Pop-Ups in Fife

Come along to the community days we have in Hill of Beath, Crossgates and Kelty as part of Bridging the Gaps. All the details can be found on the Facebook events – click the place names below:

Hill of Beath





Bridging the Gaps: Beath High

HoB 1I am the artist in residence in the ‘Bridging the Gaps’ project that PAS (Planning Aid for Scotland) is running in Cowdenbeath over the next few months. The project is concerned, as so much of planning is, with place. It focuses on what makes the three project areas – Hill of Beath, Crossgates and Kelty – good, bad and what needs to be different. We have already started by gathering the ideas about the places with the young people, we will move out into focus groups in the community, and will then combine all of these ideas into art works and pop-up exhibitions in the places, about the places. We might even compete for money from the Aspiring Communities Fund to make some of these ideas real.

We started the project with my interactive performance piece, Plan, which encourages the audience-participants to imagine themselves part of a jury who must design a new town for 40,000 refugees in an imaginary, post-war 2017. We did Plan with some of the pupils at Beath High, who we are going to be working with over the following weeks and months.

It was pandemonium.

The budgeting was, unexpectedly perhaps, the most engaged part of the exercise for the young people, with debates about the quality of housing people should be allowed, whether a town really needed a sports ground, a football pitch, a leisure centre, and a theatre, instead of houses (turns out it sort of did). When it came to arranging the town, though, there was a sense that it didn’t matter, that putting things down was enough. It was really difficult for the pupils to imaginatively start from scratch. There was a lot of chat about whether the new town looked like Kelty. Even when we came to name the place, there wasn’t a sense of ownership that there has been every other time I’ve done the show. I eventually suggested we call it New Town. A gap. A creation that is just a place to exist – a town that’s not anywhere and belongs to no-one.

I was strongly reminded of Greater Belfast by the theatre maker, Matt Regan, a show about Regan’s complicated relationship with the place he is from. A line that came back to me when the kids had no sense that the place they were building could be, should be, would be worth anything: ‘Things that come from where I’m from are shite, d’ye know?’

As our discussions moved from the imaginary in the first week, to the real in the second, we made place maps of the areas where the young people live. I was working with a group of girls on a map of Kelty. Fife, where Kelty is, and Kinross-shire, where I’m from, are neighbouring East Central Scotland regions divided by a common M90. In Kelty secondary age children can either go to Beath High or Kinross High, where I went to school, but the difference between the places and the people is striking. The Scots language use is much higher at Beath High, the language variety in general is much more distinctive, with differences in vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation etc. After our session me and the other project leaders travelled around the areas where we will be working with the community. The memorials that we saw in each area were dominated by mining, everything from statues of individual miners to honour those who died in accidents, to murals of fossils that made the coal that made the town.

We will be moving on to collecting the young people’s stories about the places on their maps, which we will embed in audio form in the drawings using technology/magic. And I have no worries about this. It might seem that giving teenagers free reign to create from a blank page is what they dream of. But it was when we started listing each shop, building, pub, on a single junction in Kelty that they started to get excited, telling me their stories – good and bad – how the places we were drawing made them feel. There is no no-place. The game at the heart of Plan is nothing, but Kelty, Hill of Beath and Crossgates are real – really good, really bad, really boring, really scary, really nice, real.


Chinese, English an Scots

A wis contactit bi a chappie wha is interestit in leids, and wha his bin gien Scots a go o late. It’s aye a shock fir Scots speakers, and Scots fowk in general, that onybody fae furth of Scotland wud gie Scots the time o day. Bit they dae. James Chonglong Gu is an owersetter hissel and jumps atween leids aw the time. An he’s haein a wee loup aboot in Scots, fir tae sae whit like it is.

A wis chattin yesterday tae a Gaelic speaker wha wis sayin that they’d raither A didnae yaise the term ‘native speaker’, wi regards tae Gaelic as it pits a divide whar there disnae need tae be ane. An then we talked aboot hoo in Scots thir’s ainly native speakers as thir’s nae drive tae share it, nae wey tae learn it in college or evening classes or Scots medium scuils. Bit there shuid be. Gaelic can dae it, an so kin Scots. It’s stertin, thir’s bitties, but nae fu plan.

It’s a braw thing tae share yer leid, tae hae fowk hae a ploy wi it, yaise it as their ain. It is. James Chonglong Gu his scrievit a wee poem, an an introduction tae hissel in Scots, jist fir the jo he gits frae leid and sharin. A noble hing.


Oreeginally fae the wunnerfu kintra o China, James Chonglong Gu is an enthusiastic linguist, scriever an researcher in Inglis an owersettin wi’ muckle experience teachin’ in China an ayont. The noo, he’s a dedicatit PhD researcher in owersettin’ atween Inglis an Cheenese at the University o Manchester, Unitit Kinrick o Great Breetain an Northren Ireland.
Aye interestit in leids, James stertit tae be fascinatit bi the bonny Scots leid o late. This poem wis inspiret bi his recent veesit tae Scotland nae lang syne.


Wee Bonnie Caledonia

O wee auld Scotland
Aye sae bleak an aye sae grim
An sometimes a wee bit dreich

Hooivver let it dishearten ye not prithee
Acause tis aye sic a feast fer ye eyes
An a braw land packit fu o craic

Awed we shall aw prepare tae be
As ilka glen, brae, loch an’ ben is a wunnerfu treat

O wee auld Scotland
Aye sae dreary an aye sae chilly
An sometimes a wee bit melancholy

Hooivver fret ye not prithee
Acause tis precisely what tis sae weel kent fer
An why tis sae majestically bonnie

Humbled we shall aw prepare tae be
As tis nature’s masterpiece that awbodie will agree




Ishbel’s Summer Performing Top Five


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I was working on two shows this summer, touring O is for Hoolet to festivals, and working with the Edinburgh International Book Festival (and their ReimagiNation festivals through Booked!) on Plan. Here are my top five experiences:

5. The Solas Audience: In at number five was one of the earlier events of the summer, the performance of O is for Hoolet at Solas festival in June. There was a wee mix up and the end of the show got curtailed, which wasn’t great, but it was still the most receptive audience I have maybe ever had for Hoolet since I first shared it at the Arches Live scratch 2014. It turns out that I make theatre which I would like, and what I am is a spiritually-inclined, Iona-community-ish, equality focussed, artsy person who might go to Solas. They are my people. I don’t only want to do shows to my people, but it’s really nice every now and then to have a show where absolutely everything lands. And I got falafel in a yurt afterwards.

4. Returning to our Cosy Belladrum Caravan: Doing O is for Hoolet at festivals this summer was a learning experience like no other. Columbafest in the Gorbals at the start of the season gave something of a false sense of security. It wasn’t a ‘real’ festival: it was in a building, the audience sat quietly like a traditional theatre audience, rather than coming and going. Belladrum is much more of a ‘normal’ music festival, with mud, tents, competing events, noise and a 15 minute turnaround between shows. Performing there was difficult, and didn’t turn out to be the best match of show and venue. Luckily our wonderful producer Jill, of Feral Arts, had chosen us a wee Airbnb in a caravan in a garden near the site. When we eventually retreated there the hosts had a wee fire on, and me and Marisa (Stage Manager this summer) read our books and watched the chickens. Lesson learned: take a risk, then take a rest.

3. The Cities of Our Dreams Panel at EIBF: This event was something of the fulfilment of a life ambition, to be on an ‘expert’ panel. It was excellently chaired by Daniel Gray, so I didn’t talk too much (could do with a Daniel Gray accompaniment to my daily life), and also on the panel were Honor Gavin and Adam Kaasa, who I had never met before and who talked about their inspiring project, also connected to cities and utopia. It was so bloody interesting, and the audience questions were amazing. As my pal, Amy, pointed out – no-one was there because they liked us. No-one had ever heard of any of us (except my FanParentsTM). The audience trust the EIBF, and if they see something on a subject they find interesting, they will go along and expect it to be good. And I think it was.

2. The Hugely Varied Audiences for Booked! and EIBF: With the Book Festival I did Plan five times over the summer, twice for schools, and once each for the public in Irvine, East Kilbride and Edinburgh. Each audience was so different. Each space was so different. Our last performance was in the same hall, at the same time, as a baby dance class – audiences could design a new city while also putting their hands together 1-2-3. In Edinburgh the audience was the most diverse I’ve ever had. We sold five children’s tickets, five OAP tickets and twenty adult tickets. It was packed. And the discussions ranged between the ages equally – it was so heated that someone tried to stage a coup. In Irvine and East Kilbride audiences were smaller, but more specialised, bringing their New Town knowledge to the process. What a joy.

1. The Author’s Toilet: If I think Columbafest spoiled me, how can I begin to describe the luxury of working with the Edinburgh International Book Festival? It is unlike any arts festival I have ever worked with in the level of care and attention you’re given. They understand that performing is not nothing. They give you food, and space, and great chat even after weeks of 16 hour days. But best of all was the authors’ toilet. In the words of my pal, Rosie, may I forevermore wee in the authors’ toilet of success.


I posted this list of Podcasts that I love on my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, and I realised that I wanted to have it somewhere where I can link to it without trawling through my Facebook. So, as part of #trypod, here are my tips on podcasts.


Podcasts have been an increasingly huge part of my life for the last seven years. I listen to a dozen or so every week, mostly while doing housework or while walking places. It is the medium I consume and enjoy more than any other, especially since I’ve been ill and I’ve seen no theatre at all. Almost every interesting thing I say is prefaced with the phrase, ‘I was listening to this podcast about…’. This month a load of podcasts I listen to are encouraging people to share podcasts with pals as part of #trypod. So here are my top pods, and some of my favourite episodes:

These I listen to as soon as they are out:

*Answer Me This!* (the entry level drug of podcasting for me, comedy podcast where they answer audience questions)
– listen to any episode, they are fun and funny – and listen out for Tommy Herbert in the jingles. Actually in AMT327 our wedding features quite heavily, though with a libellous claim that we had horrible ham for the ham guests. It was lovely ham.

*99% invisible* (about design in the broadest sense)
– listen to Sanctuary Parts 1 and 2 (most recent episodes, they are about the sanctuary movement protecting refugees in the 1980s); Ten Thousand Years (fascinating and about storing nuclear waste but SO FASCINATING)

*Criminal* (about crime: dooers, victims and people in the justice system)
– listen to Officer Talon (about a police dog and his handler)

*Mortified* (people read out their childhood writings)
– listen to 50 Shades of Awkward – so many of the episodes of Mortified show how boys are secretly desperate for romance and girls are secretly very randy

*The West Wing Weekly* (analysis of WW)
– start at the start

*The Allusionist* (language)
– listen to Please; also, because everyone loves the swearing one, Detonating the C-Bomb

These are some of my background podcasts that I go to several times a week, classics:

*Stuff You Should Know* (explaining things, good chat)
– listen to How Barbie Doll Works

*Judge John Hodgman* (John Hodgman arbitrates people’s disagreements)
– listen to Mommy Nearest

*In Our Time* (Melvyn! Yeah!)
– my advice is to stick to the literature ones first, Melvyn can get a bit badgery with the scientists when he hasn’t really understood

My special binge-and-can’t-get-enough-until-I-overdose-and-then-don’t-listen-for-a-year:

*The Memory Palace* (short historical stories written, researched and performed by one guy)
– listen to a recent one which I really liked, A Portrait 

That’s enough for now. I will probably recommend personal ones I think individual people will like (like Ella Leith or Geraldine Heaney might like this 99% Invisible about architects designing deaf spaces: I’ll have a think.


ReimagiNation Cumbernauld

Here’s a wee blog I did for the Edinburgh International Festival’s Booked! blog about the work I’ve been doing with them doing my new show, Plan. Thanks go to the wonderful Amy Conway for her very able and enthusiastic help as my assistant. You can see the blog on the Booked! website here.

Fresh Plans

Crudville. Supercity. Clintown. Jefflandia. Knewtown. Pitsville. Shaun Junior. Paxtoun. Jjam. Dragon City.

These are some of the names that were selected for the various towns designed by school children, and participants of CACE Older People Active Lives, as part of my show, Plan.

They. Are. Great.

Jefflandia? Come on! Dragon City? Yes please!

In Plan, the audience play a jury of ordinary people in a post-war world. They must design a town for some or all of the 40,000 displaced people living nearby in a tent city. They choose how to spend the money they have, buying houses or swimming pools or hospitals or train tracks or any of the other things that land could be used for in their new city.

Once they have done that, they design the city itself – deciding whether to have houses nearer parks or schools, whether factories should be near the population for ease or away from it for noise and pollution.

Over the course of a fortnight of performances, a dozen different cities were built, each with their own design, their own benefits and their own problems.

The range of names that the groups chose is indicative of the breadth of kinds of town that were designed. Some were optimistic, like Paxtoun, named with the Latin word pax to represent peace after the war. Some groups felt they had made a place to live that was better than anywhere else, so they proudly called their place Supercity, or Shaun Junior, suggested, rather unsurprisingly, by someone called Shaun. They are imaginative and often quite American with suffixes like ‘-ville’ and ‘-landia’. They are playful with puns like Clintown (possibly for Hillary?) and Knewtown.

But what I found interesting were the names like Crudville and Pitsville. As part of the show, we reflect on the work that has been done on the city, and we often found things like insufficient road access, or lack of connection to the towns nearby, or even the fact that not all groups housed all of the 40,000 refugees. But it was before that process that groups chose a name. Even when given a blank slate to design somewhere, knowing all they know about the problems in the real life place where they live, many groups were not optimistic about the possibilities for new life.

And yet.

And yet the discussions about what to include in the towns was passionate and well argued, whether people were justifying paying more for better housing, or having things to do for fun in the town, or why town halls and places of worship were needed to create community.

Interestingly all the groups of older people were concerned that there was enough for young people to do, and every single group of school children made sure to include a care home for the older people.

After the groups took part in Plan, they met with the two writers they will be working with, Mike and Daniel. They talked about their experience, about the failures and triumphs and they connected their new place to Cumbernauld. It has been so interesting to see which things about Cumbernauld that they like and hate. The wonderful green space was often brought up by the older people as a great strength of the place, but one young girl, when asked what was wrong with Cumbernauld said, ‘There’s so much grass EVERYWHERE’.

But they also thought about what they love about the place that they live in, what is important to them. Mike and Daniel used Plan as a jumping off point to explore the past and future of Cumbernauld, as well as some pretty exciting ideas for new stories, which I am looking forward to reading.

It is hard to make a place to live that pleases everyone, but working in Cumbernauld has been a great chance to think about what the most important things are in our cities: houses, transport, food, work and people. In the discussions someone suggested that People Make Cumbernauld. And in this case, People Made Pitsville or Crudsville, but we are all really working to make Supercity.

A Wee Bit Chat wi Bella Caledonia

Here’s a transcript o an interview A did wi Bella Caledonia aboot O is for Hoolet fir their airticle aboot Scots at the Fringe. 

Furstly, whit can the readers o Bella expect gin they come tae yir shaw?

They can expect a variety o chairicters wi different viewpoints aboot Scots leid – the likes o Robert Burns, Jean Redpath, David Crystal. They can expect a variety o leids (though it’s maistly English). They can expect laughs, an personal stories, an buiks aw ower. Thir’s een a sang. The clatter maistly cams gin a trip oan the buiks. It’s aboot Scots at its core, but it’s aboot politics and pooer – aw leid is. Minorotised cultures the warld ower hae shared experiences. Ye can think aboot it whether yer a broad Doric speaker, or a Staunard English speaker, or from doontoon Detroit. Ha. A like the phrase ‘doontoon Detroit’.

Whit wir ye ettlin tae achieve when furst ye screivit Hoolet?

Thir wis the personal aim. A’d hid a furst go at scrievin Scots in Spring 2014, an the wey it left me trauchelt broucht me tae thinkin o the contradictions o ma ain experiences wi Scots – ma fear, ma prejudice, ma shame, ma sacred respect, ma love. A wantit tae get ma ain feelins sortit bi pittin it aw doon, bi collectin ither fowk’s opinions an research an seein whit cam o it. Ma external aim is efter haein a luik at ma ain linguistic prejudices, A wantit tae gie ither fowk a chance tae luik at thir ain predjudices, thir an culture, thir ain history. A’m no duin yet. Daein this shaw is daily self-examination.

2015 an 2016 hae seen ye stravaig east tae west, clachan tae clachan an toon tae toon. Whit did aa this galavantin reveal anent the state o Scots in Scotland?

Aye. Scots is as complex aw ower the country as it wis in ma ain hairt afore A sterted this. Een noo. A hud Scots speakers wha hid nae idea whit they were speakin wis a leid. A went tae scuils whare the teachin an support staff hud nae bother talkin with the bairns in Scots, whether it wis aboot no cuttin across the grass, or settin up the animation saftware oan the computer. Some fowks wis angry aboot Scots no bein mair unitit. Some fowks was angry aboot Scots no revellin in its differences. A fun that non-native speakers wis wantin tae learn, but felt they’d nae richt tae. But, A fun that fowk wis prood o it an aw, thocht in it, cherished it, mournt it. But it’s no deid. Hoo can it be  whan we can see, hear, think, write, speak it ?

Whits the maist memorable scuil yiv been tae, an whit made it special?

We wis at Buckie High an the attitude tae Scots there wis amazin. The hail o Buckie seemed tae be Doric spikkers – the wummin at the Post Office, the Coop – een whan fowk spak English tae them, they spoke Doric back, an thir wis nivver ony problem. Dr Michael Dempster, wha wis oor heid o Creative Learnin oan the tour, he liked ane o his scuils in Ayrshire whare they’d trilingual signs up wi English, Scots and French – aw the leids they learn. Braw stuff.

Were the dominies mair or less receptive tae Scots than ye’d hoped?

Thir wis a richt mix! Buckie was gran, an fowk wis excitit tae hae us. It wis maistly Michael wha warkit directly wi the scuils and the domines, an he’d a wheen o stories! In ane scuil, he’d been brocht intil the Staff Room an gien a seat when a dominie comes breengin in: ‘I’ve got this Scots language rubbish on today, I can’t be bothered with that guff’ (though her exact choice o leid wis no as decorous). It wis a bittie a awkward introduction atween the twa a thim aifter thon, though Michael fun it hilarious!

Yiv pleyed tae mony fowk, young an auld. Dae ye hink thit bairns tak a different view o Scots than aulder generations?

In some weys, aye. A’d say the young is yaisin Scots mair in their scrievins thin thir parents did – A aye quote David Crystal oan this, ‘the internet isnae subedited’. But mony o the same poisonous an self-hatin attitudes exist in the younger generation as in the aulder. Aulder fowk aften complain that the young’s losin the leid, but wha else is tae blame bit the auld ? We continue the same auld cycles o violence agin oor ain culture. Bit we can try an step in an tak anither road. Mak it new.

Whits the maist common hing fowk spier at ye anent Hoolet, an whits yir response?

The single maist common spierin A’ve hid aboot Scots is : what does the word baffies mean and is it Scots ? It’s frequency is, A think, connectit wi the fact that Scots isnae visible ootside the hame. A’m aye finnin oot that a word or turn o phrase isnae jist ma mither’s, or ma faimily’s – bit it’s aw ower Scots, an it’s written in a dicitonar – thon mark o officialdom. The visibility o Scots is sic a bone o contention. We’re tryin tae mak a wee collection o visible Scots at the Fringe – hings written oan posters, or cafe blackboards, or signs in shoppies. Visibility an audibility halps wi the reality o a leid. We wannae celebrate it. Gies a haun tae collect it bi taggin photies oan Twitter or Instagram wi the hashtag #FringeScots

Gin thir wis ae myth aroon Scots ye could dispell fir evermair an ae truth ye would hae abdy in scotland ken, whit wid they be?

Jingso. A myth wuid be that it’s ‘Old Scots’. Een reviewers wha hid seen the shaw last year wid talk aboot Old Scots – it’s ainly as auld as English is auld ! Whan fowk say stuff like ‘bairn is the old Scots for child’ A wannae sae, ‘Aye, the ward bairn wis yaised in Anglo Saxon an can be fun in Beowulf scrievit in the saxth century, an the furst citation o ‘child’ is in Cynewulf’s Christ poems frae the eight century, but sin ‘child’ his the same Indo-European base as the Gothic word ‘kalbo’, A think we’re aiblins splitting hairs oan which is the ‘old’ one.’

As fir a fact A wish awbody kent ? That human beins are made tae bi multi-lingual. It disnae matter if yer different tongues is ‘leid’s or ‘dialects’. The leid/dialect hing bothers fowk, but ma view oan it noo is this : fuck it. A speak it. A learn it. A yaise it. A teach it. It’s mines.

Does Hoolet hae a message?

Aye, three.

The furst twa gae thigither,

  • Pinched frae Tom Leonard : Aw livin language is sacred.

  • Leid chynges.


Tell yersel thae mantras ower an ower whan ye laugh at kids sayin the word ‘like’ ivry 3 seconds or whan ye get someone tae say the ward ‘poem’ cause they say it ‘po-yum’ or when ye want tae say, ‘You can’t have literally died – you figuratively died.’ An if ony ither numpty tells ye aff for ony o that, luik up hoo Tom Leonard finished his poem wi the phrae, ‘all living language is sacred’ in it.

Second : it’s hard tae escape the prejudice aroon ye whan ye were growin. It wis hard fir yer parents, an yer teachers, an the perfect strangers wha correct each ither’s language. But it’s no impossible. Be kind, be unnerstaunin, be firm, be brave.