‘face the fear and just write’: a workshop with playwright, Alison Carr


William Arthur

After getting lost in the maze that I found to be the College of St Hild and St Bede in order to get to the playwriting workshop held by the playwright Alison Carr, in association with the Durham Drama Festival, I found very quickly that my struggle was most definitely going to be worth it.

It was fantastic being in a room with so many like-minded people. Stepping through the door I could feel the burgeoning writing ambition in the air.

We sat looking up in splendid admiration at this woman who had the dream career, and the talent and knowledge to make that happen, and all felt the same: we wanted to know her tricks and secrets.

I found Alison’s approach, encouraging us to actively write, fantastic. We weren’t just listening to her tips, we were putting them in action.

The numerous writing exercises she showed us were perfect for me as I have been suffering from an extremely bad case of writer’s block recently, but after the first exercise – to describe an object we were familiar with and to not stop writing – no matter what I wrote, I found the creative juices were flowing.

One of the most interesting exercises was the alphabet dialogue exercise, whereby you create a conversation between two of your characters with each of the lines starting with a letter of the alphabet.

Next we were challenged to rewrite that conversation in only eighteen words, a clever trick that showed us the importance of not ‘overwriting’, which is the biggest mistake Alison feels can be made when writing a play.

We learnt to ensure that we capture the essence of how people speak and not be afraid to use silence to get the point across.

Alison also emphasised the importance of finding our voice. She said that when she started off writing plays she tried to mimic the style of writers like Alan Bennett and Victoria Wood, but to no avail.

It was finding her own unique style in plays like ‘Can Cause Death’ and ‘Mam, Dad, Monkey and Me’ that gained her great success and upon hearing the different snippets of people’s ideas within the writing exercises, it certainly revealed to me the truth that everyone has a distinctive writing voice.

Ultimately, it was this that made the workshop so exciting, watching everyone take in the advice she gave and use it to create something special, even if some it was only eighteen words long!

By far the most invaluable thing I learnt that day was to face the fear and just write. At the end of the day, there are no real tricks and secrets; you just have to have the courage to get your ideas on paper.

As someone who isn’t submitting a script to Durham Drama Festival this year (although the workshop certainly made me eager to work on playwriting more), it was fascinating to hear about the potential script ideas of my fellow aspiring playwrights, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing the final products at the Festival!

Photograph: William Arthur

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