Barney Norris is a very good playwright.
Things we wanted to discuss included his his career, Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7 and his favourite service station.
1. Hello Barney! What are you doing at this exact moment in time.
Hello Carl! I’m in my flat drinking Aldi own-brand instant coffee, which I hate because of the taste but love because it’s a gleaning from touring to Scarborough and all links to the memory of touring adventures are precious, while my cat sits on my shoulder like a parrot.
2. VISITORS was a huge critical and commercial success. Presumably the pressure you put on yourself — and I get the impression you put a lot of pressure on yourself — would have been enough to be getting on with. How did you approach writing EVENTIDE?
EVENTIDE happened the same as VISITORS more or less, it started with wanting to make a play, and then it was grown by the same group of people using a very similar process of development (which I use for everything really). Having done a play people liked did make things scarier – but it also made a thousand things easier too. Not just money and production and so on, but it made things easier in terms of story. I felt suddenly that I knew who I was for, and what I wanted to do.
3. What do the next 12 months hold in store for Up in Arms?
Actually a lot of that’s still secret and can’t be announced: we’re just wrapping up the tour of GERMAN SKERRIES, our first play by another writer, Robert Holman (big step forwards for the company), which has been very successful and very fun. Then we’re in development on two new plays, one by me and one by the brilliant Bea Roberts, and planning a tour of a play I can’t yet name for spring 2017, and planning two ventures into media we’ve never visited before. Growing plays is a slow, loving, laborious business, so our fight is to let them take the time they take even if it means we only get to make so much work. The new media we’ll be tiptoeing towards is about extending our reach to new audiences. That’s the heart of what we do – reaching people. Not necessarily just reaching as many people as possible, quality and depth of engagement is crucial and that’s what we offer as a company over, say, a movie, we offer quality and depth, but we do always want to grow our audiences. So we’re in a period of development.
4. What’s your favourite service station on any United Kingdom motorway?
It’s all about Fleet. I suggest at least twice a year to my fiancée that we should do Christmas Day at Fleet one year, partly because it feels like we spend it there anyway, visiting everyone, but also because I love it. We got engaged last month and I outlined the possibility of having the ceremony in the overpass that links the two sides of the services. She hasn’t agreed to it yet, but we’ll see. I think it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful trees that surround Fleet. It’s an eery place at dawn. But these are the ravings of a service station amateur – you have to check out Henryiddon.com/forton-stories. That’s the goldmine.
5. You’ve just published your first novel ‘Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain’ How do you choose what parts of your life you put forward in your writing?
I don’t think I do really! I think writing is probably a translation of experience into sense/meaning/something approximating those two. So it all goes in really, even if not all of it gets a mention. Because all the work is just an expression of what it feels like to be alive at the present moment. All the work I do of my own volition anyway. There are commissions I take for different reasons that are more targeted explorations, less about the self, but the novel, and VISITORS and EVENTIDE, they’re quite self-exploratory.
6. When will the world end and whose fault will it be?
The world ends for each of us at the end of our lives, and I don’t yet know who to blame for that. As for the planet – she’ll be around long after our filaments are all burned out. It’s us, not the planet, who are on the way out, I think.
7. You strike me as someone who doesn’t take the easy route. How will you feel when you decide you’ve done what you needed to do?
The Evening Standard said that about me last week, is that where it first struck you? I kind of decide that every evening when it’s time to relax and eat and sleep and so on, but in the larger sense, I see older generations facing up to the end of their careers and I don’t know whether that happens with creativity. I think people always still have something to say while they’re alive, but our sight, our hands, our minds fail us. My Grandad didn’t choose to stop his woodwork, his hands gave up on him, he got shaky. So I don’t know whether what you’re describing will happen.
8. If I locked you in a safe for twenty four hours with no phone, what would you do inside your head?
Panic. I like space. It would depend on whether or not I knew I was getting out at the end of the day.
9. Tell me this, though. You’re quite credible aren’t you. You’ve been written about in all the right places, your plays get seen by all the right people. Is it right, though, that actually you’re kind of not that cool?
The most important tv show I ever watched was a Mr Motivator episode where he tried to be cool. So he wore a baseball cap and went skateboarding and, in a telling insight into how far we’ve come, ate a hamburger, but he still wasn’t cool. He was still wearing head to toe Lycra. Then a kid told him that being cool was about being yourself, and being happy with yourself, that there was no such thing as absolute cool. But in general, I think your question has too many undefined terms (credible, right, cool) for an answer to be possible, so – Wittgenstein, Tractatus, clause 7.
10. Anything that you’d like to add?
I think I’ve done quite enough damage already.