Interviews with Alan Ayckbourn

This interview with Alan Ayckbourn was written during 1988 and is held in The Ayckbourn Archive; no further details are held about it.

Thoughts On Writing

Has did you start writing?
Alan Ayckbourn:
My mother was a writer. We were a one parent / one child family for some time. So it was natural to see her, the breadwinner, writing to feed us. No rolling of pastry on our kitchen table. Just a typewriter. So to one extent it was imitative. And hereditary. Then I wanted to act. I went into the theatre untrained. (Couldn't afford to train, wasn't good enough to get a scholarship). And I started writing plays for me to act in. Since nobody else would. Plays got better. I, the actor, didn't. Exit me the actor. Enter me the director.

Which people proved to be the most important influences on your work?
At the start virtually everyone. I began writing at an important period in British Theatre. The so-called new wave had just emerged. Osborne, Pinter, et al. Yet I was brought up with the old guard. Coward, Rattigan etc. Purveyors of the well made play. Much despised at the time. But I admired both lots in different ways. So Coward, Rattigan, Pinter, Osborne, Ionesco, Pirandello, Chekhov, Ibsen and all the films of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Rene Clair, Bunuel. God, it's endless.

Has your work been affected by social / economic / political changes in the last 10 - 20 years?
I suppose it must have been. Inevitably. Mind you, I never sat down and said, 'aha, here's another interesting social / economic / political change to incorporate'. But as a writer - well, as someone who lives in the world, I'm bound to reflect what I see around me. Like all the dear departed sixties people who misguidedly believed in everything. The misguided seventies people who purported to believe in nothing. Right through to those eighties people who only believe in money.

And the changing role of women. And men. And computers. And car phones.
It would be impossible not to reflect them, unless you lived in a polythene bag in the Hebrides.

At what sort of audience do you aim your work?
As wide as I can. I run a theatre here in Scarborough. To survive we need an audience. We can't afford to pick and choose who we'd like to come. We're grateful if anyone comes. I try to make my plays as relevant to as wide a spectrum of the population as possible. I sometimes say that it helps, to appreciate my plays, to have been in and out of love at least once. Modesty aside, I think that quite a wide range of people do see my plays. Young and old. And middle-aged.

And classes?
Well, we're mostly middle-class these days, aren't we? So that really isn't much of an issue.

How do you get ideas for your plays?
God knows. Sorry, couldn't tell you. And, I'm tempted to add, wouldn't reveal the source even if I knew.

How do you work - for a certain number of hours per day or according to inspiration?
I write about one play a year. The process takes that long really. For 50 or so weeks I wander about letting the thing cook in my head. I assemble a bag of ideas and characters and themes. All in my head. Then for a week or ten days I write like a maniac and get it all down. The boring bit. Writing is very hard and lonely. I long to get the play in front of a few actors and share it. On a word processor. This one.

What do you feel is / should be the status of poet, artist and playwright in society?
I think we probably, in the end, treat our writers as well as most places and better than many. You shouldn't lock them up for writing. That's for sure. Nor censor them. Because in the end if what they write is arrant nonsense, truth will out. On the other hand a special status is equally wrong. They're only plumbers with typewriters really.

Is the idea of a "literary scene" oppressive?

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