Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview from 2011 was submitted to Alan Ayckbourn by a student, Harry Cottle, and the responses are held in The Ayckbourn Archive.

Questions on Writing

Harry Cottle: How long does it take you to write a play?
Alan Ayckbourn:
In the past, a matter of two or three days. Mind you, that’s just the physical, writing-it-down process. There’s months before that, up to a year in fact, when the initial idea germinates and grows in my head - nothing much written gets down - until all the key factors are in place, more or less, plot - characters, overall narrative shape, place or places where it’s set, and time frame. Then comes the dialogue over a few days. I still write at the same speed as I used to but, in recent years, further in advance of the production deadline. Which used to be practically the day after I’d finished writing the play with an initial read- through literally the following morning. Which meant the actors had barely time to read it first! Nowadays, I write a bit further in advance of the production. Partly because I don’t trust myself to finish in time for rehearsals and also because that way I tend to get actors who are at least right for the parts!

Which play gave you the most satisfaction when you had finished?
I have to say, the latest one! It’s such a relief to finish and, as play follows play, I’m increasingly aware that, with 75 and more behind me and counting, I’ve been so fortunate that the ideas keep on coming. But I suppose the big ‘event’ plays are especially satisfying; the ones in which I’ve employed forms and configurations that I wasn’t, when I set out to write them, even sure were possible to write. These range from The Norman Conquests, through Sisterly Feelings, to Intimate Exchanges to House & Garden.

Are there any characters that are based on you?
Most of my characters are based on me, I think, or elements of me. It’s inevitable as a writer if you’re trying to write honestly and truthfully that you’re bound to include bits of oneself. Male or female, young and old. Recently, I was conscious of getting very close to writing a young version of me - though I did disguise it by making the character a nine year old, black schoolgirl!

Do you have a favourite play?
Again, the newest one. I have the somewhat optimistic hope that as the years go by, I get better. Like mountaineering, in playwriting it’s safer never to look down or back!

The title of my project is 'artists I admire'. Which artist do you admire?
Anton Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Buster Keaton and many more.

What gave you the idea to write split plays such as The Norman Conquests and House & Garden?
Because they hadn’t been done before, at least not quite like that, and I wanted to challenge myself and hopefully stimulate the curiosity of my theatre’s audience, who are notoriously fickle at times and I find they need to have their attention constantly re-attracted. Hey, folks, look at this - something NEW!

Who do you think is the least likeable character you have ever written?
Generally, any character whose name begins with a V! Vic, Vince, Val ... (I don’t know why that is. V for Villain perhaps)

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