Magazine article The Spectator

Filling in the Blanks

Magazine article The Spectator

Filling in the Blanks

Article excerpt

'Show, not tell' is probably the best tip you can give anyone who wants to write; and the most difficult thing to achieve. It's so tempting to stuff everything in, to give away all the evidence too soon or describe every last detail down to the colour of the gunman's eyes, just to make sure that your readers have followed the plot. It's an even more difficult technique to master in a radio play, where you might think that 'telling' is what matters. How else can your listeners understand what on earth is going on when they have no visual clues? But as any fan of radio drama knows, it's what's left out that counts; the absence of information gives the listener licence to invent, filling in the blank spaces with your own imagined scenarios. (It's like sitting on the Tube or bus and wondering about the life story of the person squashed right up against your ear. ) The winning playwright in this year's Imison Award (given to the best original script by a writer new to radio, organised by the Society of Authors in memory of the great champion of radio drama, Richard Imison) kept us guessing until the end of her play, and even then left us with a conundrum: 'Whatever happens we're not going to know what happened or why.' It takes guts in a writer to abandon your listeners just at the point when they need you most, to resolve everything neatly and provide them with an upbeat ending on which to finish the ironing, or struggle round the M25. Lucy Caldwell's award-winning play, Girl from Mars (Radio Four, Monday), took us right inside the horror of losing your sister (or daughter), suddenly, one afternoon, without explanation or any telling clues. There's an open door, and a full teapot on the table, but no Amy, and nothing to suggest why she is no longer in her flat in Belfast. Five years later, a body is discovered in the River Lagan, just close by. Will it be hers?

Caldwell's drama cleverly criss-crosses back and forth through the family's memory trail, looking for reasons, but has the courage not to provide us with neat answers.

There never can be an ending to such a devastating event. Did Amy kill herself? Was she killed? Or did she just run away? (Girl from Mars was crisply directed by Heather Larmour. ) Over on the World Service this Saturday evening and next, the winning plays in the International Radio Playwriting Competition run by the World Service and the British Council are being broadcast for the first time. …

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