On Roles and Pigeonholes

In 2016, I graduated with an MLitt Writing Practice and Study degree from the University of Dundee. At the time, I was in the mindset that I wanted to write in as many different styles and formats as possible.

This wasn’t a problem until it was time to pull together all my work into what the syllabus described as a ‘unified dissertation’. In other words, the whole document had to flow, but my pieces were too dissimilar to achieve this easily. With the help of two tutors, we eventually solved the problem, but I still didn’t like having to adopt one role or to be pushed into one pigeonhole.

I only began to change my stance earlier this year when a friend posted a video of a TED talk about sugar addiction, which inspired me to start writing a spoken-word show about the struggles I’ve had with my weight. And for the first time, I felt as though I’d found a niche that I enjoyed occupying, and that I had plenty of material to fill.

That said, I’ve lost a lot of weight since starting to write that show. This is an achievement, but I feel as though it’s defeating the point of the narrative.

Notebook in which I log my weight every week
Notebook in which I log my weight every week

On Saturday, I went to my first Edinburgh Fringe shows of the season, all of which reinforced my dedication to sticking with my niche for as long as it takes.

The first two were by people I know, and could only have been written by them. John McCann has a deep understanding of politics in Northern Ireland and has penned a monologue called DUPed, all about the Democratic Unionist Party. Meanwhile, Amy Gilbrook in Nutshells touches upon her experience of not fitting in. And while I don’t know Alan Bissett personally, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else emulating Moira Bell in The Moira Monologues or More Moira Monologues.

These shows are playing on selected dates throughout August.

Despite my promise to stay in a niche for the foreseeable future, I realised this week that some of my favourite novels have one thing in common. I’m attracted to those one-off stories where a sequel is unlikely because the story is so self-contained, such as A Clockwork Orange or The Bell Jar.

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Gavin’s improv chums.

On Thursday, I was asked to take part in an event at short notice as one of the poets was unwell. Flow! is a project by Gemma Connell where a poet is teamed up with a dancer. The dancer knows nothing about what the poet will read and has to react spontaneously. The best way to explain it is by watching part of Thursday’s event:

The first poet in this video was the fabulous Amy Gilbrook. She performs most of her work from memory and makes excellent use of internal rhyme. I’d met her before, but I wasn’t acquainted with the dancers.

There are challenges to complete throughout the night, including a section where audience members are invited to writes phrases on pieces of paper. The poets then must assemble these into a new poem, then read it out there and then.

Each dancer and each poet is allowed to take part in no more than three Flow! events, so there’s a potential to take part in two more, and I would happily oblige.

However, it occurs to me that I’m neglecting someone. Prose. When I started out, she was the one I followed, the one I allowed to infiltrate my body of work. But along the way, Poetry surfaced, showed me her possibilities within her boundaries for which Prose has no equivalent.

Now it’s time to go back and find a balance between her and Poetry. Yet there will be no grovelling; there will be the knowledge that Poetry bestowed upon me: how to stretch myself, how to structure, how to affect an audience. And I’ll approach Prose with a renewed enthusiasm, a new sense of purpose, and challenge her to help me produce something to make Poetry jealous.

To that end, I’m going to worship Prose tonight at Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. Anyone can come along and read out their work – or even that of a published author – with no judgement or criticism. If you happen to be in Dundee tonight, it’s at the Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street, and the readings begin at 7pm.