A year in the life… by Morna Young

Morna Young

An insight into the life of a playwright from Morna Young.

I'm surrounded by post-it notes, spider-graphs and textbooks. I've always been a stationery kleptomaniac but this is truly indulgent. My work space looks like a more colourful CSI: 'who', 'what', 'where', 'why', 'when' scrawled across papered walls and linked by thick red lines. I'm pleased to say that the mystery has been solved and I have a first draft new play.

I'm taking part in my first full length residency at CAMAC Art Centre inFrance. Situated an hour outside Paris, CAMAC brings together international cross discipline artists and provides time and space for creation. It's been a blessing to research and write here. 

The peace and quiet also allows plenty of time for reflection. Recently, the Playwrights' Studio asked me to write a "year in the life of" blog and, thus, this seemed like the ideal opportunity to look back. Coincidently, the play I'm writing is about memory recall. It feels apt to test my own…

My playwriting journey began in 2012. This was the year that I abandoned myLondonlife and moved back to my home village to write a play about the Scottish fishing industry. It was one of those life changing moments where I ignored logic and embraced blind faith. There were many personal reasons for making this decision but there were also a number of obstacles. Namely, I had no savings and had never written a play.

I couldn't write this blog without mentioning Lost at Sea. When I think of my journey so far, it all stems from that one extreme decision. It was a tough time but I don't regret if for a second.

Fast forward to 2014.  It started with a high when I won a Playwrights' Studio New Playwrights Award. The New Playwrights Award is like the ultimate playwriting goodie bag: a grant, a residency atCovePark, workshops, mentoring sessions and script development. In short, it's bloody brilliant. For my New Playwrights Award I developed a play calledNetting. In February this year, Netting featured as part of a Play, a Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor and The Lemon Tree. It felt like the perfect conclusion.

However, writing Netting was only one part of the journey. In the past year, I was commissioned by and wrote a play called Never Land for Eden Court's development programme which toured Scotland in the autumn. I presented a short piece as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's The Great Yes, No, Don't Know Five Minute Theatre Show. I took part in Magnetic North's wonderful Rough Mix residency. I read my work at the Scottish Parliament. I was a finalist for the Adopt a Playwright Award. I developed a songwriting programme for inmates at HMP Inverness. I toured in Sunset Song (Sell A Door, Beacon Arts) for three months. And I recorded the Fishwives new album Ocean Bound!

It was also a year of travel. I was on the road so often that I was tempted to write my car registration as my address. From Inverness toEdinburgh,Greenockto Skye and further afield. I read extracts of Lost at Sea at the European Authors' Festival inCzech Republic,SlovakiaandPoland. I spent 6 weeks creative time inParis, writing and watching theatre, through Creative Scotland's Professional Development Award. And, now, CAMAC.

In addition to playwriting, I continued to explore my theatre-making abilities. In January, I developed a project called Heroines with AJ Taudevin, Belle Jones and Catrin Evans. It's an exploration of strong female characters and the theories echo throughout much of my work. I have no interest in writing 'powerful' woman. I don't seek to impose traditional 'masculine' qualities on female characters. I want to write actual, complex women - they are strong because they are weak. They're fallible. They're real. To collaborate on this project with female artists that I admire and respect (and, indeed, consider to be 'strong female characters') has been a joy.

It's difficult to write a blog like this without stepping into, 'look how wonderful this all sounds,' territory.  Yes, there have been incredible moments and I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for these. But there have also been difficult times that are harder to talk about. The highs and lows often go hand in hand. I received a great review and a not-so-kind one. I met inspiring, incredible people but I also experienced sexism. I had carefree productions and chaotic ones. I've worked hard and applied for dozens of opportunities. I won some and lost more.

Lest we forget, writing can also be mentally exhausting. I continually question myself. I suffer bouts of anxiety where I disregard everything I write. I convince myself that no-one wants to read the work of a fishing lass from up north. I worry about the future and finances. I lose sleep over narratives. Moreover, it's a fear-inducing nightmare to spend months bleeding out words for someone to say, "naw, don't like it."  I've considered walking away from this industry more than once.

Inevitably, these setbacks and doubts have made me a better writer. My failures have forced me to think harder about what I want. They've shaped who I am and what I want to create. They've made me more determined. We're fortunate inScotlandthat our industry is full of lovely, helpful people. When I look back at the hairy moments, I see the faces of several practitioners who have mentored and encouraged me through them: not least, Muriel Romanes, Peter Arnott, Clare Duffy, Linda McLean, Tina McGeever, Ian Brown and, of course, the wonderful Playwrights' Studio team.

The Playwrights' Studio have played a crucial role in my development and career. Having been a part of the mentoring scheme and the New Playwrights Awards, I feel like a graduate of a very special school.  (Can I get a certificate, please?).  They've supported me from the very first draft of Lost at Sea. They're a fabulous organisation andScotlandshould be proud of this unique resource.

I still stutter when I tell people that I'm a playwright. There's a hesitance in my voice; fraud syndrome, perhaps, or disbelief. Me? A playwright? How on earth did that happen? I'm working on it. I'm discovering my voice, my interests, my habits. I know I'm a slow planner but a fast writer. I tend to overuse the word, "just." Doric is my natural writing voice but not necessarily my character's. I have a folder on my desktop called 'Work in Progress.' In it, there are 34 plays that I have started. They're baking. Some of them, I will fully draft. Others will remain there for a lifetime.  There are so many stories that I want to tell and an endless amount of subjects that interest me. I want to write a libretto. I want to work more with verbatim text. I want to challenge gender imbalance. I'm an obsessive workaholic. Thankfully, I have very nice friends who drag me out of the house occasionally.

In a few days time, I'll return home to Scotland. I'll start developing my next project exploring multi-disciplinary artistry with a cracking team of performers. I'll redraft the new play and plan the next one. I'll drink a lot of coffee, read plays, probably watch some Doctor Who and think about 'what next'.

It's been a year of extreme learning. A time of growth, discovery, travel and challenges. I have no idea what the next year will bring but right now, looking out of my window here in ruralFrance, I feel like things will be okay. I'm enjoying the ride and that, surely, is the best feeling in the world. For playwriting is, indeed, a journey and I'm only at the beginning of mine. 

Morna Young will be delivering a workshop with Catriona Lexy Campbell at Talkfest at the Tron 2015 on Saturday 25th April at 2.30pm. 

Written by Morna Young at 00:00

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