By Chris Gregory
It’s always a pleasure to be asked to write a piece for Write On! and especially when I’m asked to write about podcasting and the ways in which writers can use podcasting for inspiration, advice and to share their work. My audio production company Alternative Stories makes a huge variety of audio content from radio plays and dramas, writer interviews, poetry podcasts and, recently, anthologies of fiction written specifically with audio in mind. Write On! readers may also be aware that we produce the monthly Write On! Audio Podcast and in this short piece I want to tell you a bit more about the podcast, how you can listen, and perhaps even get involved yourself.
In the summer of 2021, I did some work with the Pen To Print team to share some ideas about a podcast that could allow Write On! and Write On! Extra to reach a wider audience. We know that podcasts are capable of reaching people around the world, but they can also allow the busy, the time-poor, and those who perhaps don’t have the money, inclination, or capacity to buy and read books to engage with writing and literature. You can listen to a podcast while cooking, driving, or commuting to work. Podcasts are free and don’t occupy lots of space in tiny flats, yet they are still capable of offering a high-quality literary experience to those who enjoy them. So it seemed a natural step for an organisation that values inclusivity as much as Pen-To-Print to explore podcasting.
We settled on a starting format for the podcast, giving the page editors of Write On! Extra the opportunity to share their pages and showcase the talented writers and contributors they have written about. We gave Write On! Editor Madeleine White her own slot to introduce the show and recruited Tiffany Clare, an actress and voice professional, to be the presenter. I created some theme music and jingles which you can hear throughout the podcast and which give it a consistent identity. We also borrowed some actors from Alternative Stories to read listener contributions and featured writing.
Since the first couple of episodes, we have evolved the format slightly. Our interview feature has become more important and we generally devote ten minutes or so of the podcast to this conversation between one of the Write On! team and a special guest from the world of writing. We’ve featured Frances Hardinge, Sue Moorcroft and, in our latest edition, Vivian Archer from the Newham Bookshop.
Also increasingly important are our writing tips. We’ve had the pleasure of including advice from members of the Write On! team, such as Lucy Kaufman’s year of writing, and special guests such as Danny Rhodes, who gave us some brilliant tips to keep the writing process going and to capture inspiration when it strikes. In the latest edition, we heard from writer R J Gould about his decision to switch from traditional to self-publishing and the research he has undertaken to understand the best ways to market his books.
Above all, our aim for Write On! Audio is that it is entertaining and as professional sounding as possible. Each month, we have a little hive of industry as the podcast is recorded, collated and mixed and then a few days of satisfaction after it goes out, when we know that people around the world are listening.
We’d love to include your writing on the podcast, too, so click the link below to submit a piece of work to us and to have a chance of hearing it read by one of our professional actors on the show: https://pentoprint.org/get-involved/submit-to-write-on/.
I’m often asked what sort of writing works well for audio and I thought I would share a few thoughts here, so that readers can have a go at writing with voices and sound in mind. I’ll start by saying that if you are given the opportunity to write a piece you know will be heard on the radio or in a podcast, you need to pay special attention to the way your writing sounds when read aloud. Pay attention to phrases or expressions that you think will make good soundbites, or that you enjoy saying out loud. The chances are, if you enjoy the sound of these words, so will the actor or voice professional speaking them for the recording. Think about alliteration and words that have a special resonance. Think about the texture of the sounds of particular parts of speech and try to incorporate these into your work. Once you have written a piece designed for audio, it’s always useful to read it aloud yourself, or get a friend or fellow writer to read it for you. Remember that, when you write for radio or podcasts, it’s a success if your words are heard not read, so they must sound as good as possible before you submit them to your chosen podcast or radio show.
Another thing I’ve learned from writing audio drama particularly, is that listeners need a few more clues than readers might. Listeners can’t easily leaf back a page or two to understand who this new voice belongs to, so we use tricks like emphasising the names of characters a little more than we might in a visual or written piece. A character may say: “How are you today, Jess?” rather than: “How are you?” to emphasise the presence and identity of this new character. It works just as well in audiobooks or short stories for audio, as it does in radio drama.
And, while we’re referencing audio drama, have you ever thought about writing a radio play? I have led a number of workshops for Pen to Print and other organisations about writing audio drama and I can thoroughly recommend it as a new and interesting way to develop your writing, whether or not you have aspirations to hear actors speaking your words and bringing your characters to life!
If you’re feeling a bit stale, or stuck in a rut with your writing, a challenge like writing an audio play could be what you need to unlock your creative mind, and you may find you really enjoy it. One way in which writing drama of any sort, but especially radio drama, can help your writing in general, is to force you to focus on dialogue. In audio drama, we have no visual clues to share with our listeners, so all the information we impart must come from dialogue and sound effects. Our dialogue needs to sound authentic, but also get across the ideas and concepts we’d normally share with descriptive passages. Have a go and see if you can solve the problems that writing in sound set you.
We’ve talked about Write On! Audio and the opportunities it offers to writers wishing to have their work presented on the show, but there are many other ways in which writers can embrace audio and achieve that thrill of hearing their words broadcast and spoken by professional actors. If you are a dramatist, BBC Radio Drama used to be the only way you could have a play or a series produced and shared with real listeners. This has moved on considerably in the last few years. Just as Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and other providers of streaming video services are now commissioning and producing their own content rather than sharing films and TV shows from other studios, so audio streaming platforms such as Spotify and Audible are commissioning their own original and exclusive content, too. Find a production company keen on working with your idea and work with them to pitch it to these suppliers and, who knows, your story could be heard by thousands of people around the world!
If you can’t persuade someone else to help you make your story in audio, you could even consider making it yourself. The cost and availability of the kit you need for your audio to sound like broadcast-quality radio has improved immeasurably in the last few years. Many Alternative Stories actors and presenters work with microphones that can be acquired for under £100 and recording software (like Audacity or Apple’s GarageBand) that are free to download. Learn a few techniques for using your microphone and editing the sound (you can learn everything on YouTube these days!), and you’ll be able to record all your stories and perhaps share them via your writing website, or even in your own podcast.
And finally, why should writers consider working in sound and not just print? Well, we heard from R J Gould in the latest edition of Write On! Audio about the world of self-publishing and, bluntly, how absolutely saturated that marketplace is. For a writer to have something different from other writers in professional-sounding audio versions of their work could allow them to stand out from this very large crowd. Their work will suddenly find its way to a whole new set of people who might enjoy it. Much as writers may hate to admit it, not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to buy and read printed or digital books, but many of us devour audio content. Place yourself in that different world and maybe a few people might enjoy what they hear so much that they buy some of your books too.
So–we have come full circle on this little journey through audio for writers, that began with me telling you all about Write On! Audio and how much I’ve enjoyed producing it. One of the main reasons I love the podcast so much is because it allows us an insight into the world of writing that we don’t normally enjoy. We can actually hear the voice of a writer via our interviews, we can listen to a new or emerging writer read their own words, or have them read by an actor, and we can listen to and share writing tips from authors we admire and wish to emulate. Like most podcasts, this is all free and ready for you to download (and perhaps binge=listen all our episodes since we started back in September 2021!).
Enjoy your writing, enjoy experimenting with audio and give Write On! Audio a listen for ideas, inspiration and advice in your writing breaks.
If you’ve not listened yet, please do give Write On! Audio a try by searching for ‘pen to print’ in your favourite podcast app or limking directly here: anchor.fm/pentoprint.
Take a look at the episodes so far and catch up on what you missed:
Episode 1: Poet Jennifer Wong talks about her writing practice and read poems from her 2020 Nine Arches press collection Letters Home. Actress and poet Marie-Claire Wood talks about performing poems and short fiction. Claire Buss performs her poem Eat The Frog and the Write On! day editors talk about their pages. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-One-September-2021-e182hou
Episode 2: Presented by Tiffany Clare, you can hear the following content; an excerpt from If by Rudyard Kipling, read by Chris Gregory, Write On! Editor Madeleine White welcomes listeners to the podcast, a Q&A With Ben Aaronovitch recorded live at Pen to Print’s ReadFest in 2016, Write On!’s Monday Moments editor Holly King introduces her page with writing from Matt Wixey and Patsy Middleton, listener of the month Iesha Denize explains what Black History Month means to her and the October Showcase with Michelle Sutton features pieces based on the experiences of those suffering from ADHD and Dyslexia. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Two-October-2021-e19ch09
Episode 3: In the November 2021 edition of Write On! Audio, the podcast for writers everywhere, we have reasons to be cheerful from Palak Tewary and Lucy Kaufman, writing tips from Claire Buss, and an interview with author Sara Grant. Our showcase this month is presented by Diya Padiyar and we have a short story from writer H B O’Neill. We feature our Thoughtful Tuesday with Eithne Cullen and look forward to writing courses and workshops from Pen to Print. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Three-November-2021-e1aqqmq
Episode 4: In the December edition of Write On! Audio, you can hear festive Reasons To Be Cheerful by Mary Walsh, read by Sally Walker-Taylor, Editor’s Introduction from Madeleine White, writing tips from Patrick Forsyth, an interview with bestselling romantic novelist Sue Moorcroft by Diya Padiyar, December’s showcase from Eithne Cullen, listener contribution from Palak Tewary and a look at our Thursday Connectors page introduced by Farzana Hakim. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Four-December-2021-e1brcl0
Episode 5: In the January edition of Write On! Audio, we have an inspirational moment from Arinola Araba, an introduction from our Editor, Madeleine White, writing tips A Year’s Experiment In Writing by Lucy Kaufman, an interview with Frances Hardinge by Claire Buss, Showcase is compiled and introduced by Mirabel Lavelle and a short story Carrion by Bob Thompson. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Five-January-2022-e1dekfv
Episode 6: In the February edition of Write On! Audio we have inspirational moments from Palak Tewary and Eithne Cullen, an introduction from our Editor, Madeleine White, writing tips from Danny Rhodes, an interview with the 2021 Pen to Print Audio Play Competition winner Cailean Steed, Showcase is compiled and introduced by Charlotte Webb, and a listener contribution from Jonathan Hirons, in which he describes the aphasia he now suffers from as a result of a stroke and his subsequent change of career to become a filmmaker. The section ends with a short extract from one of Jonathan’s films. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Six-February-2022-e1eolod
Episode 7: In this March edition of Write On! Audio you can hear a poem The Smell Of Spring by Linda James, a look at Women’s Empowerment Month by Iesha Denize, an introduction to the podcast by Write On! Editor Madeleine White, writing tips by Lucy Van Smit, an interview with Vivian Archer from the Newham Bookshop by Madeleine White and Eithne Cullen, the March Showcase is presented by Juneha Chowdhury and a listener’s contribution about self-publishing from Richard Gould, who writes as R J Gould. Click to listen: https://anchor.fm/pentoprint/episodes/Write-On–Audio-Episode-Seven-March-2022-e1gccq0
Chris also runs Alternative Stories, an audio drama, audio fiction, and poetry production company, whose work has appeared on BBC Radio and on stations all around the world. Alt Stories produce the science-fiction drama series The Dex Legacy (search for it in your favourite podcast app) and their flagship podcast Alternative Stories And Fake Realities, which was runner-up in the 2021 Discover Pods Awards for Best Arts Podcast.
You can listen and subscribe free by searching “alternative stories” in your favourite podcast app or click here https://www.buzzsprout.com/411730
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
Podcasts are free and don't occupy lots of space in tiny flats, yet they are still capable of offering a high-quality literary experience to those who enjoy them.