Talking it through solves problems
Catherine Czerkawska is a special event," says Claire Beattie, talking about the Traverse Young Writers Group. Groups plural, actually, because more than 30 typewriter tyros come to the theatre on alternate Monday nights to practise their plot and dialogue skills. With so many, and a waiting list in the 18 to 23 years group, Claire and playwright Louise Ironside have to share the Mondays between them.
Special events, though, happen at other times, like tomorrow for example, when members of the YWG and other young people will spend the day with playwright Czerkawska exploring the techniques of writing issue-based drama. By then they will all have seen "issues" at work, as she reveals a human dimension of the international catastrophe caused by the explosion at Chernobyl.
This bringing together of playwright and school groups is something the Traverse takes pride in, as its whole ethos is about "the living writer", and it fills a market niche. By an unfortunate organisational quirk, dramatists slip down the cracks between the Scottish Arts Council's committees. Poets and novelists belong to literature and are welcomed into the Writers in Schools scheme; playwrights count as drama and are out of it.
Czerkawska, as it happens, qualifies for literature, anyway, because her output includes prose and poetry, but she lives in South Ayrshire, an area not famed for its use of the Writers in Schools' scheme. So she welcomes the chance to work with pupils because, almost above every-thing else, she sees writing as a collaboration.
Like a good teacher, she practises what she teaches. She readily talks about collaboration at work in rehearsals for her play Wormwood, which runs at the Traverse until June 7: "The script evolved in the atmosphere created by the actors. They set up a mood that suggests the words. It is amazing to see someone you know quite well suddenly change into somebody else, and say things like 'My character wouldn't say that!' Most of all, the director can lead you into being self-critical, help you see the imperfections in your dialogue. "
If tomorrow she can communicate one habit, it will be that: to be self-critical, to be willing to change and polish. Simply "to be able to write better" is goal enough for her, and although what Professor Jan MacDonald at Glasgow University has called "the great haggis-hunt for the next Scottish playwright" goes on, there are other benefits from the exercise.
For the gifted handful who could become professional writers, she will explain techniques. For the others, and she recognises many different reasons for writing (for therapy, for self-expression), there will be the chance to experiment, to take risks but, above all, "to learn to read with others' eyes, to hear with others' ears".
Nevertheless, she knows that teaching has its limitations: "You cannot teach the spark or the motivation". Czerkawska herself cannot name a single teacher or author as her mentor. You can imagine that this tasted like wormwood to a former arts teacher, but then, you have to learn to be self-critical.
For information about the Young Writers Group, contact Claire Beattie, tel: 0131 228 3223