Farewell to the Lake… for now

After all these months walking around Lake 32 – audio recorder in hand – it’s become something of a second home, a calm and refreshing place to spend some time. It’s not always quiet – until you start recording sound you don’t always appreciate how noisy our world is. The sounds of aircraft, dredging machinery and passing cars frequently override the ambient sounds of water, wind and birdsong. But the happier sounds are there too, the swimmers and kayakers chatting as they go, the people by the cafe, the triathlon runners being encouraged as they approach the finishing line. Laughter carries surprisingly well across water!

The biggest surprise is how quiet the water is. In much of my recordings, it’s not always obvious they were made at a lake at all; listening back to them they could have been made almost anywhere in the countryside. In some ways, Lake 32 is almost too peaceful for a storyteller. Conflict-free situations do not make for good drama, so over the year I had to create my own.
Something Purple was about a father and son who can’t get to the lake due to COVID lockdown restrictions. Square with the House was about a brother and sister forced to visit the lake as executors to scatter their estranged father’s ashes.
Lucy is Leaving is more ambitious, a story of the Lake’s past, present and future. Conflict between two men compelled to cooperate, finding in the lake a neutral space in which they can begin to put their differences aside. Conflict between two ancient wise women coming to terms with the scars caused by the Lake’s creation. Conflict arising from a mother’s concern for her daughter’s future, especially its connection to the Lake.
All three threads are linked by the Well Dressing, created by the mysterious Lucy whom we never meet, but to whom there is clearly more than meets the eye.

I have really enjoyed my residency and as it draws to a close, I would like to thank everybody who answered questions from an odd bloke bearing a fluffy microphone, especially Dan, Jo and Paloma. It’s a very special place, run by very special people.
Thanks also to Juliette of Dialect for inviting me to take part, for encouraging me throughout the process, for connecting me with producer Kirstie Davies who’s feedback was invaluable.
Special thanks also to Cirencester Theatre Company who performed in all 3 of my plays, and who helped make each piece as good as it could be.
I never got as much done as I had initially hoped, partly due to COVID, partly to issues at work, but I have enjoyed every moment I spent there and I will be back.

Lake 32 – Wild tracks and Paddle Boarding

I have been recording wild tracks around the lake over the past few weeks. If you ignore all the car noise, helicopters and jet aircraft, the lake sounds of…. bird song and gentle breezes, as the water sounds surprisingly quiet. This week I managed to get lots of people swimming, paddle boarding, rowing and generally having a good (noisy) time. A change from January when the place was completely deserted.

I had my first attempt at paddle boarding today, Paloma got me sorted out with board and buoyancy aid, but I decided it wasn’t cold enough for a wet suit, which really needs to be wet to be effective. I soon got the hang of it; to begin with, paddling on one side seemed to be pushing me to the other side, but with some practise I was able to maintain a moderately straight course. As it was my first time I stayed on my knees for extra stability. In the distance I spotted a couple of ladies on boards and thought it might be a good idea to follow them and learn from their technique. Unfortunately, they were moving far faster than I was and I never caught up with them. Still, once I knew what I was doing it was a very relaxing experience, watching the lake bed slide past underneath, reflections of vapour trails and clouds from above. I decided not to bring my sound recorder out with me, just in case!

It was great fun, and a good work out, so many thanks to Paloma for setting it up for me. Next time will be Kayaking.

Preparations for my final piece are well under way. My actors have the final script and we are having a virtual read through on Zoom tonight. Lucy is Leaving is about two men moving a commemorative floral tribute (known as a Well Dressing) out onto an island in the middle of the Lake. I asked Paloma and Dan what the island is called and it turns out it has no fixed name, usually just referred to as ‘The Island’. Dan thought it should be called Dan Island, Paloma Snake Island as she was terrified by a Grass Snake there. I might suggest they have a competition to pick a winner (provided it’s not ‘Island Mc Island Face’). They could name it Nomanisan Island after the island in ‘The Incredibles’ or just leave things as they are. There’s something quite intriguing about an island with no name, rare in a world where everything is named.

Lake 32, September 2021 #1

Lucy is Leaving

Well dressing featuring Hardwick Hall

Time to begin my third (and final) month’s residency on the lake. I have to be away during the last week in September so began work on my final script early to make sure it would be ready in plenty of time. Again, this will be a radio piece entitled ‘Lucy is Leaving’.

Jane arrives at Lake 32 with her partner Andrew where they offload the Well Dressing created by Jane’s daughter Lucy (about to leave for university) which supposedly commemorates a former teacher who has recently died. Lucy (whom we never meet) wants her mother’s new partner Andrew and her father Peter to transport the dressing out to its new home on tiny Oz island.

IT consultant Andrew is not keen on spending time with Jane’s ex, hearty outdoorsman Peter, with whom he has little in common. Peter is similarly reluctant to spend time with ‘new boy’ Andrew. But Jane insists: she is struggling to come to terms with Lucy (her only child) leaving, and if Lucy wants it to happen this way, that’s good enough for her.
Andrew and Peter make the best of things and get to grips with moving the dressing, the first time they have spent any time together. Slowly, they begin getting to know each other, even open up about themselves, their worries. About Jane, about the highly intelligent but slightly odd Lucy. Each has a secret they have never shared before.

When they finally position and unwrap the Dressing, both Andrew and Peter are deeply moved by its beauty and impressed by the work that has clearly gone into it. And while we never meet Lucy, it becomes clear that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.


Well dressings are a long-established tradition, originally a means of giving thanks for clean water supplies. Typically constructed from wooden boards covered with clay, the designs pressed in, built up from natural items such as leaves, petals and twigs. The tradition supposedly dates back to Roman times, but took on special significance in the 17th century, following the Plague.

I wanted to incorporate a Well Dressing before, it was one of the things I mentioned in my original application for the Dialect/Lake 32 Residency project, but circumstances (i.e. COVID) led me in different directions during my first 2 months. I was reminded of them by recently re-reading Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’ which is full of references to Well Dressings, not as a major part of the plot, but as something that happens as part of village life, the usual cycle of events. I found the dressing above here.

Now felt like the perfect opportunity to use them.

Two Minute Warning at BBC Gloucestershire

Back in 2020, BBC Wiltshire ran a competition ‘Ten Tiny Plays About Wiltshire’, asking for scripts for 2 minute radio plays, set somewhere in Wiltshire. I wrote a script ’Two Minute Warning’ about Abi who travels back in time to Swindon Station to warn her younger self against getting on a particular train and thus making a terrible mistake they would regret forever.

My script wasn’t selected by BBC Wiltshire, but as it was such a short and simple idea, I asked my old friend, storyteller Chloe to record Abi’s lines for me. I added in enough FX, trimmed it to 2 minutes exactly and submitted it to the BBC Upload initiative.

They liked it, and it was broadcast on the Jon Smith show on BBC Gloucestershire on 10th June 2021. The whole show is on BBC Sounds here, but I have included the link here also.

Square with the House

Monday 31st May

Katy Sorensen, Stephen Connolly and Adrian McPherson at Lake 32

Square with the House has been recorded, mixed and now uploaded. The weather on Sunday stayed fine, the locations I scouted on Saturday worked out well, we recorded both by the car park and on the north east corner of the lake, away from the traffic on Spratsgate Lane. My biggest concern was wind noise, there being slightly more breeze on Sunday than the day before. The west side of the lake is very exposed when the wind is from the East and recording activities on the main landing area by the cafe just not practical.

On Saturday it felt at times as though I was recording next to the International Air Tattoo, with aircraft passing over every few minutes; small civil aircraft, big transports coming to/from Fairford and the occasional helicopter. Also, with Saturday being a working day, there was the noise of gravel extraction from the lake to the east. Fortunately, Sunday was much quieter. Only one aircraft made it on to the final recording, a slow-moving piston engine craft (by the sound of it) during a speech in Scene 4, but hopefully not too loud to be distracting.

My cast Katy and Adrian were very patient, both with the practicalities of the location – people passing, talking on their phones, stopping to gaze at the swans who gathered in the water nearby, dogs – and with my need to check recording levels, tone, delivery all at the same time. They both did very well on the day, I am very pleased with the final results. It was a pleasure working with them!

What would I have done differently?

In an ideal world I would have have written the script far earlier, left it alone for a month then returned to it with fresh eyes for a major cull: despite the rehearsals, there are still too many lines that (to me) read well but don’t work when spoken by an actor. I think this is (for me) the biggest downside of having a deadline, but something I can be aware of for the next project.

I would like to find a director/collaborator to help with the recording, rehearsing. I’m too polite to order actors around to be a good director!

Things I will continue to do?

Rehearsals over Zoom, which were very useful, meaning that a lot of work could be done well in advance and the actors and I could get used to each other.

Things I would like to happen again?

Definitely getting feedback from a pro. Having the opportunity to discuss the script with Kirstie Davis was a real plus!

Rings around the Lake

Sunday 9th May

Sunday was my first time back at the Lake since January. It was good to see it so full of people enjoying the Spring weather; messing about in boats and on paddle boards, swimming and hanging around by the café.

There was a running event in progress: people in Lycra bearing official numbers and red faces, circling the lake on the footpath, being applauded at various points, plus a very official Official Finishing Line.

I took a walk around the lake, both for exercise and to record background sounds for this month’s piece of writing. As each runner passed, I occasionally struggled to keep out of their way, the footpath being quite narrow in places. The narrower the path, the closer the runners and I got to each other. But the closer we came, the more we acknowledged one another with a nod, a smile or a quick ‘thank you!’

Perhaps a good metaphor for life and how you deal with the people you meet on the way. Perhaps even an idea for a script.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. But if you were running round Lake 32 on Sunday and an odd bloke in a purple hat kept getting in your way, I do apologise.

Monday, 10th May

After a week getting my characters into shape, working out who they were and what they wanted, today I finally broke ground on the new script.

It all went better than I expected and I now have a complete draft, almost 3000 words. The new script is now called ’Square With The House’ (the working title ‘Ashes to Ashes’ felt too obvious). It mostly follows the storyline I worked out last week: brother and sister Jack & Ali arrive at the lake to scatter the ashes of their late father. Having forgotten to ask permission, they must dodge the park staff and face a crisis in their relationship while dealing with their feelings towards their late, estranged father.

Having got a draft done this early means I will have more time to polish it and avoid the problems from the first script which suffered from being over-written, a problem you sometimes only spot after you’ve recorded the play and heard it spoken by others.

Dialect X/Lake 32 – May 2021

Back to the Lake

A lot has happened since I started my first month as resident writer, January 2021 didn’t turn out anything like I was expecting. I couldn’t visit Lake 32 due to COVID restrictions – although this did trigger a more interesting approach for my first submission – and I had to deal with an unexpected medical complication.

Over Christmas 2020 I had noticed a lump forming on my left temple. A biopsy early in January ultimately revealed not a cyst, but a recurrence of the low-grade Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma I was first diagnosed with back in 2017. Fortunately, a PET scan in early January showed a single, localised area instead of something more widespread. A course of RT during February soon got rid of it, leaving me tired… and slightly balder.

Anyway, with all that behind me, it’s time to get back in the saddle and start working on ideas for May. Having read the pieces Hannah, Alun and Jacqui have produced, I have a lot to live up to.

My January piece involved people prevented by COVID from getting to the lake. My piece for May (again a radio play) will be about people who are obliged to go there when they don’t want to be: Ali and Jack come to the Lake to scatter their (estranged) late father’s ashes and film the process for relatives unable to be there due to ongoing COVID restrictions.

I have plenty of ideas about how the story will proceed, but before I start writing, I need to get the characters clear in my mind, and find out as much about them as possible. Who are they? What makes them tick? What do they fear, what do they want.

Vulpes, Vulpes #2

After brainstorming my Urban Fox story over the weekend, I now have a treatment I am very happy with. I plan to submit it to The Alpine Fellowship competition as it is a very good fit for this year’s theme Untamed: On Wilderness and Civilization.

Helen runs a support group for people suffering from Alepouphobia, the irrational fear of Foxes (a word I had to invent). She introduces three new members – Joe, Frank and Burney – encouraging them to open up, to share their stories of their encounters with Urban Foxes.

  • For as long as Joe can remember, he has dreamt of moving from the dull countryside to the big bad city, with all its glamorous opportunities. But a recent encounter with an Urban fox has left him confused, troubled, his work suffering. Has he truly left the countryside behind him? Can they help him overcome his fears and build a life for himself in the city?
  • Frank grew up in the city. He hates foxes and always has, blaming one for the untimely death of his sister. For years he has aspired to hunt them down, destroy them. He fantasises about the the well born, sitting on horseback, riding to hounds. But after having finally (if accidentally) killed a fox, he has found only depression. What’s wrong with him? What truths could he be hiding about his sister’s death?
  • Burney is a lost soul. Job after job: cleaning, security work, begging when necessary. Living from hand to mouth, sleeping rough. But ever since finding a fox high in the office block he was supposed to be cleaning, Burney is a changed man, spending his days handing out leaflets and promoting his new Political party: Vote Fox. Creatures as resourceful as these, surely they should get their chance to be in charge, to run things?

With Helen’s guidance, can they help each other recognise what their true issues are and come up with ways to deal with them?

Instead of blaming Urban Foxes for being in the wrong place, perhaps their real problems stem from their own lack of contact with their roots, with the wildness from which – ultimately – we all come.

The Radiotherapy Bell

I rang a bell today. Not just any old bell, but the Radiotherapy bell inside the Oncology Department at Cheltenham General Hospital.

You ring the bell as you leave after your last session of Radiotherapy, which for me was today. Things are looking good, the lump in my temple all but vanished and no rash/tenderness (yet). I spotted it back in December, but had to wait over Christmas for a biopsy and PET scan to confirm what (and how widespread) the beast was: it turned out to be a recurrence of the Follicular Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma) I had had back in 2017, fortunately low grade and localised to a small enough area to be treatable with Radiotherapy.

I thought I might be embarrassed to do it – I have at times a very British disinclination to make a fuss – but it turns out the staff all gather round to watch you do it, a rather touching moment. I suspect they would have felt annoyed if I had chickened out. From their smiles and applause it was as though I had made their day – I know they had made mine. Strange the rituals humans dream up, even in the most technical and scientific of environments. Perhaps the more serious the technology, the more important the rituals become?

The ‘Something Purple’ sessions

Something Purple within editing tool Garage Band

My first piece written for the Dialect/Lake 32 Writers Residency has now been recorded and published online, a radio play entitled Something Purple.

My original ideas for my residency were all set in and around the water park. I planned to use actors as well as the people who work and play in Lake 32, with the natural ambient sounds of the lake and surroundings as a backdrop.

And then lockdown happened. At a stroke, all my plans had to be cancelled/postponed and I had to return to the drawing board. Which in hindsight proved to be a good thing. The trouble with first ideas as that they can often be very obvious, the things that might have occurred to everybody else. Now, as I couldn’t (technically) ask actors to go to the lake because of Lockdown, I decided to make Lockdown the centre of the story: to have two characters – Carl and his Dad – desperate to get to the lake but stuck indoors, talking over Zoom. Dad, divorced from Carl’s mum, keen to cheer his son up. The inspiration also came partly from watching Michael Sheen and David Tennant in ‘Staged’.

I had been speaking to Cirencester Theatre Company about recording another of my scripts and they were the first people I spoke to about recording Something Purple. We recorded the play on Sunday 31st January 2021. There were issues with microphone noise, but as the point was to portray an authentic Zoom call, we worked around them where possible.

One of the most revealing things about recording your own audio pieces, is that it’s the best way to learn where you over-write. After editing the script several times, it was only when editing the final recording that I really grasped how many lines didn’t actually need to be there.

Many thanks to the Cirencester Theatre Company, Adrian McPherson and Michael Iredale for acting in it and Caroline Jalilli for recording & editing it.