I write short stories, flash fiction, songs, a little poetry, and have adapted several plays – I’m currently working on another. I think the common denominator in my writing must be that it has to be short! I have begun a novel several times, but rarely get past the first chapter. I get bored, and then my brain tells me that if I’m bored, how can I expect my readers to be entertained? Then I give up. I suppose the plays are quite long, at a couple of hours running time, but the point is I’m not responsible for the storyline of those. Someone with more staying power than me did that. I don’t write conventional romance, either, my love stories tend to be a little more pragmatic than the usual boy-meets-girl, and are often more to do with what happens after the honeymoon is over.
I have plans to crack that novel though. I want to write a Regency romance.
I first began writing at school. A teacher asked me to write a short story for a competition. He wasn’t my teacher personally, I was in a different class, but I was flattered so I did it. I don’t remember if I won, but I do remember he was really impressed with my work, and told me I could be a writer. I never forgot, mainly because he lent me a book of short stories that he impressed upon me I must return. I never did, and the guilt is still with me…! I don’t know that I gave up writing when I left school, but I spent years concentrating on acting, and it was only after I had children that I started to write again. My family and I were very involved in our local church, and I used to write little scenarios to illustrate the point of the sermon, or to help the children visualise Bible stories. A couple of times I wrote a five part serialised play for the holiday club we ran in the summer – one 20 minute episode per day for a week. I have no doubt producing and acting in those helped me hone my writing skills. I suppose those serials could be said to be my first adaptations, but I don’t count them. I didn’t call myself a writer at that point, and I wasn’t being paid except in kudos. Even that was in short supply – nobody really thought there was anything very clever about it. I remember one woman saying “oh yes, the jokes are quite funny, the children love them, but they’re all the same style, though, aren’t they?” That was a bit of an eye-roll moment.
I was also asked to write a blog for a West End theatre fan group on Facebook. I did this for about a year or so. I enjoyed it very much, particularly researching the articles, which sometimes meant I had to go to the theatre. Such hardship! I wrote about dubbing, understudies, the Lloyd Webber phenomenon, star casting and various other subjects. I found thinking of topics harder than the actual writing, and once again it was unpaid work; but so satisfying to produce.
There is very little routine in my writing. I write best to commission, or for a competition that has sparked my imagination. I rarely sit down and write out of discipline. Although I am a morning person rather than a night bird, I find I write best at night, I don’t really know why. Maybe because there is so little distraction. Writing is the only thing that makes me hyper-focus, it’s the only thing I do in which I don’t deal well with interruption. I love writing on the computer, it makes editing so easy, and I tend to edit as I go. I do really understand other writers who must have the feel of pen and paper, though. If I have writer’s block, I do that; or I’ll jot down ideas. I once took the advice of a magazine, and went to bed with a pen and paper on the bedside table, the idea being that when wonderful inspiration comes in the night - random thoughts or dreams that are usually forgotten by the morning, no matter how firmly you tell yourself to remember them – all you need do is grasp the pen and jot it down. Great idea! For two or three nights running I half- woke with sparky plots in my head, but was just too tired to properly wake up and put the light on so I could write it down. The fourth time it happened, I forced myself to wake up. Eyes half closed, I wrote a paragraph of notes, switched off the light and thankfully fell asleep, convinced the plot of a wonderful novel was there on the paper. When I looked at it in the morning, I had indeed written it – yes, I didn’t dream that – but I had absolutely no idea what the hieroglyphics on the page meant. It wasn’t even written using the English alphabet. Fascinating, but useless. I was really ticked off, after all that effort, too.
I’m proudest of two things. One is my prize-winning poem The Siege of Margaret White. I don’t write much poetry, and struggle with the different forms; but rhyming poetry has always come fairly easily to me - probably because I’m an amateur musician, so I find keeping to a rhythm comes naturally. However, I still look back on that poem and wonder how on earth I did it. Where did the idea come from? Where did I get her name? (I usually overthink names, but I distinctly remember Margaret Roberta White just fitting, straight away, as if she’d always been there.) She won first prize in a poetry competition for me. The brief was to write to the last line: “And so she wore her little black dress.” The judge advised people to read it out loud to get the best out of it. I have included it here, so you can see what you think. I perform this, every now and again.
The Siege of Margaret White.
Margaret Roberta White habitually wore trousers,
And hid her Upper Assets in ferocious well-cut blouses.
Her bosom swelled most richly; yet no cleavage was permitted
To peep out from her armoured bra. Its form was full yet fitted.
Though Meg was in her prime, came there no handsome knight to charm her
Indeed, though many tried, they found no spear could pierce her armour.
Men of courage toppled: young and old all took their chance
The flower of British manhood simply shrivelled at her glance.
But Maggie had a secret. In a private, hidden box
Within her ordered closet, lay a case with seven locks.
When Maggie was asleep its contents filled her faithless dreams
Though she suppress, she could not kill her own subconscious schemes.
There, deep within the shadows, lurked (awaiting her destruction)
A thing of lace and boning, dark with satin and seduction.
Margaret Roberta White, your starchy days are numbered
The hour is near when locks and box and you will all be plundered.
The flower of British manhood had retreated for a while
Maggie was off guard; content, she even tried to smile
Then one day in the coffee shop, one Marc Dupont from France
Whilst purchasing espresso, saw the gap and took his chance.
Her fate was sealed: the café full, she had to share a table
Unguardedly she looked into his brooding eyes of sable.
The jolt within her innards sent her latte frappé flying
And Marc cried out “please, let me ’elp, zose trousers now need drying.”
Assailed the mighty citadel! And crumbled now the tower!
A dinner date is made, and she agrees the day, the hour!
Bewildered by the onslaught, she retreats, her heart afire
Her virgin body burning with unrecognised desire.
Margaret Roberta White went straight home to the box
Unswerving she pulled out the case and broke the seven locks.
She had no choice: the latte had made such a dreadful mess
Of blouse and trousers both; and so she wore her little black dress.
© Dawn Bush.
The other proud moment was in completing my first stage adaptation of a novel. I had worked as an actor for a company, Dot Productions, on a couple of tours. Unless you’re part of the lucky few, acting leaves a person with a lot of down time; and the danger is that the lack of outlet for your creative muscles can lead to depression. During one particularly dry spell, it was my husband who nagged me to death, encouraging me every day to write a stage adaptation of a story. I feebly protested I couldn’t write plays, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and knowing how much I love Jane Austen, it was he who suggested adapting one of her books. As previously mentioned, I write best with a goal in mind, so I thought of Dot. I had seen that they were open to performing plays written by people they knew, so strongly encouraged by my husband, I shyly texted the producer one day and asked if he’d be interested in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He said yes straight away. Excellent, but that heightened my challenge. I had to write to very strict parameters. The play had to be for 5 actors and run less than 2 hours. It also had to be strong on action – which, as Jane Austen’s work is heavily character driven, meant making the most of what little dramatic action there was. Reading it through, I came across what was almost a throwaway line. Colonel Brandon meets the dastardly Willoughby in a duel. “..we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.” It’s easy to miss this line, coming as it does in the middle of Brandon’s story; but it was the hook I needed on which to hang the rest of the action. The play toured the UK and was taken to America for a couple of days as well. Despite the actor playing Brandon having his nose broken for real during one of the performances, it was very well received, particularly by the people at Stoneleigh Abbey, where Jane Austen stayed for a while. They were thrilled with it. It won’t bring me fame and fortune, and it’s unlikely to be produced again, but it remains something I am very proud of. My latest adaptation, Persuasion, is due to tour this summer, all being well, although I’m unlikely to be in it myself this time.
I’m very fortunate in that my immediate family are extremely encouraging, and proud of what I do. I wrote my first novella, a children’s allegory of the Gospel, when my two girls were quite young. They loved it, but as it’s very niche, I was only able to publish it recently, using a hybrid publisher. It’s called The Author’s And, and is available on Amazon.
Whenever I got something published, I would announce “Buns for tea, girls!” and they’d ask “Which story?” It became a little tradition. You might recognise it’s a phrase lifted from the Mother in The Railway Children. Both my children grew up to be voracious readers. My elder daughter, Becki, is now a commissioning editor for an independent publishing company, focusing on self-help and educational books.
The younger, Sophie Toms, is an actor and writer herself, she has an EP of her own songs, Light in the Dark, available on amazon and Spotify. She is an amazing lyricist. She and I have collaborated on writing a musical.
Even with all this variety, the medium I’m most comfortable in remains the short story. I love the economy of phrasing, forced by a restricted word count in many competitions. I love them to have a proper story arc, no matter how short – a beginning, a middle and an end that the reader might not see coming. I’ve even managed to win a prize for this using only 50 words! Writing a short story really feels like an art, a craft to me – modelling, shaping and reshaping like clay on a potter’s wheel. I have won competitions for stories I didn’t think were great, and failed to publish ones I love: but whatever the outcome, writing them is so very satisfying. My latest publication is a book of these stories. I don’t have a regular theme in my writing – I do comedy, tragedy, sci fi, historical and contemporary, much like the varied dishes at a banquet. So I called it “A Feast of Tales, Gently Twisted.” It’s available from the publisher, Bridge House, here and on Amazon.