Family, Film, Women, Writing

Writing brilliant characters in fiction and creative non-fiction; a real privilege.

While it may appear that I’ve been quiet on the writing front (my latest novel is progressing well, but is still a work in progress) I have been incredibly busy writing, producing and directing another project. My  latest film, ‘Jimmy Johnstone’ was premiered at the IMAX cinema in Glasgow on Monday 19th of September to a select VIP audience of 300. The feature-length documentary film will have its TV premiere on the 30th of September at 9.30pm.

I’ve said it before, here, but writing fiction, and creative non-fiction for television and film, is a remarkably similar experience. Both processes involve characters, dialogue, narrative threads, arcs, plot, show not tell, emotion and drama.

Working on the Jimmy Johnstone project has been a roller coaster emotionally. Jimmy, who died of motor neurone disease a decade ago, was a much loved national character who I knew personally. In the making of the film, his family and friends were both inspiring and generous in the giving of their memories and emotions. In some ways, I felt like the narrator of the book throughout the duration of the project, an insider looking in on another life from a very privileged position. It was both humbling and creatively satisfying.

The characters of this film; Jimmy’s wife, son, daughters, grandson, friends and colleagues are exactly the kind of people that fiction writers try to encapsulate on paper. Agnes, Marie, Eileen and James Johnstone are vivid, raw, engaging, humorous and completely honest. Their contribution, the open and reflective way in which they shared their own narratives, alongside Jinky’s life story, has been nothing short of remarkable. Everything from a turn of phrase to a raucous laugh, an emotional smile or the onset of tears is delivered with the utmost intensity and integrity. This can’t have been easy. When you watch the film you will feel (not just hear) the intense love they still have for Jimmy Johnstone. You will probably cry alongside them.

The brilliant Johnstone family with broadcaster Archie Macpherson taking part in a Q & A following the screening

Working with this group of people hasn’t stolen me away from my writing, instead it has reminded me in buckets of the reasons why I write fiction, especially fiction that has at its heart real characters, working class and rich in snappy dialogue that cuts like a knife and yet makes you soar with pride. I hope I was able to achieve a little bit of this with my characters in The Birds That Never Flew.

They are incredible and I am incredibly grateful to have played a part in telling their story.

You’ll see for yourself if you tune in to watch the film on TV on the 30th of this month. It is shot beautifully by Neil MacConnell and edited by the incredibly talented Steven Meechan.

There’s some feedback from the family, recorded after they watched the cinema premiere, and a video of me being interviewed by broadcaster Archie Macpherson about the making of the film here.

There’s another video with reaction from the screening here.

Thankfully, the feedback has been magnificent.

It was a powerful experience watching the narrative unfold in the intense setting of the huge IMAX cinema, in the company of my characters. Pretty terrifying actually! I guess that’s one thing we don’t experience when we publish a book, the process is a much more intimate experience for the reader than it is for the viewer and the filmmaker. I recommend them both (only after the terrified emotions dissipate of course!).

The audience at the IMAX screening
Bertie Auld, Margot McCuaig, Agnes Johnstone and Willie Henderson

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