TV and Radio

Radio review: An education in soap opera writing

Nuala McCann

The Conversation BBC World Service

Sarah Mayberry is a script writer and a story liner on a “soapy”. That's what they call a tv soap in Australia, in Latin America they call soaps Telly Novellas. This was an education in itself.

“I do like chatting,” said presenter Gemma Cairney. She was perky and this was relaxed, fun, and even, pardon the pun, a bit sudsy.

Sarah said when she told people she wrote for Neighbours, they might say: “Oh, I don't watch that.”

But somebody does. She's been on Neighbours for 16 years. Writers are shy actors, she said. One of her friends can't write in public because she tilts her head one way when she is writing one character's dialogue and tilts it the other when she is writing the other character. She calls it “writer gurning”.

But the real nitty gritty is what Sarah calls the “table of pain”. That's the story meetings when the writers get together to share ideas. You end up offering up “big chunks” of personal stuff, she said.

Jealousy and personal shame, it all comes out. The unwritten rule is that what's said in the room stays in the room. Sounds a bit like therapy.

The other person in the conversation was Indian actress and soap star Simone Singh.

Nobody will fess up to watching day-time soaps in India either, she said - there is the sense that you have to be a “hausfrau” to do that.

And when you compare Neighbours to Indian soaps, they are worlds apart.

In Neighbours you get women in bikinis, men with their shirts off and kissing. In India, you can kiss goodbye to the kissing, from the start.

Singh has played good characters and bad characters. It is a tough job with a punishing schedule, you might get your script that morning and have to know it that day. Cramming in all those words is a challenge.

“It works in reverse... it is very easy when you are starting out but harder as you go along,” she said.

They don't have people dying and then coming back to life in the Indian soaps.

They do have villains and she has played both heroine and villain.

“If they love you, they love you anyway,” she said, confessing that there was something delicious about being the bad guy.

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