Tag Archives: writing

“Playing Up” night at Newcastle’s Northern Stage

Playing Up is an exciting new theatre company of emerging writers from the North-East. Amongst the preparations for their scratch night at Northern Stage I caught up with two of the writers involved- Lewis Cuthbert and John Harrison. They were both eager to talk about their new plays- Causeway and Deltic.

Tell me a bit about your play

Lewis: It’s a two-hander. Absurd comedy drama. It’s New Year’s Eve on a remote island. Old friends Colm and Nye meet for their longstanding ritual celebration (Jools Holland from 1996, Guess Who, blueberries, poems, sitting) and to put a brave face on things once again

John: Dave, a member of a local railway society ‘buys’ a Class 37 diesel locomotive and plans to put it in the rear garden of his suburban semi. Dave loves Class 37’s and feels its preservation is being neglected by the society in favour of the more prestigious Deltic locomotive they have recently acquired. Dave’s acquisition quickly brings him into conflict with his Wife, Melanie, his neighbours, the Council Environmental Health department, a vicious local scrap metal dealer and the Police.

Who is your favourite playwright?

Lewis: I’ve got plenty but I’ll go for Harold Pinter at the moment. For the vicious beauty of his language and the work he makes the audience do.

John: Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare.

Which playwright has influenced you the most?

Lewis: Lots of people have called this piece Beckettian (which is fair enough given the absurdity and general air of desolation) but I think this piece was probably inspired by Martin McDonagh, if only for the fake Irish accents and repressed violence.

John: I admire how Ibsen and Miller used the theatrical form to critique contemporary society and its values. The controversial nature of their work provoked reaction that was sometimes personally detrimental, yet their dramas neither preach nor sacrifice character, plots, language or structure to political objectives

What compels you to write?

Lewis: I’ve no idea what compels me to write. It’s something I enjoy, a stress-reliever, something that keeps me sane.

John: It brings the reassurance that creativity can occasionally offset the tedium of existence.

Does anything else inspire your writing?

Lewis: Again, quite a hard question. I suppose life in general, snippets of conversation, relationships between people. I’m also reading through the back-catalogue of David ‘not Peep Show’ Mitchell and am very much buoyed by his mastery of different genres.

John: Overheard conversations, media articles, poetry, the writings of Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami and Jonathan Franzen, and most of all, the love of language and the power of words.

Could you explain a bit about your creative process?

Lewis: Usually I get an abstract idea for a situation or, more likely, one or two characters. I scribble this down somewhere. Forget about it. Come back to it, think ‘ah, this is good’. Forget about it. Then build up a larger world that this character or whatever would fit into. Spend a lot of time sorting out the plot – but not too much or I’ll get bored – then set about writing it. Try to set a specific time aside each day, generally early afternoon, and follow my plan until I draw inexorably towards the close. There’ll generally be a point before then during which I’ll become disheartened with the whole thing, take a lonely walk up Jesmond Dene then get a ‘bright idea’ that sets me back on track. And finally, the rewriting. A terrible but crucial element far too boring to discuss here.

John: For plays, once I have the basic idea, I like to try and sketch out a structure. The aim is to give a story, consider characters and character development, identify where the problem will sit and how it is revealed and think about how that problem will be resolved. Once I have a structure I write to that structure to try and give a first draft. This never materialises in one go as I am often tempted into revision before I have even got a first draft down.

How did you choose the title of your play?

Lewis:The title came first. It was a nice peaceful image. I was originally going to write something set on Holy Island but then I thought the title may have Irish connotations, what with Giant’s Causeway in the North. And it also vaguely fits in with the underlying notion of ‘things are the way they are cause (that’s the) way they are’, which is the thought process of the two characters.

John: The play really about Dave’s love of class 37’s. Class 37 would have been a misleading title so I decided to name it after the more recognisable cuckoo in the nest, the Deltic.

TICKETS ARE AVALIABLE HERE: http://www.northernstage.co.uk/whats-on/Playing-up


Advanced Magic For Beginners

Title: Advanced Magic for Beginners

By: Joe Hakim

Publisher: Burning Eye Books


Hakim’s poetry collection reads like a series of painfully frank diary entries. ‘Advanced Magic For Beginners’ follows Hakim into some of the darkest recesses of the daily trog through life. “as I sink deeper into doubt and debt/ got nothing to look forward to/ except going to bed at the end of a shift”.

The poems form grim but honest tales, of the endless futility that goes with daily life. Hakim also focuses on the numbing, rather than exciting effects of drugs and alcohol. Self- deprecation constantly accompanies these themes.However the self-directed insults are matched by an equal (although cynical) sense of humour.

‘Advanced Magic for Beginners’ is a poetry collection for anybody struggling with the monotony of dead end jobs, followed by evenings in the pub. Together the poems form a scream against modern expectations.

“I’d tell you that I spend the majority of my time drinking supermarket brand beer/ writing sub-par poetry and wanking, but I’m/ sure that would put you off.”




Zines Everywhere!!

For me zines are one of the purest forms of art. These little books of pure creation are often scrappy and printed by photocopier, rather than a proper press. It is hard to make any money out of them (artists are lucky to cover photocopier costs), so that takes at least one non-creative motive away. They are not often long-lasting, so that also takes the motivation of prosperity away. The aim of a zine has to be to appeal to readers on an individual scale, since they are unlikely to reach a large readership. As a result artists and writers are left with only one motivation when making a zine: to create.

For this review I looked at three example of zines, all sent to me by Tanya Rice. One of them was a lovely booklet of drawings by her young son called: ‘There are MONSTERS coming out of my head’, and another was by Tanya herself called ‘Font Lessons’. I also looked at various issues of ‘The Other Herald’, written by artists mainly from Western New York, but also from the rest of the world.

Gef and Tanya Rice’s zines show how creativity can be inherited. “There are MONSTERS coming out of my head’ was written by Gef when he was only nine years old. At this point he was already wildly creative, and used this creativity for self-expressive purposes. He says: ‘When I draw them (the monsters) they come out of my head’. His sketches of monsters are highly inventive, and appealingly childish. They have charm and a lot of humour.

The second zine ‘Font Lessons’ shows the works of a more mature artist and writer, but is just as creative. It features neat drawings in comparison to the sprawling work of her son; showing how zines have a vast scope of styles. Most of the artistic self-expression in this zine is shines through in the poems that go alongside the pictures. She takes on huge themes such as identity: ’Finding and defining your authentic self is more important than it sounds’. She also muses on the purpose of art as a health aid “Feeling productive and fulfilled is all we really seek…why do we not create? Maybe art really can save us.” This line sums up one explanation for the latest boom in zines. Etsy now has an entire section of its site dedicated to zines; and zine libraries are popping up everywhere. In modern times people have a burning urge to create, but find that this urge cannot come out in their ordinary lives; so many of them now turn to zines.

Meanwhile “The Other Herald” is just as much a literary journal as it is a zine.  It is also produced by Tanya Rice, who collects writing, art and photos via submissions from around the world. Although the booklet is mostly made up of poetry and flash fiction, the range of themes couldn’t be cast wider. The separate issues have a set subject, but this doesn’t affect the vibrant variety of themes and subjects inside. Each piece ends with a brief biography, leading the reader to discover that the artists are as varied as their work. Humorous pieces are put alongside grim monologues from eccentric murderers.

However there is a link that connects pieces throughout the collection; this link is a sense of place- although not always New York. Some of the artists talk about places as far apart as Italy and Egypt, or simply describe their house, but a sense of place constantly re-occurs. Another link is the inspiring nature of the entire zine. My favourite quote has to be from French artist Ivan de Monbrison: ‘Art for me is the only answer in our modern world to the question of death and the fragility of human nature’.


TF Rice’s shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TFRice

Etsy Zine page: https://www.etsy.com/search/handmade/art?q=zines&view_type=gallery&ship_to=ZZ

The Other Herald Website: http://www.otherherald.com/



Amongst the misspelt words, and bright, felt-tip penned pictures of Daniel Johnston’s first comic book is his under-credited genius. It is certainly a genius warped by mental illness and religious delusion; yet ‘Space Ducks’ still manages to be an impressive work.

The plot (admittedly is a little hard to follow) is the story of the Space Ducks vs Satan and his devils. In ancient times, the devils have overrun Earth, until the Space Ducks arrive and eradicate them.

However, for me the illustrations are the vital part of the book. They are brightly coloured; with an energy created by quick strokes. Particularly impressive is an image of the devil’s face held up by pitchforks, in a Dali-esque style (Johnston signs the picture ‘Dali Johnston’).

Although Johnston could be considered an outsider artist, he is obviously well self-educated about art; as well as comic books. Nevertheless he still maintains his own distinctive style, an attribute common to most outsider artists. 

According to the blurb, all Daniel Johnston has ever wanted to do is write comic books. He has written many that have gone unpublished, and sold his drawings in the past.

The biographic film about him (called ‘The Devil and Daniel Johnston’) shows Johnston exhibiting his work in an art gallery, and instantly selling the whole lot to one buyer.

However it was music that brought Johnston fame. He has written over 20 albums, and he briefly appeared on MTV in his youth. Yet it was Kurt Cobain wearing a T-shirt with one of his album covers on it, during a broadcast performance, that brought him to most people’s attention.

Johnston suffers from bipolar disorder; although this has obviously not affected his productivity, it has limited his functioning so much that he has spent years in mental hospitals.