As part of ET’s ongoing aim to delve deeper into what goes into bringing all the amazing theatre we get to see to the stage, we reached out for creatives to write features for us in 2023. And one of the first to come back to us was Tom Derrington. We first came across Tom last year when we interviewed Kitty Cecil-Wright who was in the process of putting on his play, Sleeping Lions, for a touring production. We even found our way to Totton to review the play, calling it “a family affair that is as wholesome as it is unsettling.”
We asked Tom if he would like to do a regular feature to take us through what it’s like being a playwright, who like so many others, has to fit his writing into the spaces around work and family. And remarkably, he said yes! Here then is the first installment.
This is the diary of an emerging writer…
How emerged do you have to be, to be considered emerging? I haven’t emerged enough to pack in my day job, that’s for sure. I’ve not yet had a play published and I don’t have a literary agent. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had an email back from a literary agent who I’ve emailed, asking if they might consider becoming my literary agent! I haven’t emerged from drama school or a young writers’ group with a notebook full of fresh ideas about how to shake up the world of theatre. The truth is, I’ll soon be 40, my hairline is in full retreat and I’m a sleep deprived father to three beautiful, but often feral, children. I’m definitely more ‘emerging middle-aged man’.
But as somebody who had never even considered writing a play before, I suppose over the last couple of years, I have been emerging in some sense. I’ve emerged as somebody who is now actively trying to write plays every day (even if for just ten minutes when the kids are in bed). I’ve managed to sneak my name into a few competition shortlists/longlists and have been lucky enough to have seen a couple of my plays produced over the past eighteen months.
So yeah, fuck it. Why not? I’m gonna go with ‘emerging writer’. For now, anyway.It sounds good.
Here goes then … the diary of an emerging writer, desperately trying to break into the theatre industry! I hope these ramblings might be of some interest and support to fellow aspiring playwrights who, like me are busy juggling their day jobs, family life and other commitments to continue dreaming up and creating new stories for our stages.
Let’s see how much emerging can be done in 2023!
Right! I’ve set some goals for the year.
1) Stop smoking.
2) Write three brand-new plays this year.
3) Have one of these plays produced!
But I need deadlines. I only ever write in my spare time, so without deadlines, I’d just do what other normal people do and spend my evenings watching TV. But I don’t want to be normal, do I? I want to be a playwright. So I need deadlines. For me, these are usually competition dates or submission call-outs and I’ve just noticed that The Bush Theatre have an open window for new plays. Closes on the 9 January… Shit! Just over a week away. Why didn’t I see that before? I’ve managed to submit something to The Bush for the past two years and both times I had some amazing feedback from them. Shit! I do have a half-arsed, half-finished first draft of something. Maybe I can whip that into shape and send it in? Yeah, why not? A week…Yeah. I should try…it would be a shame to miss it. I’m going to try…
The new series of Happy Valley is good, isn’t it?
On the positive, I’m still off work, so I have plenty of extra time. The problem is, the kids are still off school, so I have absolutely no time at all. It’s ok though because I can stay up late, can’t I? I’ll write when everyone’s asleep. Nope! My one-year-old’s got a cold (selfish) and because he doesn’t know how to blow his own nose (lazy), I have to keep going up every twenty minutes to do it for him. I have exactly one week to finish this draft. Come on, I can do this.
Nah…couldn’t do it. No chance. Feeling a bit gutted. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t have wanted to submit something that wasn’t ready. I always really love the work that goes on at The Bush, in fact, it would probably be my dream venue for a debut play – one day. But it definitely won’t be this year. Talking of Bush productions though, I just read Paradise Now by Margaret Perry, which is currently on, as a write this. I thought it was incredible. Would’ve loved to have seen it.
Christmas holidays officially over and I’m straight back into the usual groove…work, kids, cleaning, not writing, cooking, work, kids, cleaning-kids….
Got a new deadline though: The Papatango new writing prize closes for entries on the 5 February and I love this prize. I reckon it’s the golden ticket for an aspiring playwright. The winning plays are always brilliant, they are produced, published and not only that, the writer takes home seven grand, plus royalties. The best thing though, in my opinion, is that Papatango provide feedback to every single entry, regardless of how far in the competition you’ve got. Such a cool gesture. Often in these playwriting competitions, if you don’t make at least a longlist, you get nothing back and it can easily kill any confidence you had in the play in the first place. So, Sergeant Cawood, you’re going on pause, I have a play to finish.
Very rough first draft, complete! Sort of excited by it/ Sort of think it could be shite! I don’t know yet. My process now is to put it away for at least three days, then print it out and read it with fresh eyes again. Not ideal for the environment but very helpful to see it away from a screen. I’ve also sent it off to a few people I trust and know will give me honest and brutal feedback. Waiting to see what they think – exciting or shite.
General note: ‘I wouldn’t say terrible… but the ending definitely needs some work!’
Okay, good to know. Yeah, I thought the same. Alright, I can sort that. Easy. Nooo problemo.
I really fucking hate writing endings!
Our thanks to Tom for taking the time to fill out his diary for us. He will be back in a month or so with his next entries. You can keep up with Tom via his Twitter account here.
If you are a creative who would like to get involved with keeping a diary for us, then do get in touch, we’d love to hear from other creatives with what goes into their work as well.