Writing is a dangerous profession. There are the obvious hazards: alcoholism, drug misuse, the misery inherent in spending every day probing the darkest recesses of the human soul. And then there’s the loneliness. The tendency to spend one’s days chained to the desk, drinking too much coffee and eating too many gelatine-free Percy Pig sweets. Why even change out of pyjamas?
Working in a university helps enormously. Our students inspire and challenge us, and they frown pityingly when we turn up to seminars in our slippers. And in turn we teach them everything we know about writing, and reading, and try to show them a more balanced creative life than the Tennessee Williams stereotype. Knowledge exchange is an inherent part of this. It allows us to bring all the different strands of our activities together, to the benefit of everyone concerned. And, let’s face it; it gets us out the house.
Indeed, I’ve had such a hectic summer that I’m beginning to covet a little time at home. I’ve gone from discussing Scottish attitudes to phenomenology and experimental theatre in Brno and Košice, to imagining a party in a secret troll swamp with the primary school children of Whalsay. The former was part of the international Author’s Reading Month festival in Central Europe organised by the Větrné mlýny publishing house in association with libraries and other venues in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The latter was a highlight of the fantastic 24 islands/24 hours project run by the Orkney and Shetland library services with the help of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature Scheme. And in between the travelling I’ve been judging competitions, giving masterclasses and editing collections, as well as hatching innovative plans with the brilliant folk at Glasgow Women’s Library (where I sit on the Board of Directors). Writers are nothing if not adaptable.
Sometimes my creative work involves collaboration too. One of the recent projects that I’ve enjoyed working on most has been the opera The Lady from the Sea, a collaboration with the composer Craig Armstrong that was presented by Scottish Opera as part of their 50th anniversary season at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2012. It won a Herald Angel Award and played to sell-out audiences at the festival, which was wonderful, especially as I got to ditch the pyjamas and buy a new dress for my curtain call and the opening night party. Not that anyone noticed: our stunningly talented leading lady Claire Booth quite rightly stole the show.
My colleagues are just as busy as me, and sometimes our students outshine the lot of us with projects that capture the imaginations of hugely diverse audiences. Publishing and other creative industries recognise this, and we’re thrilled that they approach us when they’re looking for the writers of the future. Which reminds me: it’s time to chain myself to my desk and get on with my novel. Where did I put those Percy Pigs?
Watch Zoë’s video ‘Engaging the Industry with Creative Writing‘.
To find out more about Writing and Publishing, visit http://www.gla.ac.uk/colleges/arts/knowledge-exchange/themes/writingandpublishing/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org