This week’s guest is Lita Doolan, from litadoolan.net She’s a writer who has written plays that have been performed in theatres and festivals. Lita also writes poetry, non-fiction books and has an upcoming novel. Having grown up in the Welsh valleys, she calls herself a storyteller and much of her work draws inspiration from her own life. These days Lita lives in London and commutes regularly to London.
What you will learn in this episode
• Lita’s journey from actress to writer and director
• About Lita’s plays
• Lita’s other creative projects
• Tips for idea generation
• How Lita keeps herself on track
• Favourite creative tools and resources
Lita’s journey from actress to writer and director
Lita always had an interest in amateur dramatics having grown up with a Mum who was passionate about it. However, it wasn’t until university that she got involved in the drama scene. She started out acting but after loads of auditions and only 1 or 2 roles, she realised the way to act was put on your own shows. It was that desire that started her writing plays.
These days Lita works for a London theatre company on a freelance basis. They have yearly festivals and encourage you as the producer and director to use people just qualified from drama school, or without qualifications. Lita has loved it because some of the people she’s given their first job have gone on to other things working with seasoned professionals.
About Lita’s Plays
The first play Lita wrote was an adaptation of James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, which came about because a group at University wanted to put on the show but couldn’t get the rights to it, so she adapted it. She’s since written a lot of plays. The one that moves her the most is called Storm. It was put on at the Oxford Playhouse and did win an award. It was about the Air France disaster on the 1st June 2009. The story is told through the eyes of 4 strangers waiting to meet the people off the plane. It’s not a very happy show, but Lita finds she has more success with the darker shows.
Another show she wrote was about a primary school friend who died in a fire just after secondary school. It centred around the mother’s grief about surviving a child who has died, and it was put on at the London theatre company.
Lita also had a short play put on at Hampstead Theatre, about two girls who go to Majorca. It was a comedy, written in an Irish accent. Lita spent some time in Dublin getting a sense of the humour and dialogue. It’s on her YouTube channel if you want to watch it.
In London, the shows are completely down to Lita, from start to finish, casting included. However, she has also had her own works done by other directors. Because they look at the work in such a different way, outside directors have helped her develop. Having a trained actor doing the work also takes it to the next level. Seeing them connect with her work makes all the hours alone in a room writing worth it for Lita. Her next play is called History of Chocolate, which is for the Edinburg Fringe Festival in August
Liza’s other creative projects
Lita has a non-fiction book on Amazon that teaches people how to write a theatre review in 90 minutes. It’s drawn from the formula she developed when writing over 300 reviews. She started doing this at university to get free seats to shows. She got some business advice from John Williams, as to how to arrange the page on Amazon, which made a big difference. Having fresh eyes come in and reformat how Lita described it helped the book go to Number 2 on Amazon.
Another book in the works is a novel called Penny does Periscope. It’s about a young girl in the position of saving her local community from becoming homogenised and is trying to use Periscope in the process. Social media has so many opportunities for the arts and expression. So it’s also a bit of a campaign about using social media for the arts. It will probably be turned into a play once it’s finished.
Lita also has a book of poetry called Poetry for Nosy Parkers, which is about people watching in our café society and looking over the garden wall at what’s happening next door.
Tips for idea generation
Lita does prefer to draw on real life and events for her ideas. If they’re not current events, they tend to be ones from her own life. You write best about what you really know, so looking at your own life is also a good option to consider. But if you have a deadline, drawing on real events is the easiest way to get ideas quickly. Lita suggests looking in the newspaper, including news bulletins from other countries. For example, the English version of the Russian news on TV or the English bulletin of the news from Radio Prague, as they give a different way to looking at things and help spark ideas. You can then change the story a bit to make it your own.
If there’s something you’re passionate about, for example, human rights, economic or environmental disasters, Lita recommends looking out for those stories. Linking a story to something you’re passionate about is a great way to get into the dialogue or a character. She also suggests keeping your ears open at the bus stop or Starbucks for that too.
Sometimes Lita has drawn on people she knows for the characters. When they’ve seen the show, they didn’t recognize themselves, so don’t feel bad about using people in your world! She has also gone so far as flying to Dublin for a few days to get inspiration for a play, and recommends going to new places to help with ideas and stories. You can even go so far as to have an interview with somebody and use their words verbatim (with their permission of course) but Lita finds that harder work.
Lita found NaNoWriMo was a great way to start. NaNoWriMo is where you join a little group online and commit to writing a certain number of words a day for a month. It’s a great way to start and see where the novel could go, and Lita found the competition aspect useful too.
How Lita keeps herself on track
Lita feels she’s improved on this recently. She’s trying to define her products as micro projects rather than epic 5-year projects, so she knows she’ll get them done. She also recommends using apps like Scrivener on your phone so you can move projects forward, while waiting for a bus for example. You cannot stop the mind from having the next idea, but try to manage it as best you can, get projects done quickly and move on. As such, Lita employs deadlines when she can. For example, she’s spent about a year on the Penny does Periscope novel, and has put it on Amazon so it does have a deadline for when it must be finished and available. Part of growing is you have to put the work out there and so many people have a novel in the drawer waiting to make it perfect, which can be dangerous. The good thing about Kindle books is that they’re not hard to go in and update if need be.
Favourite Creative Tools and Resources
Lita got her playwriting inspiration from a masterclass with Stephen Jeffries, who wrote The Libertine, and she also likes reading diaries by directors, such as Peter Hall’s diaries or Max Stafford Clarke’s Letters to George.
She also recommends Scrivener writing software because it can be used to help organise manuscripts and also create books in the right format for Kindle, iBooks etc.