Morna

Young

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

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

By mornayoung, Feb 21 2016 05:09PM

It’s been a while since I’ve written a personal blog on here. The note BLOG has sat at the bottom of my to do list for far too long. There’s never enough time or something more urgent barges its way to the forefront. Blogging takes a back seat because it’s never the most pressing or vital task.

So, why the busyness? Like most artists, I find myself constantly in a state of juggling one too many projects. It’s a curious life when you never quite know which one will receive funding or backing. Thus, we plough on with the motivation that something will shift for the creative work to begin. That's the incentive which makes the many hours of admin worthwhile. Juggle and hope for the best… head down to buy some precious time in the rehearsal room or space for uninterrupted writing.

2016 has been a pretty great year so far. After many months of seriously hard work spent buried beneath a mountain of paperwork, I’ve emerged with some creative projects that are now ready to go. The long days and nights of emails and phone calls and applications have, eventually, paid off. For this, I am entirely thankful.

One of my goals for this year is to improve my scheduling and time-lining. After many years of working as an actor, I still find it tough to visualize what I’ll be doing next month – let alone in a year or two. Over Christmas, a friend recommended I invest in something called a Passion Planner. It’s not quite as saucy as it sounds. Essentially, it’s a swanky diary providing the tools for short and long term goal setting. It’s designed to incorporate reflection, planning and action and has become my right arm. Daily goal? Check. Monthly goal? Check. Lifetime goal? Well, I’m still working on that one.

My love affair with stationery has also reached a new level of commitment (obsession?) with investing in a huge cork pin-board and a white-board. The cork board details projects over a three year period and the white board focuses urgent priorities. All very organised, all very geeky. But, it’s changed the way that I work entirely and, for the first time, I’m beginning to see projects as a continued investment rather than simply asking: “what’s next?”

So, armed with my Passion Planner, cork board and white board (seriously, I can’t believe I’m confessing my sad organisation addiction…) I’ve navigated my way through January and into February in a fairly structured way. At the end of each month, the Passion Planner asks you to fill in a monthly reflection and suggests looking back and colour coding how time has been spent. I wasn’t particularly surprised to see that most of the month was blue - representing admin. Pink, my ‘creative’ colour, rarely featured at all. I’m always aware that admin takes a lot of time but I was pretty shocked to realise that creativity had taken such a back seat. Fortunately, that will all change over the coming months. I suppose that’s the upside of the crazy admin; it lays the foundations for the creative work.

So, what’s ahead? Well, Lost at Sea is still my ultimate focus with a 2017 tour with Eden Court on the cards. It’s the play that changed my life and it’s the one that means the world to me. I realised recently, though, that during the past few years of working towards this goal, I had forgotten about the journey. Everything else I was doing paled in comparison. Every life choice was put on hold with the conclusion: “I’ll think about that after Lost at Sea. I’ll decide where I want to live and who I want to be after Lost at Sea. I’ll take a break after Lost at Sea.”

I was so determined to reach the end point that I forgot that weeks, months, years were passing. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate that time, I just forgot that it’s important to think about the present as much as the future. Hemingway said: 'It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.' I didn’t understand that fully until now. I wasn’t letting myself celebrate the successes or take time out to reflect because I hadn’t reached the end point. It seems obvious to say but it’s taken me a long time to realise that there isn’t actually an end. There is no one big happily ever after. There are only moments and pauses and I’m finally learning to value these. Lost at Sea can remain my biggest ambition but that shouldn’t prevent me living – and dare I say enjoying? – life between. I’ve finally grasped that it’s not about deciding who you want to be; it’s about being who you are.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, I’ve enjoyed 2016 so far a lot more than previous years. It’s been busy and challenging but, equally, enlightening. I’ve stopped beating myself up as much. I’m not stressing as much about things that I have no control over. I’m finally dealing with the anxiety that’s stalled me for years. I don’t know if I can keep all of these up but I seriously hope so. Life’s just a little bit easier when you stop being mean to yourself.

Over to work. At the end of 2015, we received funding to tour Netting as a co-production between myself, director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn, Banchory. Over the coming months, I’ll be blogging about the experiences over at nettingtheplay.com so I’ll save the tour booking stories for another day. Netting is a pretty good example of extreme role juggling – in addition to re-writing the script and organising the many logistics for taking a show on the road, I’m also performing in it this time (an unexpected curveball but one that I’m really excited about – another blog for another day).

Sandy Nelson and I also launched Folkify, a new monthly music night at The Tron where we present folked up versions of popular songs. It’s been brilliant to play my instruments for fun again and I’ve loved working with our guest artists and playing around with folky arrangements. My collaboration with the awesome Sound Artist, Kate Carr, will commence in April when we leave for a month long residency in Iceland. The actor inside has also been involved with some role-playing and corporate shoots and I’m really delighted to have signed up with the fantastic Brennan Artists (it looks like I’m well and truly out of performance retirement…). I also started some advisory work with the amazing Impact Arts and returned to Lochend High School in my Scots Language Ambassador role.

Work continues on Heroines (with the fantastic AJ Taudevin, Belle Jones and Catrin Evans) exploring strong female characters and my project Folk (exploring multi-disciplinary artistry), will go into development later this year supported by The Tron. We’re also developing The Edge, my Rough Mix residency project with Magnetic North, at some point in the coming months and I genuinely can’t wait to return to the fantastical world that we created back in 2014 (… how time flies!). I’m also working on collaborative projects with some of my favourite artists including Catriona Lexy Campbell (stepping into the scary world of television), partner-in-creative-crime Allie Butler (some magical feminist developments), Helen Milne (the most wonderful producer), Dani Rae (wearer of many hats but, mainly, just a total star) and Sarah Rose Grabor (exploring the self versus the selfie which, along the way, has resulted in the most amazing conversations). My interests continue to centre around female led work, multi-disciplinary / cross-art form performance, collaborative practice and marginalised voices.

What else? I’ve seen some fantastic theatre this year including Blood of the Young’s The Golden Arm Theatre Project and Peter Arnott’s FACE: Isobel at a Play, a Pie and a Pint. Also, Matt Regan’s Greater Belfast was one of the most stunning shows I've ever seen – spoken word, a string quartet… it was honest, beautiful and completely inspiring. I also celebrated my 21st (ahem…) birthday, finally connected with friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, got some new headshots taken, waved goodbye to my friend and colleague Katherine Nesbitt who is off to the big smoke (look after her, Londoners) and, of course, over-indulged in admin, emails and application after application after application. And, lest I forget, my phone broke, mice invaded the flat and the bank accidentally temporarily blacklisted me. All sorted now but, yup, I could’ve been doing without the additional drama…!

There’s never enough time and there’s never enough money (let’s face it, I’d earn more working in the pub – another conversation for another day but one that I feel very strongly that artists have to keep having) but I’m thankful to have woken up with a smile on my face most days and that, in itself, has made this a great year so far. And, here we go, I can finally tick BLOG off of my to do list... (but what colour highlighter…? Is it blue admin? Or pink creative…?).

Anyway, here’s to less stressing and more living this year - that's the plan, anyway...

Morna xx

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