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, 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.



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