New Playwriting Course

After the success of the first Introduction to Playwriting course, I’m running a new 10 week course for the autumn term, at Hertford Theatre.

The course will start on Monday 23 September and run to Monday 2 December, with no class on Monday 28 October (half term).

The classes are for anyone interested in writing for stage or screen – whether you have already written drama and want to develop your writing further, or whether you are taking the first steps. The sessions are very practical and a lot of fun. See the Playwriting Classes page on this site for more details or contact me on

Plays for a Summer Evening

(L-R) Erin, Stuart, Steve, Catherine and Kate Readers and audienceA warm June evening in the River Room at Hertford Theatre, the rush of the River Lea outside providing the background noise to our evening of play readings. It was hard to remember that our spring term playwriting course had started in such extremes of ice and snow in January that we had to postpone the first class as no-one could get out of their house. But the year and the writers had come a long way. Scenes which had started as the germ of an idea, or a quickly improvised writing exercise, had been developed into fully fledged dramas, in some cases part of a full=length play.

After the end of the first 10 week course, the writers took a few weeks to work further on a selected scene, and in June we held a reading of the pieces in front of an invited (and friendly!) audience. We were delighted to have a professional actor take many of the lead roles – the excellent and versatile Catherine Forrester, who was ably assisted by Steve Scales, with Erin Thompson, Stuart Handysides and Kate Miller reading other roles.

Plays read were:

I’ll sing you one-oh    by Emma Blowers

A long time between stations          by Stuart Handysides

Veil of light    by Janine Barlow

Rock-a-bye baby        by Erin Thompson

Candy at the Party    by Tyler Drewe

Sweets                        by Judi Sissons


Comedy classic…

Another Fine Mess scene 1

Sometimes it’s fun just to write an out-and-out comedy. Another Fine Mess is a two hander I wrote a few years ago – no prizes for guessing who the two characters are! Actually, they’re not really Laurel and Hardy – just two guys who sometimes forget that they’re not Laurel and Hardy.

The play had a short run in Hitchin, directed by the multi-talented Ken Boyter ( . The actors who played Colin and Barrie were by no means Stan and Ollie lookalikes, but they were hilarious, especially when they did the dance from ‘Way Out West’.

A scene from The Last Witch – “Burn the witch!”

The Last Witch Scene 5 – Burn the witchThe Last Witch Scene 5 – Burn the witch

Witches weren’t burned of course – they were hanged. It was just an ordinary felony, like stealing a sheep. This is a little extract from the play, a key scene in which a young woman, Anne Thorne, claims to be bewitched. The woman she accuses, Jane Wenham, has already been called a witch and generally badmouthed by a local farmer. Jane Wenham has complained to the local justice of the peace and been awarded a shilling for being slandered by the farmer. Unfortunately for Jane, her search for justice turns into a living nightmare.

I researched the events of the play thoroughly. A lot was written about it in pamphlets of the day, in 1712 and after, but much of what was written was hearsay, exaggerated, biased or contradictory, so I endeavoured to piece together the story in as plausible a way as possible!

The photo is of the excellent Lindsay Cooper as Debora Gardiner.

Extract from a new play – The Noose of Light

The Noose of Light – first scenesThe Noose of Light – first scenes

This is the first part of a new, one act play I’ve been working on. It’s about the 19th century poet Edward Fitzgerald, who is famous (though not as famous now as he used to be) for his translation of the 11th century Persian poem The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

This is his beautiful first verse;

Awake! For morning in the bowl of night

Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight:

And lo! The hunter of the east has caught

The Sultan’s turret in a noose of light.

I’ve been fascinated by the poem since I first read it (without understanding it) as a child. It is full of memorable lines, many of which came to be used as book titles and such like (The Moving Finger Writes… etc). Omar Khayyam was an astonishing person – poet, mathematician and polymath who died in 1066 – but the power of the poem we have in English is very much down to Edward Fitzgerald. It was highly controversial in its day – its ‘eastern-ness’ shocking to Victorian sensibilities.

When I was doing my MA at Essex University we had a field trip (literally, as it turned out) to Boulge in Suffolk, where the enormously rich Fitzgerald family had their house, now gone. Edward Fitzgerald is buried in his own little vault in the grounds, and next to it is a rose bush, grown from a cutting taken from a rose tree on the grave of Omar Khayyam in Iran. That was lovely, but the rest of Boulge is not, at least not in January. I was struck by the contrast between the exotic heat of the poem and the desert of flat black fields in Suffolk.

Edward Fitzgerald was an odd person, but rather endearing, I found, and I was very taken with the strangeness and comedy of his story, and the story of the poem. Too complex to summarise here  – but I made a start at capturing it in this short play. I’d love to write more about the subject and turn it into a longer play.

A short story – The Burial

The Burial

This story was inspired by the research I did for my play The Last Witch. I became interested in ‘cunning folk’, who were around until the 19th century and possibly nearly up to the 20th century, and who claimed to be able to put their magical powers at your disposal, for a fee. One of the most popular services they offered was, not casting spells, but finding treasure. There’s a fascinating book on the subject,  Cunning-Folk. Popular Magic in English History, by Owen Davies, who is a Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire.

The story is set in Banbury and the surrounding Oxfordshire countryside, which I know well.

This story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story prize a couple of years ago. It’s a very well regarded competition so I felt very chuffed!