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Writing Burning Bright

Wed 22nd February 2023

Áine King, winner of our David MacLennan Award, describes her experience writing this dark comedy and about the award process:

Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Burning Bright © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“So, what’s your play about?” someone asks…

And I know if I say the Climate Crisis, their eyes will glaze over…

I almost didn’t write Burning Bright. I was working on something else entirely when Ash, Mo and Alex moved into my head and refused to leave. They kept distracting me and interrupting my work, following me into the bathroom, nagging me from the back seat of the car.

They wouldn’t let me sleep. I realised they’d give me no peace until I let them speak. So, I sat down to write what I though would be a few rough notes…and these long drama-stories streamed down the screen, page after page.

Aine King’s desk and notes when writing Burning Bright

I almost didn’t enter the David MacLennan Award. The deadline was just a week or so away and I was still shuffling the pieces of my first draft. I was cross-cutting and inter-weaving the three voices, keeping track of who-speaks-when with half a hundred coloured post-it notes on my desk. This worked really well until someone opened the door and an Orkney breeze came in at 50mph and rearranged everything for me.

I almost didn’t finish it in time. Mostly, I write about real people and events, but there were things here I knew nothing about. I’m very grateful to friends who helped with last-minute, emergency research, especially my friends of Indian heritage who helped me develop a childhood memory into a more complex story for Ash. There was a very rushed Zoom call about filming news broadcasts in extreme heat with a very patient filmmaker friend, and I probably still need to apologise for buttonholing an Orkney ferry crew friend in a bar, demanding he “Name ten objects on the deck of a small ship – in the Arctic!”

R&D day for Burning Bright in December 2022.

My R&D day at A Play, A Pie and A Pint was such a treat. Lots of writers send lots of scripts to lots of places all the time. Mostly, you never hear another word….or you get a ‘Sadly, on this occasion…’ email so many months later that you’ve forgotten what you submitted….or there’s some feedback, which can often be helpful, even when it totally contradicts feedback offered by the previous rejection.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s provision of R&D for the three award finalists is smart and generous. Hearing a play brought to life by actors is always exciting. When it’s your play, and the people you imagined in your head are coming to life up off the page in the room around you, it leaves you breathless.

Burning Bright is my third ‘proper’ play, my first stage play to get past long-lists, short-lists, table-reads, Zooms or Fringe shows. It feels odd being an ‘emerging’ or ‘early career’ playwright over fifty. I had a couple of other careers before this one, mainly because this one wasn’t on my school’s list of approved careers for working class girls with four O levels when I was emerging the first time round.

The David MacLennan Award is very special because it carries on the values he strove for. Curated by those who knew and loved him, it helps find new plays and new writers regardless of where they emerge from. I’m incredibly chuffed that Burning Bright is now part of that story. I can’t wait to see what Roxana Haines does with it on stage.

Suzanne Magowan, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Adam Buksh in rehearsals for Burning Bright ©Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

In a way, when Mo, Ash and Alex came barging into my head, demanding attention, stopping me from sleeping….they were doing what the Climate Crisis should be doing to us all. I wanted to put this emergency on stage -urgently, but without getting preachy or sanctimonious. We’re all simultaneously overwhelmed and bored by this disaster. We know it’s the most important thing but all our other human-emergencies keep getting in the way. Like Mo, Ash and Alex, we’re all distracted dealing with love and loss, jobs, money, a rubber dinghy, an urn full of ashes and a tiger…

“So, what is the play about, then?” 

 “A tiger. It’s about a tiger trying to get through someone’s front door.”

“Wow….A tiger? On stage?”

“Yup. Sort of. Come see!”

Burning Bright is performing Mon 27 Feb – Sat 4 March at Òran Mór, Glasgow.

Tickets are available to buy via Box Office on 0141 357 6200, or online here.

Áine King

Writer and David MacLennan Award winner

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