Round Robin Newsletters

This year, we sent the concoction below to selected friends:

Well, it’s that time of the year again folks!
Our year began with the news that Alan’s great aunt Charlotte, a silver surfer if ever there was one, had placed an ad on the Hearts R Us website, the success of which was something of a suprise to us all, as Rodney was forty years her junior. An even bigger surprise, a month later, was that Rodney’s other partner, Claude, had also moved in. All three live happily together, doing their bit for the planet by growing their own brand of herbal tobacco in the loft. Aunt Charlotte writes that she occasionally sprinkles some of it on her scones and says they’re very nice. She’s planning to send us a home made Christmas cake this year so we may manage to sample some too.
Meanwhile, Catherine’s cousin Vladek, from Romania, reports that he has moved into a new home, a derelict castle, which he plans to renovate over the next few years. A Place in the Country indeed! This is very exciting news, especially since he also tells us that he is determined to visit us here in the UK. He says he’d love to experience the night life in Scotland, and – what an enterprising young man he is – is making his way to the Baltic coast, from where he plans to sail to Whitby. Why Whitby, you ask? We don’t know, except that he seems to have discovered a link with a great great great grandfather – the joys of genealogy, eh? We’ll let you know when he arrives. We’ve never met Vladek, but he posted some pics on Facebook– he looks like a very handsome young man, so he’ll probably break a few hearts when he’s here!
Aunty Alice, that’s the lady from Pendle we told you about last year, for those of you who haven’t ever met her, reports that she has been enjoying her new evening classes and is about to graduate from necromancy to summoning demons. What fun!!!
This was the year that our great nephew Franklin – that’s the boy who was admitted to Miss Smither’s alternative academy for really really gifted children at the age of three (a record we believe) - graduated from Edinburgh University with a first class BSc Honours degree in Nuclear Physics at the tender age of eleven. His tutors admitted that they had never encountered anything quite like him although, sadly, his advanced male pattern baldness continues to trouble him. All gifts of woolly hats gratefully received!
Franklin’s cousin, Madonna Jordan, has won the Miss Teeny Tiny Jam Tarty Pageant in Texas for the third year running. She has a bedroom absolutely stuffed with trophies. Her mother, Balenciaga, tells us that she is thrilled with her daughter, whose special talent involves twirling a vast number of fiery batons around her head. She practises in the front garden of their wee house in Nitshill, attracting a great deal of attention, most of it very welcome!
Alan is still recovering from those five operations on his finger. He finds to his astonishment that he can now play the piano, and has already received an invitation to play at Carnegie Hall next year. Book your tickets soon because a full house is expected. We only wonder what else he will discover that he is able to do in 2010!
Best wishes to everyone for a Merry Christmas, and a Happy (and funny) New Year
Catherine, Alan and Charles.
PS The five operations really happened!!!!

So far, so funny.
But you want to know the really funny (or should that be worrying?) thing? It was just how many people - men, they were all men - read it as far as Franklin and beyond - and took it seriously. Even the graduation at 11 didn't phase them, and evening classes in Necromancy must be perfectly acceptable in some quarters. It was only Madonna Jordan and her fiery batons that made them suspect the spoof. Well, that or the fact that their wives read it too, and pointed out the joke...

Away with the Fairies

Which is not the name of my upcoming play, but a reasonably apt description of it. Except that it is more serious than that. Much more serious. Ever since I first read Robert Kirk's The Secret Commonwealth, many years ago, I have wanted to write a play about it. A couple of years ago, I actually submitted this as a potential radio play. The (independent) producer liked the idea very much and badly wanted to do it, but the BBC - unsurprisingly - didn't.
Then, earlier this year, David McLennan at the Oran Mor in Glasgow decided that he too loved the idea and commissioned a play for the new A Play, A Pie and a Pint season, 2010. This suited me much better, since I soon realised that The Secret Commonwealth was crying out to be a stage play. What I didn't realise at the time was that the play was going to open the new season, on 1st February. However, all those years of working on the story, albeit sporadically, must have paid off because both David, and the director, Jennifer Hainey, approve of the finished play.
Robert Kirk was a seventeenth century minister of Aberfoyle. He was well educated and obviously intelligent. He also believed in fairies and wrote a treatise about them, a sort of natural history of the supernatural world, at a time when witchcraft was still a capital offence in Scotland. He would wander up the Doon Hill, listening to the music which he swore that he could hear, coming from below the ground. He died up there, ostensibly from a heart attack, but then he appeared to a cousin and said that he would reappear at the baptism of his posthumously born child. The cousin must throw a dagger over the apparition's head and shout 'cauld iron' - this metal being anathema to the fairies - whereupon Kirk would be released from his enchantment. He duly appeared, but the cousin was so gobsmacked that he forgot to throw the dagger, and poor old Kirk was doomed to live in the supernatural world for ever. Or so the stories go.
The play, though, is about more than that. It is, I think, a play about two cultures, about one culture replacing another, about a set of beliefs and customs which are in the process of being banished - sent underground if you like - and about the possibility that what Kirk was writing was not so much a treatise about fairies, as a subversive text. It is also, I hope, constructed like a poem. As ever, I find myself walking along the boundaries between poetry, drama and prose and enjoying the sense of experiment, the sense of trying to get at things that lie just below the surface - bit like Kirk himself really. The play is going to be a single hander, with music. It is still to some extent, 'in development'. New drama always is, until it has been through the production process. But I think it's just about there. And I hope it says something interesting, in an unusual way. More as it happens!

Word Fatigue and New Plays

I've had my head down finishing (a) quite extensive rewrites of a new novel and (b) a first draft of a completely new play, which is scheduled for a lunchtime theatre production in Glasgow, early in 2010. I'm a writer who hates first drafts but loves to rewrite. My first drafts are always remarkably chaotic, and I don't usually let anyone see them but me. But then, as soon as I actually have something on the screen, the process of playing with the words and the structure, of rewriting many times, of printing it out and looking at it on the page, of correcting and rewriting all over again, is one which I find infinitely pleasurable. In fact I usually have to stop myself from doing yet another draft. Sooner or later, you have to write 'The End' and let somebody see it!
So working on the novel, which has been through more incarnations than Doctor Who, has been a pleasure. But working on the play has been hard. In the normal course of events, I would have written this, let it sit till after Christmas, gone back to it with a fresh eye - spent some time reworking it over the holiday period, let it lie again - and perhaps produced the finished article in time for Easter. I'd have been working on other things, of course. But time is always a factor in what I do. However, this is a play, and it has a schedule. The director has to see it. It has to be sent to actors. Music has to be considered. And all this has meant that the pressure on me to produce - not just my usual slapdash first draft - but something that I am reasonably happy for other people to see - has been a nightmare.
It's finished, after a fashion and it's sent. I worked on it day and night for a spell, until I was - frankly - sick of the sight of it. I had word fatigue. And I'm still not sure that it's any good or that it says what I want it to say, in dramatic enough fashion. Increasingly these days, I find myself walking along the boundaries between poetry, prose and drama.
I've made it clear that it is a working draft only. I haven't looked at it for a few days, and I don't intend to look at it for another week. Then I'll go back to it and wonder what the hell I was thinking about!