In His Own Words: Writing

This page contains quotes (listed by year) by Alan Ayckbourn with regard to writing. They are drawn from a variety of sources and it should always be borne in mind these quotes may not necessarily reflect Alan Ayckbourn's current thoughts on a subject.

"I suppose there must be room for one clown in the writing business. I mean, I know people are dying, but people are also living. And living, at that, in extraordinary and hilarious situations." (1969)

"The light comedy style has evolved out of my own capabilities, my own particular experiences - which happens to be complicated relationships. And other people's are even more funny, so I try to help them laugh about it." (1970)

"I'd like to finish up writing tremendously human comedies - Chekhovian comedy in a modern way." (1970)

"My output's too low. I'm pathologically lazy. I only write one a year and if that happens to flop…" (1970)

"As a result of my acting experience you will never find a 'What say you, m'Lord' bit part in my plays. There are no postmen or butlers. I try to give everyone in the cast a real part. When I was acting and simply standing on stage like a piece of scenery I would start asking myself what I was doing there and wonder whether to walk off." (1971)

"I think of myself as a social writer. I believe the average man is more worried about what socks to wear than the Vietnam War. He has his own little social walls." (1971)

"I was complaining [to Stephen Joseph] about a play I was in, and he said 'if you can write a better one I'll do it'. So I wrote myself a super part, and it went awfully well. The I wrote a second play for me in which I played four parts, and then I wrote a third play for me in which I played eight parts. But I was starting to write better than I could act, so I then wrote a super part and gave it to someone else. Then I gave up acting altogether." (1973)

"Mine is basically a comedy of recognition. I don't write jokes. People laugh because they see things they recognise as familiar." (1974)

"I'm not awfully good at funny lines, which is probably why I've kept away from television, which is much more immediate. I'm rather bad at writing jokes. I'm tending to like more and more the sort of development of character for humour, rather than just simple visual or verbal gags." (1974)

"Writing about a man and a woman who are not married is so limiting. Within marriage there's the stuff of limitless drama." (1974)

"I think every writer ought to have the right to fail." (1974)

"I can't write unless I have a deadline to work to." (1975)

"Harold Pinter has been a great influence on me. Not particularly what he's written about, but the way he's seen things and allowed his own viewpoint on something to warp it slightly. Then there's his love of picking up phrases, like a poet. He finds a phrase like 'going the whole hog'. There's one of those in
The Homecoming. And he just keeps repeating this phrase, which people do in conversation. But then he puts in one too many, which just tips it over into being very funny. That's a trick in a way, but it's also a great ability to hear these phrases and isolate them. Actually, if you listen to a conversation at the next table, which I'm very fond of doing, you may not hear all the words but you'll hear this salient phrase coming back." (1975)

"I'm not really in control these days of how they [the plays] turn out. I just sit down and write. My plays are getting darker and, from my point of view, better." (1976)

"I write quickly and think slowly. For 360 days I think, I work for four and collapse on the other one." (1977)

"I rather thrive on deadlines. I need that pressure physically. I've got too many ideas. The someone says, well it's got to be delivered on Monday, so you decide and you do it." (1978)

"If you write comedies, you've got to be serious about them and take the characters seriously; and all the best comedy is rooted in deeply serious things, and throws light upon aspects of life we're frightened to think about." (1979)

"My ambition is to write a serious play that everyone laughs at." (1979)

"I am very lucky to be able to write comedy. It is a gift and when you have it, you shouldn't turn your back on it." (1980)

"Writing is the worst bit, a most painful business, very lonely, very desolate. I tend to put writing into as short a time as I can." (1982)

“You can get very badly treated as a dramatist unless you take firm control of your affairs. If you do not fight for your commas, you find your sentences are gone." (1986)

"In each play I try to give myself something that worries me, put something in that makes me wonder if the audience will get it, and this keeps the excitement going, and, I hope, keeps my work reasonably fresh." (1989)

"I began writing around the age of nine, I suppose! Certainly I was tapping out plays in my early teens and had written a good half dozen before I had my first one professionally produced." (1990)

"I believe plays should be written quickly, so I tend to work very fast. The basic theme and form is laid down in two or three days. Physically a play takes about 10 days to write, but there is a very long gestation period. The thinking time is about nine months." (1991)

"Once I have an idea, my next step is to think how to present it in an interesting way, and then how to tell my story. That's something that isn't awfully stressed these days that theatre is also storytelling. I came back to it rather rudely when I started writing for children a few years ago." (1998)

"The dialogue is the last thing you should write. It's the fun bit. The difficult bit is holding people for two-hours-plus. The only way you'll do that is by narrative line. If you start on a journey with no map, you'll finish up in a ditch." (2005)

"I have none of the arrogance or confidence I had when I was 25, 30. There is always an increasing nervousness each time I start, because I know what might go wrong." (2008)

“Two things I live for. One is being in a rehearsal room. The other is writing a new play. As soon as a new play comes out there's a terrible moment of post-partum emptiness - and then another idea comes in, sometimes two or three. I just can't imagine being alive without a play in me somewhere.” (2008)

"There are usually half a dozen alternative words at an author’s disposal all meaning the same thing but all, in turn, capable in context of different shades of meaning. A nightmare for lawyers and lawmakers but a delight for writers. In addition, almost any word is capable, again in context, of a double meaning (e.g. She placed her hand gently on his context)." (2008)

"Story-telling was part of my upbringing - probably the result during my early years of having a mother as a writer who also spent most of her time writing in order to feed our single parent family of two! What choice did I have?" (2014)

"The good people are the hardest to make interesting. Villains are easy and generally more fun!" (2014)

"It’s not uncommon for playwrights to start out as actors. From Shakespeare onwards. It’s very important, a sort of apprenticeship, really. Nothing like doing it for actually learning the craft. A bit like learning an instrument before embarking on composition." (2014)

"During my early years, my mother was a writer who spent most of her time writing in order to feed our single parent family of two! My mother had gone right off men at the time and preferred the company of other women. They chatted away for hours and usually never noticed little six year old me, playing in the corner. But I heard them." (2014)

"I was ‘born’ as a writer at an interesting time for British theatre. At the end of the old order, from Coward, Rattigan, etc. backwards and, on the threshold of the new order, Pinter, Osborne and co. onwards. So at the start practically everyone influenced me. Plus a whole load of back and white (as well as silent) films." (2014)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd. All quotes are copyright of Haydonning Ltd and credit should be given to 'Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website' if reproduced.