Michael Eaton – The Year of the Writer

michael eaton black and white

Tuesday 19th January gave me a very tough but enviable dilemma: What to do in the evening? Putting aside the domestic basics which will always wait, my first option was the City versus United derby on TV and the chance to see overpaid idiots impress their American and Arabic employers. Very tempting, but you’ve seen one football match, you’ve seen them all. Now on the other hand, if it had been Forest versus County …

Next up was Howard Marks at the Y Theatre in Leicester, but I figured his own interpretation of ‘greening the economy’ was one which has been said countless times before and wouldn’t really offer me anything worth justifying the train trip to our southern neighbours. The Shoestring Press Evening at the Flying Goose on the other hand was a serious contender, ticking all the right boxes; local publisher, wonderful setting (outside of the city centre) and two local writers/poets in Eireann Lorsung and Dan Tunstall. Eireann has done wonders for poetry in the region, so supporting her would have more than justified the half hour bus trip to Beeston and LeftLion has unfinished business with Dan Tunstall. One of my Lit subs went out to interview him six months ago and it wasn’t quite up to scratch so it never got published. Fortunately another sub offered to go out and repair the damage. This meant my attendance (at least from a journo perspective) wasn’t necessary.

This left me with my final option: Michael Eaton giving a talk as part of the ‘Year of the Writer’ programme at Nottingham University. I decided to go to this event over others because I knew he would tell me something I didn’t know and make me laugh in the process. A bottle of wine sat on the edge of his desk as he spoke and was swiftly passed around the audience – on his instructions – and then returned back – on his instructions! It instantly united and relaxed everyone. He then dazzled them with his knowledge, finding the perfect balance between academic insight and comical stories. Michael describes himself as a ‘dramatist’ rather than a writer and he certainly chose an appropriate word. Although I’d love to share his trade secrets now, I’m going to resist the temptation and knock out an interview closer to the release of his Lockerbie play (which will follow on from where his seminal TV drama left off).

One interesting observation I will share relates to research and characterisation. Once Michael has ploughed through the archives and read the mountains of reports about his subject matter he then has to meet them in person so that he can get a feel for who they are, observe their mannerisms, look for accent and pronunciation. This is quite a guttural – almost anthropological – approach, but one which enables him to work out if they are genuine. As a dramatist, Michael refuses to add scenes that haven’t happened and avoids the pop psychology that can create unfair portrayals of people. Looking people in the eye enables this and is a moral that our gutless (rather than gutteral) politicians should consider. I wonder how eager Blair would have been for war in Iraq if he’d had to stand on the battlefield and look his enemy in the eye rather than ponder them from the warmth of his Downing Street apartment. There’s nothing quite as honest as the stench of stale breath…       

Michael spoke as part of the Year of the Writer programme developed by Writer-in-Residence Arthur Piper. Other guests have included Jon Mcgregor, Nicola Monaghan and Mike Wilson