INTERVIEW: William Patterson

Writing is a habit that the playwright just can't kick

‘I quit when I moved to London,’ says William Patterson on his attempt to go cold turkey from creative writing. But they didn’t sell a patch for that, and before long he was back at the desk.

It took a full ten years, an unremarkable career in the civil service and a lot of experimentation with different genres before the literary monkey on 45 year old Patterson’s back finally paid out. Although it was all a bit of a farce. ‘Farce is an under-represented medium,’ Patterson says. ‘Almost unfashionable, but it just seemed to click for me.’

Set against the heavier fare of serious drama, Patterson believes that the humour in his farces make a welcome change for people reading submissions. Although, he adds, writing a farce takes just as much craft as writing a tragedy.

‘There’s a lot of stage business in a farce, lots of people to get on and off stage,’ he explains. ‘And the dialogue is very heightened, but it still has to sound natural.’

After finding success in London, Patterson is delighted to be coming back to Belfast with his new play Some Kind of Stranger. ‘It’s gratifying. And it’s great to have two markets to work with in England and Northern Ireland.’

Although Some Kind of Stranger is a serious drama, Patterson says that the play owes a lot to the lessons learned working on farces. And also to Emily DeDakis of Accidental Theatre, who worked on Some Kind of Stranger with Patterson.

‘I haven’t had a chance to do a read-through with the actors yet, but Emily’s got a great editorial eye,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘Great at seeing exactly what makes the play tick and trimming away the fat.’

Some Kind of Stranger is a drama set in 1980s Northern Ireland, switching scenes between the Holylands area of Belfast and middle-class Bangor. Two boys have to navigate shifting alliances and the transition from youth to adulthood trying to maintain their friendship after one of them moves to the city.

Patterson is originally from Bangor, but he hesitates to describe the play as autobiographical. ‘Some of it is, I suppose,’ he hedges. ‘One of my friends moved to Belfast when we were growing up and I use some of the tensions and characters from that experience. But it’s a lot more dramatic in the play than it was in real life.’

Dramatic enough that two theatre companies have picked it up for a rehearsed reading: Accidental Theatre in Belfast and Writer's Avenue in London.

Writer's Avenue, Patterson points out, has two strands. In one the plays are pitted against each other in three minute slots with the audience playing Nero and deciding which play will be produced in full. Some Kind of Stranger, however, was offered a rehearsed reading, which means it doesn’t have to compete for a full performance. 'It’s a satisfying acknowledgement of the play's worth.'

As for whether or not he’ll go back to farce again? Patterson admits his day job at Whitehall provides him with a wealth of material, but hesitates to commit himself. ‘Yes Minister did it so well,’ he says. ‘It would have to be an idea better than that.’

Some Kind of Stranger will be performed at Blick Studios on Thursday July 8.

Tammy Moore