Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

Words will get written here and some videoblogs will appear. You don't have to look but it would be nice if you did.

Ladies And Gentlemen We Were Floating In Shropshire November 8, 2009

I’ve been extremely zen like since I got back and I seem to float around with the biggest lump in my throat. I feel physically sick when I think back to the week just gone and whenever someone asks me how it went I start to cry. This is a good thing, it was magnificently perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more, I’m just in mourning for what has been an emotional and enlightening week of self discovery of not only my writing but my attitudes to work and my drive.
The Hurst

I’d intended to work on one of the two plays I have lying around aching for re-writing but Simon threw me a curveball whilst having a smoke on the Monday night. “Why don’t you try writing something new whilst you’re here?” I baulked, I panicked. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it because he was right. My plays are at a stage where I just need to write them and not dwell on development anymore. So I started looking at a four paragraph monologue I had banging around on my laptop that I’d done as a writing exercise rather than anything; I’ve never written a proper monologue for performance before.

This here be Alfie

Then my journey began. I’d wake up at 6am then work on the piece, have the group session at 10am and hand work to Simon. One-on-one tutorials were in the afternoon and after mine I’d work on it again before dinner, then our evenings were planned with readings or a guest speaker and then after the frolics and copious amounts of alcohol I’ll go back and work on my piece till wee hours of the morning. I did this every day I was there so no wonder I was an emotional wreck by the time I got back home after the 3 hour drive. It was a routine, my routine that worked and I stuck to; something that doesn’t happen when I’m here, back in the real world with jobs and events and stresses.

Simon Stephens

More importantly I was making decisions for myself. It’s great having a mentor to guide you through and pick you up and point out the great bits to you but when you’re capable of being able to be self-aware of those decisions it’s so much more poignant. I told Simon that I was fucking proud of my piece of work because I had made the decisions and realised when they were right. Everyone was at varying degrees of their career in writing but I did feel a little out of my depth and once again was the youngest. But to be honest we all shared the same ambition so I felt more at ease once I felt like I knew what I was doing.

My Lovely View From My Window

To have someone out there in the profession whose just as eager and prone to the pitfalls of the commissioning process say they’re excited about your work is just something I wanted to write on my forehead so I could see it every time I looked in the mirror. There was so much Simon said to me but for fear of sounding like I’m gloating and because a lot of them were personal I won’t splash them on here. All I will say is that it felt like I had an enthusiastic tutor who was also a mate. Admittedly on the first tutorial I felt a little intimidated but he’s such an easy going, extremely fucking funny, guy that you forget where you are and your half hour tutorial has whizzed by in a fury of energy, ecstatic words and a bundle of motivation.

Wooded inspiration

The last night of the week we were all encouraged to read out some of the pieces we’d been working on in the week. Simon was eager for me to read the entire monologue out and it was true that I wanted to hear it but I wasn’t too sure about me being the one to do so. Throughout the week Simon had been reading us samples of his work that had never been read before and it was electric. He also has a great aptitude to sight read and give it full meaning and resonance. I voiced my concern at reading the piece myself and when I asked him if he’d read it on behalf of me he jumped at it. Not only did it help that I’d hear it back but it was brilliant to hear it for the voice it was intended for, male. As Simon read the piece and gave it his full attention and brought every nuance to light I sat and held my breath. This piece had just been born when I arrived at the Hurst so both Simon and I had seen this develop and grow as the week had gone on. What was evident as the monologue silenced the room is that I really had done a lot of work on it and Simon could see that and stressed how strong and clear it was. He knew this piece as well as I did.

Lovely People
More Lovely People

There are so many things to take away from this trip and I still can’t get my thoughts into order so that I don’t well up every time I think back to the lasting effect. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t hunched over my laptop sobbing every night I was there. It was the idea that I had to carry on this motivation when I returned back to home. It was the big realisation when I had to leave the last morning that the rest was now up to me. I knew several of the Lovely people I had met whilst there had already left at 6am or thereabouts. I got up early and sat and had breakfast with myself but I couldn’t shake this melancholic feeling. I sat in silence and was adamant that I wouldn’t leave until I shook myself out of this slump and realise my achievement. There was no way I wanted to make the 3 hour drive back with my mind cluttered with clashing thoughts. So I went and stood looking over the hills in the morning sunshine. Then Ewan appeared and we had a laugh over breakfast and instantly my mood lifted. Simon soon followed and then the laughter continued and it was like mates saying goodbye rather than the end of a long week. My head and my heart were in the right place and as we hugged our goodbyes and kissed cheeks I knew my drive home would be a determined one. By the time I’d reached the other end I was inspired to calm down, slow down and realise my potential. Whilst I’m focused on what I want to achieve I more than often get tangled in too many projects and spend my time trying to rely on retreats like this to write when I should be doing it regardless.

The Smile Happened And I Meant It

I met some cracking people up in Craven Arms most of which I’ll keep in contact with and that includes Simon. Too many things to try and tell you about that were amazing and great and funny but it’s bound to end up being many of those ‘you-had-to-be-there’ moments. But I’ll leave you with this; drinking whiskey neat by candlelight till 3am listening to Mark Eitzel with Mister Stephens is going to stay with me for a long time. That and being mistaken for Lenny Henry multiple times.


10 Responses to “Ladies And Gentlemen We Were Floating In Shropshire”

  1. Antonia Says:

    Your Shropshire time sounds wonderful. It sounds as though you learnt an awful lot, which is great, and had a grand time to boot. I’m off to Cricieth in Wales tomorrow, until Saturday, to a writers’ retreat, all tied in with the Masters course. Wish me luck.

    • Oh Antonia I wish you nothing but luck and productivity! It was a great time away and never once felt like hard slog, it’s the atmosphere and environment that makes it. Have fun and get your hands really dirty with your work; there’s something cathartic about being awake from home and allowing yourself to flirt with other approaches. 🙂

  2. ponor Says:

    Wonderful Katie! I’m so very pleased for you!

  3. Wow, Katie – it all sounds amazing.

    Always being able to feel that focused and productive wherever you are would be impossible, and I think the lulls in productivity help the work we produce anyway, and sometimes a lull is actually thinking or stewing time. A ‘lull’ can be a ‘mull’ let’s say.

    For me the important part is not to beat myself up about how much I do/think I should be doing – I’m only saying that because I’d hate for you to expect a lot of yourself and ‘fall’ now you’re back in your own world with all the things that come with it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, you’ve made me more determined to try and go on a retreat next year.

    • Thanks Teresa, it was truly an eye opener for me where I am career wise in my thoughts.

      I completely agree about having lulls which make the work you produce more fruitful and intentional (love your ‘lull’ be a ‘mull’ phrase) I think what I was trying to get across was I seem to kick into ‘writer’ mode when I’m needed to; I can write to a deadline and will only write if I know someone’s going to read it. This week taught me that I have what it takes and the stamina plus determination to carry that through in my own time and thoughts ending in a fuller piece of work. I’m so eager to get myself out there I sacrifice my health and energy trying to get ahead of the game. This week has definitely showed me that I have great promise and should stay focused rather than submit anything and everything in a blind panic. Theatre is more my spiritual home and I need to push it when it’s ready.

      Don’t worry, I won’t beat myself up, if anything I’ve calmed down and been enthused in the right areas since I’ve been back (I wandered straight into workshops for an adaptation I’ve been commissioned for tonight) and it’s Lovely to know that there are people out there watching over me 🙂

      These retreats are not only great to have guidance from experienced folk that you look up to but also a good healthy reminder of why you write and what makes you good. It’s not gloating it’s self-realisation one can do something well. Otherwise if we were all mediocre it would be a free for all and every dude would be writing.

      (p.s. I got your parcel today when I popped home! Expect an update as soon as I have time, I can’t wait for my tree diary to begin)

  4. janice okoh Says:

    What a lovvely summary

    • Hallo you! I’ve been avidly reading your recount of the trip as well. I didn’t end up doing video entries for each day mostly because I was either knackered from writing or writing.

      • janice okoh Says:

        Never know how much to say.

        Yours is so professional. I’m an emotional wreck!

        shame about the video entries, but better that you wrote that stonking piece that took everyone’s breath away.

        You were so right, Mr Stephens did jump at reading it!!!

        Well done.


        p.s will be nagging you about that reading thing! January’s only a few days away.

        • Professional? If that’s what you call Katie-jabberings then I’m impressed with myself!

          If I’m feeling a little low with my writing I just think back to that week I spent meeting you lot and working with Simon, brings a warm glow to my attitude and then I’m back to being motivated again. That sounds extremely twee now I read it back but it’s true for me.

          As for January YES I’m definitely going. January 7th, you anywhere near Theatre Royal Stratford East? Starts at 10:30ish.


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