Inspiration Point and the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship

Over the past half year, I’ve been working on an exciting project as part of my role as a Creative Project Practitioner for Aberdeen City Council’s Creative Learning Team. Inspiration Point was an interactive arts project which aimed to inspire residents of Aberdeen to engage with their creativity and to highlight the range of artistic and creative opportunities in the city. We did this through a range of residencies covering visual art, drama and creative writing, as well as a two-day celebratory event packed with lots of creative activities, workshops and performances at The Lemon Tree.

My main focus in the run up to the celebratory weekend was coordinating the three Creative Writing residencies which took place in the last fortnight of January. This involved supporting three writers – John Bolland, Avril Erskine and Elaine Reid – to create new work and engage with staff and customers at three local businesses: Fifth Ring marketing agency, Bon Accord Care and Charles Michie’s Pharmacy. As well as the images below, you can find out more about how they went via the Inspiration Point blog.

During the Friday of the Inspiration Point celebratory weekend, I ran a creative writing workshop for S3 pupils from Mintlaw Academy who are interested in choosing arts subjects. I facilitated a character creation workshop which led to some really interesting and mature writing from various pupils in the group.

Later in the afternoon I ran a CPD session for teachers which launched a brand new Youth Arts Advice website for young people interested in the arts in the Northeast. Check out the website here and spread the word to anyone you think might find it helpful! The session also involved talks from Skills Development Scotland, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the Scottish Drama Training Network and ACES RGU, who all deliver great work for young people interested in the arts. It was great that the first day of events was capped off with a packed networking event which took over most of The Lemon Tree with lots of creative discussion and buzz happening all over the place!

Throughout the Saturday I supported three writers from The Writers’ Room programme to deliver workshops to the public, and also learned a lot myself about children’s literature (from Megan Primrose), visual storytelling in film (from Gavin Gilmour) and life writing (from Emily Utter) during the workshops.

The weekend culminated in a Literary Salon hosted by yours truly, featuring brilliant readings by all eight writers who took part in The Writers’ Room, all three Inspiration Point writers-in-residence and the chosen recipient of the 2017 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship, playwright Morna Young, who delivered a powerful performance of excerpts from her play Lost at Sea, which is set to tour Scotland in 2018.

It was great to finally launch Morna’s Fellowship after months of reading applications and conducting interviews since Creative Learning was chosen as the Fellowship Host at the end of last year. I’m really looking forward to supporting Morna throughout 2017 to create a new full-length play which will give voice to working-class female voices from the Northeast. I’ll also be running another The Writers’ Room programme in May/June thanks to Creative Learning being chosen as the Fellowship Host, so it's great to be able to to continue supporting a lot more writers and creatives in the Northeast this year! Follow further Inspiration Point happenings on Instagram and Twitter @inspirationABDN

A Doric Smoorach at Spectra

This weekend, thousands of people traversed Aberdeen city-centre under intermittent showers of snow to see the annual spectacle that is Spectra: Aberdeen's Festival of Light, which is always a real highlight of the city's festival programme. Like last year, I particularly enjoyed the illuminations at St Nicholas Kirkyard, especially umbrellas which lit up when you made lots of noise!

A couple of months ago I was asked to provide Doric recordings for one of the installations in Union Terrace Gardens. Along with Les Wheeler and Sheena Blackhall, my voice was recorded for the Doric Smoorach display, which involves festival-goers having images taken of them making different vowel sounds that are then projected onto huge heads. Each head speaks at a different time with our original Doric recordings playing back, sometimes at pitch, and sometimes altered to make it lower or higher. Check out the videos below to see what I mean, and you can hear some of the original recordings on my 'Writing' page.

This was a great start to this year's cultural calendar and I loved that my writing featured as a wee part of it. Next stop it's the Inspiration Point Literary Salon which I'm hosting as part of a weekend of events with Creative Learning at the Lemon Tree. Then I'll be running a workshop with John Bolland as part of Granite Noir the weekend after. A busy month ahead!

Dates for Your Diary in February 2017

There's lots coming up in Aberdeen in February that I'm really excited to be part of...

Thursday 9 – Sunday 12 February

  • Two of my Doric poems and a flash fiction piece will form part of a light and sound installation during the fourth annual Spectra Festival of Light in Aberdeen.

Saturday 18 February, 7pm onwards

  • As part of the Inspiration Point celebratory weekend, I am hosting a literary salon in the Lemon Tree featuring readings by Northeast writers and the recipient of the 2017 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. Tickets available soon.

Sunday 26 February, 10.30am-12pm

  • As part of Granite Noir, Aberdeen's first festival dedicated to crime fiction, I will be co-facilitating a Dark Doric creative writing workshop with John Bolland in Aberdeen Central Library. Tickets available here.

 

To whet your appetite for my next workshop, here's a wee fun task from my last workshop in December which was Dickens themed!

Dickensian name.jpg

A Creative Journey in Zimbabwe

Between the 12th and 18th of November, I visited Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to work with a team of arts-in-health experts, artists and maternal health experts to facilitate a creative exchange between arts and health organisations with the collective goal of enhancing maternal health environments in the city.

This project was follow up to a play I was commissioned to write in 2015 by Immpact, a global maternal health research initiative based at the University of Aberdeen. The play, A Mother’s Journey’, was performed at the 2015 May Festival and attended by an obstetrician and matron from two Bulawayan maternity hospitals. The obstetrician, Dr Davidzoyashe Makosa of United Bulawayo Hospitals, was impressed by the art work on display in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and commented on her own efforts to enhance the maternity wards she worked in with visual art. During an exchange visit with Immpact in September 2015, I witnessed the beginnings of Dr Makosa’s artistic enhancement in the Lady Rodwell labour ward and also met with the Mayor of Bulawayo. He was very interested in a potential arts project and felt it would be of much benefit to the hospitals, particularly in maternal health buildings, which are often the last to be renovated and repaired.

On this recent return visit, I was joined by Sue Fairburn of Gray’s School of Art, an expert in design in maternal health environments who previously worked with Immpact, and Sally Thomson, the Director of GHAT, an organisation which has provided art in Northeast hospitals for over 30 years. Throughout the week in Bulawayo, we were hosted by Cliford Zulu of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and met with arts and health organisations to identify areas of need within Mpilo Hospital and United Bulawayo Hospitals; we then facilitated a creative demonstration by Bulawayo-based artists in the public-gathering areas of the maternity hospitals. This involved the six artists — Owen Maseko, George Masarira, Talent Kapadza, Charles Bhebe, Danisile Ncube and Omega Sibanda  creating new paintings and chalk drawings, as well as inviting staff and patients to have a go at creating their own work with clay and coloured vinyl cuttings.

One of the many highlights was brightening up the Youth Friendly Unit at United Bulawayo Hospitals which is composed of grey cabins tucked away behind the main maternity buildings. Hospital staff expressed concerns that the location and appearance of the unit was discouraging young people from visiting them for sexual health advice and counselling services. In order to counteract this, all six of the artists and hospital staff worked together to create a colourful artwork on the side of one of the cabins using vinyl cut-outs.

As a result of the visit, Cliford and the artists have created a new arts-in-health collective called #Buka, an Ndebele word which means ‘look at’; they will continue to engage with hospitals in Bulawayo, while myself, Sue and Sally continue to support them by seeking funding opportunities to expand the art programme further into the wards and buildings of the maternity hospitals, as well as exploring other potential arts-in-healths links between and within the cities.

I am currently working on a creative document which will capture the dialogues that took place between the artists and health workers, as well as my own creative responses to the beautiful art works created during the project. Check out some of work in the pics below, and keep up to date with further developments by searching #BukaMpilo and #BukaCentral

The Writers' Room

I've been meaning to post a blog for some time about the fantastic experience I had mentoring eight emerging writers between July and November of this year, and here it finally is...

The set of images below explain the purpose and structure of The Writers' Room programme, which I ran as part of my role as a Creative Project Practitioner for Creative Learning (Aberdeen City Council). The CPD programme has led to so many fantastic outcomes for the participants involved as well as the creation of a close group of writers who continue to share and critique each others' work as part of a new writers collective. I've loved every minute of running the programme and look forward to running a second in 2017!

Polari Literary Salon @ Edinburgh's Assembly Roxy

On November 4th, I read at my second Polari Literary Salon in Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy. My first took place at Aberdeen University’s May Festival earlier in the year, so it was great to be invited back to read alongside queen of crime Val McDermid, Mari Hannah and Karen McLeod, as well as compere Paul Burston. Highlights from the evening have to be getting my story BSL interpreted which proved for some interesting takes on the rather rude imagery in my piece ‘A Story for Mrs Grey’ (appearing in the Winter 2016 edition of Causeway/Cabhsair magazine), and the brilliant performance by Karen of her alter-ego Barbara Brownskirt – a hoot from start to finish!

October Update

I've been pretty busy the past few months with various events and workshops so thought I'd share some pics of what I've been up to!

First up, I took part in the Edinburgh International Book Festival's Booked! Festival in Aberdeen. Across two days I ran Doric Gruffalo and cut-up poetry activities for primary schools as part of my role with Aberdeen City Council's Creative Learning Team. On the first evening, I also read from my work in progress novel, Quines at Sea, at the Unbound cabaret event, performing my work alongside Peter Arnott, Wayne Price, Helen Lynch, Joshua Seigal, Allan Burnett and James Oswald.

Photograph by Amy Muir (courtesy of Edinburgh International Book Festival)

Photograph by Amy Muir (courtesy of Edinburgh International Book Festival)

The following Sunday I read more of Quines at Sea at a packed-out Pushing Out the Boat magazine event at The Blue Lamp. It was great to test out new passages from the novel across this week, to assure me about the direction it's going in. It was also great to see so much support for the magazine as it heads towards its 14th issue. I'm on the prose panel so I'm looking forward to reading through all of the submissions across the next month!

As part of my work with Creative Learning, I've been coordinating and facilitating a CPD programme for emerging and established writers in the Northeast called The Writers' Room. I promise to do a proper blog about it soon, but for now, here's a pic of an open event we ran with theatre production company, 10ft Tall, which explored Performing Your Work.

I then headed for a week's retreat in Moniack Mhor. This was an untutored retreat where I could get on with your own work in the company of other writers. It was great to hear what everyone else was up to and to talk about my work to folk outside of the Northeast. I'm especially looking forward to seeing new work from Zoe Venditozzi and Helen MacKinven in particular, who were a great laugh throughout the week!

This Autumn, the Granite writers have regrouped after the epic National Theatre of Scotland performance in March. We're now working on our own projects as well as writing smaller pieces to form part of a play for performance next year. Here are some pics from a hilarious session we did with the Granite Theatre group, who we will be devising work with across the next few months.

At the beginning of October I was asked by IntoFilm Scotland to do a reading for P5 - S2 pupils of The Sleekit Mr Tod, which is Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr Fox in Scots. This was followed by a screening of Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox film and then the school pupils were asked to write their own review in Scots which I helped them with. It was great to pick winners for the review competition, who will all be receiving Sleekit Mr Tod goodie bags from IntoFilm and Black & White publishing.

Later that day, I ran a 'Messages'-themed beginners' poetry workshop for Aberdeen City Libraries, which explored their postcard collection for inspiration and celebrated National Poetry Day. I then ran a beginners' prose workshop a couple of weekends later which explored the libraries' Treasures collection, including 'How to Stamp Out Typhoid' booklets from 1964 following Aberdeen's typhoid outbreak, and Cooke's Royal Circus programmes from the late 19th century. The Treasures collection is currently on display in the library in anticipation of the Central Library's 125th anniversary next year!

My last event in October was a beginners' Doric workshop for Aberdeen University students. This was mostly attended by students from other countries who are dumfoonert by the Northeast Scots dialect. We had a lot of fun watching clips from Brave and Aberdeen Student Show, as well as guessing the meaning of a selection of common Doric words.

Next month I'll be reading as part of the Polari Literary Salon on Tour in Edinburgh on November 4th at the Assembly Roxy along with Val McDermid, Mari Hannah, Karen McLeod and Paul Burston. I'll also be heading back to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe for a week to follow up on the Mother's Journey project I did in conjunction with Immpact and United Bulawayo Hospitals last year, so there's still plenty to get excited about in the rest of 2016!

Upcoming Readings and Workshops

It's not quite the end of summer and already the second half of my year is filling up fast! Over the coming months I'll be taking part in a few readings and facilitating a couple of creative writing workshops in Aberdeen and beyond. All details below and on my home page..

Monday 29 August, 7pm

  • Reading at Unbound! as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival's Booked! Festival in Aberdeen Arts Centre and Theatre Café Bar.

Sunday 4 September, 7pm

  • Reading as part of 'An Evening with Pushing Out the Boat' at The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen. Advanced tickets available from the POTB website.

Wednesday 5 October, 6-7.30pm

  • I am running a beginners' poetry workshop for adults at Aberdeen Central Library on the theme of 'messages' to celebrate National Poetry Day. Booking info.

Saturday 15th October, 12-1.30pm

  • I am running a prose workshop for adults exploring Aberdeen City Libraries' Treasures Collection. Booking info.

Friday 4 November, 7.30pm

  • Reading with Val McDiarmid, Mari Hannah and Karen McLeod as part of the Polari Literary Salon hosted by Paul Burston at the Assembly Roxy (Upstairs), Edinburgh. Further details here.

Spirit is Released: a Nan Shepherd Mural

I was recently asked by artist Lady Thornfield to select a quote that I felt would be suitable for a book group and creative writing meeting room at Rosemount Community Centre where I work part-time for the city's Creative Learning Team. After sifting through a few books on my shelf, it didn't take long to come across a brilliant quote about libraries and reading by Nan Shepherd, a writer who lived and wrote in the Aberdeen all of her life. Thankfully Lady Thornfield loved the quote, and it's now part of the monochrome mural which reflects Shepherd's engagement with nature throughout her writing, particularly in her first novel, The Quarry Wood, from which the quote comes.

Shepherd was recently selected to be the first female writer to feature on a Scottish banknote, and her non-fiction work, The Living Mountain, has gained increasing attention over the past decade with several new editions finding their way on the shelves of book shops across the country. Definitely check out her work if you haven't done so before!

A Journey Through Union Street's Unreal Estate

As part of this year's Look Again Festival, artist Gabrielle Reith created and curated the Unreal Estate Aberdeen exhibition which reflected on and redressed Aberdeen city through new artworks and writing about 10 buildings on its iconic Union Street. I was commissioned to write new pieces for five of the buildings focused upon in the exhibition which were displayed in the Bon Accord shopping centre between 28 May - 2 April. Below you can read each piece, learn more about the research and writing process for it, see the piece of artwork created for each building and listen to new music created by Fitlike Records for the project.

The Tollbooth

At the start of my research, I took a walk up and down Union Street, taking note of the aspects of each building that I found interesting: architectural details, information plaques, how folk interacted with them, what I could see through their windows... For The Tollbooth, I decided to take a visit inside as the building is now a museum displaying various exhibits about its history as a tax office, its later use as a wardhouse, the prisoners it held within, and the architectural changes the building has undergone. Although I've visited the building before, I'd never had a proper tour around the exhibits and was lucky to have my own 1-1 tour with one of the guides, Doug Strachan, who delighted in telling me more about the building's history as well as some great anecdotes about his time working there. I took a ream of notes by hand, trying to capture all the details I'd noted about the building itself (the wee windows, the narrow spiral staircases, the crumbling sandstone) and the stories Doug told.

A few days later, I picked out words and phrases from my notes that still resonated with me and typed them up in a document. I wanted to get the sense of crampness you feel in the building (and the prisoners would have felt when up to fifty were held in one cell!) as well as comment on what little light gets through the building through the small openings in the sandstone. A series of haikus seemed a natural fit, which is surprising as I don't normally write in the form. It really felt like it came together though, when I shifted into using Northeast Scots (Doric) to capture the voice most prisoners would have spoken with over the Tollbooth's use as a wardhouse. The final touch came when I realised that, forming part of an art exhibition, it wouldn't be too bad a thing to play around with the form and layout on the page, and so the haikus zigzag as you read through them, capturing the sense of the spiralling of both the narrow staircases and the prisoners' minds.

Hilary Duncan

Hilary Duncan

 

The Athenaeum

For this building, I did a fair bit of reading on the life and works of Aberdeen's most acclaimed architect, Archibald Simpson. I knew he had a massive impact on Union Street, but I was unaware of just how much work he'd managed to produce in his relatively short life across the Northeast of Scotland and beyond. The best resource I came upon was Archibald Simpson, Architect by David Miller, which gives a thorough overview of Simpson's career and, particularly important for my fabricated letter, a great sense of Simpson's bold, yet charming character. For the final draft of the piece, I looked at examples of letters from around this time to ensure I used a plausible register and the correct salutations.

The building went on to play a central role in the wider Look Again festival, as the launch took place in the basement of The Athenaeum building which now houses Brewdog's first nightclub, Underdog.

Allan Watson

Allan Watson

 

Esslemont & Macintosh

It's strange now to think that this is the only proper prose piece I wrote for the exhibition given that this is the form I work in most, but it's not so surprising that it turned out to be my favourite to write. I gave myself a bit more leeway with this piece in terms of how much research I did as I wanted to be a bit more playful, rather than sticking too closely to facts. I did sift through various images of the former Esslemont & Macintosh department store, which now sits empty except for a Jamie's Italian on one half of its first two floors. However, what caught my attention was a news article about a lift operator named Charlie Gordon who worked in E&Ms for over 40 years, and who passed away only a few months after the store closed its doors in 2007 after around 134 years in business. Given my recent involvement in the National Theatre of Scotland's Granite production, I was also inspired to make reference to this industry as well as Aberdeen's former textile mills, and the beginnings of a certain industry that still dominates the city now.

Given there are on-and-off plans to convert the former E&Ms building into a hotel, I love mixed-media artist Caitlin Hyne's vibrant piece which encapsulates what she'd rather see in this relatively massive space.

Caitlin Hynes

Caitlin Hynes

 

The New Market

From David Miller's book on Archibald Simpson, I also learned a lot about this former Victorian Market which was knocked down in the 1960s and involved the destruction of one of Simpson's most extravagant works: an Egyptian temple-like facade on its Market Street entrance. While I ultimately chose to write a fake news paper article about a lost building and many lost opportunities, I did come across a brilliant STV article about the inShops Market which currently stands in its place; if you want a laugh and a great example of the 'truth is stranger than fiction', have a read here.

Andy Kennedy

Andy Kennedy

 

The Colonnade

Given that the colonnade is a decorative work (a 'funcy dyke' some might say), rather than a building, I decided to focus on its form and neoclassical style. Reflecting on neoclassicism, I was soon reminded of Alexander Pope's 1712 mock-heroic narrative poem, The Rape of the Lock, with its satire on Pope's society through the recalling of heroes from ancient epics, and decided to do something similar for present-day Union Street.

I'm not usually keen to write in strict poetic forms, and while the piece did require the most editing and fiddling to fit a primarily iambic pentameter metre scheme (10 syllables in tee-TUM rhythm), I'm glad I persevered, particularly for the resulting musical take by Fitlike Records, which brings out a very different, unexpected feel to the piece I think.

Anne Marquiss

Anne Marquiss

 

Sitting Empty

I also collaborated with Fitlike Record on the following song to reflect number 520 Union Street, the final building on the street which is currently sitting empty. It features the vocals of Katie Buchan from one of my favourite Aberdonian bands, Best Girl Athlete.

 

The Unreal Estate exhibition was visited by 3170 people across the Look Again Festival weekend, which speaks volumes for the success of the Festival and the cultural appetite of the city. Besides this exhibition, I had great fun playing on Assemble and Simon Terrill's Brutalist Playground, and being a tourist in my own city on Doug Fishbone's Boomin' Bus Tour of Aberdeen! Check out my Instagram for my festival pics.

You can listen and download all the Unreal Estate tracks on Bandcamp, and find out about the other art works, writing and buildings on the Unreal Estate webpage.

Michty Mia! Student Show 2016 Lyrics

Over the past week, the 95th Aberdeen Student Show, Michty Mia!, was performed six times in Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre to around 7,000 people. After being involved in various productions of the local musical in the past, I was chuffed to be asked to write a couple of parody songs in Doric for this Aberdonian take on Mamma Mia!

Design: Alasdair Corbett, Studio Four

Design: Alasdair Corbett, Studio Four

Now that the final curtain has come down, I thought it’d be great to share the lyrics I wrote for this all-round brilliant production which saw over 40 students give over a month of their time to raise tens of thousands of pounds for Aberdeen Students’ Charities Campaign. The first is a mash-up parody of Abba’s ‘Thank You for the Music’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and the second is a parody of Megan Trainor’s ‘All About That Bass’. Enjoy!

 

Mannies, Mannies, Mannies / What’s Been Missing

 

Bridgette begins reading Reeva’s diary as the intro plays.

Bridgette (‘Thank You For the Music’):

Bidin’ in Stonie, at times, is a bit o a bore,

fan mam faas asleep, I aften just sneak oot the door.

Fan I feel this lonely, I ken fit to dee:

heid through to the Deen for some male company,

 ‘cos fan I feel forlorn

I’ve an affa bad case o the horn...

Reeva (to ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ chorus, while Bridgette reads with increasing shock; Reeva dances back and forth between all three dads):

CHORUS

Mannies mannies mannies, fit een am I aifter?

There’s nae much to choose fae doon at Estaminet.

Mannies mannies mannies, fit een am I aifter?

Guess he’ll hae to dee, I hivna gotten aa day!

(Reeva and one dad – Al – end up under a spotlight)

Half past ten!

He’s a bit o a mover – really kens hoo to sway,

oh I’ll hae me some Italian ony day.

We decide

to sneak into the lavvies, canna wait to see the sights

that are hidden underneath his tighty-whites.

(Reeva looks shocked and moves away from Al)

But this Italian stud,

his salami was a dud!

(She moves on to dance with the two remaining dads; chooses Glen by the verse)

(CHORUS)

Half past twelve

Am I weering beer goggles? ‘Cos he looks like Richard Gere…

Hiy! Ere’s nae “Pretty Woman” gan on here!

S’pose he’ll dee

‘cos I’m fed up o ess place, oh ma feet are getting sare

and I’d hate for half his bed to end up bare!

(Reeva looks disgusted and moves away from Glen)

But his breath was pretty foul –

I’m back oot on the prowl!

(dancing with the final dad, Broch)

(CHORUS)

Half past two

And we’re baith doon the Boolie, hae-in a pull in his car,

he reclines the driver’s seat back affa faaaaar!

Beeped his horn

fan I climbed owre to his side – oh, I wisna very slick

‘cos I ended up entwined wie the gear stick…

(Reeva waddles away from Broch and sings to audience)

He was an aarite ride,

but I’m never satisfied!

 

Mannies mannies mannies, fit een am I aifter?

There’s nae much to choose fae doon at Estaminet.

Mannies mannies mannies, fit een am I aifter?

Ony loon’ll dee fan Reeva Don’s oot to play!

...

Bridgette (Music back to ‘Thank You for the Music’):

Mum’s never mentioned these men when I’ve asked Who or What?

But Grannie has hinted, that mum used to be a right… nut!

Oh, I’ve always wondered, who my dad could be?

Had zero suspects, but now I have three!

The thoughts making me smile

of my dad walking me down the aisle!

Oh my God!

This is what’s been missing, why I’ve been dreading

turning up to my own bloody wedding!

Why be down about it? Why should I stress out my bae

on our big day?

Oh now I’ve stumbled on this puzzle piece,

I can see this has what’s been missing

to make me feel complete.

 

Aa Aboot the Deals

 

Grannie (backing singers in brackets):

CHORUS

Because you ken I’m aa aboot the deals!

Love a steal!

(Home Bargains!)

An Asda Smart Price meal

maks ma feel!

(Pound Stretcher!)

Thon Tesco Finest chiels

are unreal!

(T K Maxx!)

I’m aa aboot the deals –

Boots meal deal…

(deal, deal, deal)

 

Noo you listen here: way back in sixty-two

Fan I got mairried (mairried), wisna that big a do

We both said ‘I do’ doon at the registrar

Then dooned a few pints, doon at The Grill Bar (Far?!)

 

The kinda money folk will shell oot nooadays,

enough to mak ye boke! There must be other ways…

If I was Bridgette (Bridgette), I’d just elope!

Hoo can these brides be bothered? I would never bloody cope…

 

Oh, my mither, she telt ma “Da buy an expensive dress”

(No, nit-nit, no-no nit-nit)

‘Cos my wedding was shotgun and I was a big fat mess!

 (That belly belly! Urgh! That belly belly!)

Ye ken there’s nae better fit for an ever-expanding whale

than a frock made fae fresh bedsheets oot o the Markies’ sale.

 

(CHORUS)

 

Oh my daughter, I telt her to set up a B and B,

(Aye, aye-aye, oh aye, aye-aye)

to hae somewye to bide far I ay get breakfast for free.

(That bed and breakfast! Ooh! That bed and breakfast!)

And noo I’ve convinced oor Bridgette to wed at the bowling club

So I get member’s discoont on aa my ain drink and grub!

 

Because you ken I’m aa aboot the deals –

love a steal!

(Home Bargains!)

An Asda Smart Price meal

maks ma feel!

(Pound Stretcher!)

Thon Tesco Finest chiels

are unreal!

(T K Maxx!)

I’m aa aboot the deals –

Boots meal deal…

Granite: a True Celebration of Aberdeen

I first heard about the National Theatre of Scotland’s exciting Aberdeen-based theatre production, Granite, while at the launch of my twin city writing project, Passages, in May 2015. I discovered the production would involve bringing together different performing arts and writing groups across the city to produce an outdoor theatre spectacle in Marischal College quad to celebrate the history of the city through the stone it’s built from. It was exciting to hear that, just as my initiative to get folk writing in the city was coming to an end, another was on the horizon.

A couple of months later, I was asked to join the community writing team for the production headed up by well-known Scottish playwright Peter Arnott, who’d previously written stage versions of Sunset Song and Silver Darlings produced in Aberdeen.

box office image-01 (2)_1.jpg

The group met for the first time in August 2015. It was great to see some familiar faces from a playwriting course I was previously on: George Milne who wrote the fantastic Play, Pie and a Pint, Auntie Agatha Comes to Tea, and Evening Express writer Donna Ewen who’s as passionate as myself about works of theatre in the Northeast tongue. I had also previously met the former Doric Makar Sheena Blackhall, and Sheila Reid, a brilliant actress and writer who produces theatre for Fleeman productions in the city. Everyone else was a new face, which was very exciting as it’s often hard to know who else is writing maybe just a few streets away from you, particularly in a big, busy city like Aberdeen.

In the first few meetings it became clear that I was the youngest and less experienced “Aberdonian” in the team (unsurprising given I hail from Fraserburgh and have only lived in the Granite City for a decade), and so I came to learn so much from the other writers who all had such a wealth of knowledge about the history of both the city and its former granite industry. Thankfully we had a few strands to work on for the show which allowed me to be able to bring in my own interests, as well as trying out something new – projects and commissioned work are always great for that.

The main focus was to write a scene each for a story called “The Rooshian” which would form the central narrative of the final production. This narrative is based on a true story about a quarry worker, James Bissett, and his family who moved from the Northeast to Odessa when it was still part of Russia back in the 1860s. The family were all kicked out of Russia for James’s alleged attempt to start up a worker’s union (or perhaps just for his mere ownership of works by Robert Burns that were a tad too radical for Tsarist Russia), and it was said that they had to walk all the way back to Scotland, with his young son being known as “The Rooshian” into his adult life because of this.

To get to work on my own scene for the show, I headed straight to the Special Collections Centre at Aberdeen University, as well as the city libraries’ Local Studies collection, and came across a few gems on the granite industry. My favourite would have to be William Diack’s 1949 Rise and Progress of the Granite Industry in Aberdeen, which is worth reading for his grand prose style alone. Take this passage about the wide impact Aberdeen’s granite industry had globally for instance:

The products of the granite yards of Aberdeen are to be found in every quarter of the globe. They mark the last resting places of Kings, Emperors, and Statesmen. They may been seen in churchyards and cemeteries on both sides of the Border, in the Dominions over the seas, in the great Republics of North and South America; the in the snowy wastes of the Far North; and even in the arid deserts of Central Africa memorials of Aberdeenshire granite tell the world where gallant British soldiers have fallen.

While there was such as wealth of information on the industry to be found, I had to remember to not get too bogged down in factual detail as it can end up being a major block to creativity. So for a different source inspiration for this project, I returned to one of my favourite Russian writers, Nikolai Leskov, to see which of his tales of Tsarist Russia could give me a sense of life at the time. One of his stories, ‘The Steel Flea’ (also known as ‘Lefty’) is a fantastic folktale about expanding empires, international industries and the craftsmanship of the folk, which I felt resonated with what I was trying to write for my scene in which James and other granite workers arrive in the quarry in Odessa for the first time to pass on their stone dressing skills.

Sharing my first attempt at this scene with the rest of the writers was a useful gauge of what did and didn’t work in terms of plausibility, historical accuracy and humour. Having such a wide pool of people as a soundboard meant it didn’t take long to re-shape the scene afterwards into something that worked a lot better. Hearing everyone else’s scenes also gave me a sense of where my own fit into the bigger puzzle we were all trying to piece together. As I have found time and time again, this collaborative process is essential when writing for the stage compared with the more personal and private process I have with drafting my prose.

As well as our individual Rooshian scenes, we were given free reign to work on other aspects of Aberdeen as a city and interpretations of the wider ‘granite’ theme. I turned to Grassic Gibbon’s 1934 essay on Aberdeen and worked on a modern take on his description of Aberdeen’s 1930s nightlife which compares ‘the watching granite […] on the façades of the great grey buildings’ with ‘the manners and customs of the folk in the streets’. I was also asked by Peter to write a poem based on the research I’d done on the health conditions of quarry workers. I don’t often write poetry, and do find it that it’s easier to complete a poem when I’m given parameters to work within by someone else. The final poem, ‘Granite from the Heart of the Mountain’, was somewhat of a found piece, taking lines from the reading I’d done on injuries and deaths in the industry, as well as thinking about the uses of granite in relation to funereal practices: tombs, urns and gravestones – cheery stuff!

These two latter pieces were showcased as part of a writers’ night for our script team at the Arts Centre in February. This was a chance to get a taster of the final Granite production, as well as have the principal cast perform some of our other work. Having attended a few ‘scratch’ events in the past in Aberdeen, this one was very effective with its simplified, cabaret staging, musical accompaniment from Howarth Hodgkinson, and Peter’s well thought-out order. For small showcases like this, comedy always works well, and Trish Harvey’s pieces are the ones I remember most for their sheer hilarity, performed so brilliantly by Joyce Falconer, Marc Wood and Elspeth Davies, as Doric seagulls and aul wifies.

Granite principal cast and writers.

Granite principal cast and writers.

It wasn’t long for the final event to come round, opening on March 31st for a three-night run. Doing any outdoor event in Aberdeen at this time of year is risky, but thankfully the rain held off for opening night. The audience were sat either side of a long, slim stage in the middle of Marischal College quad which was reminiscent of a ship; it was swarmed by the cast who recalled the past in their Victorian dress, while a futuristic, asteroid-like granite rock dangled above them. The cast was composed of various groups who’d worked on different aspects of the Granite project, including ACT’s Adult Drama group who celebrated individual Aberdeen heroes, APAs Youth Theatre who looked at what the city meant to them and its future, and various dance groups performing traditional Scottish and Russian dance. These narrative strands were all explored throughout the performance alongside the Rooshian story, and while it threatened to become a bit too overwhelming at the start, all of the threads wound together over time towards a powerful and moving climax, which included a visual nod to the Piper Alpha disaster through a beautiful aerial performance, and an on-stage snowstorm which the Bissett family had to weather to find their way home – the 5 degrees Celsius temperature definitely added to this part of the show!

Given the nature of such a large collaborative project which brings together input from a range of different groups, I had no idea whether any of my writing had made it into the final cut, and wasn’t expecting that much of it would given it was a one-act, 70-minute performance. I was chuffed, however, to see that my poem and Grassic Gibbon homage were both used, as well as a trimmed down version of the scene set in the Odessa quarry. It was really exciting to see my work performed as part of such a large, community effort, alongside fantastic pieces by the other writers and performance groups, and the words and letters of bygone Aberdonians.

The sold-out Granite production took place during a busy week for the city, with packed out events also taking place on the same nights to celebrate the Music Hall before it undergoes a two-year renovation. Alongside the buzzing festivals that have already taken place, this week really felt like an important moment in the city’s cultural scene, marking the drive and desire to reach new cultural heights and to make things happen, so the National Theatre of Scotland and all the partners involved can only be thanked for being such a big part of that, and I look forward to seeing more work of this standard produced in our granite city.

The programme and a wee granite cassie given to the audience after the performance.

The programme and a wee granite cassie given to the audience after the performance.

You can see images of the production here, and find out more about the wider project on the Granite website.

 

#WriteCity

Across November last year, I ran a series of story writing workshops for Aberdeen City Libraries' #WriteCity Creative Writing Festival. The workshops took place in Cummings Park Community Flat with the same group of participants, building on their knowledge each week to complete and redraft their own story. Across four sessions, we covered character creation, showing versus telling, dialogue and dialect, and avoiding clichés. Although I've worked with university students across several sessions in the past, it was great to do the same in a community setting with older participants who were more willing to be open and share stories in person and on the page.

Participants' work from these sessions feature in the #WriteCity publication, along with work by Alan Spence, Helen Lynch and other workshop tutors and participants. Although written long before I was asked to take part in #WriteCity, my own story begins in Aberdeen Central Library itself before shifting through neighbouring St Mark's Church and His Majesty's Theatre, so it seemed only right that I submitted it for the collection. The publication is free to pick up from libraries throughout Aberdeen.

#WriteCity

Recent Print Publications

Two stories from my Orra Though It Be collection have recently appeared in Causeway/Cabhsair magazine and The Interpreter's House.

I'm particularly pleased to appear in The Interpreter's House for the first time, as the magazine's primary focus is on poetry from some of the best writers in the country, with only room for 2 or 3 stories per issue. As a former Editor of Causeway magazine, it's great to see that it's still going strong and is featuring work from established writers like James Robertson and Christopher Whyte, as well as continuing to encourage new writing in Scotland, Ireland and beyond.

10 things since my last blog post…

I’ve been pretty busy of late which has made writing another blog post a bit of a challenge since my last one in June. So here's a quick catch up on some of the things I’ve been up to in the last 5 months:

1) My story ‘Starnie’ appeared in the latest issue of Stand magazine, and another, ‘Gyurd’, is the November selection for Long Story, Short journal which you can read here.

2) Thanks to funding from a Made in Aberdeen bursary (Aberdeen City Council) I received in May, I attended two writing courses at Moniack Mhor to help develop my writing practice further and to get some time to get on with writing. I promise I’ll do a blog on the Moniack Mhor experience very soon!

3) I visited Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on behalf of Immpact to research follow-up projects to the Mother’s Journey play I wrote for them earlier in the year. As well as visiting two maternity hospitals, we got to experience the city's vast cultural activity and see so many beautiful sights nearby such as the Matopos national park, Khami Ruins and Victoria Falls. This was a special experience that I’ll never forget, and we’re hoping it will lead to long-term sustainable projects in the city’s maternity hospitals.

4) I’ve been running Beginner writing workshops at Cummings Park Community Flat for Aberdeen City Libraries’ #WriteCity writing festival. As well as being a chance to share writing skills with participants, it’s been great hearing stories about their community, their experience of the city and, in particular, their family history.

5) I’ve been asked to speak at a few events recently in relation to my writing career, such as a talk for an arts intervention project ‘Freed Market: How do we feed ourselves?’ and a presentation on what culture means to me for a Culture Aberdeen event. This Thursday I’ll be speaking at a European Cultural Connections conference about the Write Aberdeen/Write Regensburg project; on Saturday, I’ll be speaking to medicine students about the Mother’s Journey play as part of a MEDsin Global Health conference; and next Tuesday I’ll be helping run a session on Global Health and the Humanities for medicine students which will involve the students coming up with alternative endings to the play.

6) I visited Regensburg, Germany to attend the launch event of Passages, the twin city writing publication I coordinated and edited. The launch took place in September on the week of the 60th anniversary of the cities’ twinning, and featured traditional music from both regions. It was great to revisit the city and meet up with all the friends I’ve made over the past couple of years working on the project.

7) I’m currently part of the writing team for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Granite project in Aberdeen. Led by playwright and novelist Peter Arnott, the team of local playwrights are working on scenes that will form part of the final Granite production in Marischal College quadrant next March, as well as a Writers’ Night featuring our individual work.

8) I started working part-time as a Creative Project Practitioner for Aberdeen City Council's Creative Learning Team in July. So far this has involved supporting a school public art consultation, visiting the Tramway in Glasgow to see the Turner Prize nominees with art students from Aberdeen, planning upcoming professional development workshops and programmes for creatives in the city, and lots more!

9) My PhD in Creative Writing was nominated for the Ross Roy Medal for best research in Scottish Literature. Although I didn’t win, I’ve been invited to attend the Saltire Literary Awards in Edinburgh next week, which I’m really looking forward to as some of my favourite writers have been nominated for awards this year.

10) Lastly, I’ve been working away on my first novel. It wasn’t easy at first transitioning from short fiction forms to something larger, but lately I’ve been on more of a roll and have got through a fair bit. This has been a major reason for the lack of another blog post as I’ve really been trying to focus back on writing prose after being caught up in so much else. I could never commit myself to something like the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), because I just DO NOT work at that speed, but I’m looking forward to seeing how this larger project unfolds over time…

 

 

A Mother's Journey

In January 2015, I was approached to write a short play for IMMPACT, a global research initiative based in Aberdeen which seeks to raise awareness of, and overcome, the various obstacles faced by pregnant women in low- and medium-income countries. The brief was pretty straightforward: a 20 minute production for the upcoming May Festival which would focus on the transport issues women in labour faced when trying to reach medical facilities.

Dr Julia Hussein, the Senior Director of IMMPACT, and Shelagh Barr, the group’s Business Development Manager, were very helpful in sending me resources for my research such as: articles IMMPACT had worked on detailing the reality of the situation; Touching Distance, a novel by Rebecca Abrams about Alec Gordon, a real-life Physician in 18th-century Aberdeen who had to face up to a deadly infection killing newly delivered mothers; and links to various campaigns partnered with or doing similar work to IMMPACT including Soapbox Collaborative and MamaYe!

While research for my PhD in Creative Writing would sometimes influence my creative work, this was the most closely linked project between academic research and the arts I’ve been involved with so far. Primarily from IMMPACT’s research, I planned out a narrative structure which progressively outlined the various obstacles many pregnant women in low- and medium-income countries are facing. I then had to decide between the following three options as the best way in which to convey this narrative:

  1. set it in an Asian or Sub-Saharan African country where these issues are particularly prominent in rural areas, making for a true-to-life drama.

  2. take inspiration from Rebecca Abrams’s novel and set it in 18th-century Aberdeenshire, conveying how these transport issues have long been overcome here, and ask why cannot this be the case the world over.

  3. or, take a surreal slant and set the play in modern-day Aberdeenshire, provoking the audience to consider how they’d feel if these issues were taking place on their own doorstep today.

As a writer, the most appealing option initially was the third, as I am interested in surreal and absurd theatre, and often try make the familiar strange and the strange familiar when playwriting. I decided to work on a version of the script along these lines and completed a full draft relatively quickly, given that it wasn’t as constrained as the other options would given the factuality necessary. However, I decided to sit on it a week or so and see how I felt when I re-read it.

Going back to this version of the script, I realised just how tricky it was going to be ensure all of the audience were aware of what the intent of the piece would be; this was also complicated by the fact that problems with the NHS were in the media a lot at the time, and I began to realise that the play could be misinterpreted as a hyperbolic attack on our own health and transport services, rather than a true reflection of another country’s. Around this time, IMMPACT also put in a bid for Twin City funding to build a link with one of Aberdeen’s twin cities, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. As part of the bid, the play would be performed to medical workers from Bulawayo and, potentially, could be performed in the city itself as part of a longer project. This made me reconsider the setting of the play, and so I got to work rewriting the whole piece so that, while the narrative structure was the same, the setting would now be rural Zimbabwe.

The next few weeks I put my ‘researcher’ cap back on and got hunting in the library and online for various resources that confirmed the obstacles outlined in the play could happen in rural Zimbabwe, particularly things like the terrain and weather conditions. I also began re-adapting elements of the language such as the names of characters and using some Shona language like ‘Sabhuku’, the term for a village head. This part was tricky because, as I know from my own interest and research on using Scots in my prose, getting a balance between a use of the characters’ actual language for realism, and a use of standard language for audience accessibility and aesthetic reasons, is always a juggling act. All this effort was worth it, and in the end necessary, as IMMPACT were successful in their Twin City funding bid.

Once I got the play to a stage I felt comfortable showing to, and developing with, actors, I set out to cast 'A Mother's Journey', the title I'd agreed on with IMMPACT. The first actor I got on board was Vicky Parker, a medical student at the university of Aberdeen who’d appeared in various productions in the city including Hairspray, Sweet Charity and the 2015 Aberdeen Student Show, Tilly Elliot. I was particularly keen for Vicky to be part of the project as she helped found the charity Born Positive, which primarily supports children affected by HIV in Mozambique, and so had her own experiences with development in a low-income country. Vicky was up for the challenge of playing Evie and suggested I contact Tehillah Sihlabela to play her husband, Jo. I’d seen Tehillah perform brilliantly as Seaweed in Hairspray, and was pleased when he got back in touch to say he’d like to take part.

Tehillah Sihlabela and Vicky Parker

Tehillah Sihlabela and Vicky Parker

The rehearsal and development process then looked something a bit like this over the limited hours we could all meet due to work and study commitments:

  1. We did an in-depth script read through which was great for helping me catch any uses of language that seemed unnatural or that were overt British or Scottish idioms that had snuck in from earlier drafts.

  2. We spent the next couple of rehearsals blocking the play, which was also useful in terms of deciding the physical logistics of the venue we would be working in, and making my mind up over which props were really essential or would just get in the way of the flow of the piece.

  3. Once Vicky and Tehillah had learned all their lines, one (long!) Sunday was spent running over the play again and again. I think this was crucial as it allowed them both to really consolidate what they were doing and saying in relation to the narrative structure of the play and their own character motivations at each point.

  4. We then previewed the play to my friend Michelle Bruce, who has a lot of directing experience and who I'd recently taken part in Scrapyard with. We worked on the suggestions she gave us in time for another preview for the IMMPACT team at the Suttie Arts Space in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. This gave us the chance to iron out any final kinks in the flow of the play before the final performance. It was also when we got feedback from our two guests from Bulawayo, Dr Davidzoyashe Makosa and Mrs Sikhangezile Moyo. They were both very positive about the piece and said that they would be more sympathetic in future towards women who turn up so late on in their labour to the medical facilities they work in, given that it may be due to the numerous transport issues outlined in the play. Their comments alone gave us a  much needed final confidence boost before the looming May Festival performance...

On the Friday evening of the festival, Vicky, Tehillah and I were all feeling pretty nervous as we arrived on Aberdeen University campus to prepare for the final, sold-out performance. Having worked as a Producer for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, I’m aware of how tight time can be for tech rehearsals, so had tried to ensure everything was in order for the hour or so we had to run through the play in the Linklater Rooms, the first time we’d been able to practice in the space. Thankfully we managed to get through the whole piece and sort out all the technical issues that could have arisen during the performance: think feedback through the speakers and microphones jumping out of pockets onto hard wooden floors…

Before we knew it, the audience had filled the room and the Zulu lullaby ‘Thula Mtwana’ had begun playing through the speakers. A few years back, I would have been shaking with nerves, but the more work I have staged, the less my heart races before a performance. I was also quietly confident things would go well knowing how much work Vicky and Tehillah had put into learning their lines, but was hopeful that they would go all out for this final performance. That they certainly did, leaving me a bit choked up with pride as the audience applauded them both during their bows.

The performance was followed by a Q&A session; now there really were nerves! Thankfully, one of our guests from Bulawayo, Dr Makosa, joined in on the discussion. She was particularly emotional as she explained how the play wasn’t fiction, but something which occurred every day in Zimbabwe. One audience member questioned what real impact a staged drama could have on the situation, but many other audience members said that the play was a powerful and more human way of getting across IMMPACT’s important research. For myself and IMMPACT, this performance was a way of trialling this method of engaging a wider audience with these issues, and with the great responses from the May Festival audience, we now have the impetus to take this work further and do something on a bigger scale to really raise awareness and make a difference.

After the performance: Mrs Sikhangezile Moyo and Dr Davidzoyashe Makosa from Bulawayo; myself; Francisco Castiñiera, Lena Dirnberger and Helen Stellner from Regensburg; and Laura Paterson, Aberdeen City Council's Twin City Officer.

After the performance: Mrs Sikhangezile Moyo and Dr Davidzoyashe Makosa from Bulawayo; myself; Francisco Castiñiera, Lena Dirnberger and Helen Stellner from Regensburg; and Laura Paterson, Aberdeen City Council's Twin City Officer.

You can read a review of the play here, and I’ll be sure to keep this site updated with news of future stages of the project. A shorter review of my May Festival weekend can be read on the Aberdeen Festivals blog here.

Write Aberdeen : Write Regensburg

Since 2013, I’ve been working on the Write Aberdeen – Write Regensburg project, a twin city writing initiative which culminated in the launch of a book of new writing at the 2015 May Festival to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the twinning of Aberdeen with its German twin city. The project was born out of an earlier arts project I was involved with called the 100 Words Project which sought to turn Aberdeen’s favourite Doric and Gaelic words into artworks. Interested in possible connections between the use of Doric in Aberdeen and Bavarian in Regensburg, as well as other connections between the cities, I applied for Twin City Funding from Aberdeen City Council to look into developing a project which could celebrate these dialects and cultivate new writing in both cities.

Successful in my funding bid, I visited Regensburg at the end of summer 2013 to meet potential project partners and to get a better sense of the use of Bavarian in the city, and the literary scene in general. Regensburg has around half the population of Aberdeen, but is just as well known for its industrial prowess: many multi-national car and tech companies have bases in Regensburg such as BMW, General Electric, Siemens and Toshiba. However, unlike Aberdeen, it’s hard to tell this when wandering around its spectacular city centre. The medieval Old Town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006 and is often described as “the northernmost city of Italy”, with its ancient Roman walls, colourful buildings and cobbled streets. What I found most interesting visiting from Aberdeen was the Schottenkirche St Jackob, a Scots monastery founded in the 11th century which has the names of monks hailing from Aberdeen lined across its walls – the links between the cities clearly extending well beyond sixty years…

As well as sightseeing, I had several meetings with Regensburg residents interested in being part of the project: staff at the Volkshochschule (VHS), a popular adult-education centre who match funded the project; arts organisations from across the city; and Helen Stellner, an Aberdeen quine who has lived in Regensburg for several decades teaching English at the VHS and translating works between German and English. I had met Helen once before in Aberdeen, so it was great to chat with her in her own city and discuss the potential of her husband Norbert, owner of local publisher Edition Vulpes, publishing the final book of new writing. Helen has been vital to the project given her understanding of English, German, Bavarian and Doric, which meant the final translations could incorporate all aspects of the standard to non-standard continuum in both languages, as well as all the help she offered in translating food menus! The meetings with those at the VHS and throughout the city also confirmed a couple of other aspects: that we wouldn’t restrict the writers to using dialect, but that it was an option if they wished to do so; that the theme would simply be to write about their home city in prose or poetry; that we would include images of some kind in the final publication.

Spurred on by the enthusiasm for the project from residents in both cities, competitions to find the winning pieces of writing were set up, as well as free writing workshops to encourage beginner writers to take pen to paper. For me, this was one of my favourite aspects of the project, as it meant that the funding money would not only benefit the final winning writers, but would also encourage new writing on a larger scale. In the summer of 2014, all three fully-booked workshops took place at Seventeen on Belmont Street, a relatively new arts space for Aberdeen. Each workshop was run by a professional writer and focused on different aspects of writing: Alan Spence ran a ‘writing from experience’ non-fiction workshop, Helen Lynch ran a beginner prose workshop, and Wayne Price ran a poetry workshop focused on ‘writing the city’. It was clear from these workshops that there is a big need for these sort of opportunities in Aberdeen as, outside of academic courses, creative writing has often been overlooked as other artforms have thrived; this need combined with the positive feedback from those who participated led to the decision that all proceeds from the final publication would go towards further free writing projects in the city.

After receiving over 90 entries, the five poets and five prose writers who won one of the ten prizes of £100 and publication in the final book were announced in September 2014. I was really impressed with the quality of the winning pieces, and the varied overview they build up of Aberdeen across ten relatively small pieces. It was also around this time that I received confirmation that the book launch would form part of the 2015 May Festival, which gave Helen until the end of 2014 to translate all twenty twinning pieces from both cities, and gave me the first few months of 2015 to edit, typeset and design the book before it was sent off to the printers. Thankfully I’d done a lot of similar work on Causeway/Cabshair magazine which often features Scottish Gaelic and Irish alongside English translations within its pages, so getting the layout correct wasn’t too problematic. Decided the order of the pieces wasn’t too tricky either thanks to the natural flow that stood out of moving through chronological time across the collection, bookended by general overviews of each city. The hardest part was deciding on a title! Helen and I sent many an email back and forth trying to think of something which would capture the sense of moving through time, and the coming and going from cities which many of the pieces explored. Ultimately we decided on Passages as it also conveyed that this was a collection of small pieces of prose and poetry, and it is not too distinct from its German translation, ‘Passagen’. Once this was decided, it was a bit easier to choose images for the collection from previous photography projects between Aberdeen and Regensburg. I chose a picture of the Schottenportal for the cover, the famous doorway of the Scots monastery in Regensburg, given that is emblematic of the connection between both cities.

About a month before the May Festival, the books arrived on my doorstep all the way from Regensburg. It was so exciting to hold the final publication which was of such a high quality: the cover image came out great, all 88 pages are made of creamy ‘Munken’ paper, and each copy is individually shrink-wrapped for protection – I can’t say it’s been as positive an experience receiving proofs and even final print runs of books from UK printers in the past...

Around this time, two writers from Regensburg were chosen to visit Aberdeen to read their work: Lena Dirnberger and Francisco Castiñiera. At 20 years old, Lena is the youngest writer to be included in the final publication, and Francisco, having originally hailed from Galicia before moving to Regensburg, adds a unique Celtic connection to the project. It was fun arranging flights and accommodation for them, and planning what sights to see in and around Aberdeen, but I was nervous as Helen and I headed out to the airport on the Thursday before the festival weekend to pick them up, as I wanted to make sure they’d have a brilliant time. Fortunately they were both really nice and enthusiastic when we met them, and we hit it off properly over dinner and a tour of Aberdeen city centre on the Friday morning. It was great showing them around as it’s always good to play tourist in your own city to remind yourself of what’s on your own doorstep. We visited the Tolbooth Museum, St Nicholas Kirk, Union Terrace Gardens, His Majesty’s Theatre, Marischal College, and even dropped by Seventeen on Belmont Street to check out their exhibitions.

While I headed off to get the IMMPACT play organised for the May festival on the Friday afternoon (another blog to follow soon!), Helen, Lena and Francisco visited Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle with the Twin City Partnerships Officer, Laura. Francisco has some brilliant pictures of their time their on his own blog which he writes in Galician.

The next morning, we met at the Sir Duncan Rice Library for a quick tour before the book launch. I work part-time at the library, so it was a little odd heading there in my funcy suit, but great fun showing Francisco and Lena round, particularly Lena as she is currently studying to become a librarian in Munich, and is on placement at Regensburg University Library. We then headed to meet the Aberdeen writers who had all congregated in a room at King’s College in preparation for the reading. It was great to see the excitement in the writers’ eyes when I handed them a copy of the book for the first time. Some looked a little nervous though when I then handed them the running order for the reading… I was glad to have been that organised in the end, as we has no time in our venue pre-event and had to follow directly after another reading – after being involved in a few festivals now, I really shouldn’t have expected anything different!

Just as the writers and audience had settled into their seats in the marquee, the rain came on in time for my opening speech... I made light of it, but it was a little off putting to have to read into a hand held mic and make sure I was being heard. It really thumped down during Helen’s speech, but she did a great job of powering through it and keeping the audience’s attention. Thankfully it calmed by the time the readings began. I was really chuffed at how well each reader performed their work, particularly Lena and Francisco who were not reading in their native language; this is even more impressive in Francisco’s case since the original German version is not his first language either. There was a real warmness to some of the pieces, as well as a bit of humour now and then. Overall, it made for a varied and compelling mix which reflects the strength of the printed collection.

After the launch ended, we all headed to the council Town House on Union Street for a Civic Reception hosted by the Lord Provost, who attended the launch in the morning.

The Town House is a beautiful building which really makes you feel like you’re stepping back in time with its regal red interiors and gold-framed portraits, as well as the large Town and County Hall where the reception was held, which features a painting of Queen Victoria worth millions of pounds – not intimidating at all! Thankfully, my speech for the formal part went fine, and I finally got to fully relax and mingle with all the readers and guests. Here are some fantastic and fun pictures taken during the reception by the council’s official photographer Norman Adams, and my pal Kate Sutherland who’s been involved with the project since we launched the competition:

After the civic reception, our Regensburg guests got some rest before a stroll along Aberdeen beach and Footdee; thankfully we avoided the fits of rain, and had plenty of entertainment from the costume-clad Aberdonians heading back into town from the Granite City Comic Con at the Beach Ballroom. On this final night, Francisco remarked how he'd heard Aberdeen wasn't a very attractive city, but that he thought different after all the beautiful sights he'd been taken to – mission accomplished just before him and Lena headed home the next morning!

I got to enjoy a couple of events stress-free on the Sunday of the May Festival: the launch of the thirteenth issue of Pushing Out the Boat, and a talk on ‘Inequality and the 1%’ – both engaging for very different reasons. I also discovered that the Waterstone’s stall had sold out of the stock allocation of Passages I’d given them which was very exciting. They’re now topped up so you can get the book in store at Waterstone’s Union Bridge Aberdeen.

The book is to be launched in Regensburg during Bürgerfest 2015, while sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the twinning will be in full swing in September in Aberdeen where Passages is sure to take centre stage once more.