Creating for Scotland
All writing starts with an impulse.
Last August I was on a plane to Glasgow to cover the IndyRef campaign for an Irish political blog.
The focus of my trip was to locate and interview the Fifth Estate element of the Yes campaign.
My journey ended up in the Lowland Hall in the count centre at Ingliston.
That morning I stood in front of a monitor in the cavernous venue listening to the old Etonian David William Donald Cameron tell the British political elite that their polity was, for now, safe.
An unforeseen consequence of those weeks what I got the creative bug again and I relapses into playwright mode.
That sequence of events will come together as the curtain goes up at The Shed in Shawlands.
Like most significant things in life it was a product of happenstance.
Early last year I was asked to give a talk on the ‘Dublin of Seán O’Casey’ as part of the Saint Patrick’s festival in Glasgow.
The objective of that lecture was to set the context for a production ‘Juno and the Paycock’.
My paternal grandfather was a regular visitor to O’Casey’s Dublin as the train he was a guard on came into Kingsbridge Station every other day from down the West.
As a Westmeath man naturalized to Mayo he had a súil eile on what was happening beneath the surface of British Dublin in those tumultuous years.
He brought tales of this strange place back to his young wife and in time she retold those stories to me.
History remembered is a weapon.
The talk was well received and I got chatting to the company that were staging O’Casey’s masterpiece and only then did they know that I had written for the stage.
Last June they put on a production of my piece ‘The Flight of the Earls’.
I had written that play in 2004 and the premier was the following year here in Donegal and in 2007 it toured the West of Ireland.
Two other plays followed after that, but other work sucked me in.
The production company, Sweet for Addicts, put so much into ‘Flight’ that their enthusiasm for the boards ensnared me.
As a thank you to those folks I wrote a play especially for them and it is the first time I have ever set a piece in Scotland.
It is also the first time I have written women-a daunting task for many male writer.
The best advice for any aspiring writer is to ‘write about what you know’.
According to female actors who are playing the major roles in ‘Hame’ my foray into the terra incognita of the female psyche turned out to be fairly perceptive.
However the women in this household remain skeptical of my overall grasp of matters feminine.
I knew when I was in Scotland last August and September that there was great drama unfolding in the streets and studios of fair Caledonia.
During those months it was, of course, all about ‘IndyRef’.
The referendum campaign and the vote itself changed Scotland and that meant it changed people.
My sense of these things is that when great social change occurs it is often most marked among women.
The most strident separatists in Ireland a century ago were to be found among the Cumman na mBan.
My granny taught me that.
I wanted to put that on stage and ‘Hame’ is my contribution to that.
Writing is a lonely craft in the end it is just you ransacking your memory and jumping on any spark of a connection that seems to work.
Now the final piece of dialogue has been finessed and the director is happy and, crucially, each actor is starting to inhabit the inner world of their character.
The craft of the thespian continues to fascinate me.
I love the movies, but acting for the camera lens is not the same as treading those boards in front of a living, breathing judging audience.
That takes a level of courage that I can only imagine.
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with the person who is looking after the props.
The set design guys already are outing aspects of the script into physical form.
It is a team effort, but it all started with an idea, an impulse.
In terms of writing what is known to you ‘Hame’ is set around an Irish family in Glasgow.
The patriarch of the O’Donnell clan first set in foot in Scotland in the 1940s to dig the great hydro schemes
Séamus O’ Donnell did not intend to stay long, but in the end he did and became plain ‘Jimmy’ in his adopted country.
When the character bio was given to the actor who will play him he blurted out “that is my father! That’s his story!”
As the play opens his son Michael O’Donnell, in his 50s, and though Glasgow born considers himself to be Irish just like his father.
Even in multi-cultural Scotland there are still some who do not feel comfortable enough in their own Caledonian skin to afford someone like Michael the cultural space to self-define.
They sectarianize his nationality and dismiss him as “just a Scottish Catholic”.
I doubt they would do so if the man’s father was a fluent Urdu speaker as opposed to a native Irish speaker.
Being an Irish Glaswegian, born in the 1950s, I have been regularly blindsided by the unconscious racism of Right On Lefties when they occasion across someone expressing a Second Generation Irish identity.
Someone like me.
My Stateside cousins did not face this issue.
In ‘Hame’ I try to explore the issues around belonging and having a cultural stake in a place called ‘Scotland’.
I stood outside the polling station on the day at the primary school in Baillieston where the British state first made an attempt at getting me to confirm.
I didn’t have a vote, but I could observe.
Looking and listening are very important to the writer.
The IndyRef campaign and the polling booth decision itself seemed to be to be a crystallising moment.
People do not change much, as a childhood tends to last a whole lifetime, but generations do.
Annemarie O’Donnell, the granddaughter of Séamus, sees the world differently from her father.
Glasgow is her city and she makes her ain hame there on her terms.
As I soaked up the atmosphere of Glasgow over August and September last year it occurred to me that great drama was unfolding.
I felt that Glasgow was changing and that mean that people were changing.
I thought that the denizens of Glasgow really should get the opportunity to witness that on stage and ‘Hame ‘is my contribution to that.
I hope you take in the show and after that you can come back here to this post and put your critique below.
Last September Mike Small said it was time for the audience to take to the stage.
They will next month at The Shed.
‘HAME’ is a two act play as part of the Glasgow St Patrick`s Festival 2015. It centres around the O`Donnell family from Glasgow as the events of the Scottish independence referendum unfold.
Tickets available here.