Two weeks ago we celebrated the winners of the BBC World Service International Radio Playwriting Competition. Ana Gonzalez Bello from Mexico, won the Georgi Markov Prize for her play, Diablo and Romina. Georgi Markov was a Bulgarian Dissident writer who defected to the West in 1969 to work for the BBC World Service. In 1978 he lost his life; poisoned by a ricin pellet delivered via the tip of an umbrella.
“Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.” Colin Nissan, in ‘The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better than you Normally Do’.
Fifteen years ago I stopped writing completely. I began to doubt that I had anything interesting to say. I started to panic at the thought of being judged. It was never a tragedy, as I still did lots of creative things that made me happy, and eventually, I fell in love with acting. Those feelings were still there though, and with writing they were always exponential. I mean, if I wasn’t going to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, then why write at all? I had to remind myself that I had a voice, and if I wanted to make my voice heard through the written word, then I needed to stop apologising and take the plunge. I needed to work out that writing muscle.
So I started to write. I write for the International Radio Playwriting Competition, and out of thousands scripts from around 86 countries, I was awarded the Georgi Markov Prize for most promising script. Two years after I left for Mexico, I’m able to come back to London in style, sponsored by the BBC, staying in a lovely hotel in the centre of the city, and with the promise of two amazing weeks with the Radio Drama Department and the World Service.
By now I know about Georgi Markov, and when I meet Annabel Markov (his widow) at the award ceremony, I feel incredibly moved. She holds both my hands tightly and congratulates me on being the first winner of this award. When it’s her turn to speak, she says that the reason for this prize to exist is so that people will remember Georgi Markov as more than just the victim of “the umbrella murder”. Markov was a husband and a father. He was a novelist, playwright, journalist; a dissident writer who spoke out against a totalitarian government, against oppression, and for people’s right to freedom of speech.
When I wrote my radio play Diablo and Romina, I didn’t know that it would have so much to do with who Markov was. In my play, I speak about the tragedy of being voiceless, of the fear that stops you from letting your voice be heard, and also the power that words have to shape your path. When the time comes for me to speak, I speak from the heart. I am honoured to be awarded a prize named after a man who spent his life, and indeed gave his life, for the rights of others to speak up and freely.
Now I’m back in Mexico, sitting here, in front of my laptop, feeling the post-London blues I realise that all the obstacles I’ve encountered have helped me find my voice as a writer. There will always be doubt, I guess. Sometimes you want to change the world in one go. You want to move mountains with one finger. Well, what I’ve been learning is that it’s a journey. A journey with its ups and downs and colossal successes and tremendous failures. All I need to do is to not let the doubt get in the way. Work hard and be disciplined, and above all, enjoy the journey thoroughly.
Ana Gonzalez Bello