Catriona Lexy Campbell is a writer, actor and theatre artist. She’s also a former Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre, a Director, and our Gaelic Liaison. Campbell’s theatre company, Theatre Gu Leòr toured Scotland in March 2016 with her recent adaption, Shrapnel, a play adapted from her father’s novel also called, Shrapnel (2006). Her father is the renowned Gaelic writer, Tormod Caimbeul (1942-2015). Shrapnel’s story offers an enigmatic narrator escaping from a crime he did not commit, a psychopathic former detective, and a plethora of misfits, all set in 1970’s Edinburgh. Dark, humorous, and a powerful tension in the narration are the added ingredients that make Shrapnel a timeless piece. Meet Catriona Lexy Campbell, the woman behind the novel’s transition to the stage.
Q. You have worked as a writer, actor, poet, performer, and theatre maker. Your collaborations include institutions like Eden Court Theatre and National Theatre of Scotland. You have published five books and staged two plays. Most of your work has been done in Gaelic. What would be the highlights of your literary journey?
A. I have had many high points in my literary journey but I would say that the first that springs to mind is the publication of my first book. It was a novella for teenagers, very simple language and story, but just the achievement of getting something I’d written in print was the encouragement I needed to keep going. In 2006, I received the Gaelic poetry award at the Wigtown Book Festival. That trip to the Festival with my Dad and our visit the following year, was a wonderful experience and I’m very pleased to be judging that competition this year. Also, becoming the Writer in Residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in 2013 was a great honour and led to a very productive period in my writing.
Q. Could you say a few lines about “the page to stage” writing process?
A. Theatre is a highly collaborative process and when I began to write for the stage I had to learn how to leave space in the script for other people to make their mark. Being a novelist, I was used to including as much detail as possible to create exactly the picture that I wanted but, in the world of theatre, you have the amazing opportunity to access the imagination of other artists and use that to enhance the story you’re trying to tell. One aspect of this is the development stage whereby you bring together a group of actors, a director, and other creative collaborators and try out your draft script. This allows you to see exactly how the writing on the page is translating to others and helps you to refine your script for the final draft.
Q. How do you think Tormod Caimbeul has reached such a narrative tension in Shrapnel? And how did you manage to bring it on stage?
A. Shrapnel has a fairly unorthodox structure for a crime novel. It veers between the classic noir thriller and a surreal stream of conciousness, following a narrator who is drunk, injured, and wholly unreliable. Dad managed this clash of styles through the utterly unique way in which he constructed characters and the bold immediacy of his writing. It’s a fairly short novel so the action remains pacy but it was a challenge to capture this energy on stage. I was lucky to have dramaturgical support from Frances Poet (Literary Manger, National Theatre of Scotland). She constantly challenged me to maintain the tension in every scene and to make choices that, while staying true to the book, allowed the stage version to have a life of its own.
Q. What are your thoughts about the current situation of Gaelic language & literature?
A. The current situation in Gaelic writing is very promising. We’ve got a lot of young people taking an interest in writing in Gaelic and the range of opportunities available to writers is more diverse than ever. There are still efforts to be made in providing support to ensure that our work is of the highest possible standard and is marketed successfully but, overall, I would say literacy in the language is in a stronger position than it has been in some time.
Q. What are your future plans? A new adaptation of your father’s work in the future?
A. I am currently working on some new ideas but I’m mainly focusing on developing our theatre company, Theatre Gu Leòr, at the moment. A crucial part of our company is that we support new writing so we’re on the look-out for exciting new writers that we can help to develop.
Q. And finally, any tips for the writers out there?
A. Read as much as you can and as diverse a range of writers as you can.
Be true to your characters and don’t make them serve your story. If you know them well enough, they’ll tell you their story.
Don’t get your information from Google. Ask someone who knows. You’ll usually get some good extra information too.
Don’t edit as you write.