Fire Mask Journal
FAQ's Work in Progress
I was born, in 1950, in Stranraer - a small town by the sea in Galloway. I spent my childhood in the countryside and down on the seashore and I still like to be there and wander about in the woods and along river banks.
I left school to study Medicine at Glasgow University. Being the biggest hypochondriac out, I found Medicine very difficult and eventually changed to Zoology which was much less worrying!
For a while I did medical research, then decided I wanted to teach. I didn't fancy Science teaching though, so I did a year at Jordanhill and got my Primary Teaching Certificate.
I used to live in Glasgow, but in November 2007 I moved to the Renfrewshire village of Lochwinnoch and now live there - full-time with my cats Lily, and her son The Woozle, and part-time with my partner Adam McLean, who writes and publishes books about the symbolism of Alchemy. He also collects tarot and in April 2009 will mount an exhibition of Japanese Tarot in the Glasgow School of Art.
I love gardening, walking and cycling, painting, writing, frogs and cats - though not necessarily in that order.
Most of my teaching life has been in a multicultural Primary school called Glendale in Pollokshields, Glasgow. I was always interested in the way bilingual children learn English. I'm 'bilingual' myself - my grandmother (whose name I inherited) was German, and my mother grew up in German-speaking Switzerland, so German was her mother tongue. I think it's fascinating how you seem to use different parts of your brain for different languages, and how differently you think when you're using a language which is not your mother-tongue.
In 1993 I got the chance to teach in Pakistan. I wanted to know what that country was like because so many of my pupils came from there. I taught in Karachi Grammar School, and had the most amazing three months of my life there. I've never experienced so much kindness and hospitality as I did from the Pakistani people I met.
While I was in Karachi I realised that I wanted more than anything to use shadow theatre to help teach English. I'd been experimenting with it in Glasgow, but in Karachi I did all my teaching through it - and the children really loved it and wrote their own plays. I even taught a School for the Deaf to use it, and in the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture I gave the students Celtic designs to turn into shadow puppets and the results were awesome.
Here are some of the shadow puppets people made in my workshops after I came back from Pakistan, left teaching, and taught puppetry full-time. (link to words 'shadow puppets').
For five years I used shadow puppets to help people express themselves. I don't always find it easy to express myself verbally, and usually want something to 'hide behind', and so I like helping other people to say what they want to say. Puppets, and shadow screens, are good things to 'hide behind' when you're a bit nervous.
I worked with all sorts of people - for example, with the Epilepsy Association of Scotland I used shadow puppets to let young people tell their feelings about having epilepsy; and with Survivors Poetry, people with a history of mental illness or abuse made shadow images of things that troubled them and used these as springboards to poetry writing.
Recently, I've been using shadow theatre to help children to write picture books. They make their characters, develop them by giving them voices and movement, and gradually build up a story verbally.
They make backgrounds for their story, and act it out on the shadow screen. They decide which are the most important scenes, and these are photographed. Only then, when they have the photographs, do they begin to write. The picture books that result are visually stunning. They're well-structured too, because the writers have all their 'illustrations' before the start to write.(link)
My book about shadow puppetry - aimed mainly at teachers - is called 'Let the Shadows Speak'. 'Shadowflight' and 'Speak up Spike!' are also arise from my interest in shadow puppets.