What Writers ARCADE means to Mhairi

So. My name is Mhairi and I am a writer from Lennoxtown.

Lennoxtown is a village in Scotland, 10 miles north of Glasgow. I had the most gorgeous view from my bedroom window of the Campsie Hills, and the Campsie Glen Gallery has the best scones. Especially on Christmas Eve. It’s important to say where I’m from. Because when I was growing up, I didn’t know any other writers. But looking back, there were a lot of things and people that helped me get to where I am now.

At Lennoxtown primary, there was a teacher who took my poems from me and put them on her classroom wall. There was Lennoxtown Library which inspired my love of reading (and inspired by hope that Dad’s new garden shed would become the meeting place for my “Secret Seven”-inspired gang. Spoiler: it didn’t). There was my fantastic secondary school Kilsyth Academy that did Higher Drama when other schools didn’t. It was on school trips that I was awarded the “Samuel Pepys Award” for the journals that I kept. In Higher English, we read Willy Russell and JP Priestley.

I loved writing and I knew I was a writer.

But then I grew up.

Back then, creative writing courses weren’t as plentiful as they are now. I liked writing, so I assumed that I wanted to be a journalist. The one book on writing in our school careers library was about magazine journalism and featured a girl who was editor of Smash Hits. So naturally, I wanted to be editor of Smash Hits (and because I wanted to interview Boyzone).

There was English and Drama at Uni. But after that, there was call centres and cold calling and data entry.

Then I had the most brilliant luck. My husband got a promotion to work in Darlington. So, the cats and I came too. I had looked at Postgraduate courses and found one at Teesside Uni. An MA in Creative Writing.The evening lectures and their generous post graduate bursary, meant that I could study and continue to work full time. Amazing.

But then I graduated.

However, more luck. During our MA, our tutor Andy Willoughby had taken us to the ARC and had set us an assignment to write a ten minute play for their studio space. We wrote the plays, we acted them out in front of each other, and submitted them as our coursework, thinking that would be the last we read them. A fellow graduate, Chrissie Petrie, had been working with the ARC, Stockton on some spoken word she’d been doing. She got chatting to ARC about our course and the plays we had written.

By the following January, ARC had scheduled a “New Writing Scratch Night”. They had done scratch nights before, but this was a special one for the Teesside Uni MA Creative Writing Graduates from the Class of 2011. We were given rehearsal space. We were given actors. We were given a night to present our scripts in front of an actual audience and receive feedback. It was mindblowing.

So that was January 2012. By the May, myself and a fellow graduate Nicola Cameron had completed the ARC’s New Playwriting course (ran by our Uni tutor Andy Willoughby), where we met Louise Taylor and Alli Davies. We formed a theatre company, Meerkat. ARC gave us meeting rooms to have proper grown-up theatre meetings in, access to actors to read our scripts, producing advice, and supported us every step of the way while we prepared our first work-in-progress show Patisserie, which formed part of ARC’s autumn programme exactly one week and one day ago.

I have a mentor, Vivienne Franzmann, who is a playwright who has had plays on at The Royal Court theatre in London. I’ve attended numerous plays and workshops which are free because I’m a member of ARC’s artist network, ARCADE.

This year, I’ve had short plays produced by The Traverse, Write on Tap, and Live Theatre. None of which would have been written without the support, guidence, I’ve had from the ARC over the past couple of years.

I now know other writers. Starting out is scary. Getting a “yes” from a venue is scarier. But I’m in safe hands. I have a great network around me and that, believe me, is invaluable.

I write this on the eve of my 33rd birthday. I can’t believe what I’ve achieved so far. And one day, I’m going to go home and mentor someone just like me – who writes poetry in their bedroom and finds magic when they put words to paper.

All thanks to Writers ARCADE.


Posted on behalf of my friend and fellow Writers ARCADE member, Mhairi Ledgerwood.