November 6, 2013 by Sian Rowland
We couldn’t afford to go on holiday this summer so I wrote a comedy instead. Seemed like a good idea at the time. When I lost my full time job two years ago and became a freelancer I promised myself I would spend more time writing. In fact I spend a fair amount of my time writing for a living now- I write educational materials for various large companies and I love it but it doesn’t always satisfy my creative needs. My first passion is children’s fiction but I’ve been banging away at that particular drum for several years without being allowed to play in the band.
It was a chance conversation at my writing group that got me thinking. Someone mentioned a very funny Daily Mail article about a dog show they had read that went catastrophically wrong (or should that be dogastrophically?) One might argue that most Daily Mail articles are funny- if not ha ha then peculiar- but I went away and read it and then wrote a piece about it in several voices. It was a sort of short story and a sort of play for voices. I read it out at the following week’s meeting and received good feedback which- believe me- is not always the case! Buoyed by success I decided to write something in a similar vein and searched the good old internet for a competition or open submission. I thought I might write a little sketch or something but ended up applying for the Funny Women comedy writing award.
Suddenly I had a thirty minute sitcom to write and submit by the end of August. It was already July and I didn’t have an idea yet.
But I’m an obsessive researcher (I’m the sort of person that doesn’t buy upgrade my phone until I’ve made a comparison grid of all the options) so I started researching. I watched loads of comedies on television (it’s research! Honest!) with an eye to structure and style. I read hundreds of scripts online studying format, scene changes and directions. I timed scenes and counted gags. I wrote character sketches, scrapped them and rewrote them. I read endless blogs on style and how not to be an amateur. I developed my ideas and nurtured my characters until they became as familiar as family. I wrote long monologues in their voices and listened to music of the time.
At this point I should probably mention that I set my sitcom in 1815 and decided to write it in period language. What a div. This meant I had to make the language accessible yet passably authentic. Actually this part was tremendous fun because of the word play. I was able to use words like ‘succour’ and ‘verisimilitude’ and make reference to cockades, burlap sacks and gooseberry cheese. Every time I wanted to write a line, however, I had to check the historical accuracy. If I wrote something about an item of clothing or the Napoleonic wars it had to be correct. I ended up researching subjects like the effects of long-term opium use, the first recorded cases of trench foot (then called immersion foot) and the names working class families gave to their children (I had lots of fun with that one.)
I scribbled notes everywhere and couldn’t sleep for thinking about a tricky scene or how to end the damn thing. I once sat at the computer for ages desperately trying to think of a compound noun to describe nature in which the first syllable would have meaning on its own (landscapes). I even wrote quatrains in the style of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner with iambs that exactly match Coleridge’s.
I finished the script, read it through and edited and edited. It came to thirty minutes long. It was then that my choir friend offered to hold a read through at her house with proper professional actor friends. I blogged about this rather surreal but exciting experience here. I submitted a section of the script to the competition and found out that I had been longlisted. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t gone further but as time goes on I’m more and more proud of my efforts, especially as I hadn’t even written a two minute sketch before. The Funny Women judges said very nice things about it and put me on their ‘Ones to Watch’ list. I think this means that you should watch out in case I try and do something equally daft like decide to try stand-up comedy or streak at Wembley.
My choir friend also encouraged me to send the script off to a local theatre company, Attic Theatre, who were looking for new short plays. I had given up hope when I eventually got an email back saying they’d like to put my play on at Wimbledon Theatre Studio as part of the Wimbledon Bookfest. They really wanted ten minute plays but would be willing to make an exception for my ramblings. They would appoint a professional director and actors and it would be performed as a rehearsed (script in hand) reading.
Help! I somehow seem to have written a play.
Coming soon: Part Two. The play is performed with proper actors and a director and is a sell out!