Writing for radio and making documentaries are doable compared to getting film and TV scripts produced, Dr Jools Gilson, of University College Cork’s School of English tells Colette Sheridan.
Dr Gilson, who is a broadcaster and an academic, is leading a new flexi-option graduate course in creative non-fiction and fiction writing for radio.
The course is in collaboration with RTÉ Cork, UCC 98.3fm, and radio dramatist David Britton of Swansea University.
The course is in two parts. At the RTÉ studios in Cork, participants will learn about documentary making, writing for radio and basic production skills.
There will also be a three-day drama workshop at UCC, led by Britton.
The course is open to all graduates who will normally have an honours primary degree in any discipline.
They are asked to submit 300 words of non-fiction or fictional writing for radio.
Dr Gilson says that there are plenty of writing courses that are focused on drama for the stage, and script writing for TV and film.
“There’s not a whole lot of courses specifically focused on radio. We taught the course last year, but it was only for the MA students in creative writing.”
Asked the differences between writing for radio and for print, Dr Gilson says there are similarities between the two, but when you’re writing for radio, it’s for the ear.
“If you’re writing radio drama, you have to communicate certain things through sound that would be conveyed visually in film, or on the stage.
“You have to find a way to do it creatively, without sounding clumsy and forced. That takes a bit of thought.
“It also has incredible openness and breadth. Because you can’t see a radio drama or documentary, you can set it anywhere and you don’t have costs. That allows huge flexibility.”
Writing for radio is about clear communication.
“Radio is also a really good seed place. Things that might have started on radio move into films or the stage.”
Examples include Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood, which was originally written for radio.
Playwright Caryl Churchill started writing radio plays before moving to the stage. Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett also wrote radio plays.
Adapting novels for radio is also part of the course. Hattie Naylor, who recently adapted Samuel Pepys’ diaries for BBC Radio 4, will give a workshop on this topic.
What about outlets for radio work? Dr Gilson says Irish radio is very open to people coming up with ideas.
RTÉ Radio 1actively encourages non-experts to submit ideas for documentaries.
“If people are interested in drama, they can submit their plays to RTÉ, the BBC, and other stations in the world. On the course, we’ll be going over how to apply to radio stations.
“The Sound & Vision funding is hugely supportive. RTÉ Radio One gets lots of applications for radio documentaries.
“There are relatively few applications for drama. If you have a good script and you have someone willing to produce it, the likelihood of you getting funding is pretty good.”
And there are dozens of community and commercial radio stations around the country.
Dr Gilson, whose BBC 4 radio documentary, Chrysanthemum, featured on 2014’s ‘Pick of the Year’, says there’s something about listening to radio that’s very specific.
“Unlike much about contemporary life, it isn’t visual. Radio has managed to survive healthily. These days, it’s often digital.
“But the process of listening is the same as it was on the wireless 50 years ago. There’s something evocative about the listening experience.
“When you look at something, you are actually separate from it, whereas, with sound, you’re completely bathed in it.
“It allows a connection that’s different from visual forms.”
The UCC radio course costs €500. There is a €35 application fee.
Part one, broadcast radio and writing, comprises six 90-minute classes over six weeks at RTÉ’s studios in Cork, starting on Feb 3.
Part two, a three-day radio-drama intensive module, is on February 26-28, at UCC.
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