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I am a Dinosaur

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I’m a dinosaur in a spoken word show in the Science Festival. It’s an adult show.  I’ve written a monologue from the perspective of Dracorex Hogwartsia. If you’ve not heard of her, well I am.. or I was a really awesome dinosaur with spikes and horns. The name translates to dragon king of Hogwarts – yeah.. the Harry Potter dinosaur.

But they discovered I was actually a juvinile Pachycephalosaurus. The dinosaur more commonly known as a bone head. Which really sucks. The cool spikes and horns disappear when I get older.

The show starts with my relegation from dinosaur status. I’ve been demoted like Pluto when he lost his ‘planet’. And I’ve arrived in some sort of limbo where the demoted dinosaurs rant and drink tea. It’s a support group. Or something like that. And that’s our show. Based on real science. Questioning what it means to exist and what happens when science gets it wrong.

So who are the demoted dinosaurs? 

  • LIBYCOSAURUS (the ever optimistic) played be Beth Godfrey, written by Sarah Thewlis
  • AGROSAURUS (hater of humans) played by Sian Hickson, written by Sian Hickson
  • ARCHAEORAPTOR (the missing link) played by Lewis Hou, Written by Lewis Hou
  • AACHENOSAURUS (the sarcastic philosopher) played by Andrew Blair, written by Andrew Blair
  • UNICEROSAURUS (the preacher) played by Ricky Brown, written by Ricky Brown and Nerd Bait Band
  • DRACOREX (the confused) that’s me

The show idea and direction come from Sarah Thewlis. Co director and tech support comes via Chris Scott. Hope to see you there!

The Illicit Ink show ‘Linnaean Limbo: The Dinosaurs That Never Were’ is at the enatomy lecture theatre at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival on Monday 4th April. Tickets are £8.50. Get tickets here.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2016 in Education, Events, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Travelling in Time and Space

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On Friday a mad lady scientist took her time machine through history to pick up some lady scientists and bring them to the Dundee Women in Science Festival. The resulting ensemble was called the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch. This was the fourth performance since the Illicit Ink spoken word show began a year ago at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

I’ve loved being part of it – sitting in a sewing circle with such wonderful characters. These wonderful characters are wonderful writers too – they each researched a character from history and wrote and performed a piece as that character. I’m mostly quiet during the show while the scientists talk about who they are and why their achievements matter. I play Emma Darwin, she is brought along by accident (The mad lady scientist was going for Charles but he was stuck in the privy). The other scientists dismiss Emma but right at the end I speak to question if any of it matters. I talk about having kids and knowing loss and about the fear of loving someone who has completely different views on the most important things in life. I wanted to get to the heart of what really mattered to Emma:

“I’m not a scientist, does that matter? I am a woman, does that matter?

Read about the Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch in the Dundee Courier here.

Lost Among The Stars

And now it’s happening again, a collaboratively written Illicit Ink show. But this time I’m lost in space, not time. Again I say very little until the end. Again there are many different beautifully written characters. Some performed by the writers and some performed by actors. I’ve written and am performing as Tara the astronaut. She’s the one who gets lost. In Space.

Getting Into Character

I found it quite challenging – trying to imagine I’m alone in space and about to die. I listened to astronauts talking about their experiences on Radio 4. I looked at pictures of the earth from space. I had to record a few audio sections ahead as part of a conversation with mission control – but it didn’t smell right (I was slow cooking sausage casserole at the time – space shouldn’t smell of sausage casserole).

But when I read the heartfelt, beautiful monologues written by Tara’s boyfriend Jeffrey (I keep calling him ‘my imaginary boyfriend’ but that sounds a bit odd! His name is Ricky in real life) and the piece by Tara’s sister, who’s kind of half hates her but also loves her too (that’s written by Mel and acted by Roanna) – when I read their work I realised, it isn’t about being lost in space. It’s just about being human. So I managed to write a response to other human’s beautiful words with space as a geographical location. It’s about being real with stars. And I’ve always loved stars. I studied physics, I’m a planetarium presenter, I’ve written space episodes of Nina and the Neurons, I was making rockets on mothers day – I’m still kind of geeky with all things space. Maybe I’m more like Tara than I realise.

Space Wobbles

I’m pretty nervous about my writing and the performance. We had a rehearsal last week and I was totally impressed with everyone’s pieces. There were proper professional actors who were really good. Even the voice of mission control sounds like he’s actually working for NASA! I’m hoping I won’t spoil it with my bit. I’m hoping I won’t pee in my space suit. If I were an astronaut, that would be okay – they wear giant space nappies. The thing is, I will actually be wearing a space suit. But not a giant astronaut nappy. I expressed my fears to show producer Babs, she reassured me that they asked me to do this part because I can write sentimental without being crass. I keep trying to remember what she said.

ANYWAY, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a last address to the world, just before gruesome death. Last time it was for another collaboratively written Illicit Ink show during a zombie Apocalypse. You can read about that and see a video here.

AND this isn’t the first time I’ve written about being lost in space. Here’s a comic, created by me age 11. Okay so it’s about a dog going into space but use your imagination. I needed to go somewhere after giant nappies and zombie apocalypses. Meet Space Dog, yes I know – classic school ending to the story too (sorry!):

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Sadly there is no happy awakening at the end of Apollo 21. And no dogs. There will be space and music and humans. I may or may not make it back to Earth. 

Apollo 21: Lost Among the Stars will be performed on the evening of Wednesday 15th April at The Royal Observatory Edinburgh. Get Tickets from the Edinburgh International Science Festival website here. The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch sold out at the Science Festival Last Year so get your ticket early to avoid disappointment! 

 

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Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

It’s tomorrow night at the Storytelling Centre. You can bring knitting. It’s almost sold out. Turn to page 45 of your Edinburgh International Science Festival Programme and you’ll find it. Illicit Ink‘s ‘Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch’: Lady scientist

I’m playing Emma Darwin. That’s Charles Darwin’s wife. The lady scientist with which I’m stitching and bitching are:

And the brains behind the operation, that is the lady with the time machine who’s been stopping off at various points throughout history to collect us all – your compere for the evening is Ariadne Cass-Maran.

GET TICKETS HERE. Join the event on facebook here.

I should maybe point out that I’m not really bitching – I’m presenting the final monologue of the evening. It’s a spoken word piece I’ve written as Emma about her thoughts and questions on life, faith, feminism, science, death and love. I’m also sewing the tree of life onto a cushion and reading one of the letters I actually wrote to my dear Charlie (the real Emma wrote it – you know what I mean). I’m not saying anymore because I don’t want to spoil it! 

 
 

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Faking My Own Death

Writing a personal monologue set ten years in the future during an Edinburgh based zombie apocalypse is not my usual kind of writing. I write about animals. Or science. I write for children. But I said yes before I’d got the brief. There’s a lesson to be learned there. Ari at Illicit Ink emailed me the story outline:

The apocalypse has come to Scotland. Nobody can quite agree on who invaded, but someone or something has. Seven Edinburgh folk give their stories about what happened, and how they are succeeding (or failing) to rebuild their worlds.

And some rules:

Your story must

a) Be in the first person – a monologue

b) Either be performed off-script or use a device (like a diary) where reading off the page is part of the performance

c) Include a section of the meta-story, as given by the producer

d) Be themed to the theme of the show

Here are some monologue devices you could use: diary, radio show, prison cell conversation, explanation over phone to spouse/children, news reading, coma conversation, someone buried under rubble conversation, report back to spaceship, letter to editor, school report, letter to loved one, letter to politician, confession to priest, chat to taxi driver, police station interview, etc.

I was one of the seven writers due to perform on stage at the Scottish Storytelling Centre earlier this month at ‘Apocalypse New’. My section brief was:

The mysterious visitors have built gardens. Edinburgh is full of waterfalls and new forests are springing up. Everyone is very happy and working together to build a compassionate and lovely world. But the strangers are eating people.

It perhaps sounds like my usual kind of writing until you get to that last line. At least I’d been given the most cheerful part, part five. I had a good few weeks to think about my section and during this time I was taken out quite literally by sciatic pain in my back and leg. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever had. I was on three types of prescription pain killers and still blacking out from pain. I could hardly walk but it gave me an opportunity to do something a little different with my writing. Here was a chance to fake my own death / disappearance / zombie abduction.

I waited until late at night when I was due a batch of pain killers. I wanted the pain to be real. I lay in bed with a phone camera and recorded three attempts at my last message to the world. Each was just over 10 minutes long and I played them back before recording the next one. I wanted the story to unravel almost seamlessly but at the same time be delivered with confusion and desperation. I wanted to question what it means to be human but add in things that show it’s me like my favourite bus (the number 10). I wanted to keep a few big reveals until the end. By the time I got to the third recording the pain and desperation were definitely real.

I didn’t want anyone to know I wasn’t going to be performing in person. When it got to my section the lights went out and a ghostly face appeared on the screen. My face. In the story I’m a doctor, here is my story:

Watch on Youtube here

It went down well. I only wish I could have been there to see all the other performances – radio presented compering, an interview, a play with music and spoken word:

Illicit Ink Skyground: Apocalypse New

When I told people how I’d made the video they said I was suffering for my art. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I saw it as making the most out of the pain. It was described as heightened realism and good acting. If you’re pretending to be drugged and in pain it’s a lot easier if you are actually drugged and in pain so I’m not sure I deserve the credit. I got the idea a few month before from a friend who’s a real doctor. The servers went down in Glasgow and the NHS had no access to anyones medical records for two days. That’s what got me thinking – what if everyone’s medical records really were hacked…

On the day of the performance I got very scared that it was a ridiculous idea and I sent an email to Ari saying I was scared it was rubbish. She assured me it wasn’t and said it was just the sort of experimental thing she was looking for. If you like experiments Illicit Ink: Skyground is back again in February. J.A. Sutherland was very complimentary about the event, read the review here.

Image Credit: Chris Scott

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Events, Film, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Singing stars and a stegosaurus

Yesterday I performed for the first time at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Yesterday Neil Gaiman drew a stegosaurus in my copy of ‘Fortunately the Milk’.

Yesterday was a good day. I’ve blogged it in pictures with a few bullet points, so I don’t forget..

This is me (left) and my Canadian friend Nancy (right). She’s dressed as an author but she’s actually a six-foot pilot:

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This is Neil Gaiman speaking about writing and his latest book (I was on the front row!):

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He said some wonderful things including

Stories help us make sense of our lives. They give us empathy. They offer escape. They last.

I definitely think it’s really healthy to scare children. I remember watching Doctor Who, petrified behind the sofa..

One day there will be another episode of Doctor Who. It’s the nearest to being God I’ve ever experienced..

This is him signing my book (YAY!):

IMG_20130824_164232And a Stegosaurus:

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Unbound

Later on that evening I’m up on the stage with the wonderful cartoonist Stephen Collins:

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I was reading part of a story I’ve been writing for children about an otter called Bhram who’s an artist. But really the story is grown ups too, it’s about why art isn’t just useful… it’s essential.

I got the audience to draw fish, grass, raindrops and stars before we started and they joined in during parts of the story. Here a picture of the rain drops (thanks to Graphic Scotland for the pic) in action just after I read:

He noticed the way raindrops made perfect circular patterns when they landed, plop! in the rock pools.

raindrops

An arc of tables round the back did a mexican grass wave just after I read

He watched the wind as it blew through the long grass and made waves just like the waves on the ocean.

Four tables drew fish we got the fish to swim one way, turn and swim back just after I read

He was wondering how the shoal was able to turn so quickly from one way to the other with every fish perfectly in time with all the rest.

And the stars didn’t just shine, they sang!

This is Stephen’s picture of the story when we finished. I loved the way he built it up all on one piece of paper (thanks to Graphic Scotland for the pic). Yes that’s a puffin and a perfect pyramid poo (or spraint) below his pen:

final panel

It was marvellous to work with Stephen and be part of the Illicit Ink and Graphic Scotland event ‘Tales from the Strip’ at Unbound. You can see pictures of all the brilliant artists who performed that evening on the storify here (it’s a story created from the tweets written during the event, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t do twitter!).

At the end of the day what did I take away?

  • a bottle of Jura whisky with a glass and notebook (thanks to the Jura Unbound team)
  • a check (thanks to the Book Festival)
  • inspiration and a stegosaurus (thanks to Neil Gaiman)
  • a picture of Bhram the artist otter (thanks to Stephen Collins)

And a smile thanks to people like:

  • Chris Scott the ever encouraging photographer
  • Babs the event organiser
  • Friends who came along to see me
  • Stephen and his lovely wife Hannah

I can’t forget the lovely audience. The raindrops, grass, fish and stars who made it all so magical. I loved it when you stars sang like.. well stars!

I wrote a bit about this event before it happened here. It includes more about Stephen and his book ‘The Gigantic Beard that was Evil’.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Events, storytelling, Writing

 

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