I am delighted to report that my one woman show Horatio and Me is finished! Well draft 1. Well almost. With a lot of editing, and changing the ending. And the beginning. A possibly bits of the middle…
This writing process is hard!! I gave myself a week in Edinburgh last summer and didn’t write a word. I gave myself until Christmas and wrote 4000 but was only happy with a handful. I’ve been feverishly writing everyday pretty much all year and still no finished script!
Writer’s block aside some really exciting things are happening in my poetry life at the moment not least the fact that H&M is going to be part of a new writing festival in June at Rich Mix. It’s called Small Story / Big City and gives performers with under 4 years of experience a chance to showcase their work telling stories about London. I applied for it in October 2013 and was accepted onto the scheme with my pitch to write a 45 minute poetry show about single life in the big city. The idea is that London is a notoriously single city, with millions of people experiencing similar stories to mine. It’s also about people’s relationships to their cats, how they give them pretentious names and create entire fantasy personalities for them. So the premise is:
‘Lettie is hurtling towards thirty and starting to panic. Can her loyal cat Horatio Nelson save her from inevitable tragic spinsterhood?’
I wanted to write a comic story that people could relate to and that would also be underpinned by a serious point about human vulnerability in the face of loneliness.
I think it’s the ending I’m struggling with…how do you end a story about singleness without getting a boyfriend?! Luckily at the moment I’m attending a great course on Saturday mornings at Conway Hall called Creating Solo Performance. Each week we share excerpts of our work and get tailored advice and exercises to complete for the next session. Last week my homework was to create a story map of my show which I drew out on a large sheet of newsprint. It was so helpful to see where the weak links in the narrative were and I have now been able to focus on each segment at a time, rather than worrying too much about the whole thing.
This week I expressed my concerns about the ending and received some really encouraging, constructive advice. I’ve come away with a much clearer idea of what the point of the piece is and am going to spend this week having a crack at finding a conclusion that I’m happy with. The course is split into writing and performance advice. Acting bits out in front of the group has been so useful for helping me to frame my thinking, experiment and gain confidence in my ideas.
Excitingly this week I also got to perform an extract of the show at the Southbank Centre as part of their spoken word scratch mixer. The event took place in the festival village which is a makeshift performance space in an old storage area underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a great event to be involved in with several other performers doing extracts of work in progress, chatting to them afterwards, swapping creative feedback and advice. The audience were friendly and I felt that the piece I chose to perform went down well. Afterwards I headed, with slight trepidation, over to the feedback wall where people had been encouraged to leave their thoughts about the shows on anonymous post-it notes. I was relieved that the vast majority of the comments I received were positive, people generally found the show funny and easy to relate to. Many of the comments were very constructive, such as be careful of cliche and experiment more with breaking up your rhyme scheme, things which I agreed with and had already thought I’d like to consider. Only one comment was horrible ‘I’m not laughing at your jokes, I feel sorry for you and your constant need to be validated by male attention is unattractive’. Ouch!
I am definitely the sort of person who finds it hard not to dwell on comments like that and left to my own devices I would probably have spent the next month having a major existential meltdown. Fortunately I shared this feedback at the course on Saturday and our discussion about it led down an interesting trail of thought, that the question of validation through relationships is actually a really important theme to draw out in the show and could help me formulate an ending.
Writing a whole show is so different from writing one poem or even a series of poems and I feel like I’ve still got so much to learn. There are so many choices to make and a fair amount of pressure especially with the time running out before the final performance in June. I’m really enjoying the work however and excited to see what I can achieve by then, watch this space!
Oh and buy your tickets!