John Osborne is one our favorites here at Nasty Little Press. His debut collection Most People Aren’t That Happy, Anyway is available from our shop.
We also love his prose stories. The New Blur Album was on Radio 4 last night. You can listen again on iplayer.
This week we will be publishing his previous story – On The Beach – as a free PDF ebook, featuring illustrations from Katie Pope. Check back here on Wednesday to download your copy.
In the meantime, we asked John about his work and the new projects he has coming up.
1. Tell us a little about the origins of this piece.
On The Beach was a show I wrote for the 2013 Edinburgh festival. It’s about walking across the beach on my lunch break one afternoon on a sunny day in Weymouth. An hour long show about that hour long lunch break – the imaged stories of all the people I walked past; the family playing cricket, the old couple snoozing, the kids at the rockpools. It seemed like the people I was walking past could tell the story of the history of the British seaside, the reasons why it’s a special place to be but also the dark, unnerving mystery of the British seaside.
I took the show on a seaside tour in 2014, stopping off at theatres in places like Brighton, Margate and Hastings. I’m really proud of the show and thought this would be a good keepsake from it, a free download for people to hopefully read and think about the beach. Katie Pope, an ace illustrator, has done some pictures for it. She’s like Martin Parr meets LS Lowry and I’ve wanted to be able to work on something with her for ages.
2. What is it about seasides that fascinates you?
It’s the simplicity. I was on the train to Great Yarmouth recently and the kids who got on the train at Norwich with their mum were so excited. It’s easy to believe we are a nation who sit at home playing Playstation and watching telly eating junkfood but when you are at the seaside people leave all that behind. I genuinely think people leave their problems behind at the seaside. It’s a good place to go to recharge, to forget about things. All that fresh air and sea breeze is good for you I think. I hope that people will read On The Beach and decide to take a trip to the seaside- either to the seaside closest to them, or their favourite seaside, or somewhere they’ve never been before. It’s somewhere you can go to contemplate, and realise that life can be slowed down a little.
3. Is this your poetry voice or your non-fiction prose voice? Do you see much of a difference between the two?
I would say it’s my poetry voice because it’s all imagined. There are no real facts in On The Beach – you don’t really learn anything. It’s not journalism. I guess the difference between writing poetry and non-fiction is that you write poetry to make people feel something and non-fiction to make people learn something. I didn’t want people to walk away from the show thinking ‘I’ve learnt loads about the seaside’ I wanted people to reconnect with their own memories and feel like they’ve entered an imaginary seaside world within the hour of the show.
4. You’ve written a sitcom with Molly Naylor? That’s exciting, which do you prefer: prose, poetry, scripts? Why?
I love writing scripts. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I have done. I feel an element of control over them that’s quite unusual in my writing. Normally I’m slightly vague and unsure but there’s something about putting things into scripts that is quite exciting to me. I’d never written a script before Molly and I wrote the first draft of episode 1 of After Hours. Molly had to show me which software to download and give me a lesson in how to format scripts and how it should lay out on the page. She has an MA in screenwriting so I basically nicked all her Scriptwriting Masters knowledge for free. If you look at my attempts at those early scripts though they are embarrassing, it took me a long time to work out how scripts should look on the page.
Prose writing never came as easily as poetry or scriptwriting. Even when I was at school doing exams when everyone else had their hands up asking for more sheets of A4 I hadn’t even turned my page over. I guess I don’t really have that much to say and you can disguise that in poetry and scriptwriting, where brevity is essential, but in prose there is a need to be constantly aware of your word count.
Writing poems is something special. I’m working on a new collection at the moment and it’s the most I’ve enjoyed writing poems in a long time. I feel it’s been a long time since I’ve had things I want to put down on paper. If I have a day off from writing I’ll still work on poems. I don’t see them as work at all. The exciting thing is I plan to keep on doing all three. You don’t have to choose one and stick with it. Poetry has taught me how to be a better scriptwriter and a better prose writer because of the importance of cadence and rhythm and always pinpointing the correct choice of word to use. I think if I’d never tried to get good at poetry I wouldn’t have had a chance at writing books or screenplays. But we don’t want people to watch After Hours and think ‘well this is clearly written by two poets.’ We want it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
5. Your new radio play – The New Blur Album – debuts on BBC Radio 4 soon – what can we expect?
The New Blur Album is a story recounting where you were the day each new Blur album was released. It started off as a title for my second Nasty Little Press pamphlet, for no other reason than it was a funny title. But a couple of times I was asked why it was called The New Blur Album and it didn’t feel right to just say ‘cos it’s funny’ so I started to pretend it was something a bit more worthy and had more substance. I started to say it’s because I’d grown up with Blur and could remember where I was each time I listened to their new album. I started to think maybe there was a story I could write about growing up with Blur as a constant backdrop.
I wrote a show called John Peel’s Shed a couple of years ago, which was also broadcast by Radio 4. That had a very specific soundtrack, and I’d always wanted to find another story I could tell that had something as strong to lay underneath it. I stayed up late one night drinking whisky with my headphones on watching lots of old Blur gig footage and interviews with Blur, chose which songs I wanted to use and wrote a story around it.
I set out some very clear rules: I didn’t want there to be any obvious Blur references, quoting of lyrics or anything like that. I didn’t want anyone to chuckle and think ‘that’s a very clever injoke’ or a subtle mention of a rare b-side. It’s tempting when writing about something in popular culture to try and show off your knowledge or prove how much of a fan you are. But I didn’t want it to be in any way the story of Blur. I wanted them to be as incidental as possible, that if you’ve never heard a Blur song in your life you’ll still enjoy the story. It’s one of the pieces of writing I’m most proud of. I really hope people listen and like it. And I hope they like On The Beach too.
After Hours will be shown on Sky 1 in 2015.
The New Blur Album is broadcast on Sunday 28th September at 19.15 and be on iPlayer for the next seven days.
For more information on his books, poems and to hear is previous Radio 4 stories check out www.johnosbornewriter.com