TBB Talks To…Pauline Walker and Patricia Cumper From The Amplify Project

The Amplify Project is led by Patricia Cumper and Pauline Walker.

Patricia Cumper, is a playwright, producer, director, theatre administrator, critic and commentator. In 1999 she worked at Talwa theatre later becoming artistic director of the company before stepping down after overseeing their 25th anniversary season.

In 2013 she was appointed an MBE for services to the arts. Cumper has written a large number of plays both for the stage and radio including writing for BBC Radio 4. She is currently the Administrator and Creative Producer for the Alfred Fagon Award.

Pauline Walker is an award-winning short story writer and has had her work published in three anthologies. In 2017 Pauline won the platinum prize from Creative Future Literary Awards with her short story ‘The Wait’ which was published in the winner’s anthology Important Nothings.

We spoke to the women about The Amplify Project a podcast where they speak to writers for the stage, page and screen about themselves, their work, what inspires them and why they write…

Please introduce yourselves…

Pauline: My name is Pauline Walker I am a London-born, Black British, writer, freelance producer and events’ organiser. My parents immigrated to the UK in the 1950s from Jamaica.

Patrice: Patricia Cumper I was born in Jamaica to English and Jamaican parents, studied at Cambridge University and returned to live in the UK in the 90s. I am an award-winning writer for the stage and radio and have served as a trustee for a range of cultural organisations.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

PW: Slowing down as we reach the end of the year.

PC: Ready for a bit of a rest but loving the creative challenges life is throwing at me right now.

Please tell us about The Amplify Project?

We’re a literary podcast talking to Black British writers of the stage, page and screen. We’re interested in what writers make up the Black British canon, their lives, their craft and their body of work.

Pauline Walker

How did you come up with the concept – and why did you decide to make it a podcast?

We’ve worked for decades with wonderful writers whose talent, we felt, had not been fully recognised and wanted to answer the question often asked by the mainstream ‘does a canon of Black British work exist?’ With a resounding yes. The podcast with its accompanying website was the best tool for reaching out to those we’re interested in, needed to know about, were curious about the writers of, Black British literature. It is Black writers in their own words, talking about their lives, their influences, their craft, their art. Lush.

The writers’ category covers so many industries and genres – could you define what a writer is to you and what type of writing guests make it onto your podcast?

In our first series, we’ve been speaking to playwrights, poets, novelists and short story writers, YA fiction writers, memoirists and screenwriters. In our second series, there’ll be more of the same and we’ll also want to speak to lyricists and creators of graphic work.

We’re bombarded by so many stories across stage, screen and audio what is your favourite way to receive a story?

PW: I can’t say I have a preference, I love consuming stories, although I don’t go to the cinema as much as I used to. Reading was my first love. I’m still old-school, preferring print to an e-reader. I just love the feel of a book and always hope that the story will live up to the blurb on the back cover or the recommendation I’ve been given and when it does, it makes me happy.

PC: Hard question. I enjoy all of them but find that screen leaves less to the imagination and so lands very differently from audio, which feels more intimate. Print for me is an ongoing conversation with the writer so that too is a different experience. There’s a part of me too that is almost always aware of the craft of the writer telling the story, so when I can switch off my critical side and just be carried away by the story in any medium, that is what I most enjoy.

How did you two meet? And what was it that made you come together to launch Amplify?

PW: I first met Pat when she was the Artistic Director of Talawa and I was the Producer and Administrator for The London Hub, a group of London-based Black- and South- and East Asian-led performing arts organisations. We then worked together at StrongBack Productions a theatre company Pat co-founded and I’ve produced one of Pat’s plays, Chigger Foot Boys, about Caribbean soldiers in WWI. I do love that play and we had a great cast and director. So we’ve worked together on and off over the last eleven years and our values align on issues like representation and equality in society so when we were discussing the state of the world in May 2020 in the early days of months of the pandemic when the inequalities in society were coming sharply into focus, we were dreaming up this project and it became even more urgent after the George Floyd murder and #BlackLivesMatter to do something practical to address the inequalities within our artistic sphere of Black British writing.

PC: Pauline has not mentioned that we have essentially complimentary skills. Pauline has a gift for streamlining and maintaining the organisation of any project she works on which is hugely valuable for the credibility of any creative project. I’m quite good at articulating what we are building and why we are doing what we are doing to funders, partners and participants. We know each other’s working styles and have built a level of mutual trust over the years.

Patricia Cumper

How does this fit around your day jobs and how does it enhance your day jobs?

PW: I’m a freelancer and currently working on three projects. Alongside the podcast, I’m writing a novel (I have an agent). I’m also the Administrator and Creative Producer for the Alfred Fagon Award, the UK’s only dedicated playwriting award for Black British playwrights. I really only started my own creative journey around eleven years ago and I love working with and being around writers. The writing process, creating something from the imagination is endlessly interesting to me and it’s been a real privilege to talk to the writers we feature on the podcast and listen to them talk about themselves and the craft of writing.

PC: I have been a freelancer for ages and so juggling many jobs and responsibilities is par for the course. Apart from The Amplify Project, I’m working as producer and director on Faith Hope and Glory, a BBC audio drama series following the lives of three Windrush generation couples. I’ve been commissioned by Pegasus Opera Company and I am on the board of Utopia Theatre Company and a council member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Who’s on your guest Wishlist?

PC/PW: There are so many writers that we’d love to talk to over the next five years, up and coming writers, more established ones. We’re even thinking about expanding the list of writers to include lyricists.

Can you share a comment or thought from a guest you’ve had on the show that has moved or inspired you?

PW: The novelist Diana Evans said, “I often struggle when I’m writing and feel like I’m never going to finish it or it’s too unwieldy, the whole idea is a mess, it’s never going to come together. And I usually feel like that right up until very near the end…but I think the more you do it, the more your faith deepens that actually it is possible, you just have to commit to it and accept that it’s going to be really hard.”

This resonated with me because that’s how I feel about my own writing, some days it flows, other times it’s hard and you have to just stick with it until you produce something which you can then shape into what you want it to be.

PC: In our interview with Trish Cooke, she talked about how she’s had to change the medium in which she was working every time she bumped into a glass ceiling and that is how she kept going as a writer for so long. That describes a lot of my writing life. I am delighted and a little envious that more Black writers are able to break through somewhat more easily now (though it is never easy!).


A book you have to have in your collection?

PW: It’s tough to pick just one book so I’m going to be cheeky and pick three novels. Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna and The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. Wonderful storytelling.

PC: Since she’s had three, I’m going to be cheeky too! Beloved, of course. Wole Soyinka’s Ake; I really want to bring it to the stage! And most recently I absolutely adored Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud.

A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date?

PW: This has stumped me as there isn’t one song or album that is the soundtrack to my life, just different songs or albums I’ve fallen in love with at different times. At the moment the songs that are making me smile are Silk Sonic’s Leave the Door Open and Skate. The lyrics are witty and the old-school R&B vibe is right up my street.

PC: Marvin Gaye What’s Going On, beautiful music and lyrics that still resonate. I think I’ve played it just about every Sunday morning of my adult life!

A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly?

PW: Andy Murray winning Wimbledon in 2013. I’m a tennis fan and it was one of the sweetest moments in my life, watching that match.

PC: I’m getting soppier as I get older: The Repair Shop frequently has me in floods. Watching drama is a bit of a busman’s holiday for me!

The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)?

PW: The first stage production I saw was on a school trip as a teenager. We went to see The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. It starred Judi Dench. We’d been studying it in my English Literature class and it was amazing to see the words on the page being brought to life by the cast.

PC: My aunt had a ballet school and I remember the end of year recitals vividly, that and the annual Jamaican pantomime that my family went to every year. I was told that as a six-year-old I stood up in the audience and tried to warn the hero that the villain was sneaking up on him! I also remember seeing my first play by Derek Walcott, Dream on Monkey Mountain. It helped me realise that people like me could write about our lives for the theatre.

What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week?

PW: Sad and mad that not enough Covid-19 vaccines are getting to the parts of the world that need them. Glad – that I’m getting a rest now. It’s been a full-on year for work and I’m very thankful for that.

PC: Sad? How divided the world has become. Mad? That we do not realise how
our lives are being manipulated by algorithms to our own detriment. Glad? I get to spend the holidays with my son and his partner, his sons and her daughter. Proper family life. And I don’t have to cook Xmas dinner!

For links to The Amplify Project Podcast visit the website here.


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