Friday, 1 August 2008

Radio Thoughts

I mentioned recently the radio work of Alison Joseph. I’m currently wondering about the possibilities of radio for my Harry Devlin stories. More than a decade ago, someone wrote a radio script based on All the Lonely People, but discussions with the BBC did not get very far and I felt that the script wasn’t – if I’m brutally honest – quite what I’d hoped for, even though the scriptwriter was very experienced.

So I was interested to learn some of Alison’s thoughts about her own experiences with radio:

‘Peculiar business, this crime writing lark. You bring into being a detective, in my case, a nun, Sister Agnes. After several books (the eighth has just come out in paperback), she’s more real than some human beings I could mention. I can tell you everything about her; I can corner you at parties and bore you, about her conflict with her vocation; how she’d rather spend time with the low-lifes of Bermondsey than at prayer in her Hackney convent. I can tell you about her parents, her distant English father, her snobbish and negligent French mother, her boarding school education, her violent ex-husband, her liking for crab pate and Sauvignon blanc, her taste in clothes – well-cut and expensive, but of course vicarious, what with her vow of poverty….

For some weeks the radio director, Jessica Dromgoole, has been kindly indulging me, allowing me to go on and on, as above. She nods and smiles and listens while we work through my script and I say, ‘But what you need to know, is that years ago Julius rescued Agnes,’ or ‘The thing is, Agnes met Athena when she was involved with Agnes’s violent ex-husband,’ or ‘Agnes’s involvement in the crime investigation is really about her own doubt…’

Gradually the story becomes a script. The radio Agnes becomes more active, less reflective, as the inner thought processes of the novels would translate in radio terms into several long minutes of total silence, with the risk, apparently, of the transmitters shutting down.

And then one day, I find myself sitting in a BBC rehearsal room with Sister Agnes, or in this case, the wonderful Anne-Marie Duff, discussing, indeed, her violent marriage, her liking for seafood. And we go into the studio, and something happens. There they all are, Sister Agnes, and her confidant Father Julius, and her best friend Athena, all talking amongst themselves, as if they had absolutely nothing to do with me. And I look at them all, all my characters, being themselves, and I think, what a peculiar way to make a living.’

Peculiar, maybe, but satisfying too.

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