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January saw a chance meeting with my friend, actor Tam Dean Burn, on a London bus two months before publication of my third novel, the Orkney-set Venus as a Boy. A day later he had a proof copy in his hands, flaming about a one-man stage adaptation.
Tam at full throttle is hard to resist, and though I had no desire to revisit the words, the idea of composing a score for the play got me going. The book, it turned out, made unwanted waves. Days before it hit the shelves, an interview in which my sentiments and self were confused with those of Venus's hero caused a tiny storm in Orkney, my childhood home.
Anyone reading the piece might well have expected a blood-and-bile-spattered, anti-Orcadian autobiography. What they got instead was the life-story of a divinely gifted transgendered prostitute who turns gold and dies destitute in a London bedsit. Opening the play in the islands was always going to be tricky. Growing up in Orkney, an adopted black boy in a mixed-race family, with The Black and White Minstrel Show my handiest cultural precedent, I had turned to books to create breathing space for myself.
Obsessive reading - fiction, history, mythology, geography - obliterated the more suffocating constructs of race and nationality. The world seemed to consist of exhilarating complexity and idiosyncrasies with room for every kind of anomaly - including me. I began writing in celebration of that chaos. Those days of breaking out and breaking open are impossible to separate from the music that was a soundtrack to them. If words provided me with a place I might, in some sense, call home, music kicked the door off its hinges and made a home in me - music given to me, on the whole, by my father.
Once the National Theatre of Scotland Workshop came on board, Tam's adaptation of Venus moved on apace, and I began to piece together a musical palette. With co-director and choreographer Christine Devaney taking a lead, early Venus workshops were a free flow of movement and music. Words, surfacing every now and again, were more an afterthought as we searched for a dramatic vocabulary. How thrilling to witness a silent Tam possessed by his eternally tormented character, the unexpected effects of music threaded through those moments of wordlessness.