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Slipping through time

Created:

25 May 2017

On 1 June at 2.15pm, just after The Archers, BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting a new play, Slipping through time. Written by Louise Monaghan, the play follows the story of a young mum with epilepsy. Louise talks to Nicola Swanborough about her research and inspiration for the play.

Without giving too much of the story away, can you tell us a little about Slipping through time?

The play follows the story of a young mum, Izzy, who is 25. She had experienced seizures as a teenager but they had stopped in adult life. However, after having her first baby, her epilepsy returns. Initially Izzy is in denial and her family struggle with the diagnosis. Her mother-in-law has concerns about Izzy breastfeeding the baby and initially Izzy refuses to take her medication. Then she finds her teenage diaries. It is by reading these that she reconnects with her own story, slipping through time from present to past, and eventually starts to come to terms with her epilepsy. It is interesting to hear how she deals with her epilepsy both as a teenager and as a young woman and first-time mum.

What inspired you to write the play?

I was partly inspired by my own epilepsy. When I was about two, I had a febrile convulsion in the garden at home. Then during puberty I would have petit mals, although not that often. I would also s fall to the floor shaking with my eyes in the back of my head.

It would happen if I was upset about something. For example one day I was watching a programme about babies being circumcised. I went into the kitchen where my mother was running the tap. I told her that the water had a kink in it and was running at a funny angle. The next thing I was having a seizure and was taken to hospital.

I never liked the fact that there was a part of me that I had no control over. It is a bit like giving birth or vomiting; you cannot stop your body from going through the process.

I remember being 15 in a biology class at school and wetting myself during a seizure. It felt degrading. You feel very vulnerable.

As an adult I cannot say that epilepsy has had a big impact on my life. My husband, Mike, knew about my fits but it was not something we were majorly worried about. For 30 years I didn't have any fits, then suddenly I had a one five years ago. I was in hospital for a minor operation. When I came round from the anaesthetic, I felt sick and could feel my leg banging against the bed. The consultant said I had fainted but Mike said it was a seizure.

It was only then that we decided to tell our two sons, Will, 25 and James, 27, about my epilepsy. They were quite shocked we hadn't told them before. It wasn't that I didn't want them to know, I just hadn't seen it as hugely significant. As I have been writing the play it has made me think deeply about my epilepsy and I have discussed it more with my sons. They have been very positive about it and it is good that they would now know what to do if they saw someone having a seizure. They would also know more about how to support a friend with epilepsy.

How much research is involved in writing a play about epilepsy?

When you are writing a play, it is very important to both engage and entertain your audience so that they have a greater sense of the subject you are dealing with. This is the first time I have written about epilepsy. When I pitched the idea of the play to my producer, she was very keen. Like me, she felt that there wasn't enough awareness of the condition. But she was also keen for me to explore other people's experiences of epilepsy.

I had already seen the moving photo journal of a girl called Helen who wrote beautifully about her epilepsy. Her friend Matt took a series of photos of her and together they  were featured in a national paper. But I felt that there was a lot of space to explore between the words and the pictures.

Then Epilepsy Society put me in touch with a young mum, Sarah, who talked to me about her epilepsy, pregnancy, birth, labour and new babies. She said she was told not to breastfeed after having her first child. By the time she was told she could, it was too late. I was very shocked by this but I found Sarah very inspirational.

I also have a friend who developed epilepsy following encephalitis, so I  was able to speak to her and her husband about their experience.

You say this is the first time you have written about epilepsy? What other subjects have you written about?

My last radio drama was about the prison service and Story Book Dads. It can be difficult for dads to maintain a relationship with their children from prison, and good family relationships are significant in not re-offending. The play was about a little girl whose dad is in prison and she thinks he has died. He sends her recordings of him reading her stories and she thinks he is on the radio and is so proud of him.

Another of my plays was about someone who wanted a home burial so they could be buried in their back garden. But not all the relatives were happy about it. I like to write about families and relations and how they work through different issues.

How did you come to be a playwright?

In 1992 I lost my only sister to skin cancer. When she was in hospital I started to write letters to her with anecdotes about the boys growing up. She shared these with other  patients and they seemed to like them.

This led me to do a writing certificate as a foot in the door to writing more. I hadn't been to university but I went on to complete a diploma in drama writing and an MA. I then started sending work to theatres and the BBC and have gone on from there. I have been lucky enough to write plays for the theatre as well as the radio. I am also developing a piece of work with another writer for television.

Do you prefer working in radio or the theatre?

I like both but they can be very different. Theatre work is far more collaborative and takes longer. There will be a month of rehearsals. You get more involved in the creative process and the play continues to develop during rehearsals. On the radio, the play will obviously go through several drafts and re-drafts but the rehearsal time is very short. The actors will be given their script then will only be in the studio for two days. They will have a read through and then it will be recorded. They don't have to learn their lines.

By writing Slipping through time, what did you learn about epilepsy that you didn't know before?

I hadn’t realized quite how varied the condition was and how severe it could be for some people.  Sarah’s experience of epilepsy shocked me.  She explained that she could have up to five seizures a day and that she’d undergone surgery for this.  I’m also much more aware of how absences affect people’s lives and how often these absences are misunderstood.  Sarah talked about teachers at school who told her off for daydreaming.  My own friend experiences absences but I’ve only ever been aware of them because her husband would mention it after it had happened.  I think I’d now be better able to recognise them and support Chris if she needs reassurance or help.  ‘Unseen’ disability has its own challenges and I think we need to be more aware of this.  Hopefully, the play will highlight this.  

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