Sarah Hehir on how her Arvon week led to an award-winning radio play.
On March 22nd this year, I checked my emails while standing between carriages on a train from Bromley South to Rochester at the end of a long journey from North Lincolnshire. I shouted out, ‘I’ve won!’ and only my eleven year old daughter understood the significance.
When I was at Manchester University in the early nineties, I went to see Simon Armitage reading poems from Xanadu and Kid. Much later, about six years ago, I started writing a radio play while my second daughter slept in the afternoons. When my sister spotted that Simon Armitage was the tutor on an Arvon Writing for Radio Course, she booked it for me as a surprise. By the time I went to The Hurst in the summer of 2008, I was six months pregnant, keen for a rest and a relaxing week of writing in the hills. I got the week of writing but not the rest!
The weather was sunny, the setting idyllic and the company invigorating! Simon Armitage and Sue Roberts had planned a course that was structured, demanding and left me wanting to write late into the night to produce the script for the next day.
Through workshops and tasks, I learnt the art of writing for radio. In small groups we discussed powerful moments in radio drama, how to build character and the importance of plot. Sue gave me detailed individual feedback on a finished script I had brought along; I still hear her voice in my head as I’m redrafting!
In the evenings we cooked and ate together, chatted about script ideas and listened to Simon read poems. The guest that week was Michael Symmons Roberts who spoke to us about poetry, radio and documentary. We listened to extracts from a selection of his radio work and he discussed his ideas and plans for the next Afternoon Drama, produced by Sue. It was thrilling to eventually hear it broadcast complete with its chorus of dogs!
During the second half of the week, the challenge was to write and record an original ten minute script to be played on the final evening. With the help of a radio technician, we cast and recorded; the final productions were diverse in subject and style.
On the final morning, I caught my train at the local railway station and re-joined the real world with a head full of ideas. It wasn’t until January 2012, when my youngest daughter started nursery, that I got the chance to really concentrate on writing scripts again and putting those ideas on paper.
I started using the opportunities on the BBC Writersroom page to motivate me. In September, I was short listed for the Nick Darke Award. Encouraged by this success, I entered the BBC Writer’s Prize with my play Bang Up. I was shortlisted in January and spent the next few weeks trying not to become too obsessed with checking emails.
And then, balancing between three young daughters and two suitcases, I couldn’t help myself from glancing at my phone one more time. At the top of the inbox was the heading ‘Writers Prize’. ..
Congratulations – I’m delighted to say that you have been selected as one of two writers who we will be taking forward to commission for the Radio 4 Afternoon Play.
And just to make it a real fairy tale ending, Sue Roberts asked to produce and direct the play. Five years after she taught me the art of writing for radio at The Hurst, I am delighted to have written something that we will be working on together!
Find out more about Arvon’s radio courses here.
Sarah Hehir lives in Borstal Village with her husband and three daughters. Originally from North Lincolnshire, she has been charmed by the Medway Towns with its bleak and beautiful setting and its underground creative arts and music scene.
She originally moved from the North East to study Drama at Manchester University and went on to teach at an inner city school in Cheetham Hill.
Falling in love at first sight at a Manchester City game, led her to the west coast of Ireland where she had a baby, set up a successful chocolate business and set up collaborative play writing workshops in Limerick to engage hard to reach teenagers.
After returning to England, she embraced the opportunity to run for local election and teach in the prison. However, her real passion has always been for writing. She became particularly interested in the exciting potential of radio drama following an Arvon course in 2008. Her work at the Rochester Young Offenders Institute inspired the radio play ‘Bang Up.’
Sarah is currently a freelance writer and dramatist. Her most recent worked includes a devised piece of physical theatre with Needlefoot Dance Company and a story for teenagers set in post apocalyptic Lincolnshire.