Interview: Writer's News (September 1991)

This page reproduces some of Alan Ayckbourn's significant quotes from the interview.

Interview Of The Month

by Judith Superman

" I write rather fast. The physical act of writing takes place over a comparatively short time; I can expect to finish a play in less than a fortnight. The first writing only takes perhaps three to four days. The rest of the time is rewriting and reworking. I keep a play cooking in between meetings and run-throughs of other plays when I will suddenly dream off about the new one. It is like having a hobby. Some people go home to do marquetry; I go home and think about my new play! It is rather nice."

"I do need uninterrupted time and I do work very long hours. It is purdah time: I do not talk to anyone, I will not see anyone, I eat meals in silence and then go back to work!
The new miracle of word processors has made life much easier. Playwriting is glorious now. All the boring things like characters' names down the left hand side took so long and of course you can shunt dialogue around once you have written it. I like to have reasonably tidy scripts around me. I used to work with arrows and dots - and I would start the second draft before I had finished the first when I was writing in longhand. Now I can actually write the whole play out and wander back through it at leisure."

"A play is drawing together so many disparate elements and making them all apparently happen effortlessly at the same time. When I am writing a play I always think that I am designing a structure in which events happen effortlessly. When the structure is up you can then be quite creative within it, but without that structure the narrative can just run away and it becomes rather boring. Stage plays are highly constructed artefacts and the very good ones do not show that. If a play is described as contrived then something is wrong."

"I suspect well over fifty percent of a character is me, twenty five percent is someone I know very well and the rest are incidental characteristics picked up in passing. I think to get genuine depth into characters, it comes from inside."

"All I know is that a play is an interception of several ideas. For instance,
Man of the Moment was obviously very much inspired by Buster Edwards [5] and the way the public tend to be more interested in the aggressor than the victim. That was one idea. I also wanted to write about how very uninteresting goodness is. Then came the trimmings: the swimming pool which I liked as an idea and gave it a visual aspect and then a lot of other elements crept across. It was only then that the play started to add up. Then came the concept of making it a television programme so that one had a way of turning it back on the audience. I think I probably had all those ideas at separate times but none of them suggested to me a particularly interesting play until they combined."

"I only write to get better. In the last two or three years I have started writing for children and I enjoy that. These are plays for a younger audience to enjoy with their parents or vice versa. Having been a parent, one is aware of the strain on both sides if you take a child to see something he is totally bored by, or if you take an adult to a children's show and the adult is totally bored. I try to write plays which hit them all and it is a very challenging thing. As a result, I think my writing has probably become more positive in the last few years. There is very little room for indulgence with a children's audience: they are almost instantly bored and will tell you so within seconds of you boring them. It is a tremendous discipline but you go back to the basics - strong narrative, strong characters, strong situation, clarity, economy: all the things you should be writing (but do not) for adults."

"My roots were in Sussex and it was only when I was seventeen that I came north of the Humber. I have lived up here the bulk of my life and hopefully, I am an honorary Yorkshire person. I have never found the divide that huge and I think over the years the divide has lessened. I have tried to make the theatre available to everyone. I hope I have de-mystified it sufficiently, without making the whole thing appear mundane, because I still think it is a bit magic - to the point where people do not feel it is not for them. We do bar shows in the studio space at lunchtime which are specifically designed for people who do not want to come to the theatre. There is not quite the formality. On Fridays we do readings of local writings - short pieces which have been submitted to us and edited by the ex-chairman of the Writers' Circle."

"I admire a lot [of playwrights] for different reasons - Ben Travers, Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov most of all, Ibsen quite a lot. And I think I have favourites from a lot of contemporary writers such as Michael Frayn for
Make or Break, Simon Gray for Quartermain, and Pinter - I wish he would write some more plays."

"I just wish I had done a lot of things sooner. I think I am so incredibly lucky. I cannot claim to have planned my life with extreme care, but I had the luck to have been in the right place in England with
Stephen Joseph who was passionately devoted to the encouragement of new works. He saw in me someone he wanted to encourage, and did so, and took huge chances. I happened to be around when he died and inherited a theatre I did not really want. In retrospect, these were the best things that happened to me."