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Theatre call for Claire

The timing was perfect for poet and writer Kevin MacNeil when Pam Wardell, project manager of Reading Rich, invited him to join the scheme.

His first novel was in the process of being published by Penguin and he had just been commissioned by Theatre Hebrides to write a play for young people.

"I thought I could include a young person from the initiative in the process of writing and producing a play. Then they could see what it takes to be a writer and that if I can do it, so could anyone," he says. "When I met Claire, I knew it would really work."

Claire Shields, 16, went into care at the age of 13. "It was a difficult experience," she says. "I had to leave school because I couldn't cope with the situation." She now lives independently in Stornoway and is attending Ready for Work training. However, she plans to go to college on the mainland, to study child psychology, and aspires to be a writer.

"I do like reading," says Claire, "especially factual stuff about people's real lives, like David Pelzer's A Child Called It. And it's what I like writing."

Over the next six months, Claire is to be MacNeil's assistant, involved with every aspect of the play he is working on.

"My first impression of Claire was that she was enthusiastic and very capable. She's mature for her age," says MacNeil, who was writer-in-residence in Highland for three years before taking up a similar post at Uppsala University in Sweden for one year.

"I want her to benefit from the experience and enjoy it. Her role will be fairly flexible. She can even contribute to the writing."

The first draft of the play is almost complete and Claire will be one of the first to read it. After that she will be involved in the rehearsals through to the scenery.

"She can even do make-up if she wants," says MacNeil.

"I've asked her to keep a journal of the experience. The idea is she will write about being part of the process and I hope I'll be able to give her advice on her writing as we go."

Kevin MacNeil's first novel, The Stornoway Way, will be published by Penguin in August

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