Dina Soraya Gregory and Rosabella Gregory are the incredibly talented twin sisters behind our newest release, Bog Girl. Combining their writing and composing skills, Dina and Rosabella craft captivating audio stories for listeners of all ages. So of course, we asked them all about it.
Creating audio drama seems a perfect match for your combined talents. How did you get involved in writing and composing for audio plays?
(Rosabella) Actually Bog Girl was my first foray into the realm of audio drama. You ask later how this work came about, so I won’t expand on that now, but Bog Girl opened up other doors. It caught the attention of Robin-Norton-Hale the (then) Artistic Director of OperaUpClose (and now the General Director of English Touring Opera). Robin immediately wanted to collaborate on something similar which resulted in our ‘online opera for kids’ Sammy and The Beanstalk. Indeed, Sammy was a hybrid work that drew on many of the skills that I’d employed while creating the soundscape for Bog Girl. BG also led to my collaboration with Dina on Wind in the Willows for Audible. You’re so right – it is a perfect match for our combined skills and we are looking forward to doing many more!
(Dina) For me, it was a mixture of luck and being prepared. A friend told me Audible was seeking short stories to play through an Alexa skill. At the time I’d been trying (and failing!) to break into the picture book market. So I pitched a fairytale mashup entitled Gingerella. Fortunately, it hit the spot. Suddenly I was churning out mini audio stories–I’m talking 300-800 words in length–about everything from angels, to trees that grow chocolate, to naked islanders. So much fun! Doing these shorts allowed me to demonstrate my storytelling chops, which led to bigger audio projects and the chance to work with Rosie, too.
Singing, Song writing, Composing, Writing Librettos, Lyrics, Stories, Plays and Audio Dramas – So much talent in two sisters! Was creativity nurtured in you as children?
(Rosabella) Undoubtedly it was my parents’ love of music, art, literature and nature that inspired the storytelling-empaths in my sisters and I! We grew up in south Devon next to the moors which is where I would escape to (physically) as a teen and (mentally) now as an adult. Our parents viewed creative expression (dancing / music lessons) as equal to academic pursuits, and encouraged us to have open hearts and minds. Bloody impressive considering there were three of us and we weren’t a wealthy family.
(Dina) I’m reading a book called “Figuring” by Maria Popova, and I love how she speaks to this:
“Comets of chance and tides of circumstance sculpt the shorelines of the self to make us who we are.”
In our case, those shaping forces probably include: A second-hand piano, bought at auction. Boredom. A mother with the foresight to enter her children into competitions. Dancing to live piano accompaniment, not canned music. Yearning. Music lessons with a teacher who occasionally fell asleep. BBC drama. The legend of a beautiful egyptian who received her musical training at an Italian Conservatoire yet never performed (our grandmother). Heart break. Full orchestra productions at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. Rootlessness. Windswept moors. Magical forests. Idyllic farmland. Dramatic coastlines. Trauma. (The loss of a beloved father.)
You’re both creative powerhouses as individuals. Have you always collaborated as artists?
(Rosabella) That’s a lovely compliment. A great many of my musical adventures have been in collaboration with Dina. We have a shorthand / twin-speak that affords us insight into one another’s minds. I know Dina by heart and when the opportunity to collaborate arises I am always excited at the new paths we will forge together. Equally we have worked on our individual projects and collaborated with others as well. For my part, I love performing as a solo artist and musician as well as with other artists e.g. most recently at Queen Elizabeth Hall with Soumik Datta.
(Dina) No. We have a kind of rhythm. We branch out. Say, I’ll write a musical with another composer, or Rosie will collaborate with another performing artist. But then we come back together again, whether it’s for an opera aria, or a commercial song, or, as in the case of Bog Girl, a creation that is just for ourselves. The work we do with other people feeds the work we do with each other. But, speaking personally, my work with Rosie always feels special. Like home base. Probably because we spent so many hours writing together when we were young.
Bog Girl weaves an ethereal fairytale of child illness, insomnia and supernatural creatures. What inspired the story?
(Rosabella) Dina wrote the story so she can better answer this. The musical world it conjured was in response to the words she sent me. We worked on it in the early stages of the first lockdown. Dina was sick (with covid), and I felt helpless being so far away. She sent me a short story to read. I wanted to set it to music to give her something creative to focus on – to distract her from her symptoms and anxiety. And such is the way of the magical, spooky world of making art for art’s sake that around that time, an actor-friend (the brilliant Louisa Clein) emailed me to see whether I might like to collaborate on something…. BOOM. We had a story and a team.
The pandemic was a new and terrifying backdrop. The darker elements of the story delved into that panic and are subsequently woven into the sound-world. We didn’t want to shy away from it. At a time when live music and performance were forced into silence, it felt freeing to make music; to channel all that nervous energy into purpose.
(Dina) When I wrote Bog Girl I had covid. This was right at the beginning of the pandemic. We knew so little then. Unvaccinated, unboosted, I lay in bed with strange and frightening symptoms. My head was throbbing. I was probably delirious! But I reached for my ipad – just like Aldo does in the story – and started writing. What came out was the product of this terrifying uncertainty, but also of my headspace at the time. I had been preoccupied with a little girl who lived nearby, who had a rare and aggressive form of cancer. One moment she was full of vitality, the next moment she was trapped in a body that robbed her of any quality of life. Her brave parents were nursing her through the illness while also caring for their two other children. I myself have kids. It had a profound impact on me. In trying to picture what it was like for this little girl, the character of Aldo was born. In willing her to live, the story found its ending. But sadly, it was not to be in real life.
When you work together, which comes first, the words or the music?
(Rosabella) With Dina, it is usually words/story first and then the music is my response. For other collaborations the music can often be the thrust of the drama.
(Dina) Words, usually. Sometimes fully formed, sometimes sketches. I trust Rosie to take a half-formed lyric and repeat bits, request bits, restructure bits. One exception I can think of is a song called Our Story, from a musical called My Marcello. We wrote that one music first. And it’s one of my favourites, especially with Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana performing it.
What advice or tips would you offer to other writers and composers?
(Rosabella) Be disciplined and stick to a work-schedule. Don’t wallow in self-doubt when rejection smacks you on the arse (and it will. A LOT). Practice, rehearse and challenge yourself. Run/Dance (or find your physical release). Don’t make excuses. Do things that scare the crap out of you. Remember you are a multitude of things, not just a composer/writer. Make time for life outside of ‘work’. Yikes, I have become that person.
(Dina) Make yourself an expert. That takes an enormous amount of time. So first, become an expert at time: carve it out, steal it, borrow it from sleep, neglect other things for it, demand it from your significant others…
What do you consider to be the proudest moments of your careers so far?
(Rosabella) Many of the projects that I’ve worked on have made me proud, but no one thing stands out for me. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I can work with my twin. These days I try really hard to focus on the job at hand and find the joy in it. Awards and accolades are lovely, but some of the most gratifying moments for me have been when someone in the audience approaches me after a gig and tells me I sang their story
(Dina) I felt pretty proud the other weekend when songs I wrote with Rosie, for a musical about a local eatery called the Texas Inn, were performed at a gala. They helped raise over 60K for a small theatre company. Live theatre matters. And it needs support. It gets back to that other question you asked, about what shapes the people we become.
What have been your biggest career challenges so far? How did you tackle them?
(Rosabella) Self doubt. Lack of courage. Not drinking too much gin when a deadline is looming…. There are many obstacles. I do what is within my control. Self-discipline / Malbec is how I tackle most things.
(Dina) I don’t think I was taken seriously when I was younger. Everything I’m doing now, I planned to do a long time ago. But I’m making up for it now! I have so many stories I want to tell and not enough platforms to tell them. So thank you so much, Wireless, for one more outlet!
Many of your productions have been for children. What attracts you to creating for children, and to fairytales?
(Rosabella) For my part, I don’t think I have ever used a different musical language for children than adults. In my experience children listen without prejudice or cynicism. So there’s freedom to really dig into and flesh out characters and ideas and explore soundscapes, especially within the realms of fairytale. I enjoy employing some more sophisticated compositional techniques when composing for younger ears: Irregular meter, unfamiliar modes, Indian classical scales, unconventional orchestral textures. As for the darker moments/ chapters of a tale; children imagine far more terrifying scenarios than us oldies. I remember, as a kid, delighting in the terrifying idea of a witch under my bed who sucked out eyeballs. Children like to scare themselves from the safety of their homes. Don’t they…..Dina….help..?
(Dina) I tend not to think of the age of my audience unless I’m asked to. Bog Girl, for instance, could be considered a Young Adult story because of the age of the protagonist. And because it features a genie. But I didn’t set out to write a YA story. That said, I love getting ideas from my children. And those ideas tend to become kids’ stories e.g. The Pelbunkin and The Chocolate Tree.
Have you heard any great audio dramas lately? Is there anything you would like to recommend?
(Rosabella) I hear Wind in the Willows on Audible by Dina Gregory is fantastic. And I suspect anything that Dina puts out into the world of audiobooks will be my next favourite listen.
(Dina) I was really struck by Audible’s recent version of Sleeping Beauty by Marty Ross. Using Tchaikovsky’s ballet music to score the adaptation was a fascinating choice. I loved the darkness. The epicness. The writing and the performances were incredible. I know your company works with this author a lot. I look forward to listening to more of his stuff. My cup of tea!
What are you working on at the moment?
(Rosabella) I am working on a commission for English Touring Opera, in collaboration with librettist Robin-Norton-Hale. It will be an opera for young people for the company’s autumn 2022 season!
(Dina) I’m actually in the midst of another project for Audible. It’s super exciting. But I can’t be specific yet.
Where can listeners enjoy your work?
Images © Dina Soraya Gregory, Rosabella Gregory and James Phillips 2022 reproduced with permission.