Get to know… Jan Woolf

I’m writing a novella – working title From the Shadow, and I discovered Writing Room’s course on novella writing with Kiare Ladner in the pre-Covidian era – ie before lockdown. It gave me plenty to do and think about during lock up however and it should be ready to be born later this year. ‘The novella is a fever.’ I liked that, as indeed my characters all have a feverish relationship with each other. AND it’s set in Tate Modern; an art thriller. Enough already. Currently pre-occupying me though is the run of my play, Blood Gold and Oil, which opens this Tuesday (25 April) at Gatehouse Theatre Highgate. I was writer in residence on an archaeological dig in Jordan in 2013 and dug this play out of the desert. Honed and toned now for the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and handed over to director and actors, the programme will say this about me:

Jan is a playwright, reviewer and short story writer and painter. Blood Gold and Oil is her 4th performed play. The previous three, Sphinx, Porn Crackers and You Don’t Know What you Don’t Know, were produced at the Hackney Empire and Royal Court. Her short story collection Fugues on a Funny Bone was published in 2010 by Muswell Press and her second Stormlight in 2020 by Riversmeet. A varied working life as teacher, events producer, political activist, film classifier and editor has informed her work. Like Dorothy Parker, Jan ‘hates writing, but loves having written.’ She is regularly published online with International Times is an arts reviewer for the Morning Star and obituary writer for The Guardian.

It will also have my short essay about the writing of the play – here is an extract:

Dig it

Freud compared psychoanalysis with archaeology – the delayering of the psyche with the removal of topsoil to get to the buried stuff. Grounding truth, archaeologists call it. I would extend that to digging for political truth. The Arab revolt of 1916 against the Ottoman Empire – at that time allied with Germany – had the Sykes Picot agreement for the post war division of the Middle East between the British and French, lurking in the shadows of duplicitous diplomacy. Bedouin Arabs were dying in the cause of independence, much as ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was a front for the oil fields of Iraq in 2003. Play writing requires a lot of digging too, into characters, their motives and conflicts, as well into the self. Why write the play? During the recent WWI centenary, with the Government funded 14-18 Now and the No Glory in War coalition. I was a kind of cultural attaché for No Glory, putting on public arts events. I learned of the series of Great Arab Revolt digs in Jordan and joined it as writer in residence in 2013 – a fascinating experience. We dug deep; Ottoman tent rings, the site of Hejaz railway explosions, Turkish redoubts, Lawrence’s base camp. I was also digging into my teenage infatuation with Lawrence of Arabia after seeing David Lean’s masterpiece of a film. Soon TE, as his friends called him (and surely I would have been one of them) supplanted Peter O’Toole’s angst and lovely blue eyes with his brilliant writing and wit. He knew the dream world and so, like most adolescents, did I.

When the play is done, it’s back to the novella.
Jan Woolf

Photo of the author by Margot Elke Schiemann