Magic of canal gets writers’ inspiration flowing in plays

Author Philip Pullman

Author Philip Pullman

First published in Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering North Oxford, Jericho and Summertown. Call me on 01865 425498

SPELLBINDING stories of the Oxford Canal were performed in Jericho’s church in a competition for a heritage project.

The four 10-minute radio plays were read for the first time to an audience at St Barnabas Church on Thursday.

The finalists had been whittled down from 36 entries, all inspired by the historic city waterway.

It was part of the Oxford Canal Heritage Project, which aims to promote interest in the canal among residents.

Author and Cumnor resident Philip Pullman chose the overall winner, Breaking the Ice, by St Anne’s College English undergraduate David McShane. It followed two men as they reminisced about their memories of the canal and former lovers.

Mr McShane said: “My inspiration stemmed from thinking about the canals I’ve grown up around, in Shireoaks and now Oxford. There’s something about how the Alice In Wonderland potential of these places is so at odds with the days when it’s all mud and rain.

“That feeling of hoping for the wonderland but sometimes finding it hidden by reality resonated with some of the things I like writing about.”

Mr Pullman, who could not attend, said in a written message: “I read all the plays at least twice and they were all interesting in different ways. But there was one that stood out for me as a piece of drama.

“A play should be about coming to a crisis and then having it resolved and so I felt [David’s] play should win.”

The final four shortlisted entries will all be produced by Oxford-based Tom Dick and Debbie studios, uploaded to the Oxford Canal Heritage Project’s website and be available for download.

Other entrants included a story about the mule who pulled the country’s last horse-drawn narrow boat along the Oxford Canal, and another about Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame, who is buried in Holywell Cemetery.

A third about the long history of travellers stopping at Oxford’s mooring sites was written by Lara Fairy.

The 40-year-old, who lives in a houseboat at Walton Bridge Moorings, wrote her radio play to raise awareness of Port Meadow. She said: “My play drew on the stories my nan used to tell me about the area as well as all the traditions and things families had made there. The meadows are an amazing public space and I want more people to come and visit us.”

Katie Baxendale, artistic director of the project, said: “Writing a good play that lasts 10 minutes is no mean feat and we only gave people three weeks.

“I couldn’t believe it when my inbox filled up with 36 of them. As someone who writes for a living, it was wonderful to see people follow that urge.”

  • For more information, visit oxford canalheritage.org

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