Talawa Writers' Programme - December 2015

Firdos Ali writes ...

The Royal Exchange Theatre was kind enough to invite a few of us Talwa Alumni in joining Michael Buffong and Matthew Xia on a panel discussing who, what and where inspiration is.

I’d already had a notion that my play (part of the Talawa Writers’ Programme) would involve ‘the circle’ in some way- either thematically and/or in the staging and before the panel discussion was delighted to find myself standing in the theatre space at the Royal Exchange - a gloriously, round space. Suitably inspired, we made our way to where the audience would join us.

Most of us on the panel found inspiration in art forms: music - from jazz (Michael Buffong) to rap (David Judge) - books (Theresa Ikoko), poetry (Somalia Seaton, Inua Ellams, Chanje Kunda) and short story (Afshan Lodhi). We all read from pieces of writing that inspired us. I talked about Debbie Tucker Green’s play, Random and how it reflected something my own family had been through around the same time Stephen Lawrence had been killed and how important it is seeing reflections of our stories on stage. As I found the play a difficult read, I shared instead a poem called, ‘The Writer’s Rights’, written by a Somali poet called Caasha Luul, who ends her poem with:

those who use words well must take history’s point to ink beautiful literature

And that ‘must’ drives me to write, on the crest of inspiration, higher and higher until it is time to actually write, the point at which resistance- or whatever name your chosen antagonist has- appears and takes centre stage, chanting, ranting, shaking up and out of your deepest hiding spaces fear, lack, incompetence, shame, arguing in favour of anything but beautiful literature.

When I wrote my first full-length play, Struggle, I essentially outran my antagonist and in doing so started off without a story in mind - using an intense set of emotions for overall shape of the play- diving into one carefully constructed scene after another hoping to work it out along the way. And I did manage it but of course it meant I had to re-write as the story formed. This time, I want to be more efficient - running without a route is exciting but it can lead to dead ends, off cliff edges and into deep holes.

Perfect then, that the BBC ran for us a workshop on structure, just as I was forming a story for the new play. The workshop covered the ‘How’- the big picture, beginning, middle and end encompassing: incident incident, protagonist’s wants and flaws, increasing forces of antagonism, crisis, obligatory scene and finally resolution- the order out of the chaos but most importantly more tools to ward off whatever Resistance conjures up this time while I walk.

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