‘You’ll have said your piece?’ There’s a quaint (?) saying attributed to Edinburgh folk which is ‘you’ll have had your tea.’ The story goes: that they invite you over for a meal and then don’t feed you, giving this phrase as a ‘reason’ and the implication being that they are much less friendly and accommodating than they at first suggest. (I personally think it was invented by Glaswegians as an insult and for those of you not aware of the fierce rivalry been the Burgh and weegee’s we’ll just say that I grew up in Edinburgh and leave it at that!)
As a writer whose academic skillsets include qualifications in discursive analysis and moral philosophy, I like to think about the various implications of such phrases (it’s what I do in my spare time, honest) and as a writer I also love to ‘play’ with words and twist concepts. It’s what I do and part of who I am.
So in my title, what I’m suggesting to you is that the fact that only I get to ‘say my piece’ here suggests this is much more of a monologue than a conversation! Is that a bad thing?
As dramatist in residence for DGAA in the early noughties (were they/we really so naughty?) I latched onto the monologue form for a number of reasons: it was cheap (I had no performance budget to speak of), it offered a good ‘start point’ for character development – the writer only has to worry about one character ‘voice’, and it gave new writers a way to get things down on paper quickly and ‘share’ their thoughts. I ran a number of successful monologue competitions where winning entries were performed on stage by students of RSAMD and a jolly good time was had by all. But more than that, a lot of aspiring dramatic writers learned a lot about the guts of dramatic form. From a monologue you can develop a duologue – just add another person, another point of view (and in drama it does help if you have several points of view to give that ‘tension’ more frequently referred to as ‘conflict’ which it is said is so vital in a play.) It’s also a useful skill for a prose writer because writing monologues helps get you into the mind of the character. And can kickstart the process of writing effective dialogue.
And here’s where we make an interesting observation – there are always two perspectives in monologue. Even that most simple of forms is not isolated. There’s the character (not real) and their stated opinion. There is also the writer (probably real) who ‘plays’ with the character’s stated opinion or position. The writer it is who gives the audience that extra dimension – the conflict/tension – the drama. In monologue form that’s best represented as ‘what is behind what the character is telling you?’ Does the character LIE? Are they a reliable narrator? What are they concealing that even they don’t know about? Even in a monologue one is playing about with the notion of ‘realities’ and the dichotomies between internal and external identities (of writer and character.) Long before you add the audience into the equation.
So you see, there is so much complexity even in a one person ‘speech’ that I can’t possibly have time here to engage in a duologue with an imagined ‘you’ or a discursive dialogue with a ‘real’ you (even if in the virtual world this would be possible.) So. This ‘piece’ is my ‘monologue.’ It’s up to you to work out what I mean by what I say. I will try to say what I mean. The rest is up to you. It is a communicative relationship between writer and reader and you have to step up to the plate as well as me.
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is. There is so much complexity even in simplicity. At the core of my dramatic (and prose) writing I aim to take the complexities which puzzle me in and about the world and render them more simple. And then present them fictionally or dramatically as a communicative act between writer and reader. Which is almost as bizarre a relationship as that between a writer and a character. Different realities. Similar relationships?
For me, the study of philosophy is the taking of seemingly simple ideas and delving around in their complexities (not for the uninitiated or easily distracted) whereas discursive analysis involves looks into the possible ‘meanings’ of communication, playing around and ‘twisting’ them. And for me these two disciplines come together in my creative writing – I aim to make the complex simple (perhaps entertaining though still thought provoking, maybe even challenging) and to offer ‘meanings’ for a communicative act – my fiction. Through fiction I try to explore in a more ‘user friendly’ way things that I think are interesting and important in the human condition. It’s hard. It doesn’t always work. It’s the balancing of a tightrope between the author as God and the postmodernist view that one is ‘only as good as one’s reader.’
I recognise that when writing fiction (or drama) I ‘say my piece.’ Which is then open to interpretation (or misinterpretation) by a reader or an audience. Philosophers have this neat little argument called ‘between good and yellow.’ (suggesting they are not the same sort of thing. Think about it.)
A year ago, I thought I’d burned out my desire to communicate. 20 years of being an independent spirit in an industry (because yes, writing is an industry) which prefers to create their own mavericks, shrink wrapped and ready made, had seen me become jaded and cynical and desperate to ‘retire.’ I should make it clear here if I have had a ‘career’ (the word for me means running out of control down a grassy hill) in a conventional sense it has been a career of creative retirement. I am to retirement what others are to serial monogamy. I first ‘retired’ from the academic life aged 21 when no one would fund me to do a PhD on Anarchism (It was the 1980’s!) and then ‘retired’ from acting (my back up plan – yes, I know!) shortly after graduating from Drama School, aged 25 when I realised I was a) never going to know what to do with my hands and b) hated sitting around waiting to be allowed to work. It started a trend.
I ‘retired’ from producing short films in 2001 because they hadn’t invented YouTube or the technology to make it a viable ‘career’ for an independent with no money and there weren’t enough gigabites in a computer for my designs. Instead of ‘inventing’ You Tube which someone else did in 2005, I went for a double ‘retirement’. I ‘retired’ from screenwriting (and to this day I don’t think anyone has noticed) because I was fed up with the meetings and the way that you got paid for work that never got finished and the work that did get produced was always a pale reflection of what you had written in the first place. And I ‘retired’ from mainstream theatre when I decided instead to focus on ‘flexible’ theatre and Boalian methodology. There was no going back from that one. I’ve written/directed/facilitated over 10 stage pieces since but I’ve never written a ‘proper’ play since 2004 and the world is none the worse for that! Chasing Waves (2004) was my swansong and it’s hardly ‘mainstream.’ Reflecting on its follow up Powerplay, I realised that the world might never be ready for a stageplay which used ice-hockey as a metaphor for the social ‘rules of engagment’ and would be best staged on an ice rink! Time to exit stage left while I still held the concept of exit and stage left as dramatic possibilities.
It had, I now realise, all been building up to a complete creative ‘retirement’ aged 50 and I’m nearly at that auspicious age. But it’s not going to happen. Why? Epublishing. The rise of the ebook has changed my life. Literally. It now impacts upon my daily life and has given me a new lease of creative inspiration and communicative freedom and ‘consumes’ a good chunk of my working ‘day.’ [And leading up to the festival has, I have to be honest, taken over my life!] Epublishing offer me the independence I’ve been looking for all along. I can take the means of production into my own hands completely. I’m happy to sink or swim that way. It came along at a time when I had embarked upon my ‘semi-retirement’ plan of setting up a wee publishing venture to produce limited editions of my writing. (Old writers never stop writing they just shuffle the ‘ouevre’ more often) And then I became aware of ebooks. Good for the planet. Good for the independent minded. Good for me. And hopefully good for you. I now have a 10 year plan and no intention of ‘retiring’ again till I’m 60.
It’s funny that as someone who has always felt ‘ahead of my time’ creatively it seems that I’m destined to be a ‘late bloomer.’ In the last year since I’ve actively engaged with the epublishing ‘revolution’ I have learned a lot, ‘virtually’ met a lot of fellow professionals, set up an ebook review site and now, an ebook festival. Oh, and published seven ebooks. (Twelve if you count the No Labels ‘episodes.’) And I have a huge ‘slate’ awaiting publication. Back catalogue and new writing. I was always described as havin a ‘prolific’ output and I have found again the joy of being a workaholic. But this time I’m completely my own boss. Truly independent. But this does not mean isolationist. Even a monologue has more than one perspective, remember.
In conclusion then, I have to refute the ‘you’ll have had your tea’ mentality (attributed to the good people of Edinburgh, and possibly in another context to the traditional publishing industry) and instead affirm that I believe writing is a collaborative, communicative ‘meal’ which reader and writer can share without mediation if only they can find each other. Epublishing has given me the space and freedom to ‘say my piece,’ but more than that, the freedom and the means to ‘share my piece’ with you. The internet is making it easier for disparate people to connect and form communities. Digital publishing can do the same for writers and readers. If we let it.
Can you ‘say your piece and have it?’ do you think? Let’s see. The future is in our own hands. I find that exciting. I’ve been inspired by many revolutionaries in my life, I never thought I would become a virtual one! And rumours of my ‘retirement’ appear to be vastly exaggerated.
Cally’s current Ebook publications are:
Chasing Waves. Anyone looking for an author? Rehearsal excerpt
Do you believe in Higgs Boson? Chasing Waves rehearsal excerpt
The award winning: The Universal Hamlet 2001
Che Guevara – how I was playing with technology circa 1999