A Conversation with Zozia Wand
Interviewed by Yvonne Battle-Felton
Zosia Wand gained an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in 1999. She has had five radio plays broadcast on Radio 4, A Half Name For A Half Person, (February 2002) Between Friends (October 2003) Heft Like the Herdwick (a collaborative project with ten new writers for radio, July 2006) The Inextinguishable Fire (October 2006) and Between (July 2007). The Treehouse, a new thriller in 5 parts, will be broadcast on Radio 4 from 12th May 2014 and in 5 daily, 15 minute episodes. Her stage play, Quicksand was premiered at The Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster, in January 2011 and sold out during its run at Theatre By The Lake in Keswick. She has also written and performed the monologue, Pearl, at the Brewery Arts Centre Kendal (November 2012) for Paines Plough Theatre Company's Come To Where I'm From project, and was one of the commissioned writers for Blackout, a piece of immersive, site specific theatre at the Dukes Playhouse, with the North West Alligator's Club (March 2013). She is currently writing the script for the Lancaster Williamson Park show for the Dukes Theatre this summer, Hansel and Gretel and More Tales From The Forest. Her website is here.
The aroma of fresh coffee punctuates the air as occasional bursts of a machine stir the atmosphere. Pungent smells and whirs add rhythm to the mid-morning soundtrack of chattering coffee drinkers and tea sippers at Atkinson’s tea room, The Hall.
Across from me, in a semi-private nook tucked away to the side of the dining area, Zosia Wand, scriptwriter, playwright, author, workshop facilitator, and Lancaster University Creative Writing Alumni, discusses relationships, community, making your own luck and practicing the art of saying yes—to everything.
Yvonne: What happened after you graduated in 1999? What was the first piece you submitted for publication?
Zosia: When I was on the MA I wrote a radio play. I knew that radio was one of the few places where they would take unsolicited manuscripts from writers who didn’t have agents and actually read them—the BBC would. So I sent them a radio play and they didn’t reject it but they didn’t take it either. And they couldn’t tell me why. They just sort of—so they were interested. It clearly wasn’t good enough but they couldn’t really explain why. So I decided to sit down and write another one. So I did. And I sent it in and I remember waiting for a reply. I wasn’t sure where to send it. At the time I was dealing with—there were producers in Manchester and they were just setting up the New Writing department it was based in London. So I sent it to both places. The version that I sent to Manchester also got sent to London; they just forwarded it to London. And I came home one day and there was a letter from someone in London, one of the producers, it was a standard letter from the BBC saying thank you for your script, it’s not suitable for the BBC. I was quite upset; didn’t know what to do next. Thought I’d start working on a new project.
Three weeks later I got another letter from another producer; it was from the same place who’d received another copy that had come in. She wrote and said, thank you for your script, its clear evidence of your talent. Can we meet? So I have both of those letters side by side on a notice board on my desk. It just goes to show: it’s a degree of luck whose going to read your work and as a writer you need to keep creating your own luck.
You need to keep looking for opportunities and just keep going. You never know, the most unexpected connections have been made for me. For example, when I sent things in and they’ve been short listed but not selected I used to think that was a failure…
I’ve had phone calls or been nominated for other things by people who were shortlisted or had remembered my work. So it isn’t a waste. Getting your work out there, getting people to see your writing is really, really important. I think a lot of writers make the mistake of keeping it to themselves and feeling if they haven’t reached the prize then they’ve failed. It’s far more complicated than that. And you need to keep sharing your work. That’s hard to keep exposing yourself but it’s really important to do it.
Yvonne: That first piece that you sent out to the BBC, the first one that was rejected--you started writing again instead of sending it to someone else. Is that because you thought if it’s not the BBC it’s not anywhere?
Zosia: Well that’s true, when it comes to radio, if it’s not the BBC it’s not anywhere—at the moment. That’s changing but then that was very much the case. For radio I couldn’t do anything else with it. But also, I do think sometimes you know that actually something’s not working with it. You can’t put your finger on it; it’s time to start again. Sometimes it’s really hard to let go of a big project. When you’re developing as a writer the more you write, the better you get. That was something that really surprised me at the end of the MA. I expected that, that period of the MA to be a huge period of development in my writing. I expected that to slow down when I finished the MA and actually I graduated in 1999 and it’s been a while now and I look back and I think, no that intensity of development has continued simply by writing: Just keeping going, sharing your work, getting feedback, going again.
It’s healthy to keep starting new projects; sometimes you can go back to things and do more with them.
Yvonne: Have you gone back to that first piece?
Zosia: No, I haven’t gone back to that first draft. It was a story about Poland and about my family. But I have written about that. The themes I was writing about and the places I was writing about have appeared in other things I’ve written. I think if you are really burning to write about something; it doesn’t matter what subject you’re given, that is what you will write about.
Yvonne: You were talking about the intensity of the MA program. I hear that a lot, that the program is really intense; I also hear a lot about the relationships that people build while they are in that program. You mentioned workshopping and how important that is even now. Do you still workshop?
Zosia: I do. I also have a very good friend who I met on my MA. I call her my writing buddy. She used to live in Lancaster; she’s now down in Norfolk. We see each other regularly and we exchange work. When I’ve got to the point where I don’t know what to do with it, even if it’s under commission to somebody else, she’s the first person I go to with it. I absolutely trust her.
For more about the relationships Zosia cultivates with her writing, her work across genres, on the stage and in communities, click here and listen to the rest of the interview in full.
Yvonne Battle-Felton is a research student in Creative Writing.