Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dear Edinburgh looking her best yesterday. So beautiful in the sunshine.

I was sitting in the garden at the back, swimming in the scent of the honeysuckle. Revelling in the warmth of it all.

Cheers coming from the crowds on the Royal Mile: I could hear them travelling up the hill to the church where some royals were getting married.

A sense of genuine celebration. Warm happiness.

I thought: maybe they do serve a function after all.

These not especially gifted or remarkable people: but it’s as if they represent some kind of promise of continuity, stability and safety in this dangerous and rapidly changing world.

Out on my bicycle in the street overflowing with good natured police.

Traffic barriers everywhere. I was hesitating before one: and there was a big van coming towards me.

Stopped by a policeman. Who said to the driver:

"Wait till the lady’s gone by on her bicycle."

Looked at me, smiled, and waved me on.

Opened up, all of a sudden, a huge well of memories: of the years of fighting against this identity, the miserable years trying to discover it. Waiting in line in shops and bars, wondering how I’ll be addressed. The disappointment at being called “sir”. The despairing sense of how wrong that was. And yet the barrier our culture puts between the “masculine” and the “feminine” seemed so totally insurmountable.

But then here I am. Crossed it. How effortless it seems. How absolutely right.

“Thank God I did that”, I thought.

Cycling down the road in the deepest happiness.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

There's been a big debate about gender inequality in Scottish theatre on the Scot-Nits bulletin board.

A post from the critic and commentator Joyce Mcmillan which mentioned the fact that when I had my breakthrough as a writer I was male "although Jo Clifford is now a woman", she added.

That made me think that having experienced both sides of the gender divide, maybe I had something to contribute.

So I wrote:

"Like everyone else,I feel grateful for Joyce for contributing to this debate with such intelligence, force and eloquence.

Like her, it concerns me to see how many plays have overwhelmingly male casts. I was lucky in that for a brief time I was able to do something about it. After the success of Losing Venice I wrote a series of plays for the Traverse in which a woman was the central character and which had an equal number of men and women in the cast: Lucy’s Play (1986) Playing With Fire (1987) The Girl Who Fell to Earth (1988: produced by Great Eastern Stage in 1991), Inés de Castro (1989) and Light in the Village (1991).

I mention these titles, and with pride, because they have since disappeared from the Scottish stage.

I suspect it was not entirely a coincidence that when I then tried to create work that openly expressed my experience as a transgendered woman I found my work being rejected by the Traverse; or that for the next eighteen years I was unable to write original work for any Scottish theatre.

It is worth repeating that we live in a patriarchal culture where misogyny remains an immensely powerful force. It is very hard to break the mould, as I know to my cost.

it is necessary to break through one’s own internalised oppression (in my case, strong residues of fear and shame) not to mention the other obstacles of covert censorship and the occasional outburst of vicious prejudice.

That’s why it is very important we have a company like Stellar Quines; and why they are to be congratulated for trying to reach a better understanding of the obstacles women face."

Two things I should have added:

that in those days when i was writing for the Traverse I was also sharing half the childcare with my partner


What I experienced as important during that time was not that I was a man (because that basically made me miserable) but the fact that the Traverse was my artistic home.

Theatre artists need stability to flourish. It's really destructive that it is almost always denied us.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Earlier this evening a very pleasant young man phones me to say he is from the Liberal democrats and could he count on my support?

I am astonished. I cannot imagine a more futile occupation than canvassing for the Liberal democrats in Edinburgh at this moment in time.

The coalition? He asks.

Of course. The coalition. I tell him as politely as I can that of course I could not conceive of supporting them. I tell him that at UK level they are supporting a government that has shown itself spectacularly unfit to govern; and that at local level they have presided over the most spectacularly inept administrations the city of Edinburgh has ever seen.

The trams?

Of course. The trams.

He tells me most politely that of course he understands and rings off.

Leaving me mystified. Why would anyone of any intelligence want to waste their evening in such an occupation?

He must be receiving nothing but abuse.

I have been trying to read Clegg’s sombre face as he sits beside Cameron while he gives his disingenuous defence of his utterly disgraceful actions.

I try to imagine what he must be feeling and fail.

One thing I do know: in such a position I would die of shame.


Sunday, July 17, 2011


On Friday I heard the words of THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE for the first time.

Ben Harrison, the director, had arranged for us to meet a lovely woman actor who could play the part of Eve.

I don’t normally get involved in casting , it’s difficult and painful and I hate the necessity to turn people down, but I go along largely because it would be a way of strengthening my communication with Ben.

I can't pretend this was a glamourous occasion. We meet in the Traverse, and do the reading in one of the subterranean dressing rooms. They are deep down underground and smell of drains.

The actor is on her way to perform in St. Andrews. She’s only had the time to read the script on the train.

There's the underlying awkwardness you get at any job interview, too, though we all do our best to overcome it.

But she’s the first actor to look at the script - and scripts are written for actors first and above all, not for the audience - and this makes it a real occasion for me.

I am beginning to weary of the process of writing scripts in isolation. The tension of it makes me a bit ill these days, and I forget why I love the theatre.

Forget there is such a joy in giving a script over, like a present, for an actor to exercise her skills on it. And such pleasure in seeing a script transform as it’s spoken by someone like her: skilled, intelligent, sensitive, and with a lovely presence to her.

Suddenly I begin to learn what the script is about. I begin to understand how it can work.

And I am reminded why it’s such a joy to write for the theatre.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011


Grandma Jean’s heart is failing her. Slowly, gradually, but inescapably.

Her heart thumps and skips and sometimes seems to stop altogether. It’s not functioning as it should: her legs are swelling with the fluid it cannot deal with, and she cannot lie down to sleep because she feels herself suffocating.

Simple activities leave her breathless.

At the same time she suffers from severe arthritis, which gives her bad pain in her spine, and her shoulders, and her legs and her hips too.

All this has been getting worse the last few months, and her suffering seems more and more apparent.

Yet this morning when I phoned her and said “You have a good day” she said “I will”. Quite naturally and without the least hesitation. As she usually does.

And when I phoned her last night... the first time she did not reply. She has started to suffer falls in a way she never used to; and so of course I was worried.

But I phoned her back in ten minutes, and she answered the phone, even more out of breath than usual, but full of happiness.

She had managed to get to her front door and then get out as far as the sweet peas. She had picked a bunch for her table, and two roses, one red and one white, because she wanted to paint them in the art class.

"Roses of Sharon", she said. So proudly.

When I phoned her tonight she was in the process of taking a dish to the kitchen sink, so was out of breath, and had to sit down before she could speak to me.

But she was so happy: there had been more people come to the art class, six of them were there this afternoon, and it had gone so well.

Joy is so elusive a thing. If we look for her, or seek to hold onto her, she generally slips from our grasp. So often it’s as if she creeps up on us, catches us off our guard, and so surprises us.

Jean has somehow found a secret of joy: and the worse her life becomes on one level, the better it seems to become on another.

Maybe it’s gratitude. Maybe that's the secret of it.

Maybe the closer she gets to the dark the more she turns to the light. And appreciates the beauty of it.


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