Tuesday

BBC Writer's Commission



BBC Writers' Commission or
Writing a Short Story for the BBC
(an exercise in collaborative writing! )

It starts with an e-mail from Anna:
“The BBC has chosen the Wenlock Books Reading Groups Consortium (!) to work with a writer, probably Helen Cross, on a new piece of writing commissioned by us. This will then be broadcast on a series of programmes the BBC is doing on Radio 4…….
….This will be an interesting and exciting project, and it would seem that our main task is to collectively come up with an idea for a story! What fun!”

First meeting 23/05/07 - 6.00pm in the bookshop:
The process begins:
ailing but recovering Anna introduces the attendees to the concept – we are being asked to collaborate with published author Helen Cross to write a short story for broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in March 2008. (Nothing like thinking ahead!)
The West Midlands Readers’ Network have selected 5 different types of reading group from the West Midlands – of which the Much Wenlock consortium of reading groups is one - to each work with a local author. The resulting stories will be recorded at The Birmingham Conservatoire in October for later broadcast. The BBC is also interested in recording the process of consultation and discussion within each group that leads to the final version of each short story.

This first meeting is to engender interest and to begin to consider such questions as:
· What makes a successful short story? What do we like and dislike about short stories and what challenges might this present to writing one?
· What genre would we like? Romance? Comedy? Science Fiction? Adventure?
· Do we want the story to be plot or character driven?
· What makes a good title?
· Do we have any half –finished (or half-baked?) short stories or examples of incidents that might be woven into the story?

Those readers who are interested agree to meet again on June 6th at 5.45 to pull together some ideas. In the meantime we will:
Consider the questions above.
Find out about Helen Cross and her style of writing.
Contribute to an anonymous pot any embryonic short stories and incidents we would like to offer as stimuli for ideas.

Helen Cross will attend the meeting on June 13th at 7.30 along with representatives from the BBC and The West Midlands Readers’ Network. I’m sure we are all looking forward to meeting Helen – and to seeing the process of collaboration in action.


Second meeting 06/06/07 - 6.45pm in the bookshop.
The group meets to consider responses to the questions posed by Anna a fortnight ago.

Most people have read some of Helen Cross’ body of work as a way of seeing how her literary strengths can best be utilised to produce the most excellent short story possible. There is a general feeling of excitement at the prospect of actually beginning to work with her.

The group have plenty of ideas and inspirations for the story, but we agree not to expand on them too fully so that they will be fresh when we all meet up with Helen Cross next week. Of course, we have yet to hear Helen’s take on the whole project and there is still to be discussion and agreement about the way in which we all want the process of making the story to develop.

So next week is the time when the process will really begin – 7.15pm on Wednesday 13th June at the bookshop. Judith Boot will be taking on the role of chairperson as unfortunately Anna will be relaxing in sunny Swanage. (Unfortunately for whom?). The meeting will also be attended by Jonathan Davidson on behalf of The West Midlands Readers’ Network and of course Helen Cross and the interested members of the reading groups. There may also be representatives from the BBC who may want to record the process of collaboration, mediation and cooperation as the story develops.

Watch this space………..

Third meeting 13.06.07
The group meets with Helen Cross

Having seen numerous photographs of Helen Cross on websites and book covers as I was trying to become familiar with her books and her style of writing it was strange to meet her in person. When she first came into the room was as if I already knew her and yet as she introduced herself and gave us her take on the project it was obvious that we were only just beginning the process of getting to know her.

She first explained the many and varied projects she had completed in the past. Everything from a short story to launch a new perfume to a radio play and all stops between! This experience, added to her obvious enthusiasm for this project and a work(wo)man-like attitude to writing convinced me that the final short story would be a worthy addition to both the traditions of short stories read on Radio 4 and to short-story writing in general. It will be interesting to see what develops from her obvious interest in ideas from us readers and whether we recognize any of them – or indeed ourselves.

If we had preconceptions about her, then I think she also had preconceptions about us! She seemed surprised by some of the answers to her probing questions and it was obvious that we gave her much food for thought. (Not just the wine and cake that were alluded to throughout the evening!) She seemed delighted that we didn’t just want a story about a group of readers in a provincial town. Perhaps we’ll get something a bit more edgy!

She explained that she is at her most comfortable when beginning writing when she has a particular character in a particular situation – and can then just see where the character and the situation wander and how they develop.

What was it we liked about short stories? How did we like them to end? What type of character did we relate to? She had plenty of questions and listened carefully to the answers, slowly mentally sorting the wheat from the chaff. We watched her too.
Did she like the idea of taking random words and seeing if they ignited a spark? Clerihew, post-modern, serendipity, jealousy, juxtaposed, journey, millstone, forebears, carapace. Any good?
Was she interested in the idea of a mother/daughter relationship that has gone astray yet is resolved on a balloon trip?
Was researching family history a way into her story?
What about a modern ghost story?
A minor misunderstanding which, if never resolved, becomes a barrier in a relationship?
Or a situation where a change of plan can lead to a range of unforeseen consequences?

Ideas that appealed were noted on her paper – and she wrote a lot – although she had to admit that a spark hadn’t ignited instantly and this was going to be more of a slow burn.

Mary Ward-Lowery, from the BBC, was there to record the whole discussion and apparently she captured some good stuff! She is making a documentary about the whole process and will be visiting some of the other reading groups and their authors before editing all her footage together to be broadcast at the same time as the finished short stories.

So that was the evening. A meeting between Helen Cross and some Much Wenlock readers. An exchange of ideas. Now we must wait to see what will come of it….

Linda Richards, Much Wenlock Reading Groups.

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