined resolution to the play

I’m adding two more essential elements:

  • The picture words
  • Blocking

The plot’s the easy part. Movies and books can provide the framework of a play. Plays, though, require a great deal of emotion in the plot, to keep the limited action on stage from becoming dull and static.

Emotional dilemmas are vital. The dilemma each actor is given will enable them to make a rich and interesting character. It really is the actor’s food and drink on the stage. It drives the words they speak and movements they make. The script is designed to make the actor’s dilemma more and more difficult to hide as the plot progresses. The plot must force the actor to reveal their hidden dilemma slowly and with much resistance.

The resolution is not really about the plot. It’s about allowing the actors to resolve their emotional dilemmas. That’s the payoff for the audience. It’s their emotional release. All audience members have dilemmas. To present them with the same dilemma on stage and then provide a resolution is cathartic for an audience member and it sells tickets!

Picture words. Your script must contain words that evoke pictures in the actor’s mind as that is how the actor relays the emotion and plot of the play. Without them, the actor is lifeless. If you don’t see pictures when you write the words, the actor won’t be able to communicate those words to the audience. It’s that simple.

Blocking. Forget about it. Don’t write a single word of blocking into your play. It shackles the director and the actors. Let dialog drive action on the stage. Make them get up, sit down or pace the stage because the words they speak force them to. Not because you block the play for them.

This is great, thank you Dal!


Dal is a fourth-generation entertainer first put on stage at age eight, by his father. He has been involved in TV, movies, radio, recording studios, rock band, theatre etc. He has written for radio ads, theatre programs, screenplays and radio plays (he says they were fun!) theatre plays (two of which were produced and quite successful). Dal wrote his first story at seventeen, after a mentor suggested he enter a writing competition. He said the suggestion was made because he was rather well known in his village (in the wilds of Northumberland) as the local storyteller. After that he didn’t write again until in his thirties, when working with a theatre company.

Dal has written four books and is working on a fifth, which is an illustrated children’s book, with co-author Kari Wishingrad and illustrators Sona & Jacob. That book will be released this year with the title “The Neighbor’s Cat”. He is also working on three new books; another children’s illustrated book, a YA story about an alternate universe and a YA story about two horses. Although Dal has never visited an alternate universe, he thinks he owns Bella, a Peruvian Paso mare. Bella knows better. Dal’s websites include http://dalburnswrites.com and http://dramaworksinc.com. He can also be found on Twitter and Facebook and leading the ongoing children’s writing competition ‘Write Across America‘. You can also read Dal’s interview with me here.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

Author Spotlight no.27 – Rachel Cochrane

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the twenty-seventh, is of scriptwriter and spoken word director, editor (and more) Rachel Cochrane.

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.  Catch the trailer http://listenupnorth.com/drama-page/338.

And now from the author herself:

After almost 7 years of near solitary writing, I decided to set up listenupnorth.com, a spoken word entertainment website.  I had a vague plan of how it might work but I was charting new territory.  Really it was a case of putting my toe in the water to see what might develop.

I wanted to produce the radio plays that I had written as audio dramas and put them out to an audience on the web.  This needed a several-pronged approach:

  • Gathering actors
  • Directing
  • Arranging recording and editing
  • Legal considerations
  • Developing a website to house the productions

Having no experience of recording and editing, I contacted a local studio and arranged to record a short pilot drama.  They were used to recording music rather than drama and so arranged to do the pilot free of charge.  The drama was called Couple and needed 3 actors: a narrator and 2 actors that make up the couple, figures in a sculpture of the same name sited on a breakwater off the Northumberland coast.  Most of my dramas have a village setting because that is the environment with which I am familiar.  However I hope that the themes of my stories are universal and something with which most people can identify.

Through our local am dram I was able to enlist the help of willing actors keen for a new experience.  We rehearsed in my sitting room, it was the first time that I had directed and being tuned into voice was the key, as there would obviously be no visual clues.  Because actors did not have to learn lines, we could concentrate on performance.  The actors were very supportive and I learnt that being open to suggestions does not mean you lose artistic freedom or ownership of your work but that collaboration makes it greatly enhanced.

Waking up on the morning of the recording is always a tense affair; it’s not until I get to the studio, the actors are positioned behind the microphones and I start ticking off items on my schedules that I can start to relax.  Depending on length and complexity of script, it can take anything from a few hours to one and a half days to record.  I usually attend sessions with the recording technician at the later stages of editing.  It takes around four times longer to edit than record.  Sound effects are also added in, purchased with a royalty free licence as my website is potentially commercial.  The actors also sign performers’ contracts to ensure that I own the recording that we make and I can put it out on a website and use parts of it for publicity.  Similarly, for any writers’ work I use, a contributor’s contract is also required.

The finished work is then uploaded with great excitement to my specially developed spoken word entertainment website listenupnorth.com and publicised through social and traditional media to take it out to an audience.

Radio/audio Plays produced so far: Couple, Village Notes, Tilting at Windmills (monologue), Any Other Business, Oranges and Lemons, A Grand Old Lady (monologue) and Dolly’s House.

There is no greater joy for a writer than hearing their words come to life and I am indebted to my generous and talented friends for helping me realise this dream.

You can find more about Rachel and her work via the links above and you can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. You can also email her at enquiries@listenupnorth.com.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with mystery novelist Anne R Allen – the one hundred and seventy-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.