Arts & culture

Moments in Miniature

Playwright Clare Cockburn on her debut Fringe show, Tennessee, Rose and five pivotal moments that changed her life

I had my first son at 28, followed by a daughter and another son by the time I was 34. 

How can you not say that this would change and divert the course of your life? Of course it did, in many magical ways. I was moved to write two storybooks – Mermalade for my daughter and The Treasure Ship for the boys. I got two publishing deals but unfortunately at that time in my life I did not know how to take critique and use it wisely. I felt I could not make the changes required and the deals fell through.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the process of collaborating with an illustrator friend, self-publishing and reading the stories at primary schools across the country. It also marked the start of my writing career. The books still have a special place in our hearts.

I left a relationship and started out on my own in my forties.

I went to visit an aromatherapist in the village where I used to live. She was quite psychic, I believe, and after the session she emphatically told me I was going on a journey. I asked her where I could possibly be going, happily imagining all sorts of foreign trips.

I have not forgotten this because not long after, the relationship with my children’s father ended, I left the village and I have indeed been on a journey ever since – a journey of self-discovery. Full of highs and lows – not exactly the type I was imagining but exhilarating all the same. It was definitely a crossroads.

Winning an award for a short story meant so much to me.

I was studying a short course in Scottish Literature at the Office of Lifelong Learning at Edinburgh University. I highly recommend it as an institution. I wrote a short story in the style of James Kelman called Aye Robot and submitted it for the Martha Hamilton Writing Award. To my delight, I won the £250 first prize. I went along to the award ceremony with some friends and it just meant so much to be recognised for something I loved doing. Sadly I have since lost the script. It was actually stolen on an old laptop, but I like to think it was really quite good!

Receiving the Martha Hamilton award pushed me to write scenes for Tennessee, Rose – my play that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

It also pushed me to keep researching the life of Rose Williams and the impact her lobotomy had on her brother Tennessee Williams, his life and his work. I submitted some scenes for the MSc in Playwriting at Edinburgh University in 2017 and got a place. There were only four of us on the course, and it was definitely life-changing. I got over my fear of critique and learnt how to embrace it, value it and use it as part of my growth as a writer. I think it is one of the most important things a writer can learn. Walls come down and barriers disappear when you allow yourself to fail. Seeing the play take shape and come to the stage this August has been life-enhancing, and it’s gratifying to have reached this place with the play.  Receiving several five-star reviews was the icing on the cake!

Can I be the only woman who hit 50, only to be faced with a number of health-related issues to deal with?

I know I am not, but it felt like turning 50 was a big milestone. One or two of these issues were life-changing and although I won’t go into detail, I found it impossible not to ask the big questions. Faced with a health crisis, I had to adapt and work with my stress levels and note how they affect my overall health. Finding and exploring my spiritual path has been key to tackling things like fear of the unknown and purpose. Walking my dogs, yoga and swimming help too.

See Tennessee, Rose at the Pleasance Dome at 12:10 until 28th August