The Rickety Bus to Las Plumas

Out of Trelew in the last of the light
Heading for dark Patagonian night
Where the hare is safe from the eagle’s flight
Goes the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

There isn’t a road, there’s hardly a track
Just a faint dotted line drawn in red on a map
Who knows if we’ll get there, or if we’ll get back
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

There are cousins and uncles, some girls in a band,
A priest with a puzzle he can’t understand,
A mother called Mary, a child in her hands
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

On the back seat there’s a farmer asleep
With his hand round the rope round the neck of a sheep
In his dreams who knows what adventures he’ll meet
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas?

On the opposite side sits a groom and his bride
Smiling and wearing their ribbons with pride
As a lifetime begins on this moonlit ride
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

The dawn comes in like a lifted lamp
Uncovering the cold of the winter camp
And we watch in the dawn while a gaucho stamps
From the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

When the sun is high in the echoing sky
And the fox fees the heat from the rock where he lies
There’s nowhere to shelter, nowhere to hide,
For the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

They say in the rains the road disappears,
And the mud is as deep as a donkey’s ears
Then nothing can move and everyone fears
For the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

At the front of the bus the girls form a ring
And play the charango and whistle and sing
And dance in the aisle till the farmer joins in
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

“What will we see there? What will we find?”
“Silver and jewels of every kind!”
Though some say the truth had been quite left behind
In the tales on the bus to Las Plumas.

At a quarter to one a tyre burst,
It won’t be the last, it isn’t the first,
And everyone knows the road will get worse
For the rickety bus to Las Plumas.

The hills are high, the hills are brown
And when the wind blows and the dust comes down
There’s nothing to see but the driver’s frown
On the rickety bus to Las Plumas

But wait! Look down there!
It’s Las Plumas!
We’ve arrived at last!
Can you see anyone?
Anyone at all…?

Just a windswept child in this windswept place
Who lights up the sky with the smile on her face
As she opens her arms in a broad embrace
To welcome the world to Las Plumas.

News v Writing. Daily life in a changed world

In the middle of January, I embarked on an experimental news diet.  In the early days of the new decade it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do.  Back then, it seemed possible to step back from the 24 hour news cycle and the promptings of Twitter in an attempt to avoid the time-sink – not to mention the probable rewiring of the brain – that following it seemed to involve. The arrival of Covid-19 has changed everything. We have entered a world of lock-down where knowing what is happening in the world beyond our front door can be for some a matter of life and death.  The emerging pandemic promptly  ushered in a bewildering round of briefings, comparative charts, and mortality figures that are a daily and even hourly reminder of the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in.  The calls on our attention are even more clamorous than before and there is the nagging feeling that following the daily twists and turns of the corona narrative is somehow our civic duty. So has the central argument about following the news changed? Or is the attempt to wrest our lives back from the damaging effects of monitoring the constant stream of new information as relevant as ever?

I can divide my time since early January into pre- and post-Corona.  In the pre-Corona period, or The World As We Used To Know It, the effects of the news diet were  almost entirely beneficial. My periods at the desk, particularly in the morning, were immediately more productive. I got there earlier, and I got there with a clear head. Finding the space where the writing happens is a constant battle. To simply begin can be the hardest thing in the world. And without the constant information upload it had become easier.  The experience  was akin to putting on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to cut out distracting sounds. The only difference was that the noise suppression seemed to have happened internally.

I had been on the point of starting a new play. What surprised me was that I started two. When the first slowed , I turned to the second.  I was reading more. In the extra time that had appeared in my day I was actively listening to much more music. My screen time – at least on the phone and the ipad – dropped from an hour or more to minutes. My time with my partner was more rewarding. My world might have contracted but it was richer and I felt more a part of it. I was sure as I could be that whatever happened I would be unlikely to go back to my old habits.

And then Corona arrived.

First slowly, then abruptly, life changed. I found myself in a world where something as mundane as going to the shops needed a carefully executed plan.  The virus was proving so contagious that even the government’s team assembled to deal with the pandemic came down with it. Within days the Prime Minister was in intensive care.  Contacts with friends moved online. Zoom and Facetime replaced real life contact as the infection spread through the community. In the empty streets joggers gave each other a wide berth. Nor are the changes happening on a local scale. The pandemic is wreaking havoc world wide. The death toll could reach a million. And  bizarrely, in the street outside, a man is pollarding limes in a front garden.

This is not normal.  Or rather this state of affairs has become the new normal.

So – inevitably – the news diet was an early casualty. Once again The Guardian live feed was open on my desktop, so too was my Twitter feed. The daily 4.30 briefing found me in front of the tv. Life became noisy again. For a few days work at the desk carried on. It was a little less satisfying and my grip on the project I was working on slipped. It was harder to hold things together on the page. And then, also inevitably, it all got away from me. Writing stopped.

I dug a pond. I made mesh covers for the raised beds. I planted lettuces. I baked bread. I photographed a buzzard in the empty sky over the house. But on the play – nothing.

So as the lock-down drags on the obvious question becomes: can I take the lessons learned from the pre-corona days into the changed world of today and start writing again?

Of course the idea of a news diet never did mean closing my eyes to what’s going on in the outside world. It was the constant moment by moment distraction of the feeds that I was trying to cut out. So to make life more productive again I know what I have to do. I have to close the news channels and Twitter on my desktop. I have to let them do the 4.30 briefing without me. By limiting my exposure to the current crisis to a once a day catch-up I ought to be able to both stay abreast of developments and get back to work. Or at least that’s the theory.

Ok. Let’s try that.



Here is the News

Each week on a Sunday I get a message on my iphone (and another on my ipad).  It tells my my Screen Time has gone up or down this week by a number of percentage points. The time itself varies but is never less than an hour a day. Sometimes it’s a good deal more.  I usually dismiss this as unimportant. It’s where I read the news, which is just like reading the paper, and check Twitter. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram or any other social media so I don’t consider myself in thrall to this stuff.

I begin the day with the Guardian over breakfast. I’ll read the main news stories and any article that grabs my attention. Then I’ll check Twitter to catch up on the people I follow. Only when that’s done do I find my way to the desk and start work. This seems harmless enough but by this time I open the computer I will already have engaged with more than 50 different items. News stories, a bit of audio attached to a report, an opinion piece by someone I will almost certainly agree with, videos of earthquakes in Indonesia, a fire in the Australian bush, a cuddly dugong calf. There will be hyperlinks to click through to other linked stories or images I might save for later.

What all these things have in common is that by the afternoon I won’t be able to recall more than about 5% of them and by tomorrow or the next day that proportion will be so small as to be insignificant. Yesterday’s news is a dead thing. But it doesn’t matter because the redundant information will have been displaced by fresh information and so on, over and over. The 24hour news cycle ensures that this refresh is available – and clamouring for our attention – every hour of every day.

It’s not as if the news I consume can be taken at face value. I go to what I consider a reliable source (but then so do readers of the Daily Mail and Fox News). But in today’s media landscape the main purpose of much of the news is to deliver eyeballs. Even on reputable news sites a dramatic video will trump serious analysis 9 times out of 10.  It’s becoming harder to separate news from advertising. From news which is not news at all but is entirely fake. The most egregious crap leaks into the mainstream media because of the pressure to be first. Publish first, check later. More significantly most of it does not impinge on my life at all.  The news delivers nothing but unease about things I have no control over and can do nothing about.

If then all this news and other ephemeral digital content doesn’t actually contribute anything to my life then it would wise to question the hour day I’m giving over to it. But it’s worse than this. Given what we know about the plasticity of the brain this constant and repeated short-term engagement it’s clear that the effect will be to bring about physiological changes. The brain will be rewiring itself to handle this deluge of stuff. And in the process it will make it more difficult to engage with information on a deeper level. Out concentration spans are being reshaped. Which is why people argue they find it difficult to read a novel or to engage in anything that involves concentrated attention.

So that’s two strikes against my harmless online routine.

But let’s go back to our original observation that I am giving over an hour a day to an activity which might actually be harmful and do some sums. It’s easy to dismiss an hour a day. But over the course of a month it adds up to 30 hours. That’s  2 1/2 twelve-hour days. Over the course of a year it means that I am giving an entire month (weekends included) of twelve-hour days to Twitter and the papers. Over a decade I am giving almost an entire year to my devices. And this on a very modest estimate of my daily screen time. It might easily be double this. Imagine that. Imagine someone saying the next decade is going to fantastic for you – except 2028 and 2029 because you’re going to spend those two years in a room looking at your phone.

This is not an original observation. It was brought on by reading Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. For the next month I’m taking his advice and running an experiment. I’ve removed all the news apps and Twitter from my devices. I’m going cold turkey.



Down to London for casting.  The initial sift for the cast of The Tide Jetty was done by Director Scott Huran and Ivan Cutting of Eastern Angles  a week or so ago. I’ve now been invited to Toynbee Studios in London  to watch the recalls.  As the writer I have no special authority in this process. Ivan and Scott will be interested in my take on who does what, but my voice is just one more in the mix.    For me this is the start of the process of handing the play over to the production team.  Theatre is a collaborative activity and its time for others to start bringing their expertise to bear. Waiting in the wings is a team of set and costume designers, composers, sound designers, musicians, set builders all preparing their own input for the show The Tide Jetty  will become.

When you’re ready…

During the course of a long afternoon a selection of Tuckys, Mortons, Annies, Nudds and Elizas  are all put through their paces in extracts from key scenes. For the actors this is tough. At their initial audition they were on their own. This time they are working in small groups. Scripts are handed out, parts assigned, and Scott leads them through each extract in turn – an initial cold sight-read sitting in a circle, followed by standing the scene on its feet. The actors are given minimal direction and the freedom to move around as they improvise the scene. For me it’s the first time I’ve seen the whites of their eyes.

The atmosphere is friendly and co-operative but  everyone knows the actors’ livelihood for the next five months depends on the outcome of this session. It’s not just the prospect of earning a crust that is on the line.  The lucky ones will join a closely knit team in an intense, exhausting, exhilarating collaboration that will see them criss-cross the county in a van laden with props,  welcomed and applauded (we hope) in a different venue every night.   The rest return to pulling pints and the day to day hustle that is an inevitable part of an actor’s life.

It’s exciting to see scenes start to come to life – a glimpse into the way things might work. I find myself moved unexpectedly by one of our Eliza’s confrontation with her daughter. Then delighted as a Tucky nails the earthy nous of a marshman. At this point we’re not necessarily looking for the best actors. The challenge for the casting team is to judge how these different personalities work in combination. It’s not a soloist we’re looking for but the full quartet.

As yet, I don’t know the outcome. Even when decisions are made there are agents to be contacted, availability to be checked, the outcome of auditions with other companies to be balanced. Does the actor’s agent recommend the security of a four/five month tour in the regions or does he suggest his client hold out for the possibility of some lucrative telly work? It’s all up for grabs. But somehow from somewhere within this group of talented individuals the final cast of The Tide Jetty  will emerge.




Grey and damp on Breydon this morning.  A low mist turned to steady rain as I headed out along the south wall.  I should probably have stayed at home. Earlier –  in the warm and dry – I’d been watching seals from the study window. Yesterday it was a small group of Gannets diving like missiles off the Outer Harbour. But not today. Today it was walking and weather.

There was little bird life to be seen from the boardwalk. In the shadow of the Roman wall I looked out across the reedbeds to Haddiscoe Island hoping for bearded tits.  (Not this time.)IMG_2112  There were godwits and peewits on the exposed  mud, a few wood pigeons in the air and thrushes in among the hawthorn berries.  But pretty soon my glasses were rained on and the scope and binoculars too – so my already limited ID skills were quickly exhausted.  But it was still perversely pleasurable walking. IMG_2111

Diggers had been at work clearing the dykes behind the wall, the spoil piled neatly on the grazing marsh.  New fencing too.

I walked as far as the Tide Jetty,  the remains just visible above the water in the mist and rain. Rehearsals start in February.  Meeting with composer Chris Warner in a week or so. We need to find a way of bottling some of this Breydon atmosphere.




Writing can be a solitary business. So when the opportunity for an outing cropped up, the chance to abandon the desk with a clear conscience proved impossible to resist.

From our earliest discussions about The Tide Jetty it was obvious sound would play a major role in creating the world of Breydon. The nature of small scale touring means that our set will inevitably be minimalist.  Basically, everything has to fit in a van. So a full scale mock up of the jetty and the houseboat alongside went the same way as the community choir we’d used in Breydon Crowther.  Instead of relying on bulky scenery we would supplement our emblematic set with an immersive soundscape of the watery world of the marshes.

The Broads Authority offered to help out so bright an early at 9am composer Chris Warner joined me at  Goodchilds  Marine at Burgh Castle where we were met by Howard and John, two of the Breydon rangers and ushered onto the Spirit of Breydon –  their custom launch, decked out in military grey. Initially the plan was to creep into a quiet corner of the Broads to do some location recording but no sooner were we on board than an emergency call came over the radio and moments later we were barrelling down the length of Breydon with blue lights flashing and the wake piling up behind us.

We arrived to find a mud wherry had been cut free of its moorings in Yarmouth and drifted down on the tide colliding with boats and jetties along the way. By the time we got there the wherry had been recovered and it was left to Howard and John to secure a stranded cruiser and take photographic evidence of what damage they could find. Then off we went a second time and at last Chris could break out the recording gear.P1040293 copy

For a while we hung off the end of the turntide jetty at the confluence of the Yare and the Waveney. Once the engine was switched off silence descended broken only by the gentle lapping of waves against the piling and the occasional distant cry of an oystercatcher.   While we sat quietly on deck Chris deployed the delightfully named Wombat and set to work. Once he was happy we headed further into the Yare. On our right a view opened up across the Halvergate Marshes under a huge Broadland sky. On our left was The Island – an area of roadless unspoilt marsh isolated from the mainland by the Yare, the Waveney and the New Cut.

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Haddiscoe Island is another world – largely inaccessible except by a gated track close to St Olaves.  The place belongs to the wildlife.  We moored by a crumbling staithe close to the remains of Hewitt’s Mill. As a result of flood defence work the mill stands with its feet almost in the water in its own small lagoon. We were met by swans, a hobby, muntjack deer and some nesting corvids – all of which seemed largely unfazed by the arrival of the creative team in shorts.P1040330 copy

As writer on location I was – as usual – largely redundant, My main task was to wander round looking thoughtful while Chris did the hard work. I was soaking up the atmosphere while Chris had the much more difficult task of trying to record it.

P1040320 copyAs for the results, Chris is working on them. It shouldn’t be long before I have a watery wild-track to play at the desk to help with the writing.

The Wensum


Early one Sunday afternoon in 2003 I came round in my study at the top of the house with the strong sensation that something was wrong.

The clock said 1.30. I knew I’d arrived at the desk before eight. But try as I might I could get no purchase on the previous few hours. They were a blank. I began looking through the work on the screen in search of evidence of the re-write I was working on. It soon became obvious there was nothing to find.

It had been an unusual year. The previous spring I’d reluctantly taken the train to London to attended a routine meeting – routine in the sense that as a provincial writer for radio and theatre my agent periodically ushered me into the offices of various television producers in the hope that it might lead to some work. These people would invariably admire this play or that and express a wish that more stage writers would consider the small screen before shaking my hand and waving me off back into obscurity.  What made this meeting different was that I walked out with commissions to write episodes for not one but two television series. In the space of a little under an hour my writing career had undergone a seismic shift.

In the next twelve months I wrote from a standing start a dozen 30’ episodes of a new soap, two hour long episodes of a returning series, a 60’ play for radio as well as adapting a novel for Radio 4. And as far as I could tell had survived relatively unscathed.

This particular week had begun with a phone call. A change in the storyline of the soap meant they needed three new episodes ready for recording in a week. I took the call on Monday and delivered the scripts on the Saturday. Sunday began with a request for some last minute rewrites. In the far from normal world of television scriptwriting this was all perfectly normal. So I made coffee, climbed the stairs, and settled down in front of the computer.

What happened next is something I’ve never been able to explain. Some four or five hours went missing from my life.  Unable to find any evidence of the rewrites I called my editor wondering how I was going to explain the lack of pages. But worryingly there was no need to explain. He sounded uncomfortable. Everything was fine he assured me. It was all taken care of.  My thinking was still a little muddy but I knew this was not the way the call should be going.  How could he know things had gone so badly awry? There was only one possibility. I took a deep breath and asked if we’d spoken during the morning. Don’t worry, he said. Just relax. A few moments later the phone rang again. This time it was the head of department telling me to get some rest and assuring me I still had a future with the company.

I later discovered that at some point during the morning my daughter had summoned me to help with her computer. I seemed strange she said, and kept asking her the date. As with the phone calls to my editor, I have no recollection of this conversation. While some automatic reflex seems to have kept me functioning I was absent from the transaction.

The house where I was working was on a new development built on the site of an old laundry on the banks of the River Wensum. In the days that followed I spent a good deal of time down by the water. On the face of it I was fine. But my sense of security had taken a blow. The ‘I’ that inhabited my life – something I’d thought of as fixed and unchanging – had been revealed to be precarious and mutable. With time on my hands I leant over the metal railings, stared at the river and tried to work out what to do next.

The Wensum rises in South Raynham in Norfolk. As spring arrives the waters clear and even in the heart of the city you can watch the shoots of water lilies  reach towards the surface drawn by the rise in temperature and the strengthening light. By June bright yellow flowers have colonised the margins. One day shortly after our arrival in the house I caught sight of something moving in the reeds – something which from the elevated position of the living room looked like the back of a big fish breaking the water.

Assuming this was some spawning activity – perhaps a carp depositing eggs in the shallows – I hurried down to take a look. What I saw shook me. It was as if the river was giving up its fish. Everywhere I looked dark green backs were crowding the water. Huge shoals of bream seemed to pave the water between the banks. The muscular forms of carp and chub shouldered their way to the margins. Pike, bemused by this plethora of aquatic life, cruised like missiles in the clear water. There was something biblical in this largesse, such a profusion of fish that it could only herald the advent of some great catastrophe.

This display of the bounty of the Wensum lasted for two or three days. Then the fish disappeared and the river returned to normal. It didn’t happen again in the 8 years we spent living on its banks. Something must have caused this extraordinary congregation – some change in the oxygen content of the water, perhaps contamination upstream, driving the fish before it as it worked its way down to the city. But if this were the case there were no casualties to speak of – at least none that I could see. The river had simply drawn back a veil to reveal this hidden teeming life. And then just as suddenly let it fall again.

There was no sign of the fish now as I watched the water slip by on its way to the city centre and its confluence with the River Yare. But it didn’t matter. In my current fractured state of mind there was something immensely reassuring in the river’s presence.

A good part of my formative years had been spent by the water. It began abruptly at the age of 12. Telling my parents I’d be back for tea I had cycled out into the country heading for the River Nene. Just downstream of the old bridge at Milton, I was offered a rod and began to catch bleak – a small surface feeding flash of silver so bent on suicide that they hurled themselves on my clumsily wielded hook. I was bewitched. Tea time came and went. The afternoon passed into evening and I still couldn’t tear myself away. Only when it was too dark to see the float did we abandon the river and cycle home.

My parents would become familiar with these moments sick with apprehension as their quiet inward child went missing on the water courses of the Nene. Before it was light I would leave the house and head for the broad reaches fronting the marshalling yards, the warm water outfall of the power station in River Lane, or the dangerous mill race at Orton. For me life began once I’d reached the water.

Part of this was easily explained by a growing obsession with catching fish. But it was more than that. In the slow-moving water, the promise that lay below the dark surface, there was a rhythm to my time by the river that perfectly matched my own internal geometry. Even on the days when the Nene seemed emptied of its fish the river remained the place I felt most myself.

In the days that followed my mental absence it struck me that despite my privileged position living on the banks of the Wensum I’d been wilfully blind to the river flowing past my window. It had lain out there beyond the glass, along with the manicured lawns, the flowerbeds and benches, just another element in the desirable landscape of contemporary city living.

But here, up close, there was something familiar and comforting in its waters. Perhaps it is impossible to to have spent so much time with the river during the impressionable years of  late adolescence without something of its magic entering your make-up. Or so it seemed to me then. Something which in the intervening years had disappeared under the demands of work and family life. Whatever the reason I stared into the green underwater calm in the shallows off Old Laundry Court and drank it in.

In time the crisis passed. Normal life resumed. But this glimpse of the healing power of the river would prove significant. Some years later the end of a 25 year marriage and a difficult period in my professional life left me left me feeling I’d lost the sense of my place in the world. I had no clear idea how to find my way back.

And then quite unexpectedly I found myself the owner of a small boat with a base in the extraordinary marshy landscape of the Upper Thurne…

Writing and Running

I taught myself to touch type as soon as I started taking writing seriously. My handwriting is largely illegible to other people and after a few days, when I’ve forgotten what I was saying, to me as well. Learning to type was straightforward. I didn’t like the look of the exercises in the typing guides so instead I found out which finger was supposed to operate which key on the typewriter and made sure that’s what I used. After a slow start things improved quickly.  Before too long I was able to type faster than I could write.

But sometimes speed isn’t the problem. If things aren’t going well writing faster isn’t going to help. Sometimes the words won’t come at all, sometimes they come easily but don’t seem to count. It’s at moments like this I tend to reach for my pen. To explain why I need to talk about running.

At school I was a sprinter. Fast over short distances, hopeless at anything over 200m. Sprinting is not a good idea when you’re middle aged and over-weight. So I’d largely discounted running as a way of keeping fit. Then I discovered Park Run – a free Saturday timed 5k run which happens in parks all over the country. It’s informal, friendly and beyond a pair of running shoes doesn’t require any special gear. You run with people of all shapes and sizes, some with dogs on leads, others trundling pushchairs or being dragged along by eight year olds. A couple of hundred people turn out on the cliffs in Gorleston. If you run it in nearby Norwich the pack can often be 500 strong. It isn’t a race, it’s simply a run against your own best time. Inevitably there is pressure to get faster and strive for that elusive PB. Initially I pushed myself a little harder each week  but as my times started to come down I began dreading the next run.  (No pain/No gain has always seemed trumped by No pain/No pain.) Clearly if I was going to run long term I needed a plan.

So instead of trying to run faster, I decided to concentrate on running more smoothly. At once things got better.  I started looking forward to pulling on my running shoes again, and strangely my times didn’t suffer. Something similar happens with writing.

When I pick up my pen I’m forced to slow down. Especially if I take care to form letters on the page properly instead of dropping straight into my usual scrawl.

If my hand slows down then my brain has to slow down too. Because that’s the way writing works. We don’t assemble words in head, sort them into sentences and then write them down.  Writing is like speech in that words are formed (as the linguists have it) at the point of utterance. When you start a sentence you don’t usually know how it’s going to end. You set out on a journey and trust your experience of language – it’s vocabulary, rhythm, and cadence –  will get you safely to where you want to go.  It’s  a creative act with a mechanical component – they physical act of transcription, hand and brain in sync. A good pen makes transcription like painting words onto the paper. It can introduce a meditative element, smoothing out the transcription process. It’s therapeutic. For me this slow, deliberate, hooking up of the writing arm to the writing brain has a way of removing obstacles. Of freeing me up.

There’s something else. Word processing can be undone by a couple of clicks. So there is no real need to commit yourself. If everything can be changed, why worry? But handwriting is indelible. It’s much harder to scatter words in an approximation of what you want to say and edit them into shape. (Though you will anyway.) Somehow with a pen in my hand the temptation to approximate disappears.  Don’t sketch, says the voice in my head,  get it said.

So when things aren’t going well this is what I tell myself.  I can write faster with a keyboard. But I can write better with a pen. Some days it’s even true.

Breydon Crowther

A script-in-in-hand performance of Breydon Crowther, our new musical opened the Great Yarmouth Arts Festival in June this year within sight of Breydon Water where the story is set.

We had hoped for funding from the Arts Council and after they’d turned us down twice we were left with a difficult decision.  We had a handful of songs, a community choir enthusiastic about the material, and a belief that we had a good story to tell. Actually, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. Composer Chris Warner and I had a brief discussion which lasted all of two minutes and decided to carry on. Essentially, we were going to write an entire musical on spec.

We approached various funding bodies, Eastern Angles and The Broads Authority and managed to raise enough money to fund five actors for a week and a professional director in the shape of Tim Bell (currently touring with his one man show Dame Nature – The Magnificent Bearded Lady). Then we set to work.

The resulting performance went better than we dared hope. A full house with everyone on their feet at the final curtain. The representative from the Broads Authority left with a smile on his face.

Which was good news as they have just won a £2.6 million Heritage Lottery Grant for a project they’ve called Water, Mills and Marshes which is focussed on the exact geographical area where Crowther is set. They wanted some drama input as part of the delivery of this project and put this element out to tender. Eastern Angles put in a strong pitch with Crowther as its centrepiece and got the gig.

So it looks as if our original decision to go ahead without funding has been vindicated. Breydon Crowther will get a full production. The downside is that the project won’t be delivered until 2020, which is not the sort of deadline I like. And there will have to be a deadline because the show will have to be substantially re-written. The show will have to tour. Realistically this couldn’t happen with our orginal forces of 5 actors plus 15 singers and Chris on accordion.  The  new version will be for 5 actor/musicians and a set that can fit in the Eastern Angles van

‘Elf and safety for writers

Some recent research has suggested that sitting is as dangerous as smoking. (Smoking and sitting at the same time is clearly a bad idea.)  This comes as no surprise to most writers. Put two writers in a room and it won’t be long before the conversation turns to backpain.

On a building site there are invariably brightly coloured posters offering advice about hard hats and the importance of not standing under falling hammers.  This is my version for avoiding the hazards of life at the desk.

Obviously evolution has carefully designed us not to sit at desks. So the first thing my poster would say in big letters is THIS IS RIDICULOUS GO AND DO SOMETHING ELSE. This advice is likely to coincide with what friends and relatives have been telling you for years and is something you can safely ignore.

Sitting position. You don’t have to buy a £900 Herman Miller Aeron. But you do need to be able to sit with an open hip joint. That is, your hips should be higher than your knees.  A cheap foam sitting wedge will convert most dining chairs into a back-friendly work chair. This might seem a poor substitute for the all-embracing leather fantasy chair but see below.

Screen position. The top of your screen should be just below eye level. Adjust the font size so that the image comes to you. The resolution should allow you to sit back rather than hunch forward. Your elbows should be at 90 degrees, your wrists relaxed.  Notice this combination of seating and screen position is impossible to achieve with the laptop that everyone uses. Ideally you should plug your laptop in to an external screen, and probably an external keyboard. Or just yourself get a desktop.

Writing slopes. Even if most of what you do happens at the keyboard you will still need space to read scripts, scribble notes, and doodle. So get yourself a writing slope. The sort medieval monks used. Your back will thank you. You can pay proper money for these or you can knock one up out of blockboard. You might find they even encourage you to try using a pen.

Use a pen. All right, you don’t have to use a pen.  But when things aren’t going well I don’t know a better solution than turning away from the screen and picking up a pen. This also allows you to indulge your stationery fetish and your fountain pen fetish at the same time.

Standing. It worked for Philip Roth. Standing to write has a good pedigree. You can buy desks with adjustable heights or you do what I do and stand your writing slope on top of a chest of drawers.

Think movement rather than stillness. The big message here is that you should not be aiming for the perfectly supported position where there is no strain on the body. Because that means you are still and being still is a bad idea. You have to find a way of making your work practices dynamic. The body needs to move. Galen Cranz in a wonderful book called The Chair argues that your workspace should be thought of as a gym rather than somewhere you can support yourself in immobility. It should have a variety of places to work, sitting and standing as well as room to lie on the floor.  Lying on the floor, head slightly raised on a paperback, feet flat on the floor, knees pointing skyward is what you should do when you’ve ignored all of the above. It’s a life-saver.

Schedule breaks. At least every hour. Get up, walk around, take some deep breaths. A view is a bonus for any workplace. Let your eyes focus on the horizon instead of the screen. At low tide I can see seals on Scroby Sands. The seals aren’t essential but the view probably is.

All of this might seem obvious. But it’s easy to lose sight of when you’ve got a deadline looming.  A laptop in bed might work in the short term. But the thing about writing is it’s a long-term game.