Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Goes to show you never can tell.

Last year, I was ill. I took several months to get myself on the road to recovery and it affected my output somewhat. I did write a few things whilst I was "under the weather", but I was definitely slower than before, not so prolific. I was also dreadfully unsure of the standard I was achieving.

I managed to write a couple of things, but each word was wrung from me, and there were tears shed over my lost ability. I was convinced each scene was rubbish, so much so that I was almost embarrassed to show anyone.

I managed to write three major things during my illness. The first was a Pantomime, "Ahmed and the Mummy". Basically, I told myself I was going to write it, and I forced myself to do so. Every joke was, to my mind, unfunny. Every line of dialogue sounded stilted. Every situation was cliched and lacking in humour. Friends told me it was funny, but they could not convince me.

At their instigation, I sent the pantomime to the British publisher Lazy Bee ( He'd already published 7 of my plays and pantos, so he'd give it the time of day. He would also reject something not up to scratch. There's no old pals act with MY publishers.

Imagine my surprise when he told me it was funny and original and agreed to publish it. That showed me I was not the best judge of my own work!

This lesson was reinforced when I was asked to write a modern day Nativity for a local junior drama group. The result was "Power Play". Again I was not convinced of its merits, but it fulfilled the brief, and they liked it. I went to see it. The audience raved about it. I was speechless.

It's to be done again this Christmas, by a different group, which is quite gratifying.

Finally, I wrote a community drama, "Barabbas". I did it because I'd been saying I would and it seemed a good idea to follow through, rather than be known as someone who talked and never did.

Barabbas was one of the hardest things I ever wrote. Every scene was agony. Every line was written several times. Oh, the days when I would put in nine hours solid, have several pages, only to delete the lot the next day and start again. I would go to sleep each night working out the kinks, and wake up every morning ready to take notes. I thought about it over lunch, when I should have been listening to the sermon in church, when I was in the dentist's waiting room. I spoke into my dictaphone while I drove or walked the dog, or did the housework.

It took some months, but Barabbas was finally finished. I sent it to a publisher where four other of my plays have found a home: Eldridge Publishing ( They have rejected as many of my works as they have accepted, and I was fully prepared to have this play thrown back at me.

It was accepted. The editor called it "A fascinating exploration of the last days of Christ", and said it had "richly nuanced characters which makes us really care what happens to them." She went on, "From the opening, bracing violence, to Barabbas' final line, "Because he died for me", we found the play utterly absorbing, compelling, and ultimately uplifting." 

Needless to say, the letter made my day, my week, my month. It buoyed me up and made me feel that maybe I COULD still do this. It showed me that I shouldn't judge my own work when I am in a low frame of mind, and it taught me to keep the faith.

I'm writing again. I'm feeling confident in my abilities again. And it feels good.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A time to write, a time to read...

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

In the last few months, my writing time has been seriously depleted. Family commitments, fighting for my son's funding, ill health, church, charity and work commitments, all have taken their toll on my writing until not writing had become a habit that was very difficult to break. I want to write. I have ideas ready to turn into pieces of writing. I'm just not doing it.

So, time for some drastic action, methinks.

So, for the next few days I am taking myself out of circulation and into a writing retreat of my own making. I'm shutting down my internet connection, turning off both my landline and mobile phones, and hunkering down. I'm not available to meet with friends, to work, to attend events. I am, in short, off the grid.

I intend to spend the next few days doing nothing but writing. All day, every day. I have my work ready to begin, I've got the books I need for research, and I'm going for it. I hope to come back to civilisation about 10,000 words better off, and with the habit of not writing firmly broken.

Because if I don't take myself in hand and get on with it, who else will make me?

And in the evenings, instead of sitting in front of the TV, or answering non essential emails, I shall read. I aim to get through at least two of the books on my to be read pile.

See you all the other side!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

At long last!

It took some time, about a year. But finally, the powers that be have decided to let my son know where his future lies. (See post 14th April). As of this week, both Continuing Health Care and Social Services have agreed to fund his place at his residential home.

This means he can stay where he is happy and well looked after, and both of us can look forward to a more settled future. I no longer have to temper each decision with "If Steve comes/doesn't come home". I can plan for things more long term than next week.

I am thrilled he has his funding, and relieved he will stay in the place that is best for him. I am, however, very aggrieved that it took a year of wrangling and horse trading, appeals and counter appeals, meetings which were abandoned because the correct staff members didn't turn up, other meetings that were cancelled because the information wasn't in place, decisions that couldn't be made because someone was on annual leave (What? They only have one person who can deal with a case? What if, God forbid, something dire happened to that person?).

I made my position clear from the start. I wanted Steve to stay where he was, but I was well aware of the financial position and realised that we can't always get what we want. Therefore, I would accept the decision if it went against us, all be it with a heavy heart. I just wanted the situation resolved. I just wanted to know where we stood. Is that so much to ask?

The basic problem seems to be that the disabled and their carers are not classified by the authorities as people. We are counters on their snakes and ladders board, and as such we can be moved up and down at will, never quite reaching the end, and never quite mattering.

Steve and I deserve an apology for the stress, uncertainty and sheer bad manners that we have been subjected to. We won't get one. Alas, nor will we have the satisfaction of knowing that no other family will have to put up with similar treatment.

It's a disgrace.

Calling all actors in Crowborough area

As a teenager I joined an amateur dramatics group. It was a wonderful way to indulge my passion for theatre, meet people and boost my confidence.

Over the years I moved offstage and left the performance to those younger, prettier and more able.  I worked backstage as prompt and props mistress, or front of house selling programmes, tickets and drinks.

I write plays and have been lucky enough to see my work published and performed throughout the world, but local drama still has the greatest pull on my heart. I frequently travel to nearby towns to see a show. Uckfield, Framfield, Rotherfield, I’ve enjoyed them all.

Which is why it saddens me so little drama is being performed in Crowborough.

Oh, there are drama groups. Crowborough Players has existed for as long as I’ve lived here, and Mark One Drama was formed in 2006. Both groups have entertained us in the past, though neither produced a pantomime last winter – disappointing for a town this size.

For those who enjoy Christian drama, there’s also Rainbow, based at All Saints Church, but they too have been quiet of late.

One reason for all this silence is a lack of members. People moved away or grew older and less able and no new members took their places, so numbers dwindled. Actors are precious, directors like gold dust.

But drama groups are wonderful builders of community. Drama is, after all, teamwork. Being involved with a production is exciting, rewarding and satisfying. Soon, there'll be a brand new performance hall in the town, and it would be a shame if there was no vibrant drama group ready and waiting to move into it.

So here’s a challenge. I have a pantomime script, available to Crowborough, free of charge. We have a tentative yes from a director. Now we need actors, dancers, musicians and back stage crew.

If you'd like to be part of this year's panto, drop me a line on, or at my twitter account: @hilarymackelden 

Together, we can build drama in Crowborough.