Monday, June 20, 2022

As others see us

Even though I have been writing stories for almost as long as I can remember, which is about two weeks back, I didn't always want to be a writer.

I was going to be an actor.

That was my dream for a very long time. I performed in school plays. I took part in amateur drama. I attended a course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I took a bow every time someone switched on a light. I even took elocution lessons because it was felt that an actor's diction had to be closer to Received Pronunciation. That was garbage then and it's garbage now and was little more than prejudice against any kind of regional accent, an insistence that we should all talk as if we've just stepped in from the cricket pitch in search of cucumber sandwiches.

I hated those classes and only attended, I think, half of the sessions. At the end I had to take an independent audition/exam, presenting two readings - one from the court scene of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', the other as Fagin teaching Oliver Twist how to steal. The tutor was sniffy about my chances, telling me that I didn't have a chance.

I passed. 69 per cent, if I remember correctly.

I took great pleasure in returning to her studio and telling her. She accepted it with ill grace. (I hope Grace got well soon)

Despite my still fairly strong Glasgow accent,  I still thought I could have been a contender for the big time.

Until I landed a small part in a BBC TV show called 'Sutherland's Law'. I played a young car thief.

Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, filming during the day and overnight near Oban on the west coast. I believe I've written about that on Type M before.

The problem came when I saw myself on screen.

I was horrified and right there I decided that an actor's life was not for me.

So I concentrated on the writing, which I had been doing since childhood anyway, thinking that TV and I were finished.

But it wasn't finished with me.

Don't get me wrong, I still performed. Community theatre. Comedy shows for hospital radio. Mostly material I wrote myself. But I didn't trouble anyone's screens.

But then I became involved in a campaign regarding a miscarriage of justice here in Scotland. I won't go into the details but it did lead to me being asked to comment for TV news and documentaries. And that has extended to appearing in segments concerning Scottish true crime. 

That particular case has been with me for 30 years now and last year I presented an hour-long documentary on the case that required me to drive around Glasgow in a vintage 1990s Ford Capri. A beautiful car, to be sure, but a nightmare to drive. How on earth did we survive in the old days without power steering? 

More recently I contributed to a programme that I have vowed will mark my last word on the subject. I am mindful, however, of the old adage to never say never.

I have made a point of never watching anything that I do, because seeing yourself as others see you can be something of a shock. They say that a mirror merely reflects reality but let me tell you that's not true. Mirrors lie like a grifter on the long con.  

In the past few years my TV appearances seem to have ramped up in documentaries concerning various true crime matters in Scotland and almost sounding as if I know what I'm talking about, but I've still never watched them and I don't think I ever will. I recorded a segment for another just this week and the chances are I won't ever see that, either.

I'll stick to hiding behind a keyboard. If I want to be disturbed I'll watch the horror channel. 

On another note, my last Rebecca Connolly book has been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize here in Scotland. 

It's my third time up to bat - one every three years - so maybe this time it will be a charm. Or maybe not!

Whatever the outcome, it's nice to have work recognised and I am proud to be on this roster.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Congratulations Doug. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Tanya said...

Yes, congratulations, and keep us posted!

Douglas Skelton said...

Thank you. I feel certain I won't go any further but still delighted to be on the longlist.