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My Application for Scots Makar

10 Feb
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Liz Lochhead, departing Scots Makar.

Mony a mickle maks a makar;

The Scots Makar,

nae messin’,

nae bother.

All A need is

paper, pencil, pen,

tae handwrit

mon idle thoughts.

 

They’ll be

expertly etched, like;

words floatin’, naw,

fair dancin’ over

lined paper;

a mute ceilidh, kinda, waiting

to be

published in thon books

for thon reader,

 

who can

peruse my words,

as lang as they

gie me mony.

 

Am a struggling

airtist,

wi’ student loans

wi’ looming bills,

and

thon hungry bairn

 

 

A need a joab

You need a Makar.

Mak a Makar oot eh me,

and I’ll

Mak ye prud.

 

Every thought I had watching Waiting for Godot

23 Sep

 

Waiting for Godot image by Mike Steele

Waiting for Godot image by Mike Steele

 

Ooh, what a set. I’ll take some notes.

The woman next to me is a fidget.

Writing, writing, writing.

The woman next to me is far too interested in my notebook.

Curtain up, hurrah!

I’m going to call the woman next to me Valerie.

 

Oh no, it’s one of those mesh curtain things. I hope the whole show isn’t behind this.

Did I spell that right?

Ah, good.

Oh, Valerie, do stop your fidgeting.

Writing. Scrawl. I hope I can read this later.

Valerie, this is MY notebook. Please stop trying to lean into me to read it.

Valerie. Valerie. I need the arm to rest on, please just move slightly.

Valerie…Valerie…if you could just share the….Valerie…

Look, there’s Bill Paterson.

Ha, ha. My old flatmate said Bill Paterson’s Scottish accent was the worst she’d heard.

 

Oh, Brian, lovely Brian with the twinkly eyes.

My flatmate didn’t think he was Scottish.

Bill Paterson! Not Scottish!

I laughed.

Where’s the line about the bicycle wheels?

“You haven’t got a bicycle!” Brilliant.

 

Oh, that’s Endgame. I like Waiting for Godot better than Endgame, sorry, Samuel.

Well, I like Endgame, I saw the Theatre Workshop production of it.

 

You know, this is a really lovely set.

What happened to Theatre Workshop?

Oooh, it’s him fae that thing.

I know him, I know him. So many faces, so many plays, but I know him.

It’s whatshisname.

He looks like the guy that played Scrooge in the NTS’ A Christmas Carol.

 

That’s because he is the guy that played Scrooge in the NTS’ A Christmas Carol.

Great monologue, Scroogey!

Valerie, your lack of spatial awareness is tiring.

This is just sublime.

Oh no, bad cough.

Oh God no, I’m coughing through the lines and I can’t stop.

Stop coughing.

My eyes are watering, I can feel sweat on the back of my neck, I need to cough.

 

 

Cough. Cough. Cough.

Cough. Cough. Cough.

I seem to have made Valerie uncomfortable.

Good.

I’m dying, Valerie. I’m dying and I’m taking you with me.

End of first act.

Interval! INTERVAL.

Good.

I apologise for my coughing to the man on the other side of me.

I’m not apologising to Valerie.

Valerie can go swing on something.

After her ice cream.

The second act.

I have a large glass of water.

And a small glass of champagne.

Plastic glasses, one in each hand.

Valerie has taken the full arm rest.

The full thing.

On you go, Valerie, help yourself. I have champagne.

I see shoes. A pair of shoes centre stage.

They belong to Bill ‘Worst Scottish Accent Ever’ Paterson.

The funny thing is, my old flatmate wasn’t Scottish.

She was from Bradford.

No coughs yet.

Water. Champagne. Champagne. Water. Water. Water.

I’m trying to remember. When I read this play….when I read this play….

What happens next?

I remember now.

Him, yes. They return.

The hat.

The hat.

Oh my God, how could I forget about the hat scene?

The hat scene. The fucking hat…

Valerie. We are not going to be friends if you keep encroaching on my personal space.

Valerie.

VALERIE.

I’m going.

I’m going.

He’s going. He says he’s going.

I wish Valerie would go.

Waiting for Godot to appear.

Where is Godot?

Where is Godot?

The same place as Valerie’s manners.

God, I hope Godot has manners.

The small boy. The promise.

The curtain.

They bow.

The people behind me are shouting bravo.

If they throw roses at the stage I will lose my shit.

“BRAVO! BRAVO!”

No roses. Lights up.

“That was MARVELLOUS!”

A voice somewhere behind me.

“JUST MARVELLOUS!”

BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO.

The aisle stands, turns, shuffles. stops.

Oh for fuck’s sake Valerie, what is it?

Valerie. Why are you stopping Valerie? The whole theatre is behind us.

The aisle waits for Valerie.

I see a gap. Opportunity.

I run.

The stairs.

The bar.

The doors.

The cold night air.

It is over.

Yes, it is.

I never want it to end.

I know.

I know.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

The Greatest Theatre Story Never Told

17 Mar
Image by Andrea Minoia, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Andrea Minoia, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

It was late 2008. I had just come out of the theatre and I was late. I was meant to be at my Granny’s house for dinner and I was still late. By the time I got there, Granny was already plating up dinner; I forget what it was, probably meat of some description – beef olives, perhaps? – and vegetables. Tatties, green beans, maybe it was butter beans. It was possibly butter beans.

I was late because I had been at the King’s Theatre to see the Wednesday matinee of Equus, starring Alfie Allen. The theatre was on the other side of the city and rush hour traffic, combined with my own relaxed attitude to timekeeping had made me late. Granny didn’t mind though, she never minded.

My Granny’s house has a hatch between the kitchen and living room, and so, Granny was standing in the kitchen, pot in hand, plates staring up at her, waiting for the meat, tatties and possibly-butter beans and I was standing in the living room, leaning through the hatch.

“Sorry I was late, Granny, I was coming from Tollcross because I was at the theatre…” I began.

“Oh, the King’s Theatre!” She said, “Me and your Grandpa used to go there quite a lot.”

I nodded; I knew that my Grandpa had been a fan of the theatre. In fact, some of my scripts and books, including The Orestia, had come from his collection.

“What did you see?” Granny asked, as she spooned the mysterious meat and possibly-butter beans onto the empty plates.

“I went to see Equus with some friends from uni…” I began.

“Oh yes, Equus. Me and your Grandpa went to see that in the 70s at the King’s Theatre. It must have been the original tour.”

I smiled. I go to see a play at a specific theatre and it turns out that my grandparents saw the original tour of the play in the very same theatre,  30 years previously. What are the odds? I started wondering if maybe we’d sat in the same row, maybe even the same seats, when I heard my Granny say.

“There’s a lot of nudity in Equus isn’t there?”

“Um, yes -” Oh no, I thought, what is she getting at?

“I’ll never forget the nudity when we went to see Equus.” Continued Granny,. She was looking up at me now, her eyes shining with a kind of mischief, or maybe a touch of nostalgia. “I remember the lead actor – I can’t remember his name – he had the smallest penis I’ve ever seen.”

My jaw dropped. My Granny, my dear old Granny, my 87-year-old grandmother, the lovely, kind lady who made fudge and knitted and tutted loudly at the six o’clock news, was talking about cocks. Actual willies. OHGOD.

I felt my skin burning, I was so stunned I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak.  This was excruciating.

“I mean, it was like a baby’s penis!” She said, exploding with laughter at the memory of this tiny theatrical todger. I stared at the plate, looking at the possibly-butter beans, she went quiet. I felt my body relax and I started picking my jaw off the floor.

“It must have been very cold up there. Was this actor better endowed?*” she asked, with a wonderful wry smile that said, I may be 87, but I’m not as innocent as you may think, my dear.

She put the pot down, story over,dinner ready, granddaughter traumatised.

“I…I wouldn’t know, Granny.” I said, gazing at my feet. my feet were suddenly very interesting, look at them there, on the floor, being feet. Wow, feet are really awesome.

We ate our dinner in Granny’s warm house and chatted about the usual things: uni, work, home. After the meal, I stayed for a cup of tea and everything was as normal, the cheeky glint in her eyes was gone, but a beautiful spark remained. I never looked at her in the same way again, she was loving and caring and full of surprises.

My Granny died last month, aged 95. And because she is gone, her house is cold. The hatch where I watched her cook is empty and the kitchen where she baked is still. This story was a bit risqué for her eulogy, so I thought that the best way to honour her was to share this story online, where it and she, will live on forever.

*Yes, Alfie Allen was very impressive, I can tell you.

 

 

My Failed New Year’s Resolutions

8 Jan

Image by elycefeliz, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I love New Year. I love the fireworks, the celebrations and the sense of optimism that comes with the dawning of each new calendar year.

But I absolutely suck at sticking to my New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried; for a while my only resolution was to not make a resolution, and I stuck to that for a while. I’m also lucky in that I don’t fall into the usual resolutions of stopping smoking or drinking, because I don’t smoke and I very rarely drink.

But when I look back at the resolutions I’ve neglected to achieve over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they failed, not because I didn’t try, but because they weren’t the right resolutions for me at the time.

Resolution One: Lose Some Weight, Fatty

I was quite skinny when I was younger. In fact, I was so skinny that I never realised just how skinny I was until I wasn’t that skinny any more. Your body, like your personality, changes over time, and while I’m not a size 8, I’m still a healthy weight for my size.

In fact, I’m happier now in my body than I ever was before, and while some bits could do with firming up, and I fantasise about having Linda Hamilton Terminator 2-esque biceps, it won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok. I’ll continue eating healthily and working at my physical day job, that’ll do for now.

Resolution Two: Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow….No, Today

“Procrastination,” my mother once declared, “’tis the thief of time!” and she was right. I procrastinate too much, I live in my head too much, I think about doing something for too long when I should just do it. Case in point: I thought about blogging for four years before I actually did anything about it.

I know I’m not alone in procrastinating, which is reassuring, but whilst I have looked at other ways of working, such as the Pomodoro Technique and blocking access to Facebook and Twitter while working, my mind needs to wander.

While I may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether, I can deal with it in better ways; such as allowing myself breaks, getting into a better work at home routine and changing my attitude towards tasks that have to be done. As someone once said to me, “You have to stop thinking that you should do something, and instead start thinking that you need, want or wish to do something.” This advice has made a big difference to just about every aspect of my life.

Resolution Three: Go Back to University

Around this time last year, I blogged about my quest to get back into higher education after graduating nearly four years previously. This year marks five years since that fateful day when I put on a big, silly gown, got all nervous, shook Sir Tom Farmer’s hand and got my degree, and I’m still no closer to going back to university.

In fact, if anything, I’m a little more conflicted about the whole thing; it’s expensive, you’re not guaranteed a job, and there are lots of journalists that say that postgraduate degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the advice I’ve had about getting into the media has been pretty contradictory, and while some still insist that experience, not qualifications, matter, I’ve noticed that an alarming number of media job adverts begin with the terrifying statement: “You will have a journalism qualification.”

So, what next? In the next few months, I aim to find out more about funding and bursaries and see if there’s anything that I would be suitable for. I can also do a much less expensive, but very respected NCTJ Course in my own time, which would give me that elusive journalism qualification without the £6,000+ price tag.

Resolution Four: Learn to Drive

I’ve been meaning to learn to drive since I was 17. I’m now 28, and although I have a provisional driving license and I once owned a car with my former partner (it was a purple VW Golf MK3, affectionately referred to as Reggie, I loved that car) I’ve never had a driving lesson.

There are many reasons for this; procrastination, sheer laziness, expense and the fact that Edinburgh’s bus service is really very good, so, logically, when would I actually drive? Still, I need to learn to drive because it’s an important skill to have on my CV, it would allow me greater freedom to travel around the country and beyond, and at nearly 30, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car going “Vroom! Vroom!” Just doesn’t do it for me any more.

Resolution Five: Read More

I used to love reading. I’d read into the early hours of the morning and then read again the next day. My parents would buy me a small pile of books every Christmas, thinking they would last me until March and then despair when they realised that I’d read them all by New Year.

But then, I went to university, and I wasn’t allowed to read for fun. My degree, while a drama course, was more academic than practical, and we had to read at least three plays a week, combined with several dull critical theory texts. Have you ever read Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author? It makes an interesting point, but it’s turgid; it’s worse than Sunset Song and Highland River, both of which I had to read in High School, and both of which keep popping up on Scotland’s greatest books lists, much to my utter disgust.

And if you think about it, reading a play is a very different experience to watching a play. Just as reading a book because someone in authority says you must read it takes all the fun out of the experience.

So, I got bored with reading, and all these years later, I still struggle to finish a book, because I get distracted. I have got better; last year, I read the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and I’m halfway through Mark Kermode’s latest, and really very good tome, Hatchet Job. After that, I’m going to read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, so I’m getting there.

Resolution Six: Go to the Theatre/Cinema For Fun!

For years, going to the theatre and the cinema has been work for me – I’m there to review after all – and so, I go there in full critic mode, complete with notebook and eagerness to ‘read’ the work.

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of this mindset, and I have to re-learn how to enjoy going to the theatre or the cinema as a regular audience member, not some poor arts hack with a bashed notebook. The experience needs be an escape again for me, as it should be for everyone else, and I need to stop getting so annoyed by badly behaved audiences.

Resolution Seven: Stop Getting Annoyed by Badly Behaved Audiences

Hey, I’ll stop getting annoyed when they learn how to behave.

Dear John Bellany

28 Aug
John Bellany Image by Robert Perry

John Bellany, Image by Robert Perry

Dear John,

We never met, but when I read of your death earlier this evening, I knew I had to write this letter.

I’m not an artist; I gave up on drawing after a classmate made fun of my clown drawing in primary school. “Amy,” she spat, with real venom, “Your clown has six fingers on one hand and eleven on the other.” It wasn’t good enough, she said, clowns had five fingers on each hand, she explained. So, I’m going to honour you the only way I know how to, and that is to write about how your words have affected my life.

You received an honorary degree at my graduation in 2009. You were the second person to receive a degree, the first being Jonathan Mills, the Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, but his speech was, dare I say, very, very boring.

I was starting to drift off with my degree certificate sat smugly on my lap when you stood up and slowly moved to the front of the stage. You fumbled with the papers you’d written your speech on, you seemed nervous. “Oh dear” I thought, “It looks like we’re in for another dull speech.” And I prepared myself for a long morning.

You began by thanking the university and launching into a speech about looking out from the stage to all the young graduates assembled. But then, you paused, and uttered the now immortal words, “Well, if I’m honest, I’ve forgotten my glasses, so all I can see is darkness.”

The audience laughed; we cheered, we giggled, I think there was even a round of applause. You had won us over with your confession. You were honest, you were on our side. You cast aside your speech, and launched into what can only be described as something truly extraordinary. To call it a pep talk would be insulting; you were preparing us for battle.

As you gazed into the darkness of the theatre, trying to make out the faces of the hundreds of graduates gazing back at you in awe, you said that we were going to come up against barriers once we graduated. We were, you assured us, going to experience having “…many doors slammed in our faces”. But, we were not to be disheartened, you said, instead, we were to pound on the doors that would be slammed in our faces. We were to pound on them repeatedly, until our knuckles bled. I remember you held your hands up, and squeezed them into tight fists as you punched the air, your eyes screwed tight, pounding on all the doors that had ever been slammed in your face.

I can remember imagining a nondescript pine door being slammed shut as you smashed the figurative doors that had stood in your way for years. It’s the same pine door that I see now when I get yet another job rejection. It’s the same pine door that closes when an editor tells me I don’t have enough experience. It’s the same pine door that rattles in its frame as it slams closed when a promising internship turns out to be another dead-end.

But whenever that nondescript pine door has smacked me in the face as it closed – and it’s been closed to me so often, and it will be closed to me again – I’ve heard your words. And suddenly I can see you again in my mind’s eye, on that stage, slamming your fists into your own imaginary door over and over again.

So I started knocking; I would ask that editor for feedback. I would pound my fists against the door; I would look for new opportunities and ways to build up my portfolio. I would start to smash the panels of that door, one by one and then I would pick myself up and try again.

I’ve never been in a fight, but my knuckles have been split open and bloodied many, many times. You taught me that when you go out into the big bad world, you’re not always fighting other people; more often than not, you’re fighting with yourself. Battling self-doubt and a lack of drive is hard, but that’s why they call it work. More than anything, persistence is key.

I’m sorry that we never got the chance to meet, if we had I would have thanked you for your wise words, and I would have told you how much they meant to me on the day I graduated, and how much more they mean to me now, just four years later.

Thank you, John. Thank you for speaking to a sea of excited and unsullied graduates that day. Thank you for showing us that you’d been there, that you knew the struggles that we would face and for giving us all the advice that we will never forget:

“Always do your own thing. Don’t follow trends. Be your own person.”

Thank you, so, so much.

Yours sincerely,

Amy Taylor

Class of 2009

Some Advice For Aspiring Writers

30 May
Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Typewriter Image by Higginskurt, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I have, on occasion, been asked for advice by a young writer looking to grow their career. However, I also am, in one form or another, a young writer looking for my so-called “big break”. I have asked established journalists questions about how they got to where they are, I have poured over countless YouTube videos of interviews with my favourite writers, looking for that one sentence that would transform me from mere aspiring writer, to professional, in-demand and well-respected behemoth of a writer.

As it turns out, there is no definite answer; everyone has a different story. Some writers trained in journalism, some have an undergraduate degree, maybe even a postgraduate degree. Others fell into journalism by chance, after doing a degree in English or another language, some got onto coveted training schemes and bagged promising apprenticeships. The lucky ones had a friend who was influential in the industry, and managed to get themselves a good job that way.

If I wasn’t watching YouTube videos, I spoke to just about every journalist I met. Almost everyone I spoke to had come into the industry differently, some said having a postgraduate degree in anything was a waste of time, while others said that they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for their qualifications. During an internship in London, at least two of the journalists I was working with advised me without any irony or malice, that I shouldn’t try to get into get into journalism, because there were no jobs, and things were only going to get worse.

In short, every answer I got, while interesting, confused me more. Should I go to back to university? I don’t have the money to do that. Should I do an NCTJ course? Should I try to diversify and start adding more skills to my CV? All the options available were so overwhelming that I felt like I was going struggling up a spiral staircase; I was moving, I was heading towards some kind of goal, but I wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was frustrating, it was tiring, it was not helpful at all.

And this is my advice; if you want to be a writer, write. Write as often as you can during the day, write in the evening, and then write again the next morning. Set yourself a goal to get up in the morning and write a specific amount of words before lunch, then smash that number.

Don’t forget to read, a writer needs to read and remember how to get lost in the literary worlds that other authors create for them. Reading is a joy, reading should never be a chore, if you don’t read anything, then how can you expect anyone to read your work?

And finally, here’s my golden rule: don’t ask other writers for advice. I’m serious. Every writer has a different story; every writer has a distinct background and voice. Their past is not your future, so create your own career path and carve your own journey in stone. Don’t strive to be a second-rate version of your favourite writer, be a first-rate version of yourself. Don’t imitate, create and never be afraid of doing the things that your idols didn’t do.

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