Writers, Why Don’t You Write More?

The Arts


I have a new hero. It’s the terrifyingly prolific British playwright James Graham, theatre’s Boy Wonder (at 36) who tends to have multiple plays running at once. I was astounding by ‘Ink’, his play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, not just because it was intelligent but because it was a smash hit with a broad swathe of playgoers. That, I thought, is how to do it.

Hearing Graham in interviews only makes him more admirable. He says, ‘Most people in this country don’t go to the theatre and that is the proportion of society I want to reach.’ He thinks that people like Nigel Farage have ruined the idea of populism, especially now that online platforms have replaced social spaces such as the town hall and the pub. Social media forums such as Twitter ‘are not places that allow for nuance.’

He has attracted some of the country’s biggest talents, all of whom want to work with him – and he’s going for it. Nobody can be this nice. Then there’s the work; smart, graceful, thematically sweeping, often intimate, using theatre to communicate and entertain in harmonic balance. He delights audiences without pretension and encourages debate without hectoring.

I once saw a play at the National Theatre about angry feral teenagers on a housing estate. It was playing to an audience of Guardian-reading middle-class liberals. I thought, ‘Why are they even bothering to stage the play?’ The audience was already converted to the playwright’s viewpoint before the theatre doors were opened. Graham is aiming for a less homogenous audience.

So far I’ve seen two of his plays and read the scripts of eight. It seems likely he will rival Alan Ayckbourn, with whom he shares some common elements – a Northern upbringing, an unfussy, unstuffy attitude to writing, an innate understanding of how theatre works. He writes simply, as Ayckbourn does, without too many over-polished one-liners (he seems the opposite of Oscar Wilde in that respect). He writes unashamedly about politics, power and class. He makes abstruse points clear, and does it with elan.

I’m obsessed with playscripts and yet they defeat me, probably because I’ve never worked in development with others but have to produce finished results by myself (hence, novelist).

Which brings me to this;

Being prolific is often considered a negative. It’s something people accuse you of. But being prolific means that, like an aircraft, you keep the engine hot and everything runs more smoothly. The longer the hours, the harder you work, the better you get. If anything, producing slowly works against you. I can overthink any project into the ground, mulling it for years until the original idea has been buried.

And the thought occurs to me that Graham has yet to reach his peak; Ayckbourn has written over seventy plays. That makes Graham still an intern, even if he’s one of the most remarkable interns in history. His message is clear; entertain, inform, think, enjoy. It’s a lesson many writers and artists – and the current desperate crop of politicians – would do well to heed.

Enough of this, back to the typewriter, I need to produce more.

9 comments on “Writers, Why Don’t You Write More?”

  1. Martin Tolley says:

    “… back to the typewriter” – showing your age a tad there Mr F.

  2. Roger says:

    “Graham is aiming for a less homogenous audience.”

    But how will he get them? Most of the theatre audiences in England are every bit as middle-class as the ones at the National Theatre, except the ones aimed at probably equally middle-class tourists. The Hull Truck Company used to boast that they reached a wider audience, but they worked very hard and chose their material very carefully.

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    I’ve a suspicion from recent posts that Chris is listening to others, observing others and wondering if he should be doing something different or something more, more products, a ‘serious book’, … .

    My belief is that it’s best to be yourself, concentrate on what you enjoy, what you find most satisfying. Ayckbourn achieved what he has by doing Ayckbourn, not by trying to emulate Wilde, Coward or Shakespeare. It’s good for all of us to stretch ourselves, work in different areas, but the push and direction has to come from an interest inside us.

  4. admin says:

    I have an actual typewriter on my desk, Martin – it’s a 1920’s reporters’ collapsible machine, very cool.
    Roger, I suspect he means less white and middle-aged. Some companies like the Young Vic have genuinely mixed audiences, including local schoolkids. I have a mate who busses pensioners to the theatre; there are ways and means, and it has to start somewhere.
    Peter, I’m always looking. I like to squeeze in a few doomed, unloved projects between the Bryant & Mays whenever possible.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Enjoyed this. Chris, I’m sure your mate is not kissing his pensioners. It’s another situation where the final consonant isn’t doubled unless you’re changing the meaning. I’ve reminded myself that most errors are typing not spelling but sometimes things get past me – like this one, which we have had to fight on our streets.

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    Yes , I agree I never excelled in the typing class. I wish I had paid more attention! Sadly I have terrible typos and always battling with an antiisipatiing phone. Got rid of peel remote it was always interfering with anything I am writing to anyone.

  7. Roger says:

    Can you get any more middle-class than pensioners, admin? No longer middle-aged, I’ll reluctantly admit.
    When we aren’t being denounced as selfish, narrow-minded Brexiters we’re taken to the theatre at reduced rates because we can’t be bothered to use our Freedom Passes and collecting bigger pensions than our grandchildren ever will.
    The pensioners your friend buses to the theatre [I hope that’s what he does] probably went all their lives. It’s just that a couple of hours in an uncomfortable seat watching and listening to denunciations of capitalism is no longer new to them, even if the denunciations are “smart, graceful, thematically sweeping, often intimate”. I wish Mr Graham luck in his efforts to finish off capitalism, but only after I can no longer collect my completely undeserved pension.

  8. Peter Tromans says:

    “Doomed and unloved” – not for us. You write it; we read it and, almost certainly, like it.

  9. Martin Tolley says:

    What Peter said.

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