The Spilled Ink-quisition – An Interview with Blatherskite

Suzy Darlington

This week we are excited to chat with two members of the writing team for QUT’s own Blatherskite podcast, Lilian Martin and Kaylee May Lovegrove. Blatherskite is one of the projects encountered as part of the third-year Creative Industries unit, Situated Creative Practice. This year the group is producing two separate podcast series: True Crimez, and Radio Silence, the first episodes of which will be released at the ScratchThat Issue 12 launch event on April 21.

Suzy: How has your week been, and what are you up to at the moment?

Lilian: I fell off a chair in our writers session. That’s one thing that happened. In terms of our role on Blatherskite as writers of the True Crimez podcast, while the rest of the team is moving into post-production on episode one, we’re moving into pre-production on episode two, so for us that involves doing the early drafts. So how we’re operating it is we’re sort of doing an overview of what we want to happen in the episode and then everyone goes away—because there are four writers—we each go away and draft a quarter of it. [Then] we come together and we have to do a lot of voice edits because there are four different people, and the voice is going to be different.

When we did episode one a few weeks ago – similar process, completely different voices. In the first draft of episode two, the voices were still different, but they’re getting a lot better because we spent a long time trying to understand our two main characters, Dobby and Lambert. We have a much better idea of them now, their relationship. We spent a lot of time talking about how they’re working as characters and it’s coming along okay.

Suzy: So, you have to develop not only the literary voice of each character, but you then have to consider how that translates into the spoken word so that the characters can be differentiated by the actors.

Lilian: Yeah, so we kind of have to think about, the voice and tone of the whole project—the vibe of the episode—and then we really also have to think about the vibe of the characters, their literal voices because it’s an audio thing. So there’s the tone of the podcast and then the tone of the characters which is separate.

Suzy: What are your studio session like? I’ve been to one and it was pretty cool listening in on the read-through of the script. When you’re doing voice edits, do you do that after you go through it with the actors as a group? Does it take multiple iterations? Do you do them in between readings?

Lilian: We have a few different levels of it. What we’re doing this week in the pre-production, we haven’t taken that to the actors yet. They’re busy, and so we just sort of need to piece it together. What we try and do is get it fleshed together, sort of functioning.

Kaylee: We kind of also go, “okay, there’s definitely certain parts of each script that we don’t want touched. So, we’re like, we definitely want to keep that one, maybe that can be worked on, and then when we mush them together, we obviously have to write the little bits of dialogue that come together but then we think, “oh, no, that line needs editing,” because after mushing it all together we realise it doesn’t work as well as we had hoped.

Lilian: Yeah, so after we kind of got that functioning, we do try and bring in the actors, not super early but early on and off in the process because I found—and I don’t know if this is the same for the other writers—but when we hear the actors act [the script] out, we can tell which parts of it flow well and which parts aren’t working. These are experienced actors. They can embody a scene if it’s good. So, hearing what works for them helps us realise what’s working in the script or not, because we don’t have that same experience because we’re not actors. I know that when we were listening to the episode one read-through, there were certain things that I thought were [average] on the page, but as soon as I heard it, I thought, “this is good.”

Suzy: When you say, there are four of you writers, you’ve also got four characters. You’ve got two main characters, Dobby and Lambert, and you’ve got two minor characters. Do all four of you contribute on each character’s scripts, or do you take one character each?

Lilian: We have never thought about it character by character, and I think it’s because Dobby and Lambert are such a unit.

Suzy: And you can hear that in the reading. They really have to bounce off each other.

Lilian: They’re a set! Do not separate the set. You can’t even intellectually separate them. We have to treat them as, like, one blob [laughs].

Suzy: So, is that difficult to coordinate between the four writers? Because writing is generally a much more solitary practice.

Kaylee: Not really. I think because our communication is really good. We also take criticism really well. Which then makes it easier to cooperate and add things. No one gets offended when someone says, “that line was really bad—we can’t use that.”

Lilian: I think we’re just really picky with it. Like, tick—these bits work. And these are bits that could be improved, and then we assess the strengths.

Kaylee: I feel like because we don’t have a lot of time either, we only have a few weeks to be able to have a final draft and then send it off to our actors. So, it’s like, we don’t have time to get offended. We don’t have time to get precious. We just need to make sure that it’s all done and dusted.

Lilian: And frankly, even though we all have that bit of perfectionism around how much better it could be, I think as the team effort and the final team outcome, I personally feel pretty happy with it because this has worked well for a team effort. Because normally when you have something with a team, you can really go, “oh, there’s a really big change in voice there,” but it’s not so jarring in our scripts. Even though you can still slightly notice it in episode one—well, I can; the audience probably won’t—but episode two is coming along a lot better.

You’re learning in the process, so I feel like what we come up with for episode two and three will be really good, and episode one will be alright.

Kaylee: I feel like, as a writer as well, writing scripts for podcasts, there has to be a certain point where we let go and we put trust in our actors. We have to trust them enough to embody what we’ve written.

Lilian: This isn’t so crucial for Dobby and Lambert’s characters, but one of our characters—Jodie—we were having a lot of trouble getting her to work. She’s kind of a stereotype at the moment. She’s the landlady played by Joel. We were in a lot of conversation with Joel about how Jodie’s character was going to work because she could quite easily be comic relief. Especially as she’s being played by Joel who is a dude, but we’ve really been in conversation with him. We asked him, “What do you need to know or see from a character that you want to play?” And he went through and said, “Okay, what’s her goal? What does she want? In every scene. In every line. In life in general. What is she missing in life? What are her values?” We had a talk about what Jodie’s political beliefs would be. Not stuff that’s crucial to the plot but it helps to inform this character in your head. And I think that’s why I think our voice in episode two is a lot more cohesive, because we’ve spent a long time trying to find these characters and try to come up with backstory and all this stuff that isn’t even relevant to the episode but we need it to understand these characters. They don’t just exist within this little world of the podcast. They have a whole life.

Suzy: Do you do this for your other writing, personally as well? Give your characters this backstory of which 99% doesn’t make it into the work?

Kaylee: I think so. For me, personally, I try to think of the character’s major plot points that would have affected them and continued on in how they act in the future and where I’m writing, and that helps me write what their reactions would be to certain things because if something happened to them in the past, they’d react differently to someone who didn’t have that history.

Lilian: I don’t consciously do it, but I’ve found that the more developed I’m getting as a writer, I’m definitely thinking backstories and those characters that have the detailed backstories—I’ve gotten comments that they seem to leap off the page. They seem so much more real.

Suzy: How long are the podcast scripts? Do you have to come up with certain number of words, or…?

Kaylee: We don’t really do it based on words. When we write the scenes , we try to get at least three to five pages each. And then when we put them all together, we like to have 10-15 pages.

Lilian: It also depends because a lot of what True Crimz has been so far is very dialogue-heavy episodes. There’s not a lot of moody music or sound effects setting the tone. However, in episode two, there is a big sound effect joke. On the page, it’s probably a hundred words, but when you listen to it, it’s going to be a minute.

Kaylee: Probably not a minute—maybe like, five seconds.

Lilian: No, no, it’s going to be longer than that. It’s very dramatic and over-the-top. I’m very passionate about that, Kaylee.

Kaylee: It’s very good. It’ll definitely add something else. Because it shows Lambert and Dobby’s way of doing it? It’s funny because we’re the ones writing it, but at the same time we’re like, “No, Dobby and Lambert are driving this forward. This is something that they would do, not what we would do.” And it’s very much like, “Oh yeah, they did this and you wrote it,” and we’re like, no we didn’t… [laughs].

Lilian: And I found one thing in our writer’s session on Wednesday quite funny. One of us mentioned something like Buzzfeed quizzes or Buzzfeed itself, and we thought, “Oh, Dobby would be so into those.” Dobby would pay for the subscription. Like we were shit-talking one of our own friends. [laughs].

Suzy: That must make them feel more real if you’re talking about them like they’re real people. So, this is a script you’re writing—have you had to take screenwriting units here (at QUT)? Or… Lilian, you look like you’ve just thrown yourself in the deep end, sink or swim.

Lilian: I’ve never done screenwriting apart from one script I wrote in grade eight. That was about a kid who was a pineapple. It was appalling. I don’t want to think about it.

Kaylee: So, I’m minoring in scriptwriting for interactive environments so that means that I’ve done Introduction to Screenwriting and I’ve done Advanced Screenwriting. I also did Screen Text Analysis, which focusses on scripts for films and stuff like that, so I kind of have a little bit [of experience], but it is very different to writing novels or writing short form or something like that. It’s challenging in a good way.

Suzy: I’ve heard a lot of other creative writers at the third year level choose those exact three units to minor in. What’s your fourth unit?

Kaylee: I can’t remember what it was called, but I did a really fun unit where we had to create a fate-system campaign, like DnD. We had to create a game book. It was group work as well, then we went off on our second assessment and created our own actual campaign.

Suzy: Out of the writers, who comes up with the ideas? Is it a collaborative brainstorming process? How does it work?

Lilian: We get a lot of ideas from the directors and the actors. At least we did in the early iterative stages where everyone had ideas. At this stage, though, it’s mainly just the writers and a little bit from the directors and producers and so forth contributing ideas. We actually did the overall “beats” of each episode—the one big thing the [characters] need to achieve each episode. We did that way back in week two, and we’ve just been filling in what else we need since then. It’s just a matter of finding those ideas, which the writers can come up with by themselves, really.

Suzy: It sounds like you’re past the bulk of that ideas stage, and now it’s doing the work.

Lilian: Yes, because like we said before, there comes a point where you have to stop coming up with new ideas. You just have to go with it, and I think we’re in that “going with it” stage.

Suzy: That’s a great growth arc for your journey this semester and learning to just let it go and go with it.

Lilian: It’s going well, I’d say. It’s good. I actually feel good with how it’s going.

Kaylee: I’d never written humour before, but obviously Lambert and Dobby are humorous. For episode two, I actually made the writing team laugh a little bit, which is good.

Lilian: That’s when I fell off my chair. And I was lying on the floor.

Suzy: I hope you’re okay.

Lilian: I’m fine. There’s been no additional damage [laughs].

Suzy: Good! So, do you feel confident now that you could come up with humorous prose? Is that what you normally write?

Kaylee: I write fantasy, so humour has never really been something I’ve been interested in writing. But I guess my inner Lambert and Dobby have come out.

Suzy: It is a good skill to have. Do you write high fantasy? Urban? Contemporary?

Kaylee: Yeah, high fantasy. Mainly YA fantasy so it’s not super intense but I still have my little notebook and I create an entire world.

Suzy: So what are your favourite parts of the writing process? Are there some phases you like better than others?

Kaylee: I like the end. In the sense of, if it’s finished and we’ve got the entire episode there and it’s like, “Here’s our baby, actors. We’ve worked so hard on this and it’s actually finished and we’ve done so well together to create something. Take care of it.”

Lilian: Kaylee’s so earnest. She’s such an earnest, lovely person. In writing, you kind of get to a point where you think, “I hate this. This isn’t working. It’s shit.” But I was thinking that and then I heard the actors read it, and I thought, “Hey isn’t as shit as I thought it was. Some of this actually working—there’s hope for it yet.” And that was a very good feeling for me, actually hearing someone else interact with it.

Suzy: That must be a cool and maybe unusual feeling to hear your work validated like that.

Kaylee: Especially because most of the time it never comes off the page.

Lilian: You often don’t get to see a live reaction of someone reading it.

Suzy: And it’s not like Lit Salon where you’re reading it yourself. I’m a little bit jealous now. So, you’re enjoying your choice of project in working with Blatherskite?

Kaylee: Definitely doing it next semester.

Lilian: Going into it, I definitely thought I was going absolutely hate it. I thought it was going to be one of those projects where there’s a disproportionate amount of work chucked on you compared to other people [in the project]. I was relieved that there were many writers so we can even out the work of the writing team because from my point of view, I thought I was going to be the only writer and they’re all going to wait for me to write this script—I can’t do this, no way. But having that team of writers, and also starting to figure out how to collaboratively work with people from other disciplines is good. But definitely having those extra writers and knowing your boundaries and limits.

Suzy: I imagine it would be so much harder if there was just one or two of you.

Lilian: That would be difficult.

Suzy: And then you don’t have that writerly critique from your writing peers to hammer things into place. You look a bit frustrated by this.

Lilian: I’m just thinking about other sorts of classes, the kind of feedback you get from people who aren’t in that discipline. I also do graphic design stuff and when I get feedback from creative writers on graphic design shit, it’s the most… inane confusing thing. So like, “Can you change the font?” What sort of thing do you want? “Just change it.” How? [laughs]. Or when I get feedback on writing from graphic designers: “Yeah, can you make it shorter?” What kind of short? Like more concise? Do you want it cut? Or have a different pace?

Lilian: Learning how to translate what they want into something that works. Because sometimes what other people suggest from outside disciplines, they don’t quite mean what they say they mean. They can feel something’s wrong but they don’t necessarily have the knowledge to identify it.

Suzy: I guess it’s kind of good for you in a way for the future in jobs where you’re going to come across a lot of people with different skill sets to know what questions to ask.

Lilian: And also, feedback’s just feedback at the end of the day. People can be wrong. If you feel really passionately that something’s going to work, but it’s just not working yet, keep working at it because you know what your instincts are probably correct. It’s just that you haven’t achieved what you want yet. And other people aren’t always correct.

Suzy: Yes, I think it’s a really valuable skill to learn to discern when someone’s advice is a bit off.

Lilian: Yeah, because you’re not going to make everyone happy.

Kaylee: There’s a certain point where you have to be confident within yourself.

Lilian: Imagine having self esteem.

Suzy: Imagine that. For writers. So, the first episode comes out in three weeks? [Nine days at the time of going to print!]

Lilian: In week seven at the ScratchThat launch.

Suzy: Looking forward to it! Thank you both so much for taking time out of your day to talk to Spilled Ink. And good luck with episodes two and three of True Crimez.

Suzy Darlington writes science fiction fantasy stories and consumes more of the same than is probably healthy. In another life she wrote copy for game streaming academy, GGWP, and reported on the Capcom Pro Tour for Canadian news outlet, When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothée Chalamet’s best friend, she’s searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction.