Interview with Agatha Author – Derek Webb

Derek WebbDerek Webb, author of ‘Agatha Crusty and the Village Hall Murders’, is a playwright, screenwriter, poet and author.  He has abridged many dozens of books for Hodder Headline, Random House and Harper Collins among others. These have ranged from Jane Austen to Ruth Rendell. He has dramatised a large number of children’s books for audio, including The Minpins by Raold Dahl starring Joss Ackland and Charlotte Cornwell; Esio Trot by Raold Dahl starring Annette Crosbie and Michael Williams; over a dozen Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven stories, and 80 minute dramatisations of children’s classics including The Secret Garden, The Railway Children and The Incredible Journey. His retelling of Jonah and the Whale was included on ‘The Whales Song and other stories’ read by Helena Bonham-Carter for Random House Tellastory.  Derek now lives in Pembrokeshire, having moved from Surrey in 2001 to get away from the M25

What were your career plans before becoming a successful published author?
I worked as a Creative Director in several advertising agencies as the day job while I wrote in my spare time.

What inspired you to start writing?
I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a secondary school.  I started work as a copywriter, so I guess I’ve earnt my living by writing all my life – but what I wanted to be was a real writer!

What was the first play you wrote that was performed on the stage?
The first proper performance of a play was ‘Dog-Eat-Dog’ at the South London Theatre in 1998.  My first professional production was ‘Man’s View’ at the Swansea Grand Theatre in 2008.  Eloise Williams, who played Carol in that play, is starring as Edith Nesbit in my new play called ‘The Railway Children Lady’ which tours to 10 venues this October.

Where did the seed of the idea for Agatha Crusty come from?
A local drama group had put on a couple of my one-act plays – and did quite well in a festival with them – and they asked could I write a full length comedy for them.  They had had great success with ‘Allo, ‘Allo and said ‘could I do something similar?!  Part of the reason for the success of ‘Allo, ‘Allo is that it is very familiar to people because of the TV show, so I thought perhaps taking a familiar television theme would be good.  I always enjoyed Agatha Christie novels – and with the continued success of Marple, Poirot et al, the idea of a spoof murder mystery was born.

Are the characters based on people you’ve met?
Like all writers, many of my characters are amalgams of people I know or have met.   In the case of Agatha Crusty, I knew the members of the drama group and wrote the parts with them in mind.  It made it much easier to write, knowing the characters to begin with!

Even DI Twigg?
Well Twigg is the archetypal bumbling detective and so there are many references to someone like him (Clouseau etc etc).  I think the secret to playing him successfully is to do it straight.  It’s the fact that he treats himself seriously that makes it funnier.

We’re delighted you’re coming to see our performance – how many times have you seen it performed? 
I’ve seen about four productions – after yours I’m seeing one in Cheltenham and no doubt there will be more.  It’s had well over 30 different productions so far which is pretty good going I think.

Do you still laugh at the humour?!
Yes I do, even though I know what’s coming!  Often the cast and the director will bring a new or fresh interpretation that highlights the humour – it is so gratifying for me to see it constantly changing and making people laugh.

Your new Agatha Crusty play has just been published.  Can we look forward to more adventures with Agatha?
Agatha Crusty and the Murder Mystery Dinner has just had its first performance and I hope it does as well as ‘Village Hall’. I do have some ideas buzzing around in my brain – I’ve grown quite fond of Agatha and I’d like to see her develop.  I have a great fondness for Twigg too and, while he’s not in ‘Murder Mystery’ it would be nice to bring him back at some time too.  Watch this space!

Out of all the work that you’ve done is there one highlight or stand out project of which you are particularly proud?
I’m very proud of my children’s book called ‘Is’ about a girl who believes she is Isambard Kingdom Brunel reincarnated. And my play about Dusty Springfield, which toured a couple of years ago, I’m very proud of because I believe it captured a good deal of the enigma which was Dusty.  I have great hopes for The Railway Children Lady too.  And of course Agatha… oh dear that wasn’t the question was it?  I suppose I’m proud of many pieces but for different reasons.  There is one short (30 min) one act comedy of mine called ‘CCTV’ which has a lovely (and modestly, I say) an inspired bit of business in it, which I’m very proud of.  I could go on,  but I really had better not…  Oh, I know… one project that I am very proud of is Pint-sized Plays.  It’s a writing competition for 5-10 minute plays we organize. We’re now in our eighth year and we get over 300 entries each year.  The winning plays are performed in pubs – actually in the bar areas of pubs – for free.  And we then have a script slam in a local theatre where the audience get to vote for their favourite play And we now publish the winning plays too.  It has been brilliant for developing new writers and actually taking theatre to the people. I just love it! 

Thank you Derek!

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