Writing for Radio

Steve ChambersSteve Chambers has written for theatre, radio, TV and film – his feature film Hold Back the Night won the audience prize at Cannes ’99 Critics Week. He has written episodes for Casualty and Byker Grove and adapted ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ for BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial. He is currently developing a number of new ideas for broadcast and in development with a new feature film with NE film-maker Sarah McCarthy. A director of Bruvvers Theatre Co as well as New Writing North, he also works as a script mentor and teacher of dramatic narrative fiction. Steve was kind enough to answer some of our questions about writing for radio:

TCW: Why should writers consider writing for radio?

SC: Because the BBC produces an enormous amount of new drama every week for radio. The afternoon slot (2.15 – 3pm weekdays) is generally the place where new writers start – the BBC offer one play a week (20%) to writers new to radio. Radio is a very good way of improving craft skills and you get to work with very good actors. It’s also great fun and because (unlike TV and film) they’ve only got your words, they’re careful with them.

TCW: How does it differ from writing for other media?

SC: The two areas of difference are essentially technical – radio drama requires an ‘audio’ landscape and all exposition – who, where, when, what – has to be done by characters. Secondly, radio drama is generally shorter in length – 15 mins, 30 mins, 45 mins or 1 hour. However, like all drama, the most important requirement is a really good story with compelling characters.

TCW: In the UK, what is the best route into writing for the medium?

SC: In the UK, the best route into radio drama is via a producer. You can send unsolicited scripts direct to the Writers Room and they guarantee to read the first 10 pages – obviously if they like it, they will read more. A better route is via a producer. This requires listening to lots of radio drama (which anyone wanting to write for the medium should do), and finding a play you like which is
similar in some way to your own work. Then write to the producer of that drama telling them how much you enjoyed their play and asking if they would like to read yours.

TCW: And for international writers?

SC: First, apply to your own national broadcasters if they produce radio drama. Otherwise, BBC World Service Drama runs a number of competitions. This is the best and most direct route.

TCW: Would you consider radio drama a shrinking market? Why or why not?

SC: With the advent of digital channels, all drama is under threat – smaller budgets, cutbacks etc – and this includes radio drama. However, the BBC still produces a great deal of original radio drama. Radio drama has always been a niche market – long may it continue.

TCW: How did you get your first break?

SC: I hustled a friend of a friend – a theatre director who had moved into radio drama – he gave me a job on a long forgotten BBC Radio 4 soap called ‘Citizens’.

TCW: How do you make sure your work continues to be commissioned?

SC: I keep on trying. I make relationships with producers and keep in touch, sending them ideas.

TCW: Is it a financially lucrative outlet for your writing?

SC: Depends what you mean. You can’t (I don’t think) earn a living writing radio drama but it is great fun and there is a sliding scale of payment depending on your experience. A new writer earns about £28.00 per minute broadcast – an experienced writer about £90.00.

TCW: Can you recommend any resources for writers starting out?

SC: The BBC Writers Room website is incredibly helpful – lots of really good tips about writing and marketing work.

vincent-mcinerney-writing-for-radioTCW: Anything else you would like to share with The Crafty Writer?

SC: Keep writing – that’s the main tip. It’s a hard lonely business but you have to keep trying.

TCW: Thanks Steve, we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

If Steve has whet your appetitite for radio, The Crafty Writer can recommend Writing for Radio by Vincent McInerney. It gets off to a slow start but picks up well after that.

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8 comments on “Writing for Radio

  1. writinggb on said:

    Thanks! Interesting interview. I’ll be incorporating a writing for radio assignment into one of my classes this fall. I’m having them focus on creative non-fiction, though. But then we’re in the US, so that’s more practical for radio here….

  2. Fiona on said:

    Grandma! Good to hear from you again. Do you have any links to US-based radio drama outlets? Would be useful if you could post them. Or put them on your site and we’ll link to them from here.

  3. writinggb on said:

    Hmmm. Hadn’t thought of looking for those links, but maybe will do that. Working on my course development right now. I’ll get back to you if I link to anything pertinent. Thanks!

  4. simon on said:

    Hello…err… I’m looking for some guidence. I have bring my first radio script to a point where I’m in need of some guidence of its faults etc. I have already made the small changes which were suggested by the BBC writers in cardiff, but I can’t submit it to them again…so is there any chance I could find readers or a reader to help me to the next stage of development? Really need some help here!!!!!

  5. simon on said:

    sorry for the mistakes…the internet makes me rush some reason!!!!

  6. Fiona on said:

    Hi Simon, Writernet offer a reading service for radio plays at a good price http://www.writernet.co.uk/services/writernet_services.phtml

  7. Fiona on said:

    Oh, and the Script Factory in London are running a workshop on Writing for Radio on 16 July http://www.scriptfactory.co.uk/go/WhatWeDo/Article_398.html

  8. Pingback: Writing for Television at The Crafty Writer

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