In 2009 Trudi-Ann Tierney left her role in Sydney as a television producer and writer to take up a unique and challenging opportunity – in Afghanistan. Initially she ran a bar there in the expat community known as “Ka-bubble”, but she was soon working for a television production company producing soap operas for Afghanistan’s burgeoning TV audience. Making Soapies in Kabul (Allen & Unwin) is her first book and the story of her years in Afghanistan.
Trudi-Ann began her television writing career at Foxtel where she wrote across a number of channels. In 2006 she spent time in Cambodia working on a feature film script then returned to Sydney where she freelanced for a number of years before moving to Afghanistan. She is currently working on a television series for audiences in Papua New Guinea.
1. Tell us about your book, Making Soapies in Kabul.
The book covers the three and a half years that I lived and worked in Afghanistan making television drama serials for local audiences. It’s full of stories about my wonderful Afghan friends and colleagues, crazy expats, and the stresses around making TV in a war zone.
2. What led you to Afghanistan in the first place? And did you go there with a plan to write about your experiences?
In late 2008, an Australian friend and ex-colleague was appointed as head of production for Moby Group – Afghanistan’s largest and most successful media company – and when he told me about it I was instantly intrigued. His focus was to improve production values across the broadcaster’s two TV channels and to mentor its largely untrained staff. The opportunity to work in this space sounded like everything I was after. Within a matter of months of this initial meeting he was in a position to offer me a job and I immediately accepted.
I never had any plans to write about my time there. Friends had suggested that I keep a journal or write a blog about my experiences but I was too busy living it to actually keep track of it in writing! Richard Walsh from Allen & Unwin approached me about writing the book after he read a newspaper interview I’d given on one of my leave breaks home in Australia.
3. What were the main differences between writing for an Australian network and writing for Afghani TV?
Television in Afghanistan is a very important tool for conveying positive messaging around important issues including women’s rights, health and education. So even a weekly soap opera had the ability to effect change simply through the themes that the show explored. My Afghan colleagues were acutely aware of the important role that they played in shaping their society and so we were very mindful of this when we developed our storylines.
4. What was your process like for writing the memoir and how difficult was it to go from writing for TV to writing a book?
I was initially very unsure of how the narrative would all fit together and had this rather naive concept that I needed to know the beginning, middle and end of my story before I began the writing process. Thankfully I had the wonderful Richard Walsh guiding me through my first draft and I’m sure I would have gone quite mad without his constant support and assistance. He instructed me to simply write what I felt like writing with assurances that we’d piece it all together like a mosaic as we went along.
Writing for television is an exact science. It includes detailed character development, episode outlines and scene breakdowns before you even begin the scripting process. Writing the book was a wild and at times chaotic ride. And writing about my own experiences and myself was very confronting!
5. Did you have a daily writing routine you stick to?
Ideally I like to write in the early hours of the morning when there’s nobody around to distract me. Once the world wakes up, I tend to lose focus. I’m by nature a very social person and had to fight at times to find space and time to write. And after a night out with friends, the early morning start didn’t always pan out. So there was no real ‘routine’ as such, but having a deadline ensured that I somehow got there in the end.
6. What are you working on now?
I’m currently working with my business partner Muffy Potter and ABC International on developing a television drama serial for Papua New Guinea. If it goes ahead, it will essentially be the same type of work that I was doing in Afghanistan – making entertaining TV with important social messaging while mentoring local talent on how to write and produce their own stories. There has never been a local drama serial produced in Papua New Guinea so Afghanistan was a very good training ground.
7. What’s your advice to new writers – whether they’re writing for television or a book?
Just keep writing. It is only through practice that you will find your ‘voice’.
If you want to write for television, there are various courses on offer that teach you the process. The Australian TV industry is a highly competitive market, so it’s probably wise to undertake some form of training before trying to get your foot in the door.
Naturally there are days when, creatively, you feel completely empty (better known as ‘writer’s block’). And in writing the book, I had many moments like that. You just need to push through and write something…anything. And I actually found that I produced some of my best work during these seemingly desperate times.