MAKING A THEATRE COMPANY

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Turning Point Theatre Company

Back in the mists of time – 1989, to be precise – I wrote a play. It was called You Deserve a Good Rest. The title came out of my observations of older people who were about to plunge into the dark world of retirement.

At the time, retirement was a dirty word. Once out of the workplace, most older people were patronised and ignored. Kind-hearted souls, years younger sent congratulation cards and quoted platitudes, one of which was: ‘You deserve a good rest, dear…’

I was nowhere near retirement age at the time, but I’ve always had an annoying sense of justice and being the youngest of five, with an older mother and twenty years between myself and my eldest brother, I was aware that approaching your demise in a state of ‘retirement’ did nothing for your health or well-being.

The play looked at a man reaching sixty – the retirement age in those days (don’t laugh!) I used music, humour and a look at the history of retirement, in an hour-long production that toured my home county. I had no idea the play would be such a success, or that it would ever be produced. For this, I have to thank a wonderful woman called Margaret Willet, who at the time, was the director of Age Concern (now renamed Age UK) in Devon.

On a whim, I sent the play to Margaret and within a few days, I received a phone call from her, asking if I would like to present a performance at a conference set up by The Centre for Policy on Ageing.  The conference was at a London venue in a few months time, with Dr. Eric Midwinter coordinating the event. I was even offered a substantial grant to help finance the production. I was ecstatic and very surprised.

Sitting at a tiny desk in my bedroom, writing furiously on an Amstrad (early computer) given to me by one of my sons, that encouragement and the grant, ensured that I began to take myself seriously as a writer for the first time.

I had worked as a waitress, an OT aid, an office receptionist and all the while, continued writing whatever and whenever I could. At the age of 34, encouraged by my partner, I went to college to study drama and subsequently began working in theatre as a singer, director/performer, voice-over and filmmaker while attempting to raise four children, run a home and a husband or two. My first break at writing drama was a commission by a local radio station DevonAir. Nicky Ezer, a wonderful, innovative producer, asked me to write a radio soap opera called The Devon Lanes. Yes, you read that correctly! It focused on a family moving to Devon from up-country (as we say down here, and that means anywhere from Bristol, up!) I began writing and sometimes acting in ten minute episodes, broadcast every day, with an omnibus edition on Fridays!

I came from a musical, theatrical family and my early years were peppered with theatrical events, like sitting in the wings at Drury Lane Theatre in London, watching The King and I, with Valerie Hobson and Herbert Lom as Mrs Anna and the King of Siam. My eldest sister was playing one of the King’s wives and understudying Tuptim, the favoured wife in the harem. I was about eight years old at the time. I watched the same sister as a member of the chorus in the London production of Carousel, also at Drury Lane, this time from the front row of the stalls. I also remember vividly, climbing the stone stairs to the dressing room at the ‘Lane’, to walk in on one of the chorus girls, wearing nothing but a sanitary towel on a belt. Having seen the dreaded sight, I heard my sister shriek and then, felt her cover my eyes with her hands. It was 1953.

The performance of You Deserve a Good Rest was performed at the conference and received loud applause and a chance to discuss the action with the audience, who were mainly doctors and others working in the field of geriatric medicine. I realised, after the event was over, I was on to something.

logo4A year later. I formed Turning Point Theatre Company to carry on where my first play left off. My next project came out of the research I’d already done on the lives of retirees. It was clear that one of the most poignant and unexpected things that happened to many people at the start of, or during their retirement, was becoming a carer. This could happen literally overnight, if one partner in a couple became serious ill or incapacitated by a stroke or any of the many conditions that afflict people, now we are all living longer.

sc00098e92I attended conferences and carer’s groups and listened. Carers UK, then The Carers National Association gave me some truly mind-blowing stats. There were, at the time 7.5 million unpaid carers in the UK. This was defined as a family member or friend caring for another person. And they were saving the government millions of pounds. Sadly, the situation in 2018 is not much better, though there is more publicity on social media and in the press, as to what carer’s actually do 365 days of the year. Then, when I wrote my next play, called aptly Carers, the theatre tickets came back from the printers with the word Careers printed on them. The printer had no idea there was such a word as carer, and thought I had made a spelling mistake!

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Jane Bellamy as a carer – jumping through hoops to get help.

carersCarers received support from The Carers National Association and a substantial grant from The Prudential Carers Awareness Fund. By this time, Turning Point Theatre Company was receiving grants from South West Arts and other funders such as The National Lottery, which had just started. We toured the play in association with a number of carer’s groups across the South of the UK. After each show, the actors and a panel of people working with carers discussed the content of the play and related their own experiences, which were always fascinating and sometimes, very moving. I chaired these discussions and our wonderful stage manager recorded them in a book, with a pen; this was before iPads and laptops.

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Mike Berenger in Carers

My next blog will continue the Turning Point journey. I want to tell you all about receiving awards and how I started making films, so watch this space! Thanks for reading.

My latest book, available online at Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

JONTY'S WIN

REVISION TIME

Below are the cover proofs of my second novel. It was first published a couple of years ago.

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I’ve taken the plunge and revised the book. It will be out very soon. I’m still learning my craft and it’s hard graft.

My time is limited now, since my partner became ill and I have become a carer. Writing has always been a way for me to withdraw from my surroundings, immerse myself in another world and meet new people – my characters. The beauty of this circle of friends is the way they stay silent and allow me to manipulate them, create lives and loves and stories in which they cavort about at my command. It’s bliss, it really is. They make me laugh, cry and all feel all emotions inbetween in the safety of my writing room, with no repercussions.

That’s the magic of creative writing. I started writing novels five years ago. My first book – Pretending – was a terrifying ride, rather like getting stuck on the top of the London Eye during a thunder storm.

I had no idea what I was doing, and those of you who have read the book, may feel that I am still scrabbling about, pretending to be an author. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained (so my old mum used to say) and once the last fullstop is in place, I move on.

That’s what all those life coaches tell you, don’t they? Don’t linger, don’t procrastinate on the past, move, move, move ON!

One thing that moves me along is my dog. He needs walking at least twice a day, so when the muse decides to open the nearest windoimg_4290.jpgw and flee, my lovely old spaniel is there to move me to the door and drag me, rain, sleet, snow or sun on a long walk. It works miracles. I nearly always return to my desk feeling better and full of new ideas. ( I said nearly always…) By the way, if you are wondering what that strange thing is, in the bottom right hand corner of the picture, it’s my foot. Charlie dog got very angry because I was stuck on a chapter and made him wait for his walk, so he chewed up my slippers.

If you want to follow the path of this meandering writer who keeps on trying, please read my books and tell me what you think. If I don’t like what you say, I can always walk the bloody dog! (Thanks).

Perhaps, you might like to read this one, too? Jonty’s Win has just been published. You can get your copy at www.feedaread.com or online at Amazon and other Internet book outlets. Thanks again!

JONTY'S WIN

JONTY’S WIN

My new novel is published today!

JONTY'S WINJonty Greer is an irresponsible, impoverished jobbing actor catapulted into the fraught mindset of a rich man by a lottery win. Certain that money can deliver happiness and change, he strives to give his fortune a social conscience by funding what he views as life-changing theatre workshops, initially to the young people of a small English seaside town. As insecure as he was ten years ago when he worked for The People Train Community Theatre, he summons support from his old acting buddies, Edward D’Amato and Caroline Fenton, persuading them to join him on his altruistic quest to heal and inspire the disenfranchised youth of the town and possibly, the whole world. Jonty is unprepared for the demands a vast amount of money put on him and the people around him, including the local council, the women in his life and an abused child attending the workshops. Can money alone mend the loneliness, austerity, damaged relationships and homelessness that he unwittingly uncovers? Will Jonty’s win make him a better person? Or will he and the people his money attract remain the same?
ISBN: 9781788763516
Type: Paperback

Also available in hardback. Order your copy now at www.feedaread.com

Soon at Amazon and other online book stores.

THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD

A few years ago, when I was the creative director of Buzzword Films and Turning Point Theatre Company, we were approached by Lancashire Social Services to create a training programme for agencies working in the field of child protection.

tlc_front_page2After many productive visits to Lancashire to discuss the project, I came up with a programme to include a new play as the focus of a training day. The company would use Forum Theatre, discussion and workshop techniques to bond the people working in the different agencies. Although there was cooperation between them, there was little collaboration, so the aim of the training programme was to touch hearts, as well as minds to draw people together and encourage collaborative thinking when addressing the many and various difficult situations these professionals had to deal with on a daily basis. It was hoped that through better collaboration, there would be fewer child deaths in the area.

The Turning Point actors rehearsed my new play for three weeks, before taking it to a venue in Lancashire as part of a three-day training programme for approximately 30 people a day, from many different agencies that included Social Services, Police, Health and Social Care, Education and Child Protection.

The company presented a tight format, starting with trust exercises and theatre games, giving the group a chance to relax and have fun; always a good way to get people to connect. After a coffee break, the actors presented a performance of The Lost Child. My play was based on research material given to me by the commissioning agency. The story focused on the views of a child watching her parents cope with their mental illness and its aftermath.

Following the performance, the group broke for lunch and a chance to informally discuss what they had gleaned from the play.

sc0008872d2The afternoon session started with Forum Theatre, a method of enabling an audience to ‘rehearse for reality’ by watching scenes from the play again and looking at how the situations the protagonist found herself in, might be changed. The audience, who all had some professional connection to the subject matter of the play, were invited to change places with the protagonist at any moment during the replay of the scene, by shouting STOP, take her place and show how they would manage the situation depicted. Following each intervention, we discussed the new solution offered and whether or not it had worked, was truthful and possible. 

The training programme was a huge success and when it was over, I was commissioned to give the play a shelf-life by making it into a film. I wrote a screenplay and working with the same actors and a very talented cinematographer/editor,  we made a 28 minute drama DVD film that could be stopped at any point, using a special menu, so that trainers could discuss with their students specific issues, as they came up in the scenes.

The Lost Child won a whole raft of awards, including The National Training Award. It was described as: An example of exceptionally effective learning.

It was:

  • Highly Commended at The Community Care Awards
  • Highly Commended at the Cumbria and Lancashire SHA Achievement Awards
  • Winner of The National Training Awards North West
  • Winner of The Skills for Care Training Accolade and was awarded 4 stars in Community Care Magazine.

The Lost Child is currently being used nationally and internationally (University of Southern Australia) and has proved to be a very useful and innovative training resource. Here is what just one of our clients said about the film:

“North Essex Partnership Foundation Trust is using the DVD – “The Lost Child” as a component of its mandatory two-day Safeguarding Children Training which is provided to all clinicians and practitioners working within NEPFT. The DVD is used as an interactive exercise within which professionals explore the impact of parental mental illness on the child and the knowledge of professionals working in different domains and agencies.
The response to the DVD – (which has been used as part of the mandatory training programme for over three years with more than 750 professionals) – has always been excellent. It enables professionals to consider the impact of mental illness on relationships, the position of the child and frequent absence of the child’s voice in adult mental health services. Following use of the DVD as an interactive exercise, professionals link the lessons learned into policy and procedure – for example the use of genograms in all assessments. The DVD is thus an essential component in translating theory regarding the impact of parental mental illness on children and families into practice.” 
Consultant, Safeguarding Children & Adults
North Essex Partnership Foundation Trust

FURTHER BACKGROUND INFORMATION –

An interactive forum theatre play and a DVD film drama were commissioned from Lyn Ferrand, Turning Point Theatre and Buzzword Films to give children of mentally ill parents in Lancashire a better level of protection.

The project was part of a training programme developed jointly by Lancashire County Council’s Social Services Directorate, Lancashire Child Protection Committee and Buzzword Interactive Films.

The programme was written and facilitated by award-winning writer and director Lyn Ferrand. The project won the National Training Award – Northwest and The Skills in Social Care Accolade for the most innovative multi-disciplinary training. It was also short-listed for the Community Care Awards.

“Due to the difficulty in persuading staff who normally refer vertically within their organisations to start working laterally, we needed a different training solution, with a large emphasis on hearts instead of minds.” Lyn Gornall Lancashire County Council Training Co-ordinator, Mental Health

I think the issues around mental health and the impact on family members, but particularly the daughter in this case were really well explored. The quality of the story line was brought to life by the excellent acting and production. It is a real quality product and will be a very effective training tool” Director, Social Services.

HOW THE DVD WORKED –

Why is this an example of exceptionally effective learning?

Joint working in adult mental health and childcare across agencies is a complex, challenging and demanding area of work. The ways in which agencies meet the needs of both the child and the parent where there is parental mental illness inevitably impacts on all those involved.

Through the eyes of a child, the film tells the story of a family where there is parental mental illness. It gives the audience a unique opportunity to explore for themselves how those experiences can be affected by the ways in which they are involved or choose to intervene and explores the possible consequences and alternatives for the family, the professionals and others.

The film has a user-friendly menu. Trainers can stop scenes and ask participants to discuss what is happening. The DVD is not prescriptive. It does not give answers. Rather it encourages creative thinking and debate, challenging staff both at an emotional and an intellectual level and offering a way to explore solutions and improved practice.

OUTCOMES IN LANCASHIRE.

The level of co-operation was unprecedented across the county. Prior to this training there had been 2 child deaths due to non co-operation and poor communication. Since the use of this training there have been none. Improved awareness of the need for good communication, co-operation and ‘joined up working’ to protocols is the central contributory factor. By being able to challenge the professionals on neutral ground I felt that I made a difference for the first time today. Service user. Preston Area.

The evidence provided showed that

  1. a) Children are safer
  2. b) Services are more joined up in their thinking about families. Incorporating the principles of this training will benefit hundreds of children within families throughout Lancashire.

It certainly emphasises that there are critical times in an interview when the professional needs to reflect on strategies being used… it goes without saying that all of the sequences are relevant to the issues related to mental health, alcohol, domestic violence and the frustration clients can encounter with agencies in particular their lack of understanding of mental health. Manager Education Support Team. 

If you are interested to know more, please contact Lyn Ferrand at lyn.ferrand@zen.co.uk

 

A FOURTH ATTEMPT

Very soon, my fourth novel JONTY’S WIN will be published and available to buy online or borrow from my local library. 17190949_1265474693500898_8349464218403510824_nI will now go back to the beginning and start the revision of the other three: PRETENDING, RURAL CUT and THE MAN WHO THOUGHT HE WAS HAPPY.

I boldly went ahead and published three books through an online publisher, Feedaread. They gave me the chance to dip my toe in the water and find out what it feels like to write novels and see them in print. In the past five years, I have learnt a great deal about writing and about myself.

I decided to take the online route because I wanted to learn the craft. Some might say it was because I was scared of rejection slips, but that’s not the case at all. Of course, I hope people will enjoy reading my books and I also hope they will see progress as I move forward in my new writing career.

My next novel, now a work in progress, in the one I will submit to mainstream publishers. I have at least six months work ahead of me and despite how different my life is today, since my partner had a stroke, I am determined to persevere and eventually find a publisher who will take me on.

Four is my lucky number, as it happens. I have four amazing kids to prove it! But, number five will be the one. I am talking about the book, not another child, I hasten to add; far too old for that. It’s important for me to prove that no matter what happens in my life, no matter how old I am, I can, if I am really determined, achieve my goal.

JONTY'S WINAs I sit at my new desk, (thank you IKEA) gazing out of the window at the woods covering the hills near my home, I sometimes wish I had started this novel writing lark a bit earlier. There was always so much to do; kids to raise, films to make, plays to write, all demanding my attention. Novels need quiet time, head space, a room of your own and if possible, a tree-covered hill in the distance?

I love the process of writing books. It’s so different from any other form of writing. It’s solitary and at times, lonely. No one but your imagination to draw inspiration from. Cups of coffee or tea, biscuits and cake – not good if you consume those every day as your weight will confirm – make the late nights and early mornings a positive experience. These are the times I have allocated for work on the new book.

I have become a carer for my partner in the last eighteen months. He gets it. He understands that my writing hold me and everything else, together. Thanks Mike.

 

 

The Fears and Tribulations of a Writer…

So, you have finished your novel? No opening the Prosecco and crisps.  It’s time to rewrite it. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but unless you do embark on this tedious journey, you will never know if your plot, your characters or your idea to write the thing in the first place, was worthwhile and had any mileage.

Writing is a craft. It takes time and the sort of care a new baby deserves.  I have been trying to write for the last five years. I have published four books through an online site called Feedaread, funded by the UK Arts Council. It’s given me a chance to flex my writing muscles and find my writer’s voice – every writer must find this elusive piece of kit. It’s hidden somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind and doesn’t come out to play willingly.

When I read my finished work, there is often a sudden urge to declare it a load of old tosh and chuck into that little dustbin sign or press the delete button. I’m a fan of recycling, so after a cup of coffee or two and possibly a chocolate biscuit (or two), I start to work on recycling my writing. That may sound a bit lame, but it works for me. If I tell myself to cut, cut, cut, I start to lose heart and eat more biscuits.

For many years, I worked as a theatre director and a filmmaker. Life wasn’t half so difficult. You see, in those salubrious professions, you are not working alone. You have the bonus of lots of people around you, to tell you when your work is rubbish, too long, badly edited, crap!

As a novelist, you are stuck in a room with a computer, lots of dirty cups, a miserable dog who needs a walk and hope, (that’s not a person with the capital letter missing, it’s an emotion and probably has an emoji). At least I am, most of the time. You see, I always thought I was pretty good at spelling and grammar. Oh, folly! When I write, everything I learned in those literature/drama/writing lectures goes up a chimney. Why is that?

The recycling brings all those horrible mistakes to light. Who spells striped with the letter P twice? That’s stripped; something you do to wallpaper, right? Who puts too many commas, too few semicolons, far too many exclamation marks? Moi? That’s right. Why? Why? Why?

I learned how to spell and use English grammar at school. Yet, somehow the words flow out of me like racing banshees when I’m starting a chapter and the rules those dedicated teachers taught me all those years ago, disappear in the heat of the writing moment. Spelling etc becomes a hit and miss affair, as my fingers hit the keys and the story unfolds on the screen.

How to remedy this rebellion that happens in the space between head and fingers? Well, one way is to edit and rewrite until your fingers and your brain disintegrate, like melting lard on a hot hob. Not very pretty, but essential.

The next job, once you’ve put down the last full stop, is to turn the bloody PC off and GO FOR A WALK! (Dog is thrilled). I try not to look at the manuscript for at least three days. It’s like a well-made Christmas cake; it needs time to soak up the brandy and let the flavours develop. The idea is that when you come back to your precious book, it will jump out at you as a work of genius and your fortune will be assured.

Nope. That is not what happens to most writers. Sorry. If this career is your chosen path, failure is inevitable. Rejection is something you will have to cope with without on-going therapy. After five years at it, I quite enjoy rejection slips, especially if I am assured that my work is ever so slightly better than most of the unreadable rubbish the poor hard-working editor has had to read that week.

Writer out there, don’t despair. Share your rejection angst. I promise I will read every word.

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Doing my bit, talking to other writers. Hope they are listening…

 

 

 

WORLD​ BOOK NIGHT

Tonight is World Book Night. I remember the first book I read. Do you?

As a late reader, it was the persistent encouragement from my mother and a particularly vigilant, rather large nun (I was educated at a convent) who together, pushed me to read and engage in the magical world hidden within the pages. 

That book was called The Night The Moon Turned Blue. It was the first book I managed to read on my own, from start to finish. At the time, it was like climbing Everest. I was seven and a slow reader. I remember so well that feeling of total joy and satisfaction, combined with a huge sense of loss when I reached the final page. I wanted more and became an avid visitor to my local library, turning up in the morning during school holidays to choose a book and returning it in the afternoon, much to the annoyance of the librarian, who told me I was lying when I said I’d read it already and wanted to borrow another book.

Sadly, I can’t remember the author of The Night The Moon Turned Blue – it’s a long time ago, but if anyone knows, do please email me. I’d love my grandchildren to read it. However, I do remember some of the characters and the bones of the story. It stays with me to this day.

That’s what books do. They touch your heart and soul and make memories that linger like the aroma of a wonderful meal. You digest the words as pictures manifest in your mind, different from the pictures every other reader will see. Books address you, personally. Their intimacy is unique.

Get involved in WORLD BOOK NIGHT. More info here: www.worldbooknight.org

Contact me here.  https://www.facebook.com/toastandbooksandfilm/

Happy reading!

Below, my next book, out soon.

JONTY'S WIN