Sophie Knight interviews James Cunningham, writer of My Land, My Home: new three-part drama for Xpression Presents!
This Wednesday, students of Exeter will put away their tiresome reading and dreary dissertations. Kettles will boil, tea will be stewed and biscuits munched, as friends gather together. But not only for warmth in those cold student houses, instead for entertainment, for a performance! It will be time for Xpression Presents on Xpression FM, and there’s a new drama to grace the airwaves…
My Land, My Home is a brand new three-part drama set in 1930s Czechoslovakia. It’s a wartime story but not as you’ve heard it before. We were lucky enough to snatch an interview with its creator and writer, James Cunningham… Perched at a table in Queens’s café and armed with my voice recorder, I quizzed James. Softly spoken but relaxed and self-assured he reeled off dates of historical events without pausing and eloquently verbalized the inspirations behind his play: My Land, My Home.
Some would say that the history of Czechoslovakia isn’t widely known in Britain. Tell us more about the historical setting of your drama!
I’ve set my drama in the 1930s, which was a turbulent period for Czechoslovakia. A lot had changed since its inception in 1919, just after the Paris Peace Conference, and the country was moving towards the end of what Czech Republicans now refer to as the golden age or the age of independence. There was a growing uncertainty around the border areas, especially around the German border, as there was a lot of ethnic mixing. It was a period where there was quite a bit of tension. It led to the annexation of the Sudetenland after the Munich agreement in 1938, which is addressed more in the drama so you’ll have to listen!
Are the historical events the main plot drivers of the drama?
I don’t want this to be a like a history lesson, or a big condemnation of war – it’s been done before, everyone’s seen it, everyone’s heard it. I wanted to do something new, for the story to be more about the effects of the major historical events on a small scale, in a village setting. To see how people would respond, whether it would bring out the best or the worst of the characters.
Where did your inspiration come from?
I’ve been inspired by stories that I’ve heard from my grandparents and parents – they have seen and lived through a lot. But it’s not entirely based on past experience. I largely wanted to make a story that was interesting, something people could relate to, something that would engage an audience.
One of my big inspirations came from watching Downton Abbey! It explores relationships in the context of history very, very well so it prompted me to do that too.
How did your idea become the finished drama piece?
So one Sunday morning, I sat down and I had an hour to spare so I just wrote down a few ideas and a few characters for this drama. I messaged Graham Eveleigh, head of Xpression Scripted and said ‘I’ve got a drama proposal, what do I do with it?!’ I consequently sent him an episode summary, and then over Christmas it became three script drafts. They then evolved, were edited, re-edited, cast and recorded. Writing in script format was a bit unusual, as I’ve not been used to writing dialogue or paying particular attention to what people say in common conversations. It was a bit weird. The scripts now look nothing like they did when I drew them originally, but they’ve been greatly improved with Graham’s help. And the casting process was fun: one of the perks of creating something is that you have the character in your head so you can chose who will play that role well.
How are you so knowledgeable about this time period? What made you decide to write about it?
I come from Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, and my mother is Czech. So I learnt of the history from that side of the family and through lessons at school. I was impressed at the rich history that the country had to offer. It was something that really fascinated me and so I’ve wanted to write about it for quite some time. And I’ve finally got the chance!
James’ passion for the subject make this drama a must-listen! So tune in to Xpression FM on Wednesday 28th at 17:05 for the start of a series set to be historically intriguing and emotionally engaging. We are very excited!
You can also catch up on all Xpression’s scripted drama so far this year on Mixcloud here.
Follow Exeposé Arts on Twitter and like us on Facebook here.