I know, I know. A very long between drinks on the Frog, yet again. Sorry.
I think one of my earlier posts was about writing a play and the transition to writing for theatre from writing fiction. Since then I’ve finished a reasonably polished draft of my next novel The Sand (not quite there yet but a good way along the road!) and the play I wrote last year, I Am A Lake, goes into rehearsal in the next few months for a season in Queenstown, Launceston and possibly a statewide tour.
And last week, I started writing another play. Curse my theatre muse, I noted on Facebook. But I know better than to argue with it!
The chap at the typewriter in the image above is George Orwell. In the last few years of his life, crippled by grief at the sudden death of his wife after they had just adopted a son, he vanished to a cottage called Barnhill on the Isle of Jura, one of the Inner Hebrides off the wet coast of Scotland. While he was there, he went for walks, played with his son, nearly drowned in the infamous Corryveckan whirlpool, smoked a lot and wrote 1984, the novel that would cement his phenomenal literary reputation (for which Animal Farm had laid the foundations when it was finally published in 1945). This period of his life is the subject of my new play.
One thing fascinates me, and one thing terrifies me. I am fascinated by the fact that this has to be a play. It has not come to me in any other form–it could work as a novel and one day I may have a crack at that. But something about it screams theatre. On the face of it, a play about the writing of a novel might seem strange, but of course the play is not about the novel, although references to it (and some of his other works) will no doubt feature. The play is about a man, coming to the end of his life prematurely owing to a TB diagnosis, struggling with the demands of finishing a novel (and the constant demands his growing fame placed on him) while coping with the death of his wife and trying to be present as a father. Just today, I was reminded of Boxer, the enormous draught horse who is a tower of strength in Animal Farm, whose maxim is ‘I Will Work Harder’ and does so until the day he collapses, completely spent, and is sold to the knackers for a crate of whisky by those bastard Pigs. Boxer worked himself to death; arguably, Orwell did something similar in order to get 1984 finished. He died about six months after it was published so was able to see the success he’d created…but only just.
What terrifies me is the notion that I could have the audacity to place words in the mouth of this man. Clearly there are some responsibilities to be met when dealing with historical figures–one has to remain ‘true’ to them, whatever that means. Perhaps I’m kidding myself–I’ll get into it and realise I’m wasting my time, it’s not working, I couldn’t possibly bring to Orwell to life in any meaningful way. But I won’t die wondering.
So I’ll keep the words moving for now, finding arcs and shapes and tensions and playing with them. I’m not sure when exactly I became a playwright–but I’m not complaining.
Thanks for reading.