Report by Andy Machin
At their first meeting of 2017 Hampshire Writers’ Society members were treated to the humour and wisdom of two renowned exponents of the art of non-fiction writing and radio documentary production respectively.
Special guest: John Andrews, foreign correspondent and local author The World in Conflict
First to the University of Winchester Stripe Theatre stage was John Andrews. John began his career in the 1970s teaching in Libya and the Lebanon but on the advice of ABC News anchor and friend Peter Jennings, he migrated to journalism to follow and report on Middle Eastern and North African politics, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and the strategies of OPEC.
‘Being a foreign correspondent is more fun than being an editor,’ he confesses, ‘because you get to see history being made right in front of you.’
Like many an efficacious person, John attributes a good degree of his success to being in the right place at the right time whilst admitting, ‘I gained access [to news] not only via people I knew but also through the people I worked for.’
As a foreign correspondent John has worked for some of the most widely-respected television and print news organisations in the world including ABC, NBC, the Guardian and the Economist.
John is now using his transferrable journalistic skills to explain events to another audience through his latest book The World in Conflict: Understanding the world’s troublespots, candidly advising non-fiction authors to ‘know your audience and the possible repercussions of [the content of] your writing.’
Main speaker: David Prest, founder and MD of Whistledown Productions
From page to ear
‘Radio is a fantastic medium to bring new work into nuance post-Brexit,’ pronounces David Prest with a cheeky grin.
David entered mainstream radio broadcasting on joining the BBC staff in the 1980s. He worked on productions for Radio 4 and the World Service and stayed with the corporation until 1997.
In 1998 David founded radio production company Whistledown successfully combining ‘journalistic principles with creative flair,’ and producing documentary/non-fiction content which is ‘exciting and fun,’ and ‘differentiates from the mainstream.’ We assume his mainstream reference is to Auntie Beeb although David freely admits his main market is the corporation placing Whistledown currently as the largest independent speech provider to the BBC, an achievement of which he is rightly proud.
In an illuminating behind-the-scenes resumé of the submission process, David advises jobbing writers that for their non-fiction content to translate readily to radio documentary it should contain the ‘juicy bits only,’ and provide the ‘essential narrative trail.’ The writer should use language which is ‘visceral and grabby.’ David also reminds us that radio lacks the benefit of visuals found in TV production and therefore encourages us to ‘write for the ear,’ to tease and to provide ‘audio pageturners.’
Prior to submission, David advises writers to ask themselves questions such as is the idea new? Is it exciting/interesting/relevant enough? Is it sustainable, perhaps beyond a one-off and into a series? Is it covered elsewhere, perhaps within the series format of another programme? And not least, to decide how best to pitch the idea?
On finding a producer David suggests that the candidate should be ‘genuinely engaged [with the content],’ and ‘respectful of [the writer’s] input.’
Likewise, David advises writers to ask themselves what role they want in the production and what it is they wish to get from the process. Options in this respect may range from the writer being either the presenter, a contributor, a consultant or having a ‘by line’ or a simple credit. The writer may also wish to use the programme to further promote themselves and their work or to go on to co-own the format with the production company.