As Alan Ayckbourn’s Archivist, I’ve been spending much of the past year in Lockdown and scanning the playwright’s correspondence for the Ayckbourn Archive.
Occasionally, correspondence emerge which have a broad rather than a specialist appeal and offer an insight into the writer and his work. The following piece, from 1988, is a good illustration of this in which Alan answers questions about playwriting.
Questions For A Playwright by Alan Ayckbourn
How did you start writing?
My mother was a writer. We were a one parent / one child family for some time. So it was natural to see her, the breadwinner, writing to feed us. No rolling of pastry on our kitchen table. Just a typewriter. So to one extent it was imitative. And hereditary.
Then I wanted to act. I went into the theatre untrained. (Couldn’t afford to train, wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship). And I started writing plays for me to act in. Since nobody else would. Plays got better. I, the actor, didn’t. Exit me the actor. Enter me the director.
Which people proved to be the most important influences on your work?
At the start virtually everyone. I began writing at an important period in British Theatre. The so-called new wave had just emerged. Osborne, Pinter, et al. Yet I was brought up with the old guard. Coward, Rattigan etc. Purveyors of the well made play. Much despised at the time. But I admired both lots in different ways. So Coward, Rattigan, Pinter, Osborne, Ionesco, Pirandello, Chekhov, Ibsen and all the films of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Rene Clair, Bunuel. God, it’s endless.
Has your work been affected by social/economic/political changes?
I suppose it must have been. Inevitably. Mind you, I never sat down and said, aha, here’s another interesting social / economic / political change to incorporate. But as a writer – well, as someone who lives in the world, I’m bound to reflect what I see around me. Like all the dear departed sixties people who misguidedly believed in everything. The misguided seventies people who purported to believe in nothing. Right through to those eighties people who only believe in money.
And the changing role of women. And men. And computers. And mobile phones.
It would be impossible not to reflect them, unless you lived in a polythene bag in the Hebrides.
At what sort of audience do you aim your work?
As wide as I can. I sometimes say that it helps, to appreciate my plays, to have been in and out of love at least once.
Modesty aside, I think that quite a wide range of people do see my plays. Young and old. And middle-aged.
How do you get ideas for your plays?
God knows. Sorry, couldn’t tell you. And, I’m tempted to add, wouldn’t reveal the source even if I knew.
How do you work – for a certain number of hours per day or according to inspiration?
I write about one play a year. The process takes that long really. For 50 or so weeks I wander about letting the thing cook in my head. I assemble a bag of ideas and characters and themes. All in my head. Then for a week or ten days I write like a maniac and get it all down. The boring bit. Writing is very hard and lonely. I long to get the play in front of a few actors and share it.
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