Rhiannon Boyle is the first winner of the inaugural Wales Writer in Residence award, and here, she reflects on her first six months in her new role…
Six things I learnt during my six month residency with the BBC…
1. Radio drama is now called audio drama and it is very cool
With the global surge in popularity of podcasts and new platforms upon which we listen to audio drama, it’s a bit archaic to simply call it – ‘radio drama’. My six month residency at the BBC began back in October and kicked off with some very immersive, bespoke training sessions in audio drama led by the super talented, producer and Head of Development at BBC Wales Writers Room, Helen Perry. I was invited along to observe several radio plays being recorded and produced and received a list of audio dramas on BBC Sounds to listen to and analyse. I was introduced to BBC Wales Head of Audio James Robinson and shadowed writer Alan Harris on the popular continuing drama Curious Under the Stars. They taught me how to pitch treatments and who to pitch them to. I learnt in the world of audio drama you can tell any story, set in any time or place, which to a writer is extremely exciting.
2. In TV it’s all about throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks
Most ideas don’t stick. And that’s fine. But you just have to keep throwing. As many ideas as possible, at as many people as possible. There will be tonnes of knock backs. Of – ‘We already have something very similar on our slate.’ replies. But the important thing I’ve learnt is not to take any of it personally. You take it on the chin and swiftly move on. And one day, an idea will stick, then off you go.
3. Us women writer’s need to grow a pair
I’ve always been a bit apologetic with regards to sending out ideas and treatments, feeling certain commissioners or artistic directors were maybe too important for me to approach. But a producer recently told me that the amount of emails she gets from women pitching ideas compared to men pitching ideas with a – ‘You gonna produce my thing or what?’ – attitude is worryingly low. So now I think – sod it. I am going to send you my stuff. The worst that can happen is a ‘no’ right?
4. A title gets you through the door but there’s still a way to go
I have a Channel 4 commission, ideas in development with BBC Studios and I’ve received an ACW grant to develop my stage play Kill Me Now. I’ve met BBC Commissioning Editor Ben Irving and am in conversations with the head of BBC Comedy Paul Forde. The opportunities I’ve been given, and industry contacts I’ve made thus far have been amazing. But there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of me. I have so much to learn. I suppose the main thing I’ve learnt in all this is how nice, personable and approachable the people at the top are. When I was a young jobbing actress I always worked so hard to impress people and say the right thing. Turns out all I needed to do was be myself.
5. Russell T Davies is the god of TV Drama
I saw this legend speak at the Writers Room Wales festival back in December. He had many golden nuggets of advice for budding writers but the main ones that stood out for me were –
- Keep practising. Write anything. Just write every day.
- Watch lots of TV. Drama, comedy, soap. Everything.
- Start every day on page one and cut as you go. Always tighten and aim to make your script as fast and pacy as possible.
- Focus. Keep asking – what’s it about? Then make damn sure your script is about what you say it’s about.
- Characters – make the characters cleverer than the writer and make the protagonist cleverer than anyone in the room. Use psychology to work out why characters do what they do.
- Keep stage directions to a minimum. Let the actors work it out
6. A global pandemic may slow me down but it will never keep me down
So, I think it’s fair to say that my six month residency at the BBC ended on a bit of a low. Who would have thought the recording of my BBC Radio 4, winning play Safe From Harm at the brand new state of the art BBC Cardiff Central Studios would be pulled due to a global pandemic? Not me. However, as soon as this craziness is over, it will be recorded. It has been postponed. Not cancelled. And so, even though I no longer have a desk at BBC Central Square, and despite the fact I have to hand back my BBC lanyard (sob), I know that their revolving doors will always be open. I’ve made some great friends and have started some really promising working relationships. I’m excited about our future working together.
Thanks a million BBC Wales Writers Room it was a blast!
And so here I am, at the cusp of my six month residency with NTW. I’m not going to lie, it’s a challenging time to start with a theatre company. However, there is always hope. Mine being the promise of ‘bespoke mentoring and training’, the ‘development of a script idea for theatre’ and ‘access to industry contacts’. So whilst I’m worried about the future, I am hopeful too and eager to see where the next six months will take me.
Rhiannon Boyle’s audio drama Safe From Harm will now be transmitted in January 2021.