Do I laugh now, or wait until it gets funny?

A few days ago, I wrote on my personal Facebook page about the period of depression I’m currently going through. It was much more personal than my usual posts and made me feel quite exposed. I was worried about the reaction, that the depression would become the thing that defined me and, worse still, that people would start walking on eggshells around me. This would be murder for me as I hate having to decode words and actions and much prefer direct communication. But my worry was for nought; the reaction I got was quite incredible. People liked and loved the post, there were many comments in which friends shared their own stories of depression and anxiety, and most importantly, they also shared their coping strategies. I received private messages from other friends who didn’t want to go public, but who wanted me to know what my words had meant to them and to share some of what they had experienced, and I’ve had people talk to me in person. Not with a heavy hand, but with quiet acknowledgement and good humour. There’s no better time to laugh than when you’re in the depths of despair. As my favourite quote would have it, Do I laugh now or wait until it gets funny? (From Double Indemnity by James M. Cain.)

This time of year can be a real bastard for people and so I thought it would be worth sharing my words on a wider platform in the hope that they may be of some help to someone, somewhere. This time around, my depression has been fairly mild. Aside from some slightly odd behaviour such as turning myself into a human citadel when walking the dog (wearing headphones and shades, jacket zipped up to my nose, sending out fuck off vibes) and avoiding all social interaction whenever possible, I’ve been more or less functional. When I couldn’t avoid it, I’ve had a few people around me to act as a buffering zone: my husband, daughters, a trusted friend. I’m lucky to have these people in my life, even so, it’s really hard to talk about this stuff, especially if you’re in the middle of it and the more severe your depression, the harder it is, but please don’t struggle alone. If there’s no-one around you feel you can confide in, please see your GP or call one of the numbers at the end of this post.

People are more understanding than we think. More of us suffer from depression than we know.

If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe, seek immediate help. Go to any hospital A&E Department. If you can’t do that, call 999 or have someone do it for you.

This is much more personal than the stuff I usually put on here. I’m writing it in case there’s anything useful in it for anyone else who suffers from depression.

A tendon injury in the summer meant I had to take a break from running. This was a double whammy, for as well as being an enjoyable way to keep my fitness levels up, running was one of the tools I used to keep depression at bay. Rowing has also been great for this, but the beauty of running was that I could just get up and go whenever I had the urge or felt the need. When I was forced to stop, the depression that had been nipping at my heels for a while finally overtook me.

Over the years, I’ve become quite adept at managing depression. One of the things we did this time was buy our own C2 rowing machine so that I could do some low impact exercise at times to suit myself. Even so the past few months have been quite difficult and I got into a couple of downward thought spirals, one of which was that I wouldn’t be able to run again (too fat, too unfit, too old, my ankles would snap, my knees would implode) so by the time my tendon healed, my head was in entirely the wrong place. And then my husband gently persuaded me to go on a run over the hill with him today. It was all going to be at my pace, no pressure. I was full of trepidation but agreed to give it a go thinking I’d probably walk most of it. And I did walk the very steep bits and the really boggy bits, but I ran about ¾ of the 8k course. These past months have been an upward struggle. I’ve been getting there slowly, but today I crested the hill, not just physically but mentally too.

Like most people, I don’t find this kind of thing easy to talk about, and while some people might have found my behaviour weirder than normal over the past few months, most won’t have had a clue. To the people I did tell, I want to say a heartfelt thanks for being so supportive. I’m not 100% yet (still dramatically overreacting to random non-issues), but right now 80% feels pretty good.

PS for anyone who’s interested, I run niko niko style. It’s a relatively low impact style of running and very relaxing. Look up Dr Hiro Tanaka to find out more.

This is me in all my windswept, mud splattered glory after running over the hill in the background. No make-up, no product, no filters, just the raw, unadulterated me.

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Samaritans / open 24 hours a day, every day / Tel: 116 123

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men / 5pm- midnight, every day / 0800 58 58 58

Papyrus – for people under 35 / 10am-10pm Mon – Fri, 2pm – 10pm weekends, 2pm-5pm bank holidays / 0800 068 41 41

Mind / 9am-6pm, Mon-Fri (not bank holidays / 0300 123 3393

Childline – for under 19s / 24 hours – the number will not appear on your phone bill / 0800 1111

If you don’t feel you can keep yourself safe, seek immediate help. Go to any hospital A&E Department. If you can’t do that, call 999 or have someone do it for you.

 

Lorraine Thomson is the author of seven published books including noir thriller, Boyle’s Law, post-apocalyptic thrill-fest, Each New Morn and the The New Dark trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment. Find out more at Thrillers With Attitude

 

 

 

 

Unsporty Me

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School convinced me that I wasn’t a sporty person. I never understood the rules of netball nor the point of it. Many a time I experienced the sight of an object speeding towards me (tennis ball, volleyball, whatever ball), while people yelled incomprehensible instructions and all too comprehensible insults. Meanwhile, I dodged out of the way, thinking that it would be bloody sore if it hit me.

The defining moment of my school sports career took place one winter’s morning when I was in second year at high school. Catriona Meldrum (name changed) emerged from the fog, charging towards me across the frozen surface of the red blaes* pitch, hockey stick raised. She was a tall, strong, Amazonian of a girl and I was a big fearty. A single glance at her brought my well-developed sense of self-preservation to the fore. I dropped my stick and ran in the opposite direction. Running as fast as possible away from a potential source of pain was something I understood very well.

*If you’re not from Scotland, red blaes was made of spent shale (tiny, sharp splinters of stone), oxidised to a rusty red colour so that the blood of thousands of Scottish schoolchildren wouldn’t be visible to the casual observer.

Those labels from school have a habit of lingering and so although I did various things through the years to keep fit – aerobics, gym, swimming – these were solitary pursuits and I never thought of sport as being for me. Years later,  I discovered coastal rowing.

I tried it at a taster session and took to it straight away. I’ve always had a fascination for the sea and loved being on the water and so it was an enjoyable way to spend time, but what I didn’t expect was that I’d be good at it on a competitive level.

In the previous few years, I’d been in a bad place, emotionally, physically and literally. Rowing helped me to cast off the last of those shadows, and to shed a few pounds along the way. I felt fitter, stronger. My confidence, in and out of the water, grew.

Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, I’m not the most sociable of people. As an occupation, writing suits me. I like spending all those hours alone, but rowing is not a solitary pursuit, it’s a team sport. Team sport – two words that only a few short years ago would have had me running screaming to my hermit’s cave in the hills. Yet there I was, part of a team. I’ve made some brilliant friends through rowing; training, racing and winning medals with them. Yes, unsporty me winning medals, many of them gold.

Coastal rowing has been a gateway sport. Since taking it up, I’ve started running, often over hills, usually through mud, often in the rain. I’ve even been part of a triathlon team. In the winter, I run in the dark. John, my rowing pal, is also my regular running buddy. Occasionally, I run with my husband, Charlie. Mostly I run alone. I run out my stress, I do it to clear my mind. Often, I do it just for the sheer fun of it. Just because I can.

I’m not built like an athlete, I get hot and sweaty, my hair sticks out and my face glows like a Belisha beacon. The best part about all of that is that I don’t care. To begin with, learning not to care what I look like took as much effort as the running. Now I just get up and go.

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You need five people for rowing, four rowers and a cox, so it takes a little more organising, but it’s worth it. Racing is exciting and winning medals is delicious, but last year something clicked in my head. Just after crossing the finishing line, knowing that another medal was in the bag, I suddenly thought, okay, that’s that, but I wasn’t done with rowing. Instead of a 2k race, I wanted a longer rowing challenge, something that would test me physically and mentally. I also wanted to know what it felt like to row out in the swell, feeling the deep pulse of the ocean. The obvious answer lay in the body of water I look out at every day: I wanted to row the Minch from Stornoway on the Outer Hebrides to Ullapool on the north west coast of the Scottish mainland.

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At the same time as those thoughts were occurring, I was witnessing the slow physical decline of a friend suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. I felt frustrated and helpless and wanted to do something, anything, to show that I cared. If possible, I wanted to make a difference. Thus, Rowing the Minch for MS came into being.

I approached four of my rowing friends and, without hesitation, they each signed up to #MinchRow. On paper, we’re an odd assortment. Anthony is a former ballet dancer turned teacher. Kathryn ran her own HR consultancy. Gary was once a department store Santa Claus and now makes his living diving for scallops. John, who spent most of his life in the catering industry, now works part-time for Caledonian MacBrayne, the ferry provider between mainland Scotland and 22 of the islands on the west coast. And there’s me, the writer. Though we may look like as an unlikely bunch as you’ll get, one thing we haven’t had to work on is chemistry, that’s been there from the start. There’s a great energy in the boat arising from the trust that comes from knowing that every one of us will give it their all. Most importantly, though we’re serious about the cause and the challenge, we have a great laugh together.

It’s going to be a slog. 50 miles across open sea, taking 15 hours to complete. Shorter if we’re lucky, several hours longer if we’re not. Either way, there’s plenty of time to develop blisters in places you don’t want to think about.

We had our first crew meeting on 9 August 2018. A year of organising, fundraising and training later, we’re within days of setting off. Our target date is 10 August, but we’re at the mercy of the weather, so it could be then, or it could be the 11th, or 14th or any other day. The not knowing is part of the deal, but coastal rowers are used to dealing with ever-changing conditions. That’s part of the excitement. One particular thing that makes the Minch row so exciting, is knowing that we are raising funds for a revolution.

Although there is currently no cure for MS, revolutionary research undertaken at a world-class facility in Edinburgh means that it is highly likely that a way will be found to stop the disease within the next seven years. That’s a massive breakthrough and a huge ray of hope not only for people suffering from the disease, but for those who care for them. We are raising money to contribute to that research. Our target amount is £22,683, which equates to £1 for every stroke of the oars we reckon it will take us to make the crossing. If you would like to support our cause, you can make a donation via our Just Giving page. Donations will remain open until the end of the year.

Our target date for the row is 10 August 2019, but this is subject to change. For the latest news, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Once the row is underway, you’ll be able to track our progress using this link http://yb.tl/RowingtheMinch

 Coastal rowing is reckoned to be Scotland’s fastest growing sport, with clubs appearing all around the coastline. Ullapool Coastal Rowing Club members range in age from teens to 80+ and we’re not unusual in that respect. As well as training sessions, most clubs have social rows. Some rowers enjoy coffee and cake in coves only accessible by sea, others fish for mackerel, or simply use rowing as a way of enjoying our glorious outdoors. Seals often accompany us, and some have been lucky enough to spot otters or row alongside dolphins and porpoise.

If like me, you’ve never considered yourself to be a sporty person, why not give coastal rowing a go. At the very least, you’ll enjoy a new experience, but it may just change your life.

Minch Row Crew

 The crew is made up of five members from Ullapool Coastal Rowing Club. They are keen competitive rowers and have won many medals between them but rowing the Minch will be their greatest challenge yet.

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Kathryn Bennett, 57. A true northern lass from Wigan, Kathryn cut her teeth in the dance music scene. Though she has traded northern soul for northern lights, this keen Wigan Warriors fan still rocks that sharp mod style. Team speciality: logistics; the devil is in the detail.

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John Grant, 63. Originally from Drumchapel in Glasgow, John pitched up in Ullapool just in time to misspend his youth during the crazy klondyking years. He then misspent his entire adult career in catering. Team speciality: diet; freakishly fond of beetroot juice.

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Gary Lewis, 57. Hailing from Wallasey, Gary fled a short-lived career as a department store Santa Claus for his true calling as a scallop diver in Ullapool. Team speciality: hard core training all the way from this Celt Man Extreme Triathlon Champ.

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Anthony O’Flaherty, 61. Our Irish-rooted crew-mate from Auckland lends an international flavour to the crew. If he can make it as a ballet boy in New Zealand, he can make it anywhere. Team speciality: keeping it cool and to the beat.

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Lorraine Thomson, 54. Lorraine grew up in modernist new town experiment, Cumbernauld, before spending four years at art school tearing up paper. She’s now an author who loves sharks and loathes mayonnaise. Team speciality: an ideas woman; it’s all about The Big Picture.

Total Crew Years: 292

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Lorraine Thomson is the author of seven published books including noir thriller, Boyle’s Law, post-apocalyptic thrill-fest, Each New Morn and the The New Dark trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment. Find out more at Thrillers With Attitude.

 

 

 

 

The New Dark

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It’s been one year since the publication of The New Dark, a story that began with a one-line pitch: what happens if the world enters a new dark age? That simple, ten-word sentence gave rise to an epic tale of mutants and slaves, revolutions and war, love won, and friendship lost.

The New Dark explores a world where knowledge from the Before times has been lost. In the event of a massive catastrophe, such as nuclear war, this would happen within a generation. Without continual maintenance, buildings deteriorate, cars rot, and nature takes its course. We’ve all seen buildings in towns and cities with trees growing in gutters and shrubs rooting in wall cracks. It only takes one harsh winter to fissure a road. Imagine the change over fifty, one hundred or even two hundred years.

Now imagine a world where all the big animals have been wiped out and creatures once small have grown large. Badgers as big as bears, woodlice the size of lobsters, and you really don’t want to find yourself in the company of blood-sucking ticks. In this mutated world, even the plants can bite back.

Connectivity is gone, the strands of the web long-since snapped. Communities live in isolation, each with their own system of beliefs, but even in small villages, people are not always what they seem, and close friends make the bitterest of enemies.

Told over three books, The New Dark is a tale of betrayal, and vengeance and contains scenes of violence and bloodshed aplenty, but it is also about overcoming fear and challenging prejudice. Ultimately it is a story about the importance of friendship.

Published by Bastei Entertainment, The New Dark, The New Dawn and The New Day are available to download from Amazon.

 

 

Above the Strandline

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I’ve always enjoyed going to islands. There’s something exhilarating about crossing a body of water and knowing that it separates you from the rest of the world, especially if the mobile signal is dodgy or, better still, non-existent, and then you get the feeling of being completely cut off from the rest of the world. Anything could be happening out there from a zombie apocalypse to Elvis being found alive and well in Saltcoats, and you wouldn’t know a thing about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a few islands fairly well, the most recent being Isle Martin, a community-owned island just a few miles north of my home in Ullapool. It’s fair to say I’ve fallen in love with the place, perhaps even become a little obsessed, my excuse for the obsession being that my current work-in-progress finds me immersed in the island’s history.

It’s not my first island-set book – Erosion is a stranded-on-an-island thriller – but it is my first engagement with historical fiction. I didn’t mean it to happen, but when I went on a walk on Isle Martin with local archaeologist, Cathy Dagg, and heard some of what took place there, I couldn’t help myself.

Though she may be small, Isle Martin is a gem that punches well above her weight. From the howling of wolves and the layering of bones, to the Jacobite rebellion, herring girls, and a mother who gave all for her son, hers is a rich and fascinating tale.

I’m currently in the year 1778 and, I think, almost a third of the way through the first draft. My book will probably end near the start of the 20th century so I won’t be writing about the rich eccentric with his flour mill and no wheat to grind. Not this time round at any rate.

For anyone in the area, I’ll be giving a guided walk around the island on 11 August 2018. The ferry will depart from Ardmair at 11am. More details can be found below.

If you’d like to experience staying on Isle Martin and trying some creative play, I’ll be running a writing retreat on the island 14-16 September, 2018. Details of Above the Strandline can be found here.  Or feel free to message me about either event via Facebook or Twitter.

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Literary Smorgasbord: Logan Murray

I met Logan Murray when I took part in one of his immersive comedy workshops. I haven’t stopped laughing since. 

Logan Murray

Big old, adult Logan is a friendly, confident guy, always ready to laugh, but what were you like at school?

I was a classic underachiever at school. If a subject didn’t interest me, I couldn’t see the point of it. I honestly think all my education came from watching BBC’s Horizon. 

I worked out pretty early that classes were training us to sit still and feign interest when we were bored. Luckily, we had a brilliant RE teacher at secondary school, Mr. Davies, who was not religious and who’s wife ran a bookies. He always got us talking about ethics and ancient history. I did the least possible amount of work to gain two ‘A’ levels, as I knew that this (and a foundation course at a local Art College) was all I needed for a degree course and a full grant. A FULL GRANT! The State would pay me to educate myself. What a lucky time to be young. I chose the Creative arts. It was the height of the Cold War and I didn’t plan on making it past 25, so I might as well take it easy. 

Being the seventies, I caught the tail end of counter culture. At fifteen I grew my hair long, became vegetarian (cake- etarian, really as I didn’t like vegetables. I got very fat…) and generally became a humorless arse. I hoovered up any half-baked theory as fact and wrote terrible, self absorbed poetry. Quite rightly, most girls avoided me. I blossomed (a bit) by 18. 

How did you evolve into Logan Murray, stand-up comedian and comedy guru?

Totally by accident. I thought I’d be a fine artist, but signed up to the wrong degree (I found myself doing performing arts (dance, drama and music) instead of performance art (installations and stuff). But, I loved it. 

Then this thing called Alternative Cabaret in 1983 came along and loads of us started doing weird things to entertain audiences. I wrote some deliberately bad poetry and found that clubs paid me cold, hard cash to perform them. My intros became longer and longer until I found myself morphing into a stand up (this would be the early ‘nineties). 

Because comedy is a part time job that pays a full time wage, I had loads of time off and went back to college to do a part time MA. That got me interested in comedy theory. 

Meanwhile, I started picking up all sorts of weird TV and radio jobs because of my gigs. If people see you perform, they assume (quite rightly) you can write for other people, present game shows, appear on panel shows, be trusted with tiny parts in TV shows and possibly direct. Someone even asked me to be ‘the comedian in residence’ at a Uni – not as posh as it sounded – which is how the workshops began. 

Can you tell me something about the process of how you write a stand-up routine?

Almost all my writing comes out of mucking around. I’m a great believer of Wynicott’s aphorism that ‘all creativity comes out of play‘. 

My only constant ground rules are (1) don’t worry about being funny on the first draft – just mine the subject for information and (2) turn off your internal editor and create. Plenty of time to blue pencil ideas out once you’ve filled up a page. Also, the comedian should (in my opinion) always look for the wrong answer that still fits as a solution. 

How do you get a feel for what’s going to work?

You have to try it out. If it fills you with glee as you come up with the idea, you are probably on the right track, but until you’ve seen how several audiences take to the new stuff, you don’t really know if it will fly. 

As a practical tip ALWAYS audio record new stuff. Your back brain is much cleverer than your conscious brain and will always knock it into better shape during performance. It will also come up with extra bits which will be lost to the aether unless you have a record of them. 

Have you ever got it really badly wrong – as in tumbleweed moments?

Loads. And it is a sad fact that you learn far more from these moments than the times when the crowd ‘get’ you. Usually, the bits where I lose the audience boil down to me not being clear in my subject matter, or I am being emotionally vague. If they are thinking then they are not laughing and I need to sharpen it up. 

All comedians agree that this is pretty much the only job where you have to rehearse and refine in front of a live crowd. 

What’s it like to die on stage?

Some deaths are brilliant and worth talking about. Most are mundane and soul sapping. We talk about the memorable ones in dressing rooms. They are like badges of honour. But the everyday deaths can only be used for personal, educational purposes: how did that happen? What did I do wrong? How can I minimise the chances of that happening again? That sort of thing

Your book, Get Started in Stand-Up Comedy is one of the best books on writing I’ve read. It’s full of fantastic exercises which I’ve stolen adapted for my own workshops. Do you have any other major writing projects on the go?

I occasionally get asked to ‘gag up’ people’s work, which is great fun – but I’m not allowed to talk about individual people. 

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Your comedy workshops are hugely successful, and you’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the business. A new one might even emerge from the workshop I attended. I particularly enjoyed the exercise where we had to sit in a circle insulting each other – has that ever gone spectacularly wrong?

Not with that one, no. I think that’s because I ask them to compliment and insult something incredibly specific (like someone’s shoelace), so it seems quite ridiculous. I do love the way people tend to whisper afterwards that they didn’t mean it, to the person they’re insulting. Very sweet. 

Any favourite stand-up moments?

There is no better feeling than making a bunch of total strangers laugh, so it’s difficult to choose. 

One moment that stands out though, is thwarting a bunch of persistent hecklers by getting the whole audience to follow me to the theatre bar, where we continued the show. We left the four hecklers very confused and perplexed in a massive auditorium. 

What are you working on at the moment?

For someone never infected with the Protestant Work Ethic, I seem to be doing an awful lot this year. I’ve got three days off in the next two months – mostly workshops. But, I shouldn’t moan – just come back from a lovely, intensive comedy weekend in Leeds. And there are comedy writing weeks to look forward to France and Greece this Summer. 

In my down time (none! How did this happen?) I love to make chunky silver jewellery. 

None of the things that I’m known for (comedy and teaching) seem like work though. Occasionally, it might be hard. But, you don’t mind because it’s your craft and your passion. We could not do anything else. 

What advice would you give to the young Logan Murray?

Go vegan sooner. 

Who inspires you?

It sounds really cheesy, but whatever group I’m working with at the time. They always surprise and delight me. 

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

Gosh. So many. I’d love to hang out with the Great great (times 3,000) Neanderthal Grandmother to see how her people thought and did stuff. 

Who would play Logan Murray in the film of your life?

I’m too old to play me, now. Could I get Studio Gibli to animate it, then get a Japanese actor to voice the part? I’d watch that with subtitles. 

A few short questions to finish. Favourite:

Book: Jerusalem by Alan Moore

Author: Geoffrey Ashe or Francis X King. 

Drink:  Water

Film: Kung Fu Hustle or Magnolia (please don’t make me choose). 

Music: Wardruna and most stuff by Jeremy Soule

Stand-Up: Spencer the Herbert, Tina T’urner Tea Lady, Fred Ferenzci George Carlin, Paul Foot and Anna Crilley & Katy Wix (when they are in a double Act). Loads more, too.

TV show: I’m quite enjoying ‘Preacher’. 

What are you reading right now?

Geoffrey Ashe’s ‘Merlin: The Prophet and his History

 Thanks Logan. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

Find out more about Logan at his website. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

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Literary Smorgasbord: Lindsay Dunbar

Brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, and always questioning the status quo, Lindsay Dunbar is a creative force to be reckoned with. Artistic director of Play Pieces,  a company dedicated to supporting emerging theatre work in the Highlands, arts columnist for the Inverness Courier, and currently taking part in the Clore Fellowship, a programme of leadership tailored to the individual, she is also a thoroughly decent person.

 

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Hi Lindsay, thanks for agreeing to take part in the Smorgasbord. How did your involvement with Play Pieces come about?

When I moved back to the Highlands I became involved with rural arts promotion. Working with voluntary promoters is really inspiring because they have an excellent understanding of their audiences as well as what makes great theatre. Part of my work was to inform the promoters about work available to tour the Highlands and I began to wonder where the next Dogstar or Right Lines theatre company was coming from. I thought support was needed and explored a model based on A Play, A Pie and A Pint to make theatre more accessible to rural audiences and to support Highland theatre makers to create new work. It’s been a great success with sell-out performances, shows going on to tour around Scotland and perform at the Edinburgh Festival.

Would you describe theatre as your passion, or is it part of a bigger picture for you?

I’m passionate about stories. I like hearing them and sharing them. I think theatre is a great way to share stories whether they are political, funny, personal dramas or historical. It’s just storytelling and there is no end of amazing stories to share.

What difficulties have you faced and what is your proudest achievement?

So many difficulties – starting a new organisation from scratch is hard. I’ve learned so much but there have been many heartbreaking moments of disappointment which are hard not to take personally. It’s taken me a long time to come back from some setbacks. I continue to feel proud about Play Pieces when I see how well artists we have supported are doing – Nicholas Ralph performed in the first ever Play Pieces Shorts as well as 3 lunchtime performances and he has just performed a critically-acclaimed run at the Citizens Theatre. It reminds me why I feel so passionate about supporting emerging work by Highland theatre-makers, we have real talent up here and creating a supportive theatre sector is essential.

When writing your weekly arts column for the Inverness Courier, Arty Ness, how organised are you?

Sometimes I can be very organised and start the column very early on in the week. Usually, though it’s a Sunday evening task, a nice chance to reflect on the week. I know it’s a good column when I can write most of it fairly quickly, if it flows. If I’m struggling to get past the first paragraph then I start a new idea. Sometimes it takes three attempts to get a column that works but I always save the first attempts. You never know when they will come in useful.

Are you ever stuck for ideas?

It’s an opinion piece so sometimes I feel I’ve exhausted all my opinions, I don’t want to bore people. A good column is one I can imagine ranting to someone about. Usually, I rein that rant in a bit after a few drafts.

Is there anything you’ve wanted to write about for the column but couldn’t, because of politics or artistic sensitivities?

There are some subjects I’d like to explore more around gender inequality in the arts or the lack of support for arts and cultural organisations because they fall outside the creative industries sector. Public authorities don’t seem to see the social and economic impact of some art forms. I’d love to name names more but the Highlands is such a small place.

What were you like at school?

Probably a nightmare. I suspect I was quite frustrating because I didn’t really try as hard as I could have. I talked too much, far more interested in the social aspect of school than the education. That’s what happens when you are from a small village with not many other children around you.

You are the current Clore Leadership Programme Fellow. What impact has that had on your life?

It’s challenged the way I think about my work, myself and what I want from my future. It’s given me space to explore new ideas and given me support to work through issues. I’m currently in the middle of a sticky, muddy, difficult part of my journey but I’ll get through it. I don’t think I’m going to see the full impact for many years, I hope I have many Clore moments to come but right now it’s where I need to be.

What advice would you give to the young Lindsay Dunbar?

Whatever you are thinking of doing…just don’t.

Who inspires you?

My daughter Millie is by far my biggest source of inspiration. She is the most authentic person I know and I hope she never loses that. She has a clear sense of what matters to her and she is sensitive to others too. She has no shame, there is a real sense of freedom about her and she loves being outside. She has never been a great sleeper and yet she has boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. She questions everything and never accepts the first answer. She makes me demented but god I wish I could be more like her.

If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?

I would want to spend it with the teachers who have made an impression on my life. I don’t think we take the time to tell them how much we appreciate everything they have done for us. I would some time of the day with Al Fraser from Achiltibuie Primary school and berate him for encouraging us to down tools on sunny days and get outside. I now spend a lot of time staring out of windows longing to be up a hill when I should be working. I would sing in a choir with Val Bryan from Ullapool High School who gave me many opportunities to perform and taught me that anyone can sing. It’s not just singing, everyone has the ability to be creative if you let them. I would take the time to sit and thank Mrs Askew, my modern studies teacher in Edinburgh who spent her free-time to take coach me through the coursework to take me from a failed exam to an A pass. She was a kind, dedicated teacher who knew I was capable of better, she believed in me more than I believed in myself. Sadly I never got the chance to thank her properly for profoundly impacting my future. Finally, I’d like to ask my University Professor about the world today. Prof Cathal Ó Dochartaigh was the smartest man I’ve ever met and like Mrs Askew, he saw something in me which I didn’t – he encouraged me to speak up and to ask questions. He made me realise that it’s ok to thinking something completely different to everyone else in the room and it’s good to speak up and challenge perceptions.  When you find someone who changes you I think we need to take the time to thank them and maybe take the time to help support others. I get very emotional at the end of The History Boys because of the profound effect the teachers have on their lives; “Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.

Who would play Lindsay Dunbar in the film of your life?

I’d like a Studio Ghibli animation film please as someone growing up stuck between the real world and her imaginary one.

What’s next?

This could be written on my grave stone. I’ve always been a ‘what’s next?’ person. I am never content in the moment. Never. I tried mindfulness and couldn’t do it. I have accepted that I am never ‘in the moment’ because I’m always thinking ‘what’s next?’. I don’t think it’s a bad way to be. I like space and time to myself but only because I know I need to recharge for what’s next.

A few short questions to finish. Favourite:

Book: I read Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon when I was young and living in Edinburgh. I was missing the Highlands and everything I knew. The seasons, the land, the music and a young girl growing up all resonated with me. It’s just a beautiful book which I still quote and still has the power to make me cry.

Author: Frank Fraser Darling – although I’ve never actually read his books I collect them and I would love to develop a play around his work on Tanera Mor, near Achiltibuie. Fascinating man.

Drink: Black coffee in the morning, wine in the evening.

Food: I could eat pizza forever.

Film: Brazil by Terry Gilliam, I mean can you imagine a society driven by a pointless, ineffective, bureaucratic system dependent on technology, where the gap between rich and poor is growing, people become blasé to acts of terror around the world and women are stretching their faces unrecognisably in the name of beauty…

Music: I’m rediscovering Tori Amos and I’m delighted that the 14-year-old in me stills remembers all the words.

TV show: Oh so many, I love TV and we are in a golden age of box sets but Dr Who has been with me most of my life. I get quite emotional knowing that my daughter will have a female Doctor as her role model. Not many TV shows can make you feel like that.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just finished Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman which made me sad because I didn’t want to leave her world. I can’t find another book yet as good as that to start reading so recommendations very welcomed.

Thanks, Lindsay. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.

Find out more at the following Twitter accounts: Play Pieces, Arty Ness, and Lindsay Dunbar; and at the Play Pieces website.

Books by LG Thomson are available from Amazon and from bookshops in Ullapool. Writing as Lorraine Thomson, the Dark Times dystopian trilogy, published by Bastei Entertainment, is available online.

Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.

6 covers twitter

 

 

Do The Right Thing

On June 12 2018, Ullapool High School tweeted the photograph below.

do the right thing

It’s a decent message containing one very powerful line:

Be the kid who does the right thing.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy; it takes guts and a stout heart to stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes it means speaking out when all around you are silent, but it can just as easily mean giving someone a fair hearing.
In some countries, doing the right thing can lead to persecution and death. Of course, that kind of thing doesn’t happen here. We are lucky to live in a democracy where we vote to decide who represents us in the House of Commons.
My Member of Parliament is Ian Blackford. I don’t know him personally, but I have met him and when I had cause to contact him in his role as my MP, his office responded quickly and offered practical help and advice. Maybe I’m naïve, but Ian Blackford seems like a decent sort, the kind of person who would strive to do the right thing.
In the House of Commons on 12 June 2018, when Ian Blackford asked the speaker what options were available to Scottish MPs re the lack of debate on a Westminster power grab on Scottish devolution, Ian Liddell-Grainger, a Conservative MP, shouted “suicide”.
It is possible that Ian Liddell-Grainger thought he was doing the right thing by inviting colleagues to contemplate killing themselves. Then again, he has a track record of offensive and bullying behaviour just as Westminster has a track record of contempt for the people of Scotland. Perhaps Ian Liddell-Grainger has done us a favour by illustrating that contempt so very clearly.
Time to wake up, Scotland, and do the right thing.

Suicide heckle in House of Commons.