Julie Mayhew, author of the brand new novel Red Ink, is multitalented. Not only does she write novels, give public readings, and pose extremely sternly for publicity photos, she's also an experienced radio playwright. She sat down for a quick interview about her day-job for our Reading Activists' skills sharing campaign, and offered up some words of advice and encouragement.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Dogtanian from the TV programme Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. So I wrote plays based on those cartoons for my schoolfriends to perform, and then cast myself as the swashbuckling mutt.
When did you start writing for radio, and how?
I was working as an actress after leaving university and had been cast in a few roles on radio and really enjoyed it. Alongside the acting, I'd been writing short stories and some comedy plays with another actress - so I knew I had it in me to write. Then when I had children and I was home alone with my babies, I'd listen to Radio 4 all the time - just to have another adult voice in the room. I got hooked on radio drama and thought, I'm going to write a play like this for myself.
What does a day in the life of a radio playwright involve?
If it's a writing day, I'm in front of my laptop with my earphones in. I compile Spotify playlists for all my projects and have a theme tune for every scene. It helps me capture the mood of what's going on - and if I'm flitting between more than one project it's a simple key for getting back into the story. I also collect images that relate to the script and pin them up around my desk. At these moments, I like to imagine myself as Carrie from Homeland with her serious face and her terrorist plot pinboards! It's a mistake to think that radio isn't a visual medium. You have to create strong pictures in listeners' minds so it helps to see these images clearly in your own mind first.
What advice would you give to any aspiring young writers wanting to write radio plays?
Whatever medium you're writing in, whether it's the short story, the novel, theatre, film or radio, you need to learn the language first. Even if you intend to break some of the rules of that language in the end. Immersion is the best technique. So just listen to lots and lots and lots of radio drama. You'll start to get an idea of what you like, and what you don't like, and how your voice is going to be different.
What makes writing drama for radio different to writing for the theatre? Do you have any favourite radio dramatists?
I find radio writing is closer to novel writing than it is to writing for the theatre. This is because in both the novel and the radio play I tend to explore the characters' internal worlds, as well as the action. By that I mean, I write what the characters are doing, but also what they're thinking - and often how there is a clash between these two things. Having said that, two radio dramatists I really enjoy listening to are Roy Williams and Mike Bartlett, who are both famous for their theatre plays. I also love the unique worlds Hugh Hughes creates with his radio plays, and I always enjoy the work of radio producers Holy Mountain because they stretch your expectations of what a radio play can be.
Do you have any top creative writing tips?
Do it, lots. Over and over and every day. Because that's the only way to get into the habit and to get better. It's amazing to go back and read, or listen to, something you wrote a year ago and see how you've changed as a writer. When I'm at an event to promote my novel, I'll still scribble in the margins and cross things out before I read, because I know I would write it just that little bit differently today.
Is there a creative words-based career that you would like to know more about? Get in touch to let us know and we'll see if we can find someone to interview and tell you more.
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