Gorgeous Avatar

Gorgeous Avatar defines 'Scottish culture' as something modern and dynamic. Playwright Jules Horne talks about stylistic innovation in the Borders.

Feature by Tiana Linden | 16 Apr 2006
Jules Horne's Scotland is not the unequivocal home of the noble savage, the sword wielding highlander or the ginger bearded philosopher. It is a practical place, a country expanding, gurgling, and rearranging itself. Its Lowlands are the home of International Women's Week, a Casino bid, and two hundred thousand homes with internet access. Its Highlands boast Ian McCloud and a £20m public investment in telecoms infrastructure. It is the dynamic between a rural setting and a modern age; the social and economic advantages of a car-park over a mill, land over housing and identity over the telephone wire that form the basis of Horne's thinking in her latest play, 'Gorgeous Avatar'. Opening at the culmination of an internet romance, 'Gorgeous Avatar' charts the meeting of minds separated by the Atlantic but connected by the digital age. The discrepancies between love and convenience, isolation and relation, and an underlying sense of the mass movement from town to country constitute Horne's comedy, based not so much on personal experience, but the folklore of a new era of love stories.

Jules Horne is the softly spoken, emphatic Virtual Writer in Residence of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association. For the last year she has cultivated the online Writers Hub, where poets, novelists, and playwrights can meet to learn and share in workshops and seminars with published writers. The website reflects the high writing activity in the South-West, and provides a valuable new media for writers looking for an outlet and support from other, published or unpublished, authors. The latest initiative 'Podcast' unites thirteen Scottish poets in an internet showcase of the region's work. The readings are accessible online – and can be downloaded onto your iPod - and constitute a diverse archive of place, accent and theme.

The investment of the Scottish Arts Council in projects such as this Arts Association is producing, Horne says, a new wave of left-field writers that can hold their own against the mainstream central belt dominance. It is these writers – like Ian McCloud and Dorothy Alexander – who are challenging 'Scottish Culture' and contributing an important facet of 21st century writing. She mentions 'kinetic poetry' as an example of the stylistic innovation championed by Borders writers. Speed, energy and friction; digital poetry organically grown.

'Gorgeous Avatar' is itself a prestigious product of the efforts of the Arts Council in unifying new writers with established playwrights to produce a script, as well as the means of its production. Horne spent twelve weeks with writers Louise Ionside and Isabel Wright working on the play. It was then workshopped in the Borders with actors, a process of gelling and moulding which saw it, in two years, become a cohesive piece of theatre. "Theatre is my first love," Horne tells me, a love fostered by the cardboard Victorian theatres she played with as a child, and her connection through her degree to German theatre, imaginative rather than naturalistic, drawing on imagery and the fantastic to create theatre that motivates. Her impetus is "writing the kind of things you enjoy", and this she has done, since her first play in 1992, 'Coming of Age in Cardigan Steet'. She is surprised by how much time has passed since then, but it seems to have been time well spent.

Winner of the RL Stevenson Award, Story Cellar and Stauffacher fiction prizes, Horne is a strong presence in the Borders' writing community, having contributed opinion pieces for BBC Scotland online, and documented changes and rearrangements in the daily life of contemporary Dumfries and Galloway. She hews ideas from sounds and silences. Interestingly, she is currently working on a collection of recorded hesitations taken from radio interviews; it is this humour and imagination that makes her work stand out and helps to illuminate her status as a left-field and very intriguing writer.
The Traverse, Edinburgh, 5 - 20 May