Interview: Improbable Fiction (27 May 2005)

This interview was published in the Yorkshire Evening Press on 27 May 2005. It is the only substantive interview Alan Ayckbourn gave with regards to his play Improbable Fiction.

Improbable Fiction
by Charles Hutchinson

Improbable Fiction is Alan Ayckbourn's 69th play, wherein everyone in an amateur writers' group has at least one book in them, but each member has problems transferring it from head to page. Prompted by a provocative talk from a quest speaker, chairman Arnold Hassock is persuaded to throw down a challenge to the group, only for matters to got completely out of hand. Charles Hutchinson asks writer-director Alan Ayckbourn about the write stuff.

Charles Hutchinson: Do you give talks to groups such as the Pendon Writers' Circle in Improbable Fiction?
Alan Ayckbourn:
Yes, I've done my share, and they vary. There was one group, which shall remain nameless, whose members had never had anything published and I suspect they'd never written anything, but they always met and talked about writing. Sometimes it can be a bit of a lonely hearts' club, and writers who are published don't much need them, but this group was so gentle and sweet that, thank god, I wasn't a drunken novelist turning up to abuse them. Certainly the group in the play is based on them.

This is not the first time Pendon has featured in one of your plays. What is the history behind you using the setting of Pendon?
It started in 1965 with The Willows in Lower Pendon in Relatively Speaking; the Pendon Occasionals were in Time And Time Again, and PALOS in A Chorus Of Disapproval was the Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society; and this time it's the Pendon Writers' Circle. I made the place up and set it a few miles outside Reading, although it does move to Yorkshire occasionally. [1] Interestingly, I once had a letter saying there's a huge model village called Pendon near Reading, and I've become a life member. Every so often they send me a letter saying something like "the Blacksmith Arms is now almost finished". I must visit it some time.

Creating the Pendon Writers' Circle gives you the chance once more to bring together a disparate canvas of characters.
It's interesting. In my plays, I'm looking for excuses to get people together in a room, and in the early days I had rather a lot of dinner parties, but I've exhausted that! I think that in committees and group meetings, you have people who appear to have mutual interests but are not wholly compatible. With writers, some write for personal reasons, some write to make people laugh and most of them, I think, write to escape into another world. I've done that ever since playing with toy soldiers when I was eight and I was still doing that at 14, to my mother's concern. I think writing is mostly a form of therapy.

In Improbable Fiction, stories of poetic policemen, hapless girls in mortal dangers and alien abduction overlap and interweave, much in the manner of your family dramas each Christmas season.
In one sense, it's a children's play for adults, although I think children will enjoy it too, and often those plays I write for Christmas time have a terrific bearing on breaking up the formal worlds I write about into something more surreal and more brave. I remember an Irish playwright once said to me `Don't let's get logical'... and as long a play is not illogical to the extent that it doubles back on itself, then if it just deviates people will enjoy being taken by surprise.

2005 is the 50th year of the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Is Improbable Fiction a deliberately upbeat play to mark that anniversary?
This play is intended to be fun. I thought, 'it's the 50th year, let's have a laugh; let's go back to Private Fears in Public Places angst another time'...or maybe not!

Website Notes:
[1] Although Pendon is largely static and confined to the region of Reading, it did move locations for
A Chorus Of Disapproval when it moved to Yorkshire. Contrary to Alan Ayckbourn's biographer, Paul Allen, Pendon is not now located in Yorkshire - a substitute for Scarborough - but ion subsequent plays has remained predominantly located in the London commuter belt.

Copyright: Charles Hutchinson. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.