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James Barclay discusses being both an author and an actor.
Back in 2012 when I decided to scratch the itch and return to professional acting after a gap of generational proportions, I remember waxing on about how the two careers would dovetail beautifully. You see, I said, being a full time author means I can give myself time off to attend auditions, do the odd shoot day, rehearse and all that.
Even if I say so myself, it was a brilliant plan. Here I was in my office doing the writing that I love and every now and then my theatrical agent would call and send me off to audition to get work in the other job that I love.
But in August 2015, I was cast at very short notice to replace the lead in ‘Funny Money’ in a short run of this excellent farce. As a direct result, I was cast as Jeff in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. For a male actor of my age, it is THE dream role in contemporary theatre. Not something one says ‘No’ to.
And in my head, it would all dovetail beautifully.
And by ‘dovetail beautifully’, I of course mean that I would be absorbing Jeff’s lines at precisely the same time that I was dealing with copy editor marks and questions, page proofs and other crucial issues in the final stages of getting Heart of Granite ready for printing.
I should pause to tell you that I am not bleating, quite the reverse; each exercise drove the other on. And quite apart from that, anyone who moans about work when they write books and act for a living needs their head examining.
But it was with some trepidation that I approached the early months of 2016. Copy editor’s marks followed by reading page proofs is your last chance to eradicate error and stupidity from your manuscript. When you sign off the page proofs you have to be as certain as you can be that it all makes sense and that the book isn’t going to dump you on your arse when it’s published. And that means focus and focus means time, lots of time.
Then there’s Jeffrey Bernard. The role is vast. Jeff drives every scene and every exchange. He has probably eighty-five per cent of the lines, including some thumping great monologues. For Jeffrey, the actor must own them and live them in so complete a way that it allows him to remain captivating and convincing for an hour and three quarters every night and twice on a Tuesday. And that means focus…
But what I stumbled on was a rather lovely duality of existence for those weeks and months. It turns out that for me at least, there are only so many pages of manuscript I can analyse, read and approve at any one time if my concentration isn’t to slip. And then it turned out that the perfect antidote to page proofs was to get a few of Jeff’s lines down then work on motivation, delivery and characterisation for a couple of hours.
Energy flagging for one task begat the desire to throw myself into the other. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from the process and experience it’s that when I feel I’ve run out of puff for one task, the reservoir is still full enough for another but only if it pulls in a very different direction.
Having two major projects ongoing simultaneously where I’d normally only have one turned out to be a proper blessing. Do they have to be very different? Well I’m currently working on the sequel to Heart of Granite and a young adult novel so I’ll keep you posted…
My personal thanks to James for taking part in Author August!