Interview – Chris Gregory of Alternative Stories Podcast

Today’s interview is a little different from the usual. Chris Gregory is the owner of Alternative Stories Podcast, an anthology and audio-fiction podcast that produces high-quality stories featuring the work of writers, dramatists and poets.

  • Hi Chris, tell the readers about yourself and where you caught the writing bug.

I’ve always written since school days. I grew up in Leicester but moved around quite a bit.  I did a creative writing class with Birkbeck College in London a few years ago and the writing bug intensified.  I became fascinated by dialogue and screenplays and then discovered audio drama so I’ve been writing for that genre for the last couple of years.

You’re a little different from who I’d usually interview on the site as you run a podcast that adapts people’s work, as well as original content. Tell me about Alternative Stories Podcast.

Yes, we do a bit of both.  When the podcast began I had two aims;  First to professionally produce some of my own material and secondly to work with and promote other writers and turn their stories into audio drama and fiction.   I also wanted the podcast to have a trans-Atlantic feel as I love America and have spent quite a bit of time there. So we work with a number of great American writers and have a fantastic team of actors over there including Catharine Daddario (sister of Hollywood stars Alexandra and Matthew Daddario), Jackie Jorgenson, Abigail Reno and Miguel Antonio.  Our main presenter, Kelli Winkler is also American. We’ve done a few productions that combine our American and British acting teams such as Anglia, our four part climate change drama and The Adults in the Room in which Catharine Daddario and Tiffany Clare, one of the mainstays of our British team co-star. Most recently we’ve adapted a Fantasy novella by a fabulous British writer called Victoria J Price and we’re working on two new dramas with Signe Maene (a Belgian writer specialising in historical fiction and folklore) and Kati Felix, a Swiss based American who has written a dark Nordic horror mystery.  There’ll be more of my writing very soon though. 

What makes your podcast different to others out there?

The main difference is the range of what we do.  Many podcasts that call themselves Audio Drama have one story that continues through the show like a TV series.  We’re more like TV series like Black Mirror or Inside Number 9 in that we present a number of different stories. In presenting poetry and short prose fiction too we’re even more diverse but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Working with poets in particular has been great fun. We have a little thing going with Seren Books, an independent publisher based in Bridgend, South Wales who produce a lot of poetry. We’ve made a couple of podcasts with them and their writers and we have two more coming soon with poet Sarah Corbett based on her collection The Witch Bag and with Alexandra Ford, a novelist who has written an amazing book called What Remains at the End. 

Did you ever do any writing yourself? Will we get to hear it?

Yes, lots !  I wrote most of the early episodes in which we worked on a theme of stories from mythology and I wrote the four part drama Anglia which was basically a two hour stage play adapted for a podcast audience.  I’ve written an upcoming one part drama called The Lake Isle which is a sinister mystery story set in the Scottish Highlands and I’m working with and actor / writer called Annika Kordes too write a short spy thriller based on the defection of an East German musician in London during the Cold War and the efforts of a STASI unit to eliminate her or take her back to Berlin. 

What does your process look like? How many hours a week would you devote to it?

There are so many different jobs to do!  Writing is one part of it but I also compose and perform most of the music you hear on the show, I do all of the sound design and mixing. I cast and direct the actors and I recruit new writers to work on the podcast.  The way we work is very different to the way a very well-funded BBC radio drama would work. They will gather all the actors in a studio and record live just like recording an actual performance of a play. We don’t have that budget and don’t have access to the extensive studio we’d need to do it that way.  All of our actors have home studios and record their lines independently, sending them in to me, and I slice and cut them into the order they need to be so that it sounds like they were all in the same room together! It’s a long process but it works and I don’t think you’d easily tell we did it that way from listening.  The quality of our actors really helps of course. 

You’ve created across of variety of genre, including a serialised fantasy series. Is there one you’d love to tackle that you haven’t, and is there any that are off the table?

The one genre I definitely want to do more of is science fiction and we’ve been working with a really talented British writer called Kevan Manwaring to adapt his sci fi novel Black Box to an audio drama.  We haven’t done much horror although I know our mythology episode about Medusa episode creeped a few people out. Kat Felix’s story “The Seeing Trees” definitely has elements of horror though and I’m really looking forward to sharing that one with our listeners.  I’d like to do more comedy too and so I’ve asked the British comedy duo Ladylikes (Phoebe Batteson Brown and Miztli Rose Neville) who did a really well reviewed show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year to write us a sort of quarantine diary intermingled with a few of their sketches.  That should be coming up soon. I’m also working on a comedy script which, if it comes off, will be a miniseries. Watch this space. 

Is there a production you are most proud of?

I was really proud of Anglia because it was the first full length play I’d written.  Most first-time playwrights will be really lucky to see their work performed but because of the podcast and my links with all our actors I was able to realise that dream.  I think Anglia touches on many subjects that keep me awake at night ; climate change, an increasing move to the political right in British politics and the treatment and plight of refugees.  It also introduced me to a fantastic Kurdish Norwegian actress called Saya Zahawi who played refugee, Awira in that production. 

Who are your written influences and favourites?

Haruki Murakami is my favourite writer and a huge influence on me.  I love Iain Banks, Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Douglas Coupland, Annie Proulx, Julian Barnes, Philip Pullman, Margaret Atwood and William Boyd.  So far as playwrights go, I think Rebecca Gillman and Jez Butterworth are great. For podcast writers I’d recommend everyone to check out a podcast called “Girl in Space” by American writer and actor Sarah Rhea Werner.  It’s brilliantly written sci-fi that is both philosophical, thoughtful, exciting and funny all at the same time. Sarah also does a great podcast for writers called “Write Now” which you should all listen to for inspiration, tips and motivation.

Finally, what’s next for you and what are your goals for 2020 and beyond?  

I’ve mentioned a few of our upcoming projects in my previous answers but one I’ve not talked about is a sequel to our 2019 Christmas edition which was called The Out of Towners Club.  I wanted to tell a story about all the people who find themselves living in cities other than their own, especially at Christmas. I worked with a couple of writers called Jackie Jorgenson and Mary MacDonald on that episode and they created two amazing characters called Jen and Allison who are both awkward, geeky, a little bit lonely but wonderful, interesting and inspiring in their own right.  At the end of that first story they get together and our sequel (yet to have a name) we find them six months down the line from the Christmas Story with their relationship threatened by an invitation to leave the city for one of our characters. It’s mostly written by Jackie and Mary and we’ll be going into production really soon. 

Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity to rabbit on about Alternative Stories and Fake Realities 

You can find us by searching “Alternative Stories” in your favourite podcast app.  We’re on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher , Tune-in and pretty much anywhere you might find podcasts.  Look for a red white and blue icon and the word Alt!

Twitter: @storiesalt

Hosting site for Alternative Stories Podcasts here.

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