The Divide: History

The Divide marks a radical departure for Alan Ayckbourn and a deliberate decision by the playwright to push himself in a new direction and write something he had never attempted previously.

The Divide was conceived and written as a prose-work which the playwright hoped would become his debut novel. It was unveiled to the public during a special gala reading on 27 September 2015 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, and - due to having not yet been published - was described as a 'narrative for voice'.
Behind The Scenes: Novel idea
The Divide is Alan Ayckbourn's debut novel (and he currently classes it as one of his two books alongside The Crafty Art Of Playmaking). Although written in 2015, it was only published as a novel - in the form the author originally intended - in September 2019 by PS Publishing.
Ayckbourn first mooted the idea of writing something very different during 2014. One of his early thoughts was to write a novel which would be unencumbered by the practical limitations of writing a play for performance with the intention it might then be published in some form.

This idea evolved into
The Divide, told through reportage (journal entries, cuttings, transcriptions etc) forming a single large prose work, which theoretically could also be performed as a narrative for voice.

The plot is set in a post-catastrophic England and follows a forbidden love-affair. It centres on the siblings Elihu and Soween and their lives in a world where contact between adult men and women is forbidden following the outbreak of a fatal disease which has devastated the male population. The sexes are segregated by The Divide, a literal North - South barrier with the men in the north and the women in the south. Birth is by artificial insemination; the resulting rare male children live in the south with their Mama (Mother) and Mapa (Mother Father) until puberty when, for their own safety, they are moved across The Divide into an all male society. Homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuality is not only deemed to be fatal but also viewed as deviance.

The Divide has been described as being influenced by Margaret Atwood, George Orwell and William Shakespeare and it undoubtedly reflects Alan Ayckbourn's early love of classic works of science-fiction.

It was written during April and May 2015 and Ayckbourn's initial concept was of two diaries chronicling a brother and sister's childhoods in a strictly orthodox household in a future dystopia. As he began writing though,
The Divide began to expand in all directions gaining a Romeo & Juliet over-arching narrative to it and encompassing other 'documentation' such as extracts from The Book of the Preacher, transcripts of Council meeting, Government correspondence and other documentation. From a relatively simple idea, the second draft came in at 260 A4 pages, and now consisted of diary and journal entries, newspaper articles, correspondence, transcripts, council minutes and reportage.
Behind The Scenes: Future Archive
The introduction of The Divide makes mention of the archivist Simeon Mappletrosse; not a million miles away from the name of Alan Ayckbourn's own archivist Simon Murgatroyd (and later confirmed in 2017 as being a definitive nod to his archivist).
On 4 June 2015, having completed the novel, a first read-through was held at the writer's home: Alan Ayckbourn himself, his wife Heather Stoney, their PA Katherine Dunn-Mines and Ayckbourn’s Archivist Simon Murgatroyd read all 39 roles which ran to seven-and-a-half hours.

At this point, having written a prose work but having no idea how to publish it given his entire background was in playwriting, Alan suggested that it might be introduced to the public through a reading. The Stephen Joseph Theatre was celebrating its 60th anniversary that year and it was suggested the book could be unveiled through a fund-raising read-through as part of the anniversary celebrations.

From the core manuscript, Ayckbourn and Katherine Dunn-Mines then produced an edited version suitable for reading at the gala reading which took place on 27 September 2015. This version ran to five parts and was designed to be presented with breaks during a single day. It should be emphasised, this was not an adaptation nor a 'play', it was merely an edited version of the original prose work.

The gala reading included the current Ayckbourn company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre joined by previous company members including Liza Goddard and Heather Stoney; Alan Ayckbourn's wife, making her first stage appearance since the world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's
Woman In Mind in 1982. To emphasise the unique nature of the event, simple costumes were created for the characters and some simple staging effects were used.

The reading, in fact, ran for eight-and-a-half hours - including intervals - but was well received by the audience. Although it was a one-off event, Dominic Maxwell attended and gave it a glowing four star review in The Times.
Behind The Scenes: Dedications
The Divide is dedicated to 'Heth, Kath and Simon for their undivided support.' They are his wife Heather Stoney, her PA Kath Dunn-Mines and his Archivist Simon Murgatroyd. It is also dedicated to the author and playwright Robert Shearman for his help in getting the work published.
Following this, Alan returned to The Divide and added further material to the prose work, expanding the texture and world-building of the piece, still aiming to find a publisher.

Meanwhile, the gala reading had been attended by Annabel Bolton, Associate Director at The Old Vic - who had previously worked at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Her enthusiasm for the piece led to her asking Ayckbourn for permission to adapt and develop
The Divide for the stage. Alan agreed, although he played little part in the adaptation process, and it was staged at the Edinburgh International Festival during 2017 and The Old Vic during 2018 (see Stage Adaptation).

However, the playwright was still no closer to having
The Divide published as a novel. This was rectified when the playwright and author Robert Shearman - who made his professional stage debut at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round - became aware of the situation through Alan's Archivist, Simon Murgatroyd. Robert introduced Alan to the Hornsea-based publishers, PS Publishing. Already fans of the playwright's work, the publisher's directors Pete and Nicky Crowther expressed an interest in working with the author to publish The Divide as he had originally intended.

Alan returned to his original, uncut manuscript before re-editing and revising certain parts. His main desire was the novel reflect the fact it is a 'found' work consisting of journal pages, official documents and the like. The design of the book reflects this with each entry formatted to portray the type of entry (i.e. handwritten pages for journals, typed pages for official documents etc).

Four years after being written,
The Divide was finally published as originally envisaged and launched on 12 September 2019 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. It is published in a limited edition hardback with slipcase, hardback and softback format.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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The Divide section of the website is dedicated to Kath Dunn-Mines for
her commitment, dedication & support to the Ayckbourns over many years.