When I was quite young, I looked in a spare wardrobe and found a wooden box full of half-used sticks of make-up. Who had they belonged to? What were they for? And what about the odd crinkly plaits of false hair and glue? My mum was a sensible, no-make-up kind of mother, so the box was a mystery until she told me it was stage make-up, left behind by a distant uncle who had once been a keen amateur actor. Later on, the same uncle sent me a Pollocks model theatre kit, printed on cardboard. When the theatre was put together, it had an impressive proscenium, stage and scenery, as well as backdrops that could be changed to show different scenes. I stuck the set of costumed figures on sticks so they could enter and exit from the wings, just like real actors. I loved it for a while, then it disappeared. I suspect my mum threw it away.
Then, one day, searching for something to read, I found a book that had belonged to my uncle. It was all about putting on a play and described everything that had to be done backstage. The pages included make-up charts for the different characters, lighting plans, information on scenery and costumes and more. There were a couple of simple play-scripts that taught me that play-scripts were set out differently to stories. Well, I never got to be a real actress or dancer too tall and too awkward but when, ages afterwards, I started writing stories, the idea of a theatre setting came back to me. And that’s what I used for the last section of my book, A Boy Called Mouse After many dramatic escapades, my runaway hero Mouse finds a kind of home with a theatrical family. Through his friend Kitty, Mouse gets involved with whirl of backstage life at The Albion Theatre. Quietly helping back
stage, Mouse is discovered by Vanya, the backstage manager. Before long, Mouse finds himself doing something spectacular. However, this new life brings him more excitement and danger than anyone including Kitty could have imagined. And that’s only part of the story!
Try These Writing Ideas
a) Write on from the following story starter: The box was hidden away at the back of the cupboard. I took it out, stroking the old, scarred wood and rusty fastenings. Was it really wise to lift those latches? I paused, listening hard,heard nobody. Opening the thing would hardly change my life, would it? . . .
Or: b) Imagine an empty, echoing theatre. The velvet curtains are pulled back and the stage is empty, waiting for the next show. Write about a young character who is waiting there uncertainly. Describe them stepping out on to the boards of the stage. How are they feeling? Why do they do it? And what do they do or say while they are there? Build up the atmosphere, paragraph by paragraph, as your character moves from the wings out to centre stage and then faces the rows of empty seats. But, while you are writing, imagine another character hidden there in the wings. Who are they? How do they feel about what they are seeing? What will they say or do, and what will happen next? Dont forget, dialogue writing needs a separate line every time someone speaks.
Or: c) Write a description or a poem about a space where something will soon be happening. An empty stage? Or an empty arena or running track? A silent pool or lake, waiting for the swimmer? An old chapel or an ancient stone circle? Or it could even be a place where something once happened, like an old theatre or cinema ready to be demolished. What are the memories of that place?