I'm delighted to welcome my friend and fellow author, David Calcutt, onto my blog today. David has had a long and varied writing career, he writes plays, poetry and stories. As a writer of plays, he has worked in theatre, radio and community theatre.
David's play 'The Life and Times of the Tat Man' is currently on tour and is a huge success.
Tony Barret as The Tat Man
I asked David to tell us about himself
How did you get started writing?
I used to be a poet. By which I mean, way back in the early 1970’s that’s how I thought of myself. I think I can be forgiven that indulgence. I was very young and had the arrogance of youth and didn’t know any better. One reason I called myself a poet was because that was what I chiefly wrote, or tried my best to write, and that’s as good a reason as any, I suppose. Another was because one of my chief aims in life was to be a professional writer, in other words, to be paid for my writing, and to make a living out of it, and it so happened that it was for a poem that I first received a cheque. So, I thought, my work must be of some worth of someone’s willing to pay me for it, and if that was the case, I’d better work at it. And that’s what I did for the next seven or eight years, with greater or lesser degrees of success. That is to say, I think I got better at the writing, but didn’t make that much money out of it, because, although I had quite a few poems published in several small press magazines – all print, of course, as these were pre-internet times – and published a couple of pamphlets, not many of those publishers paid. In fact, I don’t recall any of them paying, except for the BBC. And it was to the BBC and the radio that I turned my attention in an effort to achieve my aim of becoming a professional writer because, by the end of the decade, it had become clear to me that I wasn’t going to do it writing poetry.
You can read some of David's poems on his website.
So I began writing plays for the radio and, after many rejections and with some practice and encouragement, had one accepted, and then another. At the same time I began writing plays for the stage as well, working with youth theatres and community groups mainly. This took up all of my writing time and, eventually led to my achieving that aim, of becoming a professional writer. And in order to do that I had stopped being a poet, and became a playwright. Later on I wrote some children’s novels, and I still from time to time write poetry. But it was a playwright that I was earning, and still chiefly earn my living.
Which do you like writing most?
The thing about being a playwright, or a novelist or a poet, though, is that these are labels that we put on ourselves, or other put people put on us, in order to define what we do. They help identify us to the outside world. Or to put us into easily identifiable boxes. But there’s something in my nature that resists that, that doesn’t want, as a writer, to be so easily identifiable. I like the freedom of being able to move from one form to another, to work at the craft of each of those forms, to discover what’s different about them and what’s similar, and to find ways in which might they resonate with and inform each other. And, in my case at least, what lies behind each of those forms, the thing that gives them their energy, their life-force if you like, is story. And its story, I think, that is the root and bedrock of all writing. We are by nature storytelling creatures, and storytelling is a shared experience. It illuminates and elucidates some aspect of human experience in the world, and it only comes to life when it is told by one person to another. It is as much the act of listening as that of telling that creates the story as a living thing in the moment and gives it its luminescence. It has an improvisational quality about it as well, because it’s never truly finished. The moment one person tells it to another, it changes, becomes something new again.
I think this might be why I do feel most at ease when I’m writing a play. Because the script, when you’ve finished writing, isn’t actually the finished thing. It only really comes into its own when it’s presented by actors in front of an audience, and depends upon both actors and audience to bring it to life. It’s also a form that is capable of embracing all the other written and performing art-forms – storytelling, poetry, music, dance and song. A play is a generous creature, all-inclusive. It’s also different each time it’s performed.
This has become very clear to me in my most recent piece of work, a one-man play called “The Life and Times of the Tat Man”. Being a one-man play (it was written for someone else to perform, not me) it does have that storytelling quality, in that the actor is speaking directly to the audience, and each time I’ve watched Tony perform it, it’s different, because the audience is different. And, although I know I’ve written it, it feels like he’s speaking it himself for the first time. The craft is there, all right, I know that because of the work I put into writing it. But it’s not just my craft. There’s the actor’s craft as well, and the director’s craft in helping the actor to shape it. And the audience’s craft as well, the craft of listening, and engaging, and playing their part in helping the piece have its own life, there on the stage in front of them, and later, in their memories and imaginations. If what we want as writers is for others to be moved by our work, for it resonate with them on an immediate and emotional level, for it to have some meaning beyond the individual, then I’ve yet to find a better way of coming close to that.
Your play, 'The Life and Times of theTat Man' sounds fascinating, David.
As a writer of poetry, David's work has appeared in many print and online magazines, and he has two recent pamphlets published, "Road Kill" and "Through The Woods".
Several of David's plays for young people are published by Oxford University Press.
As a writer of stories, he has had novels and stories for young people published by OUP and, most recently, a book of Robin Hood stories published by Barefoot Books. He has worked as a writer in various community settings.
You can find out more about his fascinating work on his website: www.davidcalcutt.com