Listening to Littlewich by Debbie Bennett

I've blogged a couple of times about Littlewich Ways - our village community radio play project. Littlewich is a small fictional village set in Cheshire; the wich refers to the salt industry around which much of mid-Cheshire's industry has grown over the years. My own house was built in the mid 19th century for the manager of the local salt-mine, and the Winsford mine (a mile or two away across the valley) is Britain's oldest mine.

So our little script-writing team - there are four of us at present - meets up every week and we storyboard future scenes and read-through stuff we've written for group feedback. We get strange looks in the pub occasionally (but they're used to us by now) and we even recruited our latest writer when I apologised for disturbing her quiet drink with her partner ...

But nothing was actually getting recorded. Nearly 40 episodes in and we still only had two up on YouTube. The problem is trying to get groups of volunteers in the same place at the same time, so we can rehearse and record. Everybody has lives - work, family, other interests - and trying to co-ordinate different groups for different scenes was proving near-impossible. So now we dedicate one evening per month purely to recordings. It's still a bit of an administrative headache, but at least the actors are getting used to the idea of keeping one evening per month free in case they are needed for a scene - and the last two recording sessions have produced six finished scenes each time.

But last week, I decided to sit in on one of the "rehearsals". We encourage the actors to get together beforehand (they get scripts a week in advance), but in any case, each scene is rehearsed as many times as necessary with the director and sometimes the writer too. Actors are getting to grips with their characters now and providing their own feedback as to what their character might or might not say. So I'm sitting in on a couple of scenes; they're not my scenes - although I've read them and we've discussed them in the pub, this was probably well over a year ago, if not longer. But it's so weird, listening to something I've forgotten about completely. We've moved on story-wise, a year in story-time and several plot-developments downstream, but it's like I'm listening for the first time to these people and getting a glimpse into their lives. This must be what it's like for our audience (if we even have an audience ...), following our stories.

It reminds me of my first attempt at audiobooks, listening to my narrator speaking the first few chapters of Hamelin's Child. Sadly, the guy vanished - I couldn't track him down online and he stopped responding to emails. A couple of months later I had no choice but to formally cancel our ACX contract - and I never heard from him again. I've found a new narrator now and am starting all over again... But the process is so similar. When you hear words you've written spoken by somebody else, it's like adding another dimension, or bringing colour to something that existed only in black and white. People come alive -

- except when I kill them, of course. Wait and listen, Littlewich fans. Wait and listen ...


Wendy H. Jones said…
Sounds like an amazing project. Well done
Bill Kirton said…
Interesting project. I bet it gives you different insights into your own writing. Theatre is always, of course, a collaborative process.

As for hearing one's words read by an ACX contract bloke, I wish I could get out of the two of mine that were organised by a previous publisher. They're awful and I discourage anyone from ever buying them. A supposed Scottish accent that sounds as if it comes from a Geordie with a tongue too big for his mouth, and another who, amongst other aberrations, pronounces pastoral idyll puh-STOR-Al Eye-dull.
Umberto Tosi said…
I clicked right over to your Littlewich Ways episodes and - as one who grew up listening to mysteries on the radio -found them delightful. I'm looking forward to what's next. You've inspired me to explore something similar here in Chicago. Thank you.
Debbie Bennett said…
Umberto. It's been great fun - we've pulled in actors from the drama group and those who've never acted before, plus writers with some experience and those with none at all. And these people we've created are slowly coming to life!

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