TRIBUTE PODCASTS are a series of 13 dramatic monologues between 7 & 15 minutes in length - all eulogies / reflections about the deaths (and lives) of fictional characters.
One of the inspirations for this project - if that's the right word - was the series of deaths in 2016 - my mother, principally, but also David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Prince, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Terry Wogan, Gene Wilder etc etc And in September 2015, one of my son's best friends, 20 years old, died in a boating accident in New Zealand. He died saving someone else's life when he and a group of 10 friends got into dificulties kayaking on a lake. It was only James and one other American boy who died, the rest survived. And James may have survived if he hadn't swum back into the lake to try and save a friend. James was the nicest young guy you could ever meet. Gentle, kind, with a smile that lit up a room, his death at such a young age has really rocked his local community and of course devastated his family - his parents and two younger brothers.
So this project is dedicated to the memory of JAMES MURPHY.
VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING
This piece takes its name from John Donne's poem of the same name. I checked my
emails on the way home from a conference on antibiotic resistance and there was a
round robin email asking for my favourite poem. I sent them 'A Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning', a beautiful, clever poem in which Donne argues that love
creates a connection between people that is unbreakable. At one point he uses the
image of a thread of gold that runs from one to the other: I've used this image with
my children when they didn't want me to go away, and I think of this thread often
when I'm far from my loved ones. It's comforting, because it allows me to feel a
connection. That connection, that pulling on the heart strings, is what this piece is about. That, and the fast-approaching horror of the post-antibiotic era, where people
will die from previously minor ailments. What strikes me most about this awful
prospect is that it doesn�t make sense: we are programmed to believe things get better,
not worse. So how do we cope when they don't? How do we cope when we lose
someone we love, especially if it's a loss that seems unfair or illogical? We mostly
accept nowadays that talking is helpful, but what if that goes against our instincts?
And if talking about it is helpful, who should we be talking to? These are the
questions at the heart of this piece.
MY IMMORTAL MOTHER
Some writers say they have a 'knot� they keep worrying at that makes them write. Maybe my mother, Wendy, has been my knot. I always knew I would write about her after her death, when I was no longer caught up in the intense, all-consuming business of being her daughter. Tribute�s origins lie in the eulogy I wrote for her.
Rather than a lachrymose farewell, this was largely a celebration of Wendy�s idiosyncrasies and wicked sense of humour. Instead of trying to choke through it myself, I had my sister-in-law, the accomplished actress Jessica Turner, 'perform� it - voicing my mother's many Lady Bracknell-esque quotes and capturing her curious ability to be both withering and warm in one exchange. As the many mourners knew her so well, I could use shorthand, but while further developing the eulogy into a dramatic piece for Tribute, I needed to explain Wendy�s quirks to strangers - thus her backstory and her relationship with her own impossible mother, the fascinating Flora, required an airing.
Though I have much in common with my mother, getting inside her peculiar head to recreate her is sometimes hard. Furthermore, she was from a different world, almost a different planet. Her 87 years spanned some serious historical upheavals and took in experiences well beyond the ken of my generation: from the luxuries of colonial life to real poverty and hunger; from un-anaesthetised teeth pulling to adventures on troop ships; she both witnessed the horrors of and served in World War Two. She told a million stories I�ve yet to relate and through this project I�ve begun to reanimate a person that I at once knew deeply, but sometimes couldn�t fathom - a strange hybrid woman. At times it has been painful� let her rest. But also somehow necessary - the start of the unravelling of a knot that will probably be a lifetime�s work.
A TRIBUTE TO MARCIE LANE
There are a few hats that I currently wear but I�m a mum first and foremost and I couldn�t imagine my life without my lovely boy. I still can�t quite believe I�ve got him and the idea of anything happening to him is just too awful� And so, incomplete families and lost children have dominated my recent work. I don�t know whether, by writing about them, I subconciously think I�ll be able to rid myself of all these fears but there it is and so there was always going to be this tangent to my 'Tribute�.
I wanted to layer the script a bit though and to make sure the deceased got a rounded tribute that paid testament to her character. I hit on the device of reading out a statement / email, not meant for a funeral, which allowed me to present a deeper insight into the narrator, as well as into Marcie. I also liked the idea that there had been an argument and, through the recounting of it, we got to learn more about the two characters and their relationship.
Finally, I wanted the reveal to be poignant and to strike a real chord. A few years ago, I read an interview with a woman who had lost her only child. In the piece she said that you�re an orphan if you lose your parents and a widow or widower if you lose a husband or wife. There isn�t a name for those who lose a child. Perhaps because it�s too awful to put into words.
EULOGY FOR TRICIA SLATER
I spent a lot of years with a scattergun approach to life, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but always leaning towards my creative side. I worked for BBC Radio Drama, wrote and directed plays, self published a novel, trained and then practised as an Alexander Technique teacher, and wrote marketing materials for small companies, to name a few. Then the unthinkable happened, I became a full time carer for, and then lost, my lovely husband. Life didn�t seem all that appealing for a while, and I decided I needed to find a focus, to try to rekindle my enthusiasm. So I am now half way through an MA in Writing for Performance and Publication at Leeds University.
Wading through the treacle of grief, I started off trying to write very serious and worthy pieces, only to be told that they were funny. It seemed the more serious I thought I was being, the more people were finding amusing in the things my characters were saying. So I have come to the conclusion that embracing the comedy in life is no bad thing, and hence my contribution to Tribute.
I had the idea during a dispute with my neighbour, who can be very awkward. At the same time, many of my friends were experiencing awful problems with their neighbours. There was the woman who was obsessive about where other people parked their cars, the man who couldn�t bear for anyone else to build anything, reporting everyone around him to the planners, even though he happily went round building all sorts without any sorts of permissions, and the woman who helped herself to other people�s gardens, manicuring them neatly like a municipal park, whether or not the garden�s owner liked it that way. The stress that went along with these disputes as they escalated brought with it awful misery. Knowing where I had been emotionally in the last couple of years, I could well imagine how a neighbour of such awfulness as the Tricia of my piece could impact upon the emotional wellbeing of all around her, especially if the setting was a small row of terraces cut off from the outside world. So this was the starting point for my piece - a woman trying very hard not to show her relief at the passing of her awful neighbour. I hope you enjoy it.
The catalyst of my Tribute was a bookmark. I wanted my tribute to focus on the emotions that death/bereavement brings up. Death is so unfathomable our brain pulls in many different ways to understand it. The emotion of my piece comes from a few of the comedic memories within it being personal to me. Stories that make me smile when I think of them now, and were a joy to write, and more importantly get right in this Tribute. Alongside this is a twist that changes the whole genre of the piece. This allowed me to explore questions about the finality of death, and if we had a way to overcome it how we would use it.
Finally, and most importantly, this becomes as much about the person giving the tribute, and shows the effect that people can have in the lives of others. What bigger Tribute could there be than shaping someone else's thoughts and life?
AN ORDERED LIFE
...is a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of my own father, who died 4 years ago. The trigger for this whole project though was the death of my mother who died in March. The moment when your second parent dies is a big one in anyone�s life, alerting you even more sharply to your own mortality, and it has made me think about the relationship my parents had with each other, about my relationship with both of them - and my relationships with my own 4 children.
This is a monologue about communication, or the lack of it, and about a lack of resolution in relationships.
There’s something really interesting and intriguing learning about these characters through their deaths. Theres a feeling of nostalgia listening to the lives of people who have affected these characters who tell their stories so tenderly and it feels so intimate. A great mixture of heartbreak and laughs. Definitely worth a listen!
Intimate and personal
Each of these Tribute Podcasts creates an unbreakable connection between the living and the dead. From the celebration of a 'strange hybrid' mother to the regret of unspoken love for a father, the relief at the death of an awful neighbour to memories of a Hillsborough disaster victim – all feel intimate and personal. A great listen.
Engaging, thoughtful, well-written and beautifully produced, I'd highly recommend having a listen to these if you're after something a bit different.