Morna

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Scottish playwright, actress and musician... writing about writing.

By mornayoung, Mar 10 2018 12:40PM

I initially titled this “New Year’s blog” and aimed to publish it on 1st January. Somehow, time has flown and Spring beckons. The weather seems to be as confused as I am; unable to keep up and a little behind on schedule.


It’s true that time speeds up with each passing year. I remember school days when a 50-minute study period seemed like an impossibly long slog. Now, days and weeks fly past, filled with deadlines and meetings and stuff. They pass with a shimmer; not quite solid enough to grasp onto.


The time to reflect is hard to source. The time to pause and to breathe. The festive season is always when I find myself looking backwards and forwards whilst simultaneously trying to stay present in the here and now. As the celebrations ramp up, I find myself retreating inwards with a desire to reflect and evaluate. I light candles and make lists. I think about who I was and who I want to be.


Every year, I aim to carve out more space for reflection but those precious hours seem to slip away. They are the first victim when last minute meetings need scheduled. I must try harder to safe-guard that time but intentions don’t always translate into action. Time to replenish, re-evaluate and reward. It’s easy to forget to nurture oneself.


I’m writing this now, in March, whilst lying in bed. I had my wisdom teeth taken out so I’ve been forced to take time out to re-coup (pretty drastic action to buy a day or two off…). I couldn’t talk (literally) so work had to halt for few days. It’s the first time that I’ve paused this year and, truth be told, it’s been strangely enjoyable to think only about sleeping, eating (or, at least, attempting to) and when I can take the next round of pain meds.


I scheduled the operation between projects. The last few months have been wonderfully chaotic as various shows, developments, rehearsals and productions all kicked off in various ways. Next week, a new round of projects begins. But, for now, I get to pause for a moment and grasp onto these few days; even though I have a big puffy face and my mouth hurts like hell.


When I started this blog, I wanted to write about the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship which I was fortunate to receive in 2017. I sought the chance to reflect upon the experience; the many opportunities, the highs, the lows. It’s only now, in March, in bed, that I finally have the opportunity to look back.


To give an overview, the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship provides time and space for a writer to develop their craft over a year. It is a rare and extraordinary opportunity to focus on artist development; a chance to be creatively ambitious and fully supported in the manifestation of this. A different host organisation is selected every year and, thereafter, this organisation decides upon a title theme which applicants are invited to pitch proposals for.


In 2017, Creative Learning, Aberdeen City Council were chosen to host and the Fellowship theme was advertised: ‘the folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast’. When I read those words, my heart skipped a little. The folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast has been ever and always present in my work; it flavours and informs all of my writing. I applied, pitching a new play for stage, and – to cut a long story short – was offered the position. In June last year, I wrote this blog exploring the process so far.


It’s difficult to know where to begin when looking back. There was the initial appointment which brought a flurry of attention and more social media alerts than I had ever seen. There was the reflection on my own journey as a writer and consideration of how the title theme has developed in my work throughout the years. Then there was the research, the interviews, the library visits and the hard graft of pulling together fact and fiction. Then the preparations and the plot planning; and the discovery that I was writing five plays instead of one. In amongst this, there was the creative engagement with local artists and community groups, the literary readings and special events like the Edinburgh International Book Festival. And, of course, the writing. Lots and lots of writing.


It was a jam-packed year, particularly because of my decision to write five plays instead of one. Well, when I say ‘decision’, I really mean ‘instinct’. I couldn’t stop myself. However, this was an unexpected bonus of the time provided and one that I ran with. The Fellowship offered creative freedom and, rather than containing that, I let it burst out. I unleashed the creative beast, if you will. I let myself write in new and unexpected ways. I allowed myself to explore styles that I had yet to embrace.


Last week, my first Fellowship play ‘Aye, Elvis’ opened at ‘a Play, a Pie and a Pint’. It’s a feel-good comedy of sorts, a Little Miss Sunshine-esque affair featuring a female, Doric, amateur Elvis impersonator. It is completely unlike anything I have ever written. It’s fairly known now that the idea was born in the pub one night when Joyce Falconer and I were having a wee soft drink (aye, right). There was a karaoke session in the club upstairs and Joyce did a wee Elvis impersonation. It was hilarious and I found myself saying “there’s a play in that”. She thought I was joking.


Now, ordinarily, those are the ideas that skip me by because of deadlines and life and capacity. However, whilst on a writing retreat in the West Coast, the idea came back to me and I wrote most of the first draft script in a single day. I wrote it because I had time and space to think; I wrote it because I could.


‘Aye, Elvis’ isn’t the ‘biggest’ Fellowship play I’ve written. It’s not the most hard-hitting (although, I’ve yet to leave the show without a tear in my eye) nor the most serious. But I adore it. I adore the characters and I adore watching Joyce gein it laldy on stage. Moreover, it was an absolute revelation to me to feel such utter joy whilst writing. I laughed my way through, word by word. I would not have had this experience without the Fellowship. Not a chance.


Why is that? I suppose it’s about being able to take a risk. To clarify, when I use the word ‘risk’, I don’t necessarily mean stepping out there into a world of high-end experimental art; I mean, fundamentally, the chance to step beyond everyday practice and to take a risk on oneself. To say ‘I’ve never done that before but I’m going to take a chance and try it’. It’s about not staying safe; not writing the same play over and over. It’s about writing or making the show that scares you.


But, hand on heart, it is far, far easier to try something new when there is financial and institutional support in place. As a working-class artist, I don’t say that lightly. Having financial backing is a rare luxury. I truly believe that this is the biggest flag up that I can make about an opportunity like the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. It offers artists the chance to make art; to not just think about the outcome but to enjoy the process, to try and to fail and to try again. It’s looking beyond ticking a box or hitting an exact outcome. It’s about trusting that artists will deliver if you give them the necessary resources. Let them play, let them dream, let them create.


I use ‘Aye, Elvis’ as my main example because it opened last week and because it felt so, so very new to me to be writing something that was billed as a comedy. But, beyond this, every play that I wrote took me in a new and unexpected direction and I was able to follow each of these to see where it would lead me.


My main Fellowship play ‘The Stoor’ – initially pitched as a large-scale drama – became a two-hander in development; an intense Blackbird style affair. It is thematically large but told through a much smaller cast than anticipated. However, alongside this, I developed ‘These Clean Quines’ with a ten-strong cast. Then there’s ‘Joy’, my first one-woman show and, finally, ‘Scrubbed’ which clashes harsh reality with young adult fantasy.


I couldn’t have achieved any of this through a normal commissioning process. I couldn’t pitch a ten-hander and then write a two-hander. I couldn’t pitch a hard drama and then write a gentle comedy. I completely understand why organisations need to put boundaries in place but, similarly, I cannot emphasise how luxurious and mind-opening it was to write minus pressures, logistics, deadlines and restrictions. Indeed, I found a new love for playwriting over the last year – the true joy of unrestricted creativity. It’s easier to dream when you know that the rent is taken care of.


Moreover, the freedom to write without restriction also meant that I was also able to explore my work practices in much greater detail; realising that I am slower to research and plan but quicker to write following this type of development. The lightbulb moment within this was realising that residencies work perfectly with this style of writing; where I can shut off the outside world and slip straight into a meditative writing zone.


Each play and project developed during the Fellowship would have been nearly impossible without institutional and financial support to allow time and space for intensive research, development and writing. This is partly due to the quantity of work created but also the varying styles, size and ambitions of each new play. Each play offered the opportunity to challenge my practice whilst developing new skills, insights and experience. It is undoubtedly true that I am a better writer now that I was a year ago. My perspective has changed, my research skills have sharpened and my interests have shifted and expanded.


With ‘Aye, Elvis’ now in production, I will be turning back to the other four plays, each of which is in a slightly different stage of development. In May, APA will host a reading of ‘The Stoor’ as part of Mayfest and I’m excited to interrogate the text and gain vital feedback. A play is never quite ‘complete’ until it is considered collaboratively and put in front of an audience. With this in mind, the work completed during the Fellowship will last far longer than the ‘official’ tenure.


As I reflect now on the past year, I think about the highs and the lows. The moments of doubt (I can’t do this!) and the moments of soaring creativity (I CAN do this!). I think about the title theme and how I have developed my response to this. I think about the chance to interrogate what interests me at this career stage and honing in on this; working class women, multi-disciplinary work, language, etc etc. I think about the nurturing and inspiring landscapes that I was afforded the opportunity to work in; from the west coast to Cove Park to Gardenstoun. I think about the people I met and the creative exchange I experienced with writers beyond my everyday life; poets and novelists and journalists. I think about the outreach and community work and the folk I met during this; the stories that were shared and the interpersonal moments of connection.


Receiving this Fellowship provided vital support at a time in my career where I needed time and space to write. In previous years, I had struggled to 'buy' writing time in amongst an increasingly busy work load. What use is a writer with no time to write? With time to reflect, I understand – more than ever – the importance of opportunities like this that focus on artist development. I only wish that investments like this were more common in the arts. If this were the case, I think we would start to see a landscape of new, exciting and progressive art beyond anything that we can currently imagine. A writer rarely writes ‘the great play’ the first time around. But what about play five? Play ten? Beyond? Play three might be panned but it may just be the breakthrough in discovering the genius in play four. You don’t hit gold without mining through the layers. Invest in your writers and they will keep growing, keep progressing and keep surprising.


Before I sign off, I want to mention Shane Strachan, my project co-ordinator on behalf of Creative Learning (and also a fabulous writer himself). As I look back on my Fellowship tenure, I cannot emphasise enough the support that Shane provided. His belief, encouragement and backing were vital to my experience. Shane is someone who makes things happen; no matter how off the wall the idea is. Most recently, we worked together to develop ‘The Money Tree’, an event that allowed me to interview older people about finances as part of Luminate. Shane took my words and ideas and transformed them into living, breathing actions; in this case, an actual tree with actual money (well, fake money), surrounded by piles of golden coins. I dreamed; he delivered. Sometimes, it just takes one person and, for the last year, Shane has been that person. I can’t thank him enough for being a rock, a friend and a legend.


And so, it’s time for me to sleep, maybe eat something mushy and take more pain meds. Soon, it’ll be back to work proper and onto the next round of projects. Maybe I’ll be more disciplined in the coming months with carving out more time for reflection. Or maybe I’ll start another Spring blog and publish it in the Autumn. My final Fellowship engagement will take place in May, marking the end of a truly remarkable time; although the plays themselves will keep developing and living. And soon, the new Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship recipient will be announced and the mantle shall be passed forward; I can’t wait to see what they achieve in the year ahead.


I, unfortunately, never had the great pleasure of meeting Dr Gavin Wallace but his legacy lives on; his unwavering belief in Scottish writers, his championing of talent and passion for contemporary writing. It’s been an honour to be a part of this valuable and rare opportunity in his name.

By mornayoung, Jun 28 2017 11:33AM

We all dream. We all have ambitions. Some are bucket list style grandiose adventures. Others are less obvious; aims and mottos to make small changes to our lives. I keep a list for both. The bucket list contains travel plans, long term career ambitions and life challenges. The smaller list is about day-to-day improvements; daily writing and reading, cooking more, waking earlier.

Somewhere in the middle, exists a list of actions that are just a bit further than immediate. Those goals that I have to work towards strategically, the shorter long term plans, the mid scale ideas. Last year, I wrote the word ‘Fellowship’ on that list after a career planning session where I identified a need for more research time, more writing time and greater opportunity to focus on individual projects. After many months of wearing different hats and juggling roles, I desperately needed to reconnect with the writer inside.

Early this year, I interviewed for - and was offered - the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. This still hasn’t sunk in yet. Even changing my email signature to state ‘Recipient of…’ took a small amount of self-coaching. I wanted to pick up the phone and double, triple check. This is actually happening? No mistakes?

Most writers probably won’t be too surprised by my disbelief. The opportunity for full and focused writing time is unbelievably rare these days. Playwrights tend to be ‘playwrights and…’ teachers / producers / makers / actors / administrators / *insert other bill paying job* etc etc… To say I am honoured is an under-statement. And to receive this particular Fellowship – in memory of the great writing champion Dr Gavin Wallace – is a privilege.

This year’s Fellowship is hosted by the Creative Learning team at Aberdeen City Council (supported by Creative Scotland). The set theme, ‘The Folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast of Scotland’ feels even more significant. Interestingly, when I wrote my application, I realised just how much my work centres around this theme already. Lost at Sea, Never Land, B-Roads, Netting – the folk, the language and the landscape is ingrained in them all. The Northeast has inspired all of my work to date – and it continues to do so.

As my writing evolves and my interests develop, I still turn to my childhood for inspiration. I turn to the people who have shaped me and the events that impacted upon me. The sea and geography always play an unseen character. The language and dialect bring natural and lyrical poetry. This theme – the folk, the language and the landscape – is in every word, every character and every story. It’s as connected to me as I am to it.

Though announced in February, I ‘officially’ took up the title in late April and my time attached to the Creative Learning team will continue through to next Spring. The bulk of my year will be spent working on new plays but I also sought time and space to reflect upon my artistic journey so far. The past few years have been wonderful but they have been full on and fast paced and chaotic. It’s been all work and very little play, moving from one project to the next with no time to process, reflect and learn; a series of blurred moments without space to breathe between. There are the creative times, of course, but there is also administration and producing and all of the unseen work we all do to keep ourselves moving forward. Last year, I toured Scotland, produced a play, performed in three touring productions, developed two new productions as a maker and set the wheels in motion for two new developments this year, created and performed in Folkify every month, consulted and dramaturged for a community project, spent five weeks in Iceland, took part in a Lyth Arts Centre residency… and I can’t remember the rest. I looked back at 2016 and realised that I was often so busy being a playwright that I wasn’t actually writing plays. It made no sense.

I needed to pause. I needed to stop and to think about where I was and who I am and who I want to be - as an artist but, more significantly, as a writer. What do I actually want to write about now? What interests me? What has led me to the here and now?

The Fellowship is a blessing in every way. Even writing the application allowed me to consider some of the questions above – yes, the folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast is ever present in my work. But, as time goes on, I realise more and more that it is working class voices and, more specifically, working class female voices that interest me. Why? Because I do not readily see them on stage. I do not hear them on the radio. I do not see them on screen.

The work created by playwrights directly affects the ‘lens’ that we see work through; from gender to language to race to class and beyond. Those ripples spread throughout the industry; by supporting diverse voices on paper, we support diverse voices on stage which impacts actors, creative teams and audiences. If we want more diversity on our stages, on our TVs and our radios, then we need to drastically consider the support we are offering writers who exist outside the white, male, straight, middle class ‘norm’.

This year, I will write a large-scale female ensemble piece in Doric. I will write about working class women, about wealth disparity, privilege and entitlement. I will write about identity and belonging. I will continue to ask myself questions about who I am as a writer and what / whose stories I am choosing to tell. I have questioned my own belonging in this industry many, many times but, in some ways, this is probably more beneficial than I can put words to. If I doubt my place because I am a working class woman then there, in itself, lies a deeper issue.

So I will keep writing and exploring and questioning. I will keep trying to shape and develop my writing and keep striving to challenge myself. I will keep reading and championing the work of Northeast female writers of the past and present. The major difference in the year ahead is that I have the support to make this possible; I will never fail to be thankful for that.

I’m also very grateful to be working with the fantastic writer, Creative Learning team member and generally wonderful human, Shane Strachan, during this Fellowship year. I’ve also been privileged to co-facilitate The Writer’s Room with Shane; an intense programme of professional development for early career Northeast writers. The joy of facilitating is learning as much as you teach. So, thank you, Alison, Sareen, Elaine, Richie, Jan and Frances.

One of my upcoming aims is to set up a writing specific blog separate to my website and I’ll post an update once I finally manage to do that. I’ll also be performing at various events in the Northeast in the coming months, reading extracts of old and, perhaps more importantly, new work.

And, so, to writing…


More soon,

Morna x

By mornayoung, May 2 2016 07:20PM

I had to check my diary before writing this because I’d lost track of how long I’ve been here. In my last blog, I spoke about time playing tricks and it remains so. Minutes and hours and days are floating by in a strange way that I can’t seem to contextualise. And so, I’ve given up. There’s something about this place, the scenery, the weather… it’s all consuming.

Today is Sunday 1st May. A new month and a new season, for the Icelandic summer has officially begun. The weather didn’t really pay attention to this change, though, and the snow continued to fall. The shifts in conditions here are like extreme Scotland – from glorious sun to almighty blizzard in a few short moments (maybe longer but, who knows? Time is decidedly absent).

I’ve settled more into this timeless place. For the first week or so, I continued to pace back and forth, feeling the looming pressure of the surrounding mountains and wild snowstorms. But now… I feel content. The fidgety jitters have been replaced by a sort of ‘island time’ mentality… yes, yes, I’ll be there… I’ll do it. Some time. Some place.

My turnaround came after joining a local fishing crew and heading out to sea. It was a chance to escape the mountains and, with my backpack and forty layers, I skipped down to the harbour like it was the first day of school (well, ran... because I was a bit late… Slippery time).

Off we set and, for the first hour or so, I was on top of the world. Then, the view and my stomach turned upside down, topsy-turvy and – for the first time – I was violently seasick. Embarrassingly so. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Clutching to the side of the boat, bobbing viciously back and forth, throwing up and up, again and again, surrounded by the sharp stench of fish and diesel and tobacco, I suddenly thought: “Why? Why am I doing this? What the hell am I trying to prove?” The thought left as quickly as it arrived with the next wave of sickness.

Pulling myself together – albeit briefly until the next heaving spell – I saw the world around me. The never-ending sea stretching bravely beyond, the looming snow peaked mountains and the sky – the sky! – misty, vast, grey and powerful. And there we were, the two crew and I, dipping up and down on this wee boatie in the middle of it all.

Those at the moments that make you feel so very small. Those are the moments of awe and gratitude. It feels clunky and predictable to say breathtaking but, yes, exactly that. A moment of peace. Fear, wonder, respect. A small part of a much bigger picture. And then… another heave. Back to earth (sea) with a bump (vomit).

When I returned home that evening, I felt like I’d been away for a week but it was only 8 short hours. A standard working day. A day like any other for the crew. I will never ever fail to value or be amazed by the work of a fisherman. The challenges, the physical work, the elemental forces.

My fisher friends will probably laugh when they read this but it’s just such a different world to my own. Even though it feels such a big part of who I am, it’s still an alien experience. I love it and hate it equally. I was so relieved to get back to land but, now, I can’t wait to get back out there.

Anyway, my sea adventure was the trigger for thinking differently about my time here. I’ve eased into the timeless space and my mountain claustrophobia has turned into a sort of wonder instead. It’s pretty spectacular to wake up in the morning, open the curtains and see the persistent peaks. I wanted a room with a view and I got it. Iceland is a seriously stunning country, almost magical in it’s nature. I feel very grateful to be here and experiencing this.

Work on the project continues with lots of research and reading and documenting. Kate – my collaborator – left last week so I’ve been working on my own these past few days. I’m going to write another post soon about our work with the local choir and some of the sound/music experiments we've been conducting (have a listen here...). I still don’t know what our final presentation will look like but some ideas and images are beginning to form. I’m meeting more and more amazing, generous people and have been fortunate to interview many of these. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Seaman’s Day – Iceland’s yearly celebration of fishing and fishermen which takes place in early June. I’m pretty gutted I’m going to miss it but I’m penciling next year in the diary… I’ll definitely be back.

For now, the big paper is out and gradually being filled with scrawls, scribbles, angles and thoughts. There’s hours of audio to be transcribed and more to collect. If only I could stop time running away and pause here a little longer. Alas, time and tide wait for no (wo)man…

Until next time,

Morna x

By mornayoung, Apr 20 2016 05:21PM

I have been in Ólafsfjörður for only one week and, yet, it feels much, much longer. A persistent feeling of deep time, all that has come before and all that will be, is suffocating. Here, in this abstract landscape, I am in a constant state of dreamlike thought. Time has become a surreal concept.

I have been trying to find a way to describe this feeling and, yet, words – my usual currency – seem decidedly insignificant. A few years ago, I came across the Japanese word “yugen” pertaining to 'a profound awareness of the universe which evokes feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words'. I believe this means a state of awareness although I cannot say for certain. The word feels bigger than my knowledge but, all the same, it pops into my head whenever I consider the insignificance of man next to nature. This is precisely what I feel here in Ólafsfjörður.

A blizzard has hit. Snow falls and snow falls again and again. On arrival, the sun shining deceivingly, I could see the surrounding mountains dominating every view. Now, they are hidden in the whiteout. For some unidentifiable reason, this makes me uneasy. They are hidden in plain sight.

Ólafsfjörður – a small town in the northeast of Iceland - is both familiar and unfamiliar. The pungent stench of fish, the harbour, the boats – they are part of my habitual history. But their familiarity is tainted by an intangible difference. It is my world through an alien lens.

We are inside a valley, connected to the outside world by two mountain road tunnels, one on either side of the village, great long passageways that seem never ending. Another word that I cannot fully comprehend – claustrophobia – seems appropriate. Inside these tunnels, my skin crawls and there’s a pounding weight inside my head. It is a feeling of being trapped.

I feel a similar pressure inside the village. I usually spend great amounts of time on the road; travelling, searching, asking questions. I have a strange obsession with ‘freedom’. If I stay in the same place for too long then cabin fever forcibly kicks in. Indeed, when the blizzard came, I found myself pacing back and forth, fighting some irrational fear of being confined. The imagination flies.

There is, of course, another escape route aside from the tunnels: the sea. Ólafsfjörður’s harbour and fleet of boats is precisely the reason why I am here. I am working with Sound Artist, Kate Carr, on a collaborative project for the stage. As yet, we don’t know what this will be but our key research centres around fishing culture, memory and musicality. We’re gathering film, photographs and stories with the eventual aim to create a fully immersive performance.

So far, we’ve been working with a community choir to record Icelandic and Scots fishing songs. Kate has been experimenting with rebroadcasting these and I’ve been on the research trail including joining an Icelandic fishing crew and heading out to sea. Much of my study has touched upon the mythology and folklore of Iceland but I am, as yet, only scratching the surface of one area in this magnificent country. I have no idea what I’m searching for but I have a million questions and a growing intrigue. I can sense a gathering force in my dreamlike state.

We’re building the foundations of a story that we cannot yet describe but there are floods of ideas and themes and potential. It is the stage of creative development that I love the most; where anything and everything seems possible. I am especially excited to see how text/performance can be woven with Kate’s incredible soundscapes and how these forms can influence each other.

And, so, with a lack of words, it seems ever more fitting that this project will focus on storytelling through sound. Perhaps my senses are heightened through working with Kate because I find myself listening acutely to everything. The dull silence of snow is deafening. The feelings of abstract time, sense of myth, wonder of nature, the extraordinary in the ordinary and insignificant words. Themes of isolation, loss, memory, being on the outside… I can hear it in the sound. This clip shows a small sample of what we're exploring. Happy listening and imagining.


Morna x


N.B Our residency in Iceland has been kindly supported by both Arts Council Australia and Creative Scotland.



By mornayoung, Mar 27 2016 05:28PM

The Spring 2016 tour of Netting is well underway and I'm absolutely delighted by the audience reactions we've had so far - THANK YOU. I'm currently blogging / vlogging along with the rest of the cast and crew over at www.nettingtheplay.com - do stop by and say hello. Otherwise, I'll be back post tour with more news about upcoming adventures including my next project working in Iceland with the fantastic Sound Artist, Kate Carr.


Morna x

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