I first wrote a television play in 1974 because I wanted to break the isolation of writing fiction. I had no other job and I was far less reconciled than I am now to the essentially crackpot activity of sitting down alone several hours a day with an assortment of ghosts. I envied people who, even while they often complained about each other, collaborated, sped in taxis to urgent conferences; they appeared (I begin to doubt this now) saner and happier for having to do with each other. I thought of writing for television rather than for the stage because, like most people, I had spent far more hours in front of television sets than in theatres; I felt familiar with television's 'grammar', with its conventions and how they might be broken. As a short-story writer I was attracted by its scale, its intimacy. The possibilities and limitations presented by the 30, 50 or even 75-minute television play seemed very close in some ways to those presented by the short story: the need for highly selective detail and for the rapid establishment of people and situations, the possibility of chasing one or two ideas to logical, or even illogical, conclusions, the dangers of becoming merely anecdotal.
LRB 5 February 1981 | PDF Download