Barbara Goulden is a well known reporter, theatre critic, novelist and aspiring playwright from Coventry UK. Earlier this year she and a few reporter friends and theatre enthusiasts launched a website where they could post reviews of plays being performed locally. Not just amateur performances, but those at professional theatres too, including the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances in Stratford upon Avon.
Below Barbara talks about how the website came about, and what else she is involved in on the literary front.
“Our new website, Elementary What’s On, www.elementarywhatson.com started with me moaning about the fact that our local daily and weekly newspapers no longer have enough staff to review plays and shows being staged in Coventry and Warwickshire.
As a reporter for 40 years, I’ve had the privilege of being among first night audiences for some tremendous performances by both amateur and professional theatre companies.
I still remember Antony Sher making every word count while hanging upside down on a rope in the Swan Theatre at Stratford.
But these days there are hardly enough reporters to cover council meetings, let alone stage performances.
Recently the smaller studio at the Belgrade in Coventry had a terrific play called Ostrich Boys. It was full of life and humour but the play disappeared without trace because so few people knew how good it was.
I was saying how sad this was to the former deputy editor of Coventry Telegraph, where I used to work. He promptly challenged me to start a website specifically dedicated to all our local theatres, both amateur and professional.
A month later, our site, Elementary What’s On, was born after much beating of heads against laptops and a good deal of arguing amongst what became a core group of four.
The most rewarding aspect so far has been the enthusiastic response we’ve received from all the theatres we aim to visit.
They are well aware that today they get nothing like the support they once did. As a result few people know what’s available to see locally or just how good a play might be.
Of course not all reviews will be good. Nor can we review everything ourselves. But between us we have enough theatre-loving friends who are willing to contribute 300 words or so in exchange for complimentary tickets for a play which they hope will be great but they’ll take a chance on it being boring, or a mixture of the two.
In one of my recent reviews I talked about sitting in an audience of 850 people and seeming to be the only one not laughing. It was farce. And that carries its own cult following.
Right now I’m looking forward to La Strada at the Belgrade, a play that stands a good chance of touring nationally before winding up in the West End.
It won’t be an altogether happy tale – I know that already. But Les Miserables seems to be still doing rather well.
… Other stuff:
Since leaving full-time work as a reporter I’ve been able to write a couple of novels which were printed with the help of Chipmunka Publishing, a charity that’s happy to work with any author who tries to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
In my case I tried to inject some humour into the serious business of schizophrenia, a condition that affects one in 100 of us at some stage in our lives, including my much-loved late sister.
People only see the shock-horror headlines about this condition which are far from reality for most sufferers, a third of whom do recover. I knew my sister was delusional, but I also knew she would never hurt anyone, except herself.
At the moment I am trying, not too successfully, to write a play about all we have lost in the regional press and the inevitable consequences of fake news feeding on itself via the internet. I will persist.
My tips for other writers are simply stick at it – have a look at how many rejection slips most of today’s top authors receive – and really study the agents’ section of the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. If you can convince an agent with an example of your work then you stand a far better chance of being published.
Having said that, if you really need closure on a piece of writing you believe in, then consider self-publishing. It’s very therapeutic and lets you move on to the next book.”
Links: The website is www.elementarywhatson.com
Barbara’s novels are: Knock Knock, Who’s There? and Knocking on Haven’s Door. Both are available from Amazon Books.