Radio

The Ghastly Impermanence: An Interview with Sebastian Bączkiewicz

The author contemplates. Photo courtesy of Sebastian Baczkiewicz.
The author contemplates. Photo courtesy of Sebastian Bączkiewicz.

Sebastian Bączkiewicz is one of England’s leading radio playwrights. His extraordinary command of the medium and breadth of subject matter have led him to a sucessful career that has culminated recently in a Prix Europa award for his work on the supernatural series Pilgrim, and a nomination for a Prix Italia Award as well.

As with many British radio writers, Sebastian Bączkiewicz started his career on the stage. He joined The Questors Youth Theatre at the age of fourteen and progressed through to the oldest group. While training as an actor at Drama Centre he wrote his first one-man play. He went on to write no fewer than a dozen plays for the stage before finally a BBC radio producer approached him in 1997 to write for Radio Four.

In 2000 he became the BBC’s first writer-in-residence which kicked his career into high gear. Since then, Mr. Bączkiewicz has gone on to an outstanding career as a radio playwright, writing thirteen plays and contributing to nine serials, the most famous of which is his own creation, Pilgrim, now into its fourth series.

Pilgrim is a modern day fantasy that tells the story of William Palmer, a former knight in the Crusades. In the year 1185, on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, William encounters the Lord of the Grey Folk and spurns him. The Lord of the Grey Folk has his revenge, cursing William Palmer to live forever. Over the centuries Palmer become a sort of magnet for the faerie world, drawn into all sorts of phantasmagorical adventures. Make no mistake: this is not the faerie world of Tinkerbell. This is the dark, malevolent fantasy world of Arthur Machen and M.R. James, where spirits are not merely capricious but absolutely cruel. These stories are taut with suspense and display Mr. Bączkiewicz’s profound fascination and knowledge of British folklore.

Most of Mr. Bączkiewicz’s plays treat the theme of myth and myth-making that anchors his Pilgrim series. They are, effectively, an exploration of the manifestations of myth in contemporary society, from traditional spiritist myths to the modern urban legend. Whether it be inspired by the myth-making of American Cinema or modern resonances of Chaucer or variations on British folktales, his work stands elegantly with one foot in the collective past and one foot in the individual future.

I spoke with Mr. Bączkiewicz shortly after the debut airing of his new Pilgrim series.

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Seattle Star: When did you do the Head of Change role for Jennet Thomas’s School of Change film?

Sebastian Bączkiewicz: Oh god, I did that last year–or the year before last? Yes, the year before last: we did it in 2011. And it was shown here in London at the end of 2012.

Seattle Star: How did it feel to get back to acting?

Bączkiewicz: It was fun. It was really good fun. I’ve known Jennet for absolutely years, and everyone it seems we knew in common was in her films. I made a joke and said, “Why haven’t you called me? I’ve known you as long as they have.” And then she said, “Well, I’ve written you a part.” That was more or less how I got back into it. (laughs) But it was fun. And it felt good. I like to do some acting every now and again. It puts my feet on the ground.

Seattle Star: It keeps you modest?

Bączkiewicz: Oh, modest. I don’t know if it keeps me modest. I am working on modesty. (laughs) No, I’m happy to be modest. When I think about acting it’s more just kind of remembering and enjoying the interplay between real people as opposed to imaginary people, which is where I spend most of my time.

Seattle Star: Somewhere between imaginary people and real people, really. Have you known Jennet since Questors?

Bączkiewicz: No, weirdly I had a friend who was at Camberwell Arts School and he shared a studio with Jennet. And then I was talking with Jennet, and bizarrely, the guy who I was sharing a flat with at that time when I was a student grew up across the road from Jennet. So it was a very strange, kind of coincidental kind of meeting. We were both going, “That’s incredible. That I should sharing a flat with the guy who grew up across the road from her family when she was a young girl.” So that’s how the friendship kind of got started.

Seattle Star: Small world, they say.

Bączkiewicz: It was indeed. A very small world of very odd coincidence.

Seattle Star: When did you start out at Questors, what year?

Bączkiewicz: Oh my god. Well, I was in a student group there in 1978 when I was about 15 and I wanted to do a play at school that didn’t involve teachers. It was a time of punk rock in London and I knew I wasn’t going to form any sort of band. I wanted to do something where the teachers weren’t involved, so I wrote a play for my friends to be in–and for me, too. Then one by one they all dropped out of wanting to do it. So I thought, “I’ll just write it for myself then.” So I wrote a one-man play and performed it at my school.

Seattle Star: Was that Flight of the Beeblebum?

Bączkiewicz: Beeblebums, yes. My goodness, you know that piece? Yeah, that was back in the day. The man who was head of the student group, David Emmet, came to see it. I think he came somewhat warily, like “Oh my god, what’s this going to be like?” But he was impressed enough to invite me to perform it at the Questors. So that began my connection to them for ten years, really, where my early work was produced there. It was great. I’m very grateful for it and grateful to him.

Seattle Star: Has your theater background obviously affected your radio work in some way?

Bączkiewicz: Well, it’s how I got into radio, was from a play that was recommended to a producer at the radio. She couldn’t come see the show but she read the play and asked me to come in. I went to Broadcasting House there in London. She said how much she’d liked the play, and I got very excited. Then she say “But we can’t do it on radio, though.” So I got very unexcited. Then she said, “Go away and have an idea.”

I realized I’d never really had an idea before. I’d only ever sort of followed my instincts, and come up with plays very haphazardly. I’d never gone “Aha! I have an idea.” It took about a year!

Seattle Star: Waiting for a bit of divine inspiration, eh? (laughs)

Bączkiewicz: Yes, divine inspiration. Not like, “What am I going to write about?” What I’d always start with would be just a word or image. It wouldn’t be anything very formal. I’d kind of just discover what the idea was through the process of writing. But of course in radio or anything you’d have to sell an idea. That’s how you do it.

So I spent most of 1997 trying to come up with an “idea.” Finally, I saw a TV programme about President Kennedy. In this programme they had said he’d have a girl waiting on for him everywhere he would go, you know, for him to have some sort of potential fun with. (laughs) And I was watching that programme and I thought, “Well, where was the girl in Dallas on the fateful day?” And my bell went off, and I just realized that I’d had an idea.

Seattle Star: That became The Prettiest Girl in Texas, right?

Bączkiewicz: The Prettiest Girl in Texas, indeed. And that started me off on my radio career. It’s a three-hander and very much written as a stage play but it was what got me going. People noticed it. Then I started to develop my work from there.

Seattle Star: So that’s the one you wrote first. But Altaban the Magnificent was actually the first one broadcast, correct?

Bączkiewicz: Yeah, I never knew quite how that worked, how that happened. When I wrote The Prettiest Girl–I remember clearly–I wrote it in a week. I didn’t realize in those days that you didn’t have to write a play before they commissioned you.

Seattle Star: Right.

Bączkiewicz: I was very naive. So I wrote the play anyway. When they said, “Oh, they’ve commissioned you,” I said, “That’s great, because I’ve written it!” I was really ahead of the game on that one. With Altaban, again, I didn’t really know about having ideas. I was still pretty green to the whole notion of writing for radio. The one thing I knew radio could do was tell a very different kind of story. It was more liberating. So I said, I’m just going to write the story I’ve always wanted to write: a ghost story set in Berlin after the war. So I wrote Altaban over the summer of 1998 before we’d sold it. And then we sold it and it got recorded and then broadcast straightaway. Then The Prettiest Girl in Texas was broadcast after that. I’ve never understood why it happened that way.

Seattle Star: It’s an interesting change between those two plays. The Prettiest Girl in Texas is rather stage-like, but Altaban is a combination magic show, war drama, psychological horror film, and the effects are very much radio. Your command of the radio language at that time started to change noticeably.

Bączkiewicz: I kind of thought, well I’ve put my toe in with The Prettiest Girl, I’d better just jump in. In my head was to kind of make a piece that would play with the sort of things we could do, like floating above the ruins of Berlin. On the radio you can do it, and without a huge budget. The budget is the listener’s imagination. I realized that once you could trade on that budget and have people buy into it, you could do anything. That’s why radio became so exciting. It became like, “Wow, I can really travel through time and space instantly with this medium.” As a consequence, that really got me interested in this kind of form.

baczkiewicz-squareSeattle Star: In your career arc from 2000 to 2004, the plays get more and more intricate with their use of structure and sound. It’s very fascinating to hear particularly the Chaucer 2000 Tales as a pivotal point, and then Les Miserables after that. Again, it seemed like Les Miz might be more stage-bound, but your conception of it is much more broken up and nonlinear than the source. How did that come about for you?

Bączkiewicz: Well, I did the 2000 Tales when I was lucky enough to be the BBC’s Writer-in-Residence. And I was really set on making the most of this opportunity, thinking like it’s never going to happen again. So I kept saying yes to everything! (laughs) Through accident, really, I found myself getting more and more involved in the 2000 Tales project. I was just going to write one story, then certain things happened or didn’t quite go right. So the producers said, “Do you think you can write the links between the stories?” And then it was “Well, do you think you can write the Prologue?” I ended up doing an awful lot on a very big project. And that was really exciting to do. The then-head of radio drama, Kate Rowland, said then that she wanted to do an adaptation of Les Miserables. I’d never done an adaptation of anything, so I was slightly scared of it. It’s over fifteen hundred pages long and it’s a massive read. I was a bit nervous! On 2000 Tales, I’d worked with a writer named Lin Coghlan, so I said, “Well, why doesn’t Lin do ten parts and I’ll do fifteen?” Instead of doing all twenty-five parts myself.

Seattle Star: Ahhh..okay.

Bączkiewicz: We sat down and just discussed the themes of the book and how it struck us, especially how the character of Jean Valjean evolves. He goes through seven stages of human experience. Starting at a bestial existence where he’s little more than an animal–and described as such–to a transcendent, transfigured state at the end where he has ascended through all the stages of man. That was how we structured it. By the time he dies at the end, he has gone on this extraordinary journey of life, from a kind of bestial criminal to a man who has given his entire existence for the benefit of humanity. We also knew that within each episode we wanted a theme unique to that episode. We spent a lot of time looking at the weather and we were really keen that the weather would play a large part, so each episode has a mention of the weather. We also made sure that every episode had the elements we wanted to be present. It’s gone down in legend at BBC that I got this huge piece of wallpaper and I spread it out over the office, like a Tube map. I had Jean Valjean in red going all the way through, with all these other people like Javert and Fantine and Cosette and Marius like tributaries coming off that main river, so once I’d drawn it out you could see his whole life on this map. Then we chopped up the map into twenty-five bits. But Hugo’s not very obliging, because in the last part of the book he sort of fake kills Valjean off then just sort of ambles around not doing much till the very end. So we had to do a bit of jiggery-poggery. We also wanted each fifteen-minute episode to have a little cliffhanger so that people would come back.

Seattle Star: Fantastic.

Bączkiewicz: Those were the days when you could lock yourself away in an office at the BBC, so we did. We just spent a month planning and we both went off and wrote our bits. Jeremy Mortimer and Sally Evans, the producers, pieced it all together for us. So that’s how we did it.

Seattle Star: That must have helped you when you took on the adaptation of Arthur a couple years later.

Bączkiewicz: Well, there was no adaptation of Arthur as such. That was the weird thing about Arthur. It’s described as an adaptation but there’s no written source. There’s Le Morte d’Arthur but that’s a collection of stories. It’s not really the story of Arthur. So we didn’t really use Le Morte d’Arthur. We had to again just kind of look at his whole life. I worked with Steve May on that one. I got the early part and he got the later part. I did the map thing again–I think he was a bit surprised. I just tried to work out how we could approach this massive, massive epic story of our great national hero, and make him as real a character as we could.

I remember we went to the museum in London where they had an exhibition of Roman London and what it would have looked like. I wondered, “What would that look like if it had been just recently abandoned?” London was an abandoned city for about three hundred years, you know. I got this picture of Britons kind of knocking about in this great civilization, where the Romans had just sort of disappeared and left them to it. That became the way into the story. I became really interested in that landscape.

I don’t know if you know the book called Riddley Walker.

Seattle Star: Oh yeah. Russell Hoban.

Bączkiewicz: Right, Russell Hoban. Which is set a long time in the future, where they’re looking at the civilization we live in and wondering “How did they do that?” or “What was that technology we’ve completely lost?” And I wondered if the Britons would be looking at the Roman technologies and the Roman world wondering, “How did they do that?” in a similar way. And Riddley Walker follows very much the archetypal hero story.

Seattle Star: Oh yeah. It’s very much a Gilgamesh story.

Bączkiewicz: Yes, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting. What if Arthur is Riddley Walker?” And that became a touchstone for how I came to approach Arthur. I approached him as a sort of confused kid, really, who discovers the truth of his fate. And you’re right. He’s the archetypal child born in obscurity, not raised by his real parents. One day he discovers his immortal destiny, rises to the top and is destroyed by his own personal weaknesses and desires. So it’s a classic kind of tale.

arthurSeattle Star: I truly enjoyed that approach to the tale. I like the complete lack of romance about the title character, and that it’s very unclean in the best possible sense.

Bączkiewicz: Oh yeah, we didn’t want any shining knights. It’s a terrible, sad story, really. For all his kind of greatness, he’s kind of fated from the beginning that it’s not going to end well for him. And we were very conscious of that. We wanted to make sure it was not very pretty, not very pretty at all, and dangerous, too.

Seattle Star: That’s one thing I like about your work. Your very unglamorous approach to things that are mythological, whether it be Arthur’s Britain or Hollywood, like in Cruel Sunset, which has its own mythos behind it. You peel the patina away from mythologies pretty nicely.

Bączkiewicz: Those first three plays I wrote form a kind of loose trilogy in my head where I was very interested in exploring American archetypes. In The Prettiest Girl in Texas it’s the “tart with a heart.” In Altaban it’s the screwed-up G.I. And in Cruel Sunset it’s the wide-eyed innocent discovering that there’s another layer of reality behind the American Dream. They’re very different in what they’re talking about, but they have these archetypal figures at their heart.

Seattle Star: You have a lot of American figures in your work. Even up till last year’s The Marches: Man in a Wheelbarrow, whose protagonist is from my hometown of Seattle.

Bączkiewicz: That’s right! I don’t know why she’s from Seattle. That was a kind of weird thing that popped into my head. I wanted her to be from a very long way away from Hereford and for some reason that tower, the Space Needle, just popped into my head. And I thought, “Well, that’s from a very long way away from Kington.” So I thought, let’s just get her into it…

Seattle Star: It’s fascinating to have that study of my home country coming through various writings of yours. The characters are not always really archetypal but definitely identifiable, like the heartless businessman Caspar Logue in Arabian Afternoons or the cynical CIA agent in The Orchid Grower.

Bączkiewicz: I think I’m fascinated by how we view America from here. In its way, American cinema has such a massive impact on the world–that’s a known quality–that they’ve created their own kind of mythology. I was very interested in how they affect us.

When I wrote those first plays, I’d never been to America. I wrote them completely from the point of view of someone who was receiving the myth. I was quite blatantly saying that I am someone who has been influenced and awestruck and sometimes infuriated and quite often delighted by these figures. I’d never been to this mythological country called America where these stories come from, so I was going to write about it from that point of view of someone who’d never been to this place.

It’s actually an advantage because in my imagination I have been to this place. I’ve experienced it all in thousands of movies that I’ve watched within my imagination and that’s where a great majority of people in the world experience this American place, too. I wrote from the point of view of someone who has received the myth, but as something like a kind of voodoo, where the natives think, “That’s the religion the Spanish have brought, now I’m going to turn it into mine. Take their emblematic things and turn them into my emblematic things.” It’s kind of like a game of cultural Chinese whispers. There’s a kind of liberation in being able to shake off London and my background and disappear entirely into the flow of American myth-making. And it’s great that in radio they just told me to go with that, and I did. I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity to take those kind of risks, which I don’t think I would have done if I’d just stayed writing for the theater.

Seattle Star: It’s a lot easier to travel by radio, certainly.

Bączkiewicz: And cheaper. (laughs)

Seattle Star: Truth! Have you read Raymond Queneau’s book, We Always Treat Women Too Well?

Bączkiewicz: No.

Seattle Star: It’s fascinating. It pops into my head because it’s set in Dublin, but Queneau never actually visited Dublin in his life. He wrote all the characters and names based on the works of James Joyce. So he created this world in the same way as your America. It’s an interesting comparison between your take on the American myth-making and the myth-making of Joyce and the recreation of Joyce’s myth-making in Queneau.

Bączkiewicz: Absolutely. And no one was more conscious of myth-making than James Joyce.

Seattle Star: Well, since it’s out now, let’s talk about Pilgrim. I just listened to the first episode, Mullerby Fair, last night. It’s certainly tied into your other concerns. I’m struck by the kind of myth-making in this series, too, where it’s very much the dark side of folklore coming to manifest in modern day England. Do you have an idea for a definitive ending yet?

pilgrimBączkiewicz: I have a great idea of where it’s going. But in a way, he can’t ever end. He’ll always be out there walking about. But I have a vague kind of image of where he’s going. I don’t want to hang on to things because of course that changes them. But yes, I’ve got an idea of where he’s going ultimately.

Seattle Star: You’re on the fourth series now, but the first series of Pilgrim is very different from the current series. Your protagonist, William Palmer, starts out rather timid or confused or both, but now he’s got this book of the Abaeron and he’s much bolder. There’s a kind of purpose to him now he didn’t have in the first two series, or even the third.

You’ve always done work in serial form, but it seems like lately there’s been a shift in your work away from single plays toward serials, like The Count of Monte Cristo and the three and one-quarter series of Pilgrim. Has your writing process changed as far as creating a single play idea and pitching it as opposed to these massive serials and pitching them?

Bączkiewicz: There was sort of a sea change at the BBC where they approached us to come up with series ideas. This is going back a few years now. I was one of the people they sent for to come up with a series, and I’d always wanted to do something using the folktales of the British Isles. I felt they somehow get lost today, that they don’t really get the airing they deserve. But I could never work out how to do it. So when they invited us to come have a series idea, I saw something about a pilgrimage. A pilgrim! Then suddenly everything connected.

The brief on Pilgrim is that each episode will be a standalone play. So although there are serial elements going through it, each play will stand alone. Though now…I am tempted to go back and meet some people I’ve already invented and see how they’re doing down the line. I’ve done that a couple of times. But we’ll see. I haven’t quite made my mind up about it.

But it’s definitely different. You can kind of luxuriate with a serial, paint a whole world and really go into all the different aspects of the character. Definitely from the first series, where he is almost like a conduit for all this crazy stuff that happens, by the time he’s got to where he is now with the Abaeron, he is definitely on the front foot. I quite like the way that he’s had enough and sensed the need to sort of fight back. I wanted to know, too, how he’d be under different kinds of pressures. He’s definitely evolved over the series and I think that’s sort of what still makes it fun to write. Otherwise I’d have lost interest by now, but I haven’t. I keep thinking I have, but I haven’t. There are all sorts of aspects and all sort of interesting stories to investigate in my great big books of folklore I have around the house now. Each Pilgrim story has a kind of DNA source in an original folktale. Though I might change the name of the location, I definitely use the folk stories of a particular area as the inspiration for an episode.

Seattle Star: I noticed that. It’s fun for me because I’m such a folklore junkie. I just saw, about two months ago, a brilliant production of Caryl Churchill’s play The Skriker that also goes back to folklore for a purpose quite dark as well.

Bączkiewicz: Oh yeah.

Seattle Star: Her play also shares that regional folklore at its heart. The way that you bring the regional aspect of the tales into the modern world and yet still straddle the modern and the mythical is really fascinating to me and makes me go back and re-read the tales.

Bączkiewicz: That’s good! That’s fantastic. I’m really pleased to hear that. Where it’s all interesting for me is definitely in that place you say. I’ve never classed myself as a writer of this kind of work. I’ve always used myth but in a slightly different way. But I really get excited with how these things and what these things represent in the modern psyche.

In our apparently, rational, binary world, lurking all around us are all these facets of the irrational and all these things that make people people. Pilgrim is kind of using these forces of the irrational as represented by the grey folk and the more magical presences as a way of looking at darker aspects of our psyche and the role that the irrational can play in it, and the crazy things we can do when we are, as it were, beguiled by our desires. That seems to me more what Pilgrim is about. I wasn’t particularly interested in creating a sort of Tolkein-esque landscape. That’s not really my sort of thing. Other people do it better. I’m much more interested in the grubby bits, the places between magic and real life.

Seattle Star: I’d be shocked if you had taken any other approach, given the rest of your body of work. I think that’s what makes it as strong as it is.

Bączkiewicz: Like the story of the guy who gets turned into a hare in the third season, Sookie Hill. It takes a year for it to happen. So he slowly disintegrates from being a small-town crook really to a grotesque hare being used for these private performances. There’s fun to be had in those disconnected things, and it’s a way to talk about exploitation, how people are used when they fall into bad hands. Those grubby areas of existence, yeah, they fascinate me.

Seattle Star: I like how you said Arthur is kind of a way of looking back at the Roman world and seeing what was lost. That also reappears in Arabian Afternoons, where Scheherazade is apparently somewhere in the future and they are looking back on contemporary Iraq. Now you have Pilgrim where you negotiate between those futures, pasts and present.

Bączkiewicz: I think the present–without getting too literary about it–shows that idea that all around us are the seeds of our future and the legacies of our past, who we are and what made us. For instance, my own background isn’t British or English at all, it’s Polish-Irish, and I’m a child of first generation immigrants. I suppose maybe that’s where it all comes from–wondering what makes people themselves, what’s the legacy that just comes out through who they are and develops from there, from inside out.

You can see a picture of a baby, for instance, that’s a spitting image of his ancestors. So you have Uncle Albert, staring out through the eyes of the two-year-old. I find that interesting. There’s nothing anyone could have done to make that happen through a logical process except the history of that family. I find those sorts of ancient presences in modern contexts really interesting. And I oddly find them more interesting than when I started working on Pilgrim as well.

Seattle Star: That’s an interesting path to pursue. I can hardly wait to see what you devise for various other tortures of poor William in the future. (laughs)

Bączkiewicz: Oh yes, he doesn’t have a good time of it. (laughs)

Seattle Star: That’s what I like to hear! It’s such a lovely piece, too, in a radiophonic context. You can do it without being too literary, you can cover time and space like a novel, but it has an immediacy of being spoken directly into your ear. It creates this wonderful feeling I had of sitting around a campfire and listening to ghost stories when I was a kid, and I think a lot of others share that primordial feeling with your work.

Bączkiewicz: Yes, I think there is. I’m very happy to hear you say that. I think it has that immediacy, that feeling that there’s something just at the corner of your eye: it’s all there, but just out of sight. I think as a storyteller that was one of my primary goals, to create that sense that it’s just there, you know. It’s not some faraway magical land, but right in front you, right there in the shadow between those two buildings. That was always what amused me about how to approach the stories, about how to write them as though they were literally a blink of an eye away, and you could just miss it.

Seattle Star: I’ve not asked you too much about your theater work too much. The last thing you did at Questors was Noah’s Point, was it?

Bączkiewicz: Yes, that was actually a piece I wrote for a school in Gloucestershire. It was commissioned by the school and by the Cheltenham Literary Festival, quite some years ago now. I got another commission from Cheltenham Ladies College, which was a big school, too. The two plays at the Questors were these two plays I wrote for young people back in the 90s which they kind of remounted about five years ago.

Seattle Star: Are you still actively writing single plays not for the radio?

Bączkiewicz: I am actively writing single plays for radio now. In fact, there’s one coming up that’s set in New York, called The Manhattan Bee Testimonial. I was amazed that we pulled this off. I actually went to New York. I said I wanted to dramatize an anecdote that I’d heard about a man who kept bees in his apartment. So we went to Manhattan and walked around for six days, just talking to people and following our noses and asking people to talk about this guy who kept bees in his apartment. Fantastically, they obliged. Slightly similar to what I did in Hereford with The Marches. They came up with all these various scenarios about why he’d got himself into this apartment with the bees and all that, and out of that I’ve constructed a drama. That’s going to go out on BBC Radio 4 at the end of March.

Seattle Star: Excellent. I will watch for it.

Bączkiewicz: It’s an attempt to create an urban myth, to create a sense in the listener that makes them wonder “Oh, is that a true story? About this guy who kept bees in an apartment?” I’ve just finished that. And that’s a stand-alone drama. I am sort of talking with various theaters at the moment and trying to get back to writing something for the stage again after all these years in the ether. (laughs)

Seattle Star: I appreciate the ether. It’s a lot more accessible than the West End.

Bączkiewicz: That is the truth of it! It’s a really amazing feeling to talk with people like yourself. Because what happens is, you write a radio play for BBC, it goes out at 2:15 or 9:00 in the evening, and then it ends–and nothing happens in your life.

Seattle Star: No applause.

Bączkiewicz: Yes, your life is entirely the same as it was an hour before, except this thing that you’ve created and which other people have produced and which actors have been in and has been beautifully edited–has just been out. I know this this is true for other writers on radio, too, those questions–“Did anyone even hear it? Where did it go? Am I the only person listening?” It’s incredibly gratifying when people such as yourself get in touch and prove, “My god, it’s playing in Seattle!” It’s really great, amazing even, to be having this conversation.

Seattle Star: Aren’t you still taking yourself out to the pub after your plays are broadcast and thinking you’re the baddest man in Hammersmith? (laughs)

Bączkiewicz: (laughs) No, I now take myself timidly off to a coffee place. I have a couple of great friends who always listen. I get a couple of texts from them afterward and then I take myself out for a coffee.

Seattle Star: That’s very Seattle. Your character from The Marches may be rubbing off you.

Bączkiewicz: I’ve got to visit there someday, now that I’ve written about it. I have to do some catching up with my imagination. I should probably go to Iraq, too.

Seattle Star: You might want to wait a little while on that. At least till the next round of “elections.”

Bączkiewicz: Yes, I might hold off on that one awhile. (laughs)

Seattle Star: I absolutely love your work, and I’m trying to evangelize for it on this side of the pond, but talking about radio in United States is very frustrating as you can imagine.

Bączkiewicz: Yeah, I got a glimpse of it when I was there. It’s a very hard sell, for sure. But I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to know that people like your good self exist and are listening to the work we make. I’m don’t think I’m just speaking for myself. It’s really wonderful to know. It’s exciting that it’s reaching people that we writers never dreamed it would reach.

Seattle Star: As long as it convinces you to keep writing, that would be ideal.

Bączkiewicz: Well, that’s definitely going to happen.

Seattle Star: Thank you so much. We’ll have to do this again.

Bączkiewicz: Absolutely.

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net