Hello all –
Welcome to this week’s edition of authorly Question Time; today’s
victim guest is the multi-talented Julia Lee Dean, writer of plays and novels, actress, singer and occasional go-go dancer (depending on how many tequilas it’s been this time). She’s just had poems published as part of an anthology and has performed by own monologues at London Bites and The Courtyard Theatre.
Her theatre company, Wired to the Moon Productions, is about to put on her play ‘Limbo’ as part of the Camden Fringe Festival in August, and having read that particular script through several stages of development, I can tell you that it is unusual, funny and poignant all at the same time, so if you’re likely to be in the vicinity, check out the company’s Facebook page for more info.
Also, writers needed! Julia is looking for writers for her next show – Stand Up for Shakespeare, which will involve parodies and sketches. If you would like to be involved, please check out the details at http://penpoised.wordpress.com
On which note, I’ll leave you with her questions…
= = = =
Name: Julia Lee Dean
Author of: ‘Limbo’
Publication Type: Play
Available from: www.lazybeescripts.co.uk
One-sentence summary: Michael finds it hard to come to terms with his death; especially when his widow appears to be getting it on with his best friend.
One-sentence biog: Writer, actress, theatre producer & would-be Irish speaker
= = = =
When you write, do you have a routine or habit?
Not really. I don’t start a new piece of work unless the first few lines or a particular scene are going over in my mind with such insistence I can’t think of anything else. But if I’ve got an ongoing piece of work I’m a bit more studious. Even so, I only write when I’m in the mood. I suppose it’s one advantage of still having the day job: I can bide my time. I don’t see the good in forcing myself, it wouldn’t be my best work and this profession is competitive enough without turning in second rate stuff.
What kicks off the book – a character, a situation, a plot-point?
This always makes me sound like a madwoman but most of the time it’s like I hear a voice. Characters form in my mind and start speaking to each other, I simply write down what they say. Obviously I get to steer the conversations (most of the time!) but if you have characters with a story to tell, all you really need is a pen and a piece of paper.
Do you plan the plot or follow it as it unfolds? How much do you know in advance?
I usually have a general idea with what I want to happen by the time I get to the end but that vagary is only really (arguably!) permissible with longer stories. Certainly with short stories and playwriting, you have to have a good idea of how the thing’s going to end because all the action is leading to that point and you haven’t really got the space to diverge from the main plot in the way you have with novels. That said, my latest play, ‘Is This Seat Taken?’ was based, very loosely, on a real relationship and the ending changed a few times according to how was feeling about that relationship.
Do you write character notes or background information?
I do but only after I’ve got the characters. Sometimes it’s like a character will randomly walk into my mind, take a seat and wait for attention (here’s the madwoman talking again). I am quite lazy in a way, I don’t pick up a pen until I can hear the story they have to tell. Then I might plot out characteristics and background. Of the two I think background is more important; the characteristics of a character will come out in what they say and how they react. Sometimes I note them down as an act of self-discipline but more often than not I’m not that disciplined. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that a lot of what I do is instinctive: it doesn’t all trundle neatly through the processing part of my brain so it’s actually quite hard for me for describe my writing process without sounding worryingly eccentric.
Do you do research and how?
Yes, books and internet. Especially if it’s a period piece. I wrote a novel a while ago which centred around an Anglican priest on the Western Front during the First World War. I read bits and pieces from text books but what proved most helpful was a lovely book called ‘Somewhere in Flanders’ written by Rev Leighton Green which gave me a really good insight into the daily life of an army padre. Also the German novel ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ which describes life in the trenches and the thoughts of the soldiers really well. While it’s important to get your facts straight, it is equally vital to get the sense of what you’re writing about right. I’ve read novels and seen plays where the writer has clearly done an awful lot of research but can’t let any of it go. It kills off the humanity of the story and what you’re left with is something akin to a school essay. You might want to give the writer a gold star for effort but he/she hasn’t told you anything.
Do your characters do as you intend or do they tend to run away with the plot?
They have a good go at running away from me! Sometimes I give them a free rein to see what happens but in the end I will rewrite passages I’m not happy with. If something I intended as a serious scene ends with the characters capering about and getting silly then I’ll get the big red pen out. Occasionally it works quite well. I was rewriting the opening scene of ‘Is This Seat Taken?’; all the way through the play this guy’s going on about having children and yet there’s not a word of that in the first scene. In the rewrite the female character, an actress, talks about a film about surrogacy she’s about to audition for and the conversation opens up. That worked. A lot of the time it doesn’t.
Do you have clear visuals of places or characters?
Of places yes, though they often bear an uncanny resemblance to places I’ve lived in! With characters I get a very strong sense of what they look like in terms of build, clothes, colouring but I can never look into their faces – I can see eyes and other features separately but never the whole face at the same time.
When you have writer’s block, what do you do?
Anything other than writing. I’m not into the “you must write everyday” thing. I’ll write when I feel like it. If it’s not happening with one piece of work I’ll work on something else until the first piece is ready for me (or I’m ready for it). If the writing’s not happening at all I’ll sit and watch television or read a book.
Your current work: Limbo, playing at Etcetera Theatre, Camden 19-21st August 6pm.
What made you decide to write this story?
I wrote ‘Limbo’ about ten years ago. I’d seen the tail-end of ‘Waiting for Godot’ and wanted to try something with two ghosts, of different backgrounds, comparing notes on life.
What element did you start with and how did it develop?
I started with the duologue format and then added other characters.
Did anything change substantially along the way?
Nothing in particular. I sent the play to Soho Theatre for their readers’ report. Based on that feedback I was able to tighten the narrative and it then went onto win first prize in a local playwriting competition.
Are any of your characters / places / situations based on real life?
Yes, the character Agatha is based on my nan who died of cancer just as I finished my ‘A’ Levels. Agatha knits throughout the play which was a deliberate reference to my nan. There’s also a point in which she describes a woman serving sausage rolls at a party even though they’ve been nibbled by a cat. That was true. I remember standing in my nan’s kitchen looking into the kitchen of the downstairs flat in the next door house. We thought it was hilarious.
= = = =
So there you have it; never partake of soss rolls in the Dean household – you heard it here first!
Julia and her company can be found at the Camden Fringe with her play ‘Limbo’ and are looking for writers for her new show, hopefully to be taken to the Belfast Fringe. Further details are likely to be on her Facebook page, so do keep an eye on that – and if you’re going to see ‘Limbo’, give me a shout and I’ll see you there!
Thanks to Julia for her interview, and to you for coming back again. Next week’s guest is the multi-talented Lexi Revellian who will be telling us a little about her new book, ‘Replica‘, and how she came to write that particular story – so watch this space, and in the interim, have a great week!