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A Certain Age
Questionnaire
Piece from The Guardian, May 3, 2005
Piece from The Sunday Times, May 8, 2005
Press quotes
A Dictionary Of The Sussex Dialect
Audio: Books & Radio
Can You Eat, Shoot & Leave?
Cat Out of Hell
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Illustrated Edition
Eats Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference
Get Her Off The Pitch!
Going Loco
Making The Cat Laugh
Talk to the Hand
Tennyson and his Circle
Tennyson's Gift
The Girl's Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can't Manage Without Apostrophes!
Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts!
Westwood
With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed
A Certain Age
 
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As I write this, the publication of A Certain Age is a month away, and I am beginning to get nervous. The book contains twelve radio monologue scripts, presented just as they were broadcast on BBC Radio Four, in 2002 and 2005, and I have no idea whether anyone will a) like them, or b) get a handle on what the hell they are. Attempting to describe them, I always have to say, “No, I didn’t read them on the radio myself; they were performed by actors” followed by, “You remember Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads? Well, that’s the kind of thing.” This is not an ideal way to describe one’s own work, of course, and I wish I could avoid it: the trouble is, at the same time as the Bennett reference exactly pinpoints the genre (and admits the obvious debt to the master), it sounds appallingly grandiose. The Talking Heads scripts were some of the best things written by any British playwright in the second half of the 20th century. So for me to say that my radio monologues are “like Talking Heads”, is the equivalent of someone saying, “I’ve just written quite a long poem. Ooh, hang on. Do you remember The Waste Land? Well, it’s just like that.”
 
Anyway, in A Certain Age, you get a vain and superficial mother whose tragedy is a child with a touch taboo; a “beardy-weirdy” pedant forced to succumb to a TV make-over; a prissy art dealer thrown into panic by the imminent arrival of his older brother; a female football magazine editor experiencing revulsion when her married-man boyfriend turns up with a suitcase and bursts into tears; and eight more that will all turn out, I hope, to contain all sorts of surprises. Each of these people is about 42 years old (the “certain age” of the title); each is identified by just one relationship (“The Mother”, “The Brother” and so on); and I admit they all sound a bit like me. However, I sincerely hope they aren’t all self-portraits, since that would make me the worst case of multiple-personality disorder the world has ever known. My main feeling for these characters is admiration. Even when you’re appalled by them, I think you have to be impressed by their honesty. There is nothing like hearing people say exactly what they mean.
 
"I felt trapped. What are you supposed to do when they cry? I mean, I know it sounds selfish, but I was looking forward to this afternoon! I’d been looking forward to it for two weeks! On Radio Five, Manchester United versus Newcastle. Cans laid in. Everything perfect. And now Laurence was sitting on the end of my bed snivelling into a tissue, and I thought – well, I couldn’t help it, I thought, honestly, is this supposed to make me fancy you?"
(The Other Woman)
 
"Funny now to remember being a kid. Don’t seem real, all that terror. Like it happened to someone else, in the nineteenth century or something, in a cruel northern orphanage. Once, when little Pete was desperate for a pet, see, Dad found out, so he gave me a big rabbit, coz he knew I didn’t care one way or the other. That’s how it worked. [remembers] Ginger! Yeah, Dad gave me Ginger and said I mustn’t share him with little Pete under any circumstances, but I did, and when Dad found out, he was furious and put Ginger in a suitcase and sold him to some geezer up the pub. We were six and four at the time. Pete went mental. But I think Dad done his best, you know, for all that; he just didn’t know what to do with children, except sort-of niggle them."
(The Father)
 
Writing for the ear is very different from writing for the page. This means that whenever words such as “tales” or “stories” are used in relation to these monologues, I burst into tears of frustration. “These aren’t tales,” I keep whining. “These aren’t stories. Stories are written; monologues are spoken.” In fact, it seems to me I never stop telling people what these bloody things aren’t. If I don’t watch out, I shall get a reputation for being a Miss Hoity Toity. “They’re not about maleness or femaleness!” I object. “They don’t identify ‘types’! They’re not making a point about anything except human nature!” As you’ll see from the appended questionnaire, when the men’s series of A Certain Age was broadcast in the summer of 2005, I was actually asked, “Did you speak to any men?” – and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. One newspaper asked me to write a piece to promote the series, and the subjects they offered were, “What’s wrong with men in their forties?” and, “Why I prefer toy boys”. I replied that I’d be everso happy to write a piece about the magic of radio, which smartly put an end to all discussions.
 
What is so frustrating about all this miasma of misunderstanding is that the monologue form is so utterly direct and simple. It’s a person just talking straight into your ear, describing events as they unfold, and drawing you right into their world – a place that is not necessarily a comfortable one, but has its own internal logic. For the writer, it’s the purest means of delivering a three-dimensional dramatic character, while also (in my experience, anyway) being one of the most difficult ways of delivering a plot. But the most important aspect of it is that the monologue is, above all, a vehicle for an acting performance, which is why I’m so thrilled that, to mark the publication of the book, BBC Audio is re-issuing the women’s series as commercial CDs, and releasing the men’s. A library edition of all twelve recorded monologues will also be available, presented in the order they appear in the book. Here’s a list of the fantastic cast, to whet the appetite.
 
The Brother..................................Simon Russell Beale
The Wife.......................................Janine Duvitski
The Son........................................Robert Glenister
The Mother ...................................Siobhan Redmond
The Father.....................................Douglas Hodge
The Daughter.................................Rebecca Front
The Married Man.............................Stuart Milligan
The Sister......................................Lindsey Coulson
The Husband..................................Peter Capaldi
The Other Woman..........................Lesley Manville
The Pedant....................................Stephen Tompkinson
The Cat Lover................................Dawn French
 
Both series of A Certain Age were produced by Dawn Ellis, from the BBC Light Entertainment department, and she worked very, very hard on the scripts with me. I can’t remember how many tear-stained, half-baked drafts of “The Father” she valiantly endured over the month that I grappled with it, but I do know she is to be congratulated for never uttering the words that must surely have been in her mind throughout: “What’s wrong with you, Lynne? Why don’t you just get this right?” 
 
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