Next Thursday will mark a first for Alan Ayckbourn as the author of 83 plays, currently celebrating his 60th year of playwriting, will see his first novel published.
The Divide is published by PS Publishing and marks the culmination of a four year journey for the playwright. He first wrote The Divide in 2015 with the intention of writing something ‘unstageable’. In an interview I conducted with the playwright at the time, he noted: ‘It’s a deliberate attempt to jump away from anything familiar to me.’
The finished work was a prose work telling the story of a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection. The playwright hoped it might one day be published as a novel having written something that was never intended to be staged (and, yes, The Observer on 1 September was completely and factually incorrect in saying the novel was adapted from ‘a six hour, two part play’).
“It all began by me saying that you have really got to get out of this cosy routine you are in,’ said Alan Ayckbourn of why he decided to write a novel. “And I suspect cosy routines. I always try to do something in every play, something to scare myself. But I thought, ‘I think I need a bit more of a scare this year.’ So I wrote ‘waterfall’ and ‘bottomless pool’ and a village full of characters that no theatre I work with could possibly afford.”
However, between 2015 and 2019, a series of unforeseen events saw The Divide unexpectedly adapted for the stage – although Alan Ayckbourn has always felt these never truly reflected his original intentions. The book was substantially edited and performed as a narrative for voice at the Stephen Joseph Theatre soon after its completion as a special event to make the venue’s 50th anniversary.
As a result of that, Annabel Bolton – an Associate Producer at the Old Vic – asked if she could adapt the book for the stage resulting in The Divide being staged at the Edinburgh International Festival (the six hour, two-part ‘play’) and subsequently at The Old Vic. Whilst Alan appreciated the adaptation – despite it being edited to less than a third in length of the original book – he still held hope it would be produced as it had been written.
During 2019, the author and playwright Robert Shearman introduced Alan to PS Publishing, who expressed interest in working with the playwright and publishing The Divide as Alan envisaged it. Over the course of the year, the company worked with the author creating a book which reflected the idea of a story told through reportage (journal entries, memos, council records, published books etc) with each entry stylistically reflecting the source material (i.e. hand written notes for the journal entries). The result is Alan Ayckbourn’s first novel and very much how he ideally hoped the book might look if published.
The Divide sees the celebrated novelist Soween Clay-Flyn recall a period in recent history based on documents of the time, including her own personal diary as a young girl who lived through it and survived to tell the tale.
In the aftermath of a deadly contagion which has decimated the population, contact between men and women has become fatal. Under the dictates of an unseen authoritarian leader known as The Preacher, an unthinkable solution has been enforced.
Soween and her older brother Elihu grow up learning the ways of their tightly controlled society. Then to Soween’s alarm, Elihu, as he reaches pubescence, risks not only fatal disease but also threatens to ignite a bloody revolution.
With the launch on Thursday, Alan Ayckbourn said he was thrilled to be seeing his first novel in print during his 80th birthday year.
“This is a new experience for me. Eighty-three plays, God knows how many nerve-racking theatre press nights and now this. The very first book launch of my very first novel. Lord, the things you take on at 80!”
The Divide will be launched at a free-to-attend event at the SJT from 4.30pm to 6.30pm on 12 September, in between performances of Alan’s two shows at the SJT this summer, Season’s Greetings (matinee) and Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present (evening).
The author will be talking about The Divide and extracts from the book will also be read. Attendees will also be able to buy the hardback edition of the book at a special price of £20 (rrp. £25) and have it signed by the author. Further details can be found here.
The Divide is published by PS Publishing in hardback as well as a limited edition signed hardcover and a softcover. All editions will be available from the publisher’s website: www.pspublishing.co.uk.