How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
Writer and artist. Seems so straight forward and yet it’s taken me years to get used to saying it! I think that’s healthy. It can be such a strange and tricky thing, how you define yourself. I’m a writer first and foremost – plays, poetry and prose – but have added the ‘artist’ part as I also sometimes perform, direct and produce collaborative, interdisciplinary projects. And I came to realise that all the other stuff (the non-writing) is just as important to my creative process, and informs the character of the work that I make. I love the variety and seeing different elements come together. When I’m in the thick of researching or writing something new, I get obsessed and become a bit of a hermit. I enjoy being totally immersed in what I’m working on; but then I also love coming out into the rehearsal or production process, working with other people towards a shared creative goal. The thing I love best is how it keeps me on my toes – every time I make something it’s like starting again: thinking, writing, rehearsing from scratch – it doesn’t care what you’ve done before, how great you think you are – in that moment it demands your full attention and puts you in your place. Only then do you know you’re doing it right, because your ego is well out the way!
What do you consider your best work and why?
The Ballad of Juniper Davy and Sonny Lumiere. I was Artist in Residence with Metal Liverpool in 2009-2010, and made The Ballad during that time. It’s a collection of 15 poems, made into a book with a CD of original music, and was also a site-specific promenade performance. I worked with fine artist Elizabeth Willow, who designed everything – the performances, the book/CD, posters. It was the first large-scale work I’d made that really brought together everything I’d been doing up until then – writing, performance, directing, collaborating, producing. I was incredibly lucky to work with Elizabeth, as she created a whole world – people were completely transported. In terms of pure writing though, I do think Little Forks is my best work to date – originally prose, now a play, it just keeps revealing more and more of itself.
What was your first ever job?
A summer job working at an antiquarian book shop in St Andrews, I’d go through for a few weeks from Glasgow. I wasn’t allowed to do much as most of the books were seriously old and rare, but I was in my element up the top of the ladder dusting the shelves. I’d be reading all the spines as I dusted the books, imagining what they were all about.
What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
Probably my residency with Metal – it was my first long-term residency and allowed me to develop such a large work – large in scale and impact! It was the first time I’d applied for Arts Council England funding, and we got it (Elizabeth and I). Metal were also very supportive, so I had a great experience. It then led to me applying for a residency at Lanternhouse in Ulverston – I ended up doing two residencies there in 2010 and 2011, and that’s when I started writing Little Forks. So I can trace a real tipping point back to my time at Metal and making The Ballad. And to be honest, I can feel it happening again, certainly creatively – developing Little Forks and The Dark Twin plays with Stellar Quines: returning to theatre after making other work, plus these plays really sum up what I’m thinking about now and have been for a few years – they both dig very deep. Working with Muriel, there’s a real artistic cohesion going on.
What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
No regrets! I’m a fairly positive, philosophical person – but more than that, I work very hard (don’t we all!) to create the life I want, or at least to try to. So I can’t really see anything as being ‘missed’. It’s a bummer when you apply for funding and don’t get it – that happened recently, but my collaborator and I have gone back to the drawing board and our proposal is now much stronger and quite different, so we’re reapplying. Things always happen for a reason.
What’s your favourite theatre production?
I’m biased, but The List last year, Stellar Quines at Summerhall had me in floods. Which was embarrassing, as I went alone. The writing, directing, performance, set, sound and lighting – it was the perfect example of each element being individually brilliant and coming together beautifully. Near Gone by Two Destination Language was also amazing – I saw it last year in Liverpool but it’s touring; a very moving, personal story that truly became a shared experience.
What do you like the best about working in theatre?
Learning from others – being able to observe how other people work, in a completely different discipline like design, lighting or sound – then how they interpret your work, and add their own vision and ideas. Directing astounds me, it’s witchcraft. I love it, and will be happy to never have to do it (I’ve directed here and there, but not on a large scale). Writing is such a solitary occupation, I love being around other people’s energy and expertise.
What advice would you give emerging female practitioners in theatre today?
Be a pest – I got an ushering job at CCA when I was starting University in Glasgow by just going in every day, uninvited, to see the manager. I’d never have the guts to do that now, but it worked! Also coming back to what I said about defining yourself – don’t worry if you don’t feel sure or ready yet, but keep thinking about it. Try things on for size. Then when you find it, practice saying it out loud. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I’m assuming Muriel Romanes has already been picked several times over. Danni Bastian was Production Manager on Untaught to Shine that I worked on earlier this year with Stellar Quines at the National Portrait Gallery – she was so completely in charge, managing various interests with total calm. Obviously her technical knowledge and expertise are of the highest order, but it was the way she made you feel at ease in an unfamiliar environment that made all the difference. We were working to a very tight schedule in a delicate environment – it was a team effort, but Danni made it all run like clockwork.