This year the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting Judges decided upon a winner anonymously on Monday 23rd October. The winner and Judges Awards will be announced at the Award Ceremony (livestreamed from 4pm Nov 13th) In the run up to the ceremony we’re profiling all the shortlisted writers and their plays.
Heartworm – Tim X Atack
Joni K arrives at your house. She’s paid to stay in your home, through a website. But upon walking into your spare room, Joni tells you: I grew up here. This was once my bedroom. And it’s creepy, sure… but Joni’s funny, and young, and vivacious. You and your partner have been arguing constantly, the night is already looking dark and long – so how could things get any worse?
Tim is a writer and composer, based in Bristol. His stage plays include The Bullet And The Bass Trombone, Dark Land Light House and The Morpeth Carol, adapted for BBC Radio 4 and winner of best drama a the 2014 Radio Academy Awards. His radio series The Stroma Sessions was nominated for the Tinniswood Award for Best Audio Drama Script in the 2017 BBC Audio Drama Awards. He was previously a finalist of the Red Planet prize and was selected for the Channel 4 screenwriting scheme. Under the name of Sleepdogs he collaborates with theatre director Tanuja Amarasuriya, and has written and scored all their shows to date. He is currently sound designing Chris Goode’s adaptation of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre.
What inspired you to write this play?
It was sort of nebulous. I had some contradictory and impossible-to-ignore feelings, plus a desire to write something that felt like a cross between a drama and a dream, and I just went with it without really knowing where it would lead. It’s not always the way I work, especially outside of theatre but the fact that Heartworm has a story is a result of writing it, not a starting point.
It’s going to sound bleak but I think it’s most likely connected to some full-on experiences of grief. Quite a few relatives of mine have died in recent years, some good friends too, and it’s hard to look at most of what I’ve written over that time and not see celebrations of their lives, their humour, how they lived, how they left. Sometimes it’s front and centre in the work and sometimes it’s lurking in the shadows, but it’s always there.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright?
I’ve been writing plays since I was a university student, over 1.5 million years ago, and I’ve kept chipping away at it around many other kinds of work. But as I got older and grumpier I became more and more convinced that my playscripts were too influenced by ideas and forms outside of theatre to be considered viable. A lot of them are unfinished in many ways, they’re certainly not literature, they’re aimed more towards collaboration in the rehearsal room, and if you’re now going HMM THAT’S THE DEFINITION OF A PLAY TIM well, that’s my point entirely… as with anything I guess it’s possible to push it too far. But I love drama that has a proper mystery to it, an uncontrollable electricity rather than a smooth machinery.
So along with the director Tanuja Amarasuriya, who also wanted to see more of this kind of thing, I formed a company called Sleepdogs and we began producing my plays. I’m not sure people believe our work is conventionally scripted, but it’s always painstakingly written and edited. Most of the time we’re following our curiosity and nicking things from all our favourite films, using geeky tactics we picked up from DVD commentaries. And Sleepdogs is now the incubator for pretty much everything I’ve written for any medium.
How do you feel about being shortlisted?
See above. I’m massively surprised, and very very happy. I’ve even taken a short break from being astonishingly grumpy.
What do you think about anonymity of the prize?
I’ve entered scripts into the prize many times and I’m convinced the anonymity is a major drive to keep trying, to keep experimenting. To see how far (or not) particular ideas or stories will get with readers, and you know that with the Bruntwood Prize it’s a rare case of multiple readers.
But… gotta be said, the fact that I mention a purely artistic benefit to the anonymity brings home how lucky someone like me is: never having to really worry that my identity will influence a reading. It’s obviously not the case for many many brilliant writers, no matter how liberal we hope the theatre world is. That remains the single greatest thing about the prize’s anonymity I reckon – no anchoring points, just the play.