WHAT MAKES WRITING A NOVEL SUCH A CHALLENGE?
For me, the challenges of each medium are totally different, and yet related. Theatre is all about the visual impact for a live audience, requiring a dynamic that can be easily absorbed for short term gain. Writing prose for a reader demands something deeper, and is intended to stimulate imagination and to provoke thoughts that may affect for a longer period. And yet both demand the writer to paint a picture that holds attention. Both require strong characters, interesting dialogue, and the framework of a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end.
WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR 'THE MURDER TREE' COME FROM?
It was around twenty years ago that I first read a book by Christianna Brand entitled Heaven Knows Who. This was a contemporary account of the trial of Jessie McLachlan, and the events preceding it. I was immediately struck by the dramatic 'twists' in this factual story, and by the intriguing questions it posed about who had really committed the crime. Because it was a true story, it struck me that there would undoubtedly be descendants alive today who may even be ignorant of the involvement of their infamous ancestors - and that prompted the creative instinct within me to look at the potential to write another version of the story, but from a modern day viewpoint.
But my writing experience was limited to the theatre, and I could not think of a practical way to put such a drama on the stage, so I put the project to the back of my mind for a while.
Along came children, other projects and lots of new challenges, and it was not until I retired from the civil service that I felt the time had come for a serious attempt at turning the story into a novel. It took another year before I hit the keyboard properly, and several visits to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth and Inverness (plus a holiday in New York) to complete the necessary research.
WILL THERE BE A FOLLOW-UP STORY TO 'THE MURDER TREE'?
That depends on my readers! I do have something in mind, yes - but first I would welcome some feedback on the present story. A novel of this kind, based on real events, does take a lot of time and effort to research, but I do like making the connection between fiction and fact, so if I find my readers enjoy the style of 'The Murder Tree', then I will be happy to get back to work!
TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE THEATRE
My love affair with the theatre began at the age of 9 when my uncle, who was Head of Art at a boy's school in Cheshire, took me along to help him prepare the set for the annual Christmas show. I saw the work behind the 'magic' and I was fascinated, but I had no aspirations to act. It took another eleven years before I found myself volunteering my services for an amateur dramatic society, where I was persuaded to take the part of Eric Birling in Priestley's An Inspector Calls. This was early in 1973, and by the end of the year I was taking acting roles in three further productions... I was hooked!
The following year I was fortunate enough to be a founding member of a new (semi-professional) group of actors. We were brought together specifically for a one-off event: the centenary of the St Annes Land & Building Company - formed in 1874 to start building the town of St Annes-on-Sea on the Fylde Coast of Lancashire. The Company still owned the town's pier, which boasted a beautifully restored pavilion theatre, and we were given the task of presenting a classic Victorian thriller - Gaslight. I was now doing sound effects, assisting the stage manager, and doing a walk-on as a policeman! But the important thing was that I was now working with professionals...
There followed plenty of mixed fortune for me, theatrically. I had some brief spells of paid work, usually touring in children's theatre, or the odd season show, but most of my involvement in theatre has been with amateur groups. The Centenary Players are a slight exception: we still put on the occasional production, using a combination of professional and amateur talent, but we don't get paid. You can check out our website www.centenaryplayers.co.uk for further information.
AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE THEATRE SCRIPTS?
I was lucky. One of the first groups I joined in 1973 was a youth group, led by a wonderful lady who wanted older volunteers to help develop her young charges. We wrote our own material and performed it - usually for the parent's benefit - but it was all good experience. My first 'commission' was to write about the history of Blackpool, and once completed our show Castles from the Sand was presented in a couple of different venues on the Fylde Coast - and not just for parents!
There were one or two other opportunities to write material for the youth group before I left to concentrate on acting projects that paid. There were not enough of those around, so I soon found myself joining the civil service for a more reliable income, but the script writing continued occasionally. I won a national competition in 1984 with a comedy entitled Best Laid Plans, which was performed the following year by a local drama group. Various other scripts followed, with some degree of success in competitions, but my latest effort has still not been performed after undergoing several re-drafts and transitions over a period of twenty years! That said, it recently attracted the attention of an established professional director in the North West, and I have hopes that it may yet have a life in performance...