We arrive at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh way before five. "I don't want to be too early," I'd said to my husband Rob, "hanging around like a spare part." In fact, the party has already started. The cafe is crowded, buzzing with animated conversations and relaxed laughter. In the air, the aroma of fresh coffee and a touch of nervous excitement. I scan the faces, noticing that many are focused on the booklet Time, which contains all ten short-listed pieces for the 2016 Writing Awards. I'm one of those ten. Really.

Gail Aldam sends the ten entrants downstairs to meet with Jenny Lindsay, the MC for the evening. I am delighted to see the theatre - it's the perfect space. A lectern on the small stage awaits us. That erases the stand-or-sit question. I feel calm. I notice my fellow writers as we loiter on the steps of the theatre. Jenny chats and makes brief notes. There's a sense of wanting to get started. I head back up to the cafe to collect my bag (and husband), as friends, family and random supporters are going down to the theatre.

I try to focus on the content of the submissions, but I am drawn to the presentation, the voice, the bearing. I am fourth to read. Jenny announces me. Already? I'm on the stage. It's very quiet. Slight nervousness. "Thrilled to be here, by the way," I say. I pour myself some water and slow my breathing. I read my piece. It is not my story, but I know, without a doubt, that this audience feels the full force of my heart. It's in my pace, my voice, my concentration.

I listen better to the entrants following me. It's all here: humour, heartbreak, anger. Ordinary, extraordinary people - standing up, speaking out. This is me, they say. Deal with it. The writings, the readings, are powerful. There's a restfulness in the theatre when we have finished. The audience, besides listening, seems to have upheld us, cushioned us.

You can read all of the shortlisted entries in the beautiful e-book below, designed by Josie Vallely

 

 

Now Jenny and Gail are on stage, preparing to announce the prize winners. I feel genuinely happy to be here; to have disclosed something significant about myself. And, (lurking at the back of my mind) there is the hope that I may get 'Highly Commended'. No. From this point, my reasonably sharp faculties seem to be a tad spongy. It's all happening so quickly. I hear my name called in connection with the word 'Winner'. I turn to Rob. He looks as shell-shocked as I feel.

I'm heading down the steps towards the stage. Thoughts flash through....don't trip now....feel like I'm in Hollywood....get a grip before this whole damn thing goes pear-shaped. Such warm applause. I feel self-conscious, and elated. I'm at the lectern again, hopefully stringing some meaningful sentences together.

Gail asks everyone to regroup upstairs for a drinks reception. "Whatever there is," I say to Rob, "I'm having it." There are congratulations, wine and chat. There's a photographer with blue hair. Everything fits. I speak with a fellow prize-winner whose writing intrigued me. First prize, and then, this surprisingly fierce connection with a stranger. A jewel of an evening. I am full to the brim. I'll need to lie down in a darkened room shortly.

by Angela Wright

Victoria Melody is an artist, theatremaker and performer, who is bringing Ugly Chief to the Festival of Ian Smith at Summerhall. In it, she celebrates her Dad, Mike Melody, his life, and the odd journey he had after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease – a journey that ended up with a surprising ending.

Can you tell us more about Ugly Chief?

Ugly Chief is a show that I’m making with my Dad. We’re still in the research and development stage of it, so what we’re bringing to Summerhall is a glimpse of where we are in the process. We’re finishing making it in 2017, which is when we’re going to tour it. It’s a show I’m very excited about.

It all came about because, first off, he’s a big show off. He’s a big character. Sometimes when people meet him they’re quite taken aback. He doesn’t stop talking and he’s unconventional in that he doesn’t care what people think of him, so he says what he wants, but he’s quite funny with it. He does daytime TV shows, he’s an antique dealer, and he’s got a lot of stories about the business. He started from very meagre beginnings and he’s built up a business for himself. He’s got all these tales of what it was like going from being brought up in the north of England during a tricky time, and how inventive you have to be when you don’t have any money, and how he basically scraped a living for himself.

He and I are similar. We’re the only show offs in the family. We’re the only ones that have gone into the business of entertainment, and we both like to talk. He was diagnosed with a terminal illness - motor neurone disease - and this was obviously really, really sad. After two years of living with that hanging over him, he went to the doctors and they said that he wasn’t degenerating - they’d misdiagnosed him. And he’s fine! When Dad gave all of us the news, I said straight away: ‘Do you wanna make a show with me now you’re not gonna die?’ It made me realise that we’re similar and it’s a shame that we’ve never collaborated on a project. He absolutely jumped at the chance, so we’re making a show about his funeral. This show is his funeral.

What are you hoping people will get out of the show?

We’re still exploring different angles, and we're still disagreeing on which direction it could go. The show is a love letter from a daughter to her Dad. It’s about speaking eulogies while we’re alive, because it’s a shame that those speeches, these incredible speeches where people talk about your life, are kept for when you’re dead, rather than being told while you’re alive. You’d love to hear that stuff, wouldn’t you? So it’s a eulogy for a living soul.

It’s also about breaking the taboo about talking about death. Obviously Dad and I have talked a lot about death and about funeral plans and things like that. I think there’s something quite comforting about knowing exactly what somebody wants, rather than the time coming, being struck by grief and having to make all these decisions. So it’s about demystifying the British funeral industry. I’ve been training to be a funeral director so that I can explain what goes on, because there’s something about being confronted by your own mortality that allows you to really live your life. Finding out all the behind-the-door routines and rituals that happen to your body has made me fear death less.

As a society, do you think we’re changing the way we view and talk about death?

The Victorians were much more in touch with dying and the death process, but over time it’s become very medicalised. It used to be very common that people would take their last breaths in their house, but now people want them in a hospital. For me, it’d be nicer to be in your home and to have your family around you. There’s a real big positive death movement around at the moment and I’ve been working with quite a few people who are trying to open it up for more discussion. People want to talk about this stuff. We’re at the beginning of a movement and at the beginning of change.

What else should people know?

Although this is a very serious theme, it’s funny. Dad and I are funny, and we’re funny together. We’re a real father and daughter on stage. Dad can’t be scripted; he’s better when he’s reacting. When he’s got a script in front of him, he’s dreadful. It’s going to be a different show every single night. I’m going to create a different eulogy for him every evening. Sometimes he doesn’t agree with what I’ve written in his eulogy, and we’ll have an argument and you’re seeing a real insight into a father and child relationship. Although the theme sounds heavy, we’re doing it in quite a light way, we’re not hammering it in. It is a work in progress, I’m going to be reading from a script, so it’s going to be a little bit rough, but I think that’s quite exciting. You’re going to see more of us than when the completed, quite slick show tours.

by Kirstyn Smith

 

Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death is at Summerhall, 28 Oct-27 Nov. Click here for full listings of the exhibitions, performances and events taking place as part of the festival.

Image: Andy Schofield

Alzheimer's is a subject that is close to Geez a Break Productions, the company that produced If I Forget to Remember. Thinking it would be the perfect topic for this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, they began work on this play, which was written by company founder Liam Lambie and inspired by some of his real life experiences whilst caring for his grandmother who suffered from dementia.

The show tells the heart-breaking story of Margaret “Maggie” Patterson, who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at the age of 52. The audience follows Maggie and her family, as they are forced to make preparations to cope with her descent into the depths of the illness.

The people of Bellshill and its surrounding areas didn’t do the play the justice it deserved, given the sparse audience that turned up for the performance, but I must start by praising the cast for their professionalism. They gave 100%, especially during the many emotional scenes they had to portray.

The first and second halves of this play were in stark contrast. The comedic first half set it all up for the hard-hitting, thought-provoking second half, and, for me, it was the second half where the play really began.

Although the first half was enjoyable in its own right, there was nothing truly memorable about it, except for the short foray into colourful sexual references in the second scene, which I’m afraid did cause a couple of people to walk out. But it proved to be to their loss, as the second half started with a startling monologue from Maggie, the main character, played fantastically by Jacquline Gilbride.

In fact, the whole portrayal of this character and her fall from basic human functioning was performed brilliantly by Jacquline, and a definite highlight of the play. Truth be told, the level of performance from all the cast was of a very high standard, especially, as I said earlier, when it came to the most emotional scenes.

All in all, if you can understand that the weaker first half is a set up for the powerful second half, you see a very well constructed piece that in the end leaves you feeling emotional, as you think back to the jovial characters from the beginning. Overall, If I Forget to Remember leaves you in no doubt as to what a horrible disease Alzheimer’s is and is worth the ticket money for the second half alone.

by Colin MacGregor

 

If I Forget to Remember will also be performed on Thursday 27 October from 7.30–9.20pm at Rutherglen Town Hall. Click here for booking information. 

Currently running in various venues across Renfrewshire, Recovery Fest is a festival that aims to demonstrate the therapeutic benefits that the arts, music and cultural activities can have upon recovery from addiction. Funded by Renfrewshire Alcohol & Drugs Partnership, Recovery Fest showcases the work of several local recovery groups and services.  

Events include the premiere of Dykebar and Me, a poignant film by the Torley Unit’s Long Term Recovery Group, featuring the personal challenges, triumphs and hopes for the future of those who have journeyed through addiction to recovery.  

The Paisley Guitar Group (based within the Sunshine Recovery Café) will host their second Big Peace & Jam event, celebrating music’s positive impact on recovery.

Write into Recovery @ Sunshine Recovery Café will showcase inspirational poetry and prose created by the writers’ group at the Sunshine Recovery Café.  

The Family Support Group will host a monologue play at Paisley Arts Centre, as part of the performance of Where the Crow Flies. The monologue addresses many of the issues faced by families affected by addiction. 

Recovery Fest culminates with a large dance music event, Strictly Recovery: Time to Dance. Working with partners from RAMH, Strictly Recovery will offer a night out without alcohol and drugs, celebrating recovery and offering an opportunity to improve social networks. The following day, Paisley’s first Recovery Church will explore hope, faith and love as key elements in recovery. 

An ongoing project, Renfrewshire Recovery Pattern (contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information), sees an artist in residence working, in collaboration with NetWork’s Graduate Intern Community Artist, with various addiction services across Renfrewshire, offering clients the opportunity to engage in creating a Recovery Pattern design for fabric and products. The final products will be available for purchase in Spring 2017, with profits being used to further recovery projects in Renfrewshire.    

by Mark Jones

 

Click here for more information on all the events taking place as part of Recovery Fest. 

Currently running in various venues across Renfrewshire, RecoveryFest is a festival that aims to demonstrate the therapeutic benefits that the arts, music and cultural activities can have upon recovery from addiction. Funded by Renfrewshire Alcohol & Drugs Partnership, RecoveryFest showcases the work of several local recovery groups and services. 

 

Events include the premiere of ‘Dykebar and Me’ (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1037-dykebar-me-with-the-third-dad), a poignant film by the Torley Unit’s Long Term Recovery Group, featuring the personal challenges, triumphs and hopes for the future of those who have journeyed through addiction to recovery. 

 

The Paisley Guitar Group (based within the Sunshine Recovery Café) will host their second ‘Big Peace & Jam’ event (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1033-recovery-fest-the-big-peace-jam), celebrating music’s positive impact on recovery.

 

Write into Recovery @ Sunshine Recovery Café (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1034-write-into-recovery-at-sunshine-recovery-cafe) will showcase inspirational poetry and prose created by the writers’ group at the Sunshine Recovery Café. 

 

The Family Support Group will host a monologue play at Paisley Arts Centre, as part of the performance of Where the Crow Flies (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1053-where-the-crow-flies-2). The monologue addresses many of the issues faced by families affected by addiction.

RecoveryFest culminates with a large dance music event, Strictly Recovery: Time to Dance (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1035-strictly-recovery-time-to-dance). Working with partners from RAMH, Strictly Recovery will offer a night out without alcohol and drugs, celebrating recovery and offering an opportunity to improve social networks. 

The following day, Paisley’s first Recovery Church (https://www.mhfestival.com/events/1038-celebrate-recovery) will explore hope, faith and love as key elements in recovery.

An ongoing project, Renfrewshire Recovery Pattern (contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information), sees an artist in residence working, in collaboration with NetWork’s Graduate Intern Community Artist, with various addiction services across Renfrewshire, offering clients the opportunity to engage in creating a Recovery Pattern design for fabric and products. The final products will be available for purchase in Spring 2017, with profits being used to further recovery projects in Renfrewshire.   

 

Andrew Tibbles' Immortal offers participants a chance to leave a message behind to be heard once they can no longer say what they want to say. The subsequent exhibition allows viewers to explore a variety of statements and see to what extent their opinions are shared. Andrew spoke to Talking Heads reporter Kirstyn Smith about the project.

Can you tell us more about Immortal?

It has a couple of different avenues, but the one that’s going to be shown at Summerhall is going to be a performance piece with an installation afterwards. So in it, I’ll be talking one-on-one with people about what they want to be heard once they can no longer say it. I use that terminology because at some points before you die you might not be able to express yourself fluently. So, it’s a little bit longer, but more correct.

We usually start off with me asking: ‘would you want to be immortal?’ and usually people say no, which is always helpful for the piece. At that point, they have to recognise that at some point they do want to die. From that, we progress to: ‘what do you want to exist beyond your death? What kind of things would you want to tell people that you’ve learned? What pieces of advice or memories would you like to leave behind?’ And I help signpost that. I don’t want to direct them in any particular route except for asking them what they want to say. So I try and keep to that because it’s something they can have control over, rather than starting to think about what’s going to happen in the afterlife or life after death. It’s slightly practical, but hopefully it’s a good performance piece as well.

How did you come up with the idea?

My background is in product design and in my honour year degree show, I designed an underwater burial system. I needed lots of help from different scientists to get together and ask a lot of questions: ‘How would it be done?’ ‘Where would be the best place to do it?’ ‘What kind of material would be environmentally friendly?’ ‘What are the ethics of it?’ ‘What’s the best way to degrade a body underwater without damaging the sea environment?’

After I did that, I designed the graves. I needed to put names on them, so I asked people who’d contributed to it if I could use their names and, if they got to visit the graves, what would they want to hear from it? So it was borne out of that kind of thank you.

It was always really interesting to see what people would say, because it really reflects their personality and how they perceive themselves. I worked on the format for a couple of years, working out what’s the best way to draw those kind of feelings out from someone in the most natural way. And that’s going to be the Immortal project. A confession-style booth screen was the best way, I found, to do it. If you leave people alone they don’t know what to say and they panic. If you’re in a group, people piss about and they don’t take anything seriously and they don’t express what they actually feel. Doing a one-on-one, face-to-face didn’t work, because they’re always looking for approval from me. So I built a screen where they knew I was there and I could help their thought process and signpost them, but they could talk a lot more freely.

What kind of things do people say?

Everyone is really different and it does reflect on each personality. Some people will want to talk to a large audience, thinking about their aspirations - what they would like to leave behind is usually on a grand scale. You’ll get other people who are more personal, where they feel their family are integrated into their personal life and they would much rather talk to a couple of individuals rather than a broad societal range. Now and again there’ll be other people who just want to give a small piece of advice that they’ve learned to anyone who will listen.

Do you think as a society we’re capable of changing the way we view death?

I believe we are shifting away from the traditional Christian burials, where it’s all very resting on tradition. The talking about it beforehand is more of an issue. But with things like Death Cafes, which I’ve been helping to run, these kind of neutral spaces really help. They either help solidify someone’s thought path and opinion if they have it already, or people will be very interested in new things and discovering what can happen that they didn’t know about. It’s a bit informative and a bit philosophical; I find those spaces really encouraging. A lot of the time, we tend to fall back on tradition. It’s something that we think about so much that when someone dies, if we’re not prepared, we go for traditional things, rather than anything unorthodox. We wouldn’t fall back onto a natural burial – that would be something the person would have to express beforehand.

What are you hoping people will get out of Immortal?

For the one-on-one piece, the idea of it is that what people record is actually their property, and I’m using it as next-of-kin information that will be passed onto them. So, in that way, it’s a bit of a service, but at the same time I’m hoping they’ll have a clearer reflection on how they’re living their life. You can see death as an end point, so what do you want to achieve by then, and what kind of things do you want to express? It could be professional or personal, or it could be something they’re not quite sure of, but they’ll start to discover it as they’re talking about death as a perspective lens, rather than something that has to happen. It’s looking through the lens of: ‘I will die at some point, so I do have a limited amount of time to do certain things I’d like to do.’ I’m hoping people will have a nice, clean feeling afterwards. That they’ll be able to enjoy their life and be able to look around a bit more.

That first part is where it all happens. The second part is that I’ll ask the people at the time if it’s alright if I use their recordings in the exhibition, with desensitised information. We take out names, dates, locations, anything that could be recognisable to that person. What we’re doing is setting up a speaker with each recording down in one of the basement halls and I’m hoping it’s going to be a general murmur of voices all talking at once, so you’ll not really be able to hear any one of them unless you focus on one of the speakers. You’ll get to hear people’s life aspirations and you’ll get to see if there are any similarities with yourself and how you’re viewing your life, and then you can take a new stock of things.

by Kirstyn Smith

 

Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death is at Summerhall, 28 Oct-27 Nov. Click here for full listings of the exhibitions, performances and events taking place as part of the festival.