A meeting with Moira: Alan Bissett on monologues – 21 February 2018

For those brave members of Ayr Writers’ Club who defied the cold and damp to attend the meeting at Mercure Hotel in Ayr on 21 February (and there were many) it was to be an evening to remember. It was billed simply as “Speaker: Monologues – Alan Bissett”, which gave no indication of what was to come. And what was to come was a masterclass in both writing and performing.

Alan is talented in both and the bland description “talented” hardly sums up his skill in these fields. His early writing career followed work as a teacher of English and lectureships in creative writing during which time he was shortlisted or longlisted for the Macallan / Scotland on Sunday Short-Story Competition four times in a row in1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. His first novel, Boyracers, was released in 2001 and was followed by The Incredible Adam Spark, Death of a Ladies’ Man and, in 2011, his fourth novel, Pack Men. 2011 was also the year Alan won the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year Award.

But back to Alan’s visit to Ayr last Wednesday. His journey on the road to monologues started in 2009 with a short story which he read one evening to his then flatmate. What followed changed his life. “It would work well as a stage piece” his flatmate told him and challenged him to write the next stage of the story each night during the rest of that week and to read it to her. He took up the challenge and by the end of the week he had written five scenes and ended up with a stage monologue. And Moira was born.

It was at this stage we were introduced to Moira. As well as being an excellent writer Alan is also a consummate performer, as all present will testify. We were entertained by a scene where Moira confronts a neighbour over the neighbour’s dog’s bullying of her own little “Pepe”. It was serious as much as it was hilarious and the late Mary Whitehouse would have been left speechless but it was truly real. We all know a Moira and can relate to the character and it is no small wonder that Alan’s performances in the role have brought him much critical acclaim.

In the course of the evening he let us into some of the secrets of his success and shared some tips. He told us about his fear of spiders and his decision to write a series of monologues from the spiders’ points of view. Here he introduced us to the Common Spider (a wee ned, on the go all the time), the Recluse Spider (a Woody Allen type), the Tarantula (an arrogant, swaggering type full of himself) and, of course, The Black Widow (played as a sexy seductress wearing long, black leather boots). Needless to say, the other spiders are all afraid of the Black Widow! Picture them all in a tank looking out and addressing the humans (the audience). The final scene involves the introduction of a Hawk Wasp into the tank. For those who don’t know (and I suspect that was 99% of the audience on Wednesday) the Hawk Wasp is a predator that hunts spiders and kills them in a particularly macabre way. This introduces a darker side to the proceedings but it is hilarious nonetheless. Alan’s view is that you cannot underestimate the role of humour in any work and particularly in dark subject matter. In his own words, “the darker the subject, the lighter the touch”, and he gave as an example Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. A darker subject it is hard to imagine but the book is hilarious.

It was a great disappointment to all that the session came to an end. I have only been a member of the Club for a few months but have been privileged to hear some memorable speakers and Alan Bissett was another. I, for one, will be looking out for The Moira Monologues in the future.

The evening finished off with the results of the Short Story competition and the Flash Fiction competition and I would like to add my congratulations to the winners of both. On Wednesday, though, I think we were all winners.

Graeme St Clair

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