Carolyn Yates: Why I wanted a mentor

10 January 2019

Photo credit: Kim Ayres

Carolyn Yates was part of our 2017 mentoring intake. Here she shares some insight into why she was looking for a mentor, and what she has gained from the experience.

Why did I want a mentor? I hoped that a mentor would help me to find focus. I am inclined to tackle too many ideas at once and then dither about which one to invest my heart and soul into, but I also wanted someone who would provoke me to take risks with my writing. One of the most delightful things about the Wigtown Festival Company’s mentorship programme is that it comes with very few strings attached and a lot of encouragement to find the mentor you want.

So I approached Graham Eatough and to my delight he accepted my invitation to be my mentor for a while. Graham is a playwright, director and theatre maker who also works in visual arts and film. Graham co-founded Suspect Culture theatre company with David Greig and Nick Powell. I mourned the end of Suspect Culture in 2009, but continued to watch Graham’s work and saw his Fringe first-winning play ‘How To Act’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017.

Graham teaches at Glasgow University in the Theatre Studies department on the MLitt Theatre Practice and Playwriting and Dramaturgy programmes. More about Graham’s work can be found here:

To some extent my admiration for Graham’s work got in the way. I was afraid he’d judge my work and find it shallow, so it took two face-to-face meetings before I really felt able to ramble on about what I wanted to write and why without feeling stupid. I’ve been working on and off on a particular idea about artificial reproduction for about five years and I was stuck. Graham did his best to overcome my inhibitions, after the first meeting he insisted I send him some writing, any writing, around the themes I’d talked about. He was adamant he didn’t need or expect any kind of polish.

At the second meeting he homed in on aspects he liked, articulating why. He was direct and specific in his feedback, sharing his own processes for developing ideas, referring me to other work to look at and read about – art and design work, as well as plays and films. At my last meeting he said, “That’s it, that’s the play I’d be interested in reading.” Although our formal mentoring relationship has ended, Graham has said he’d like to see a whole draft when it’s ready. No pressure there then!

It was also my mentor award from Wigtown Festival Company that helped me get a paid artist opportunity with the National Theatre of Scotland’s One Day to Play project at The Stove in Dumfries.

Here’s a teeny bit from the play I worked on during my mentoring with Graham...

The India Package

by Carolyn Yates

An expensive hotel bedroom.

JOHN flings himself on the bed. He hears EMILY fumbling to get in.

JOHN:     Hold on, I’m coming.

EMILY enters with a small box.

JOHN:     What’s in the box?

EMILY:     A kitten.

JOHN:     What?

EMILY:     I found her. In an alley.

JOHN:     What’s it doing here?

EMILY:     I rescued it.

JOHN:     Why?

EMILY:     Because it needed rescuing.

JOHN:     For Christ’s sake Emily, what you going to do with it?   

EMILY:     Feed it.

JOHN:     You can’t.

EMILY:     Why not?

JOHN:     Because we’re in a fucking hotel in the middle of fucking Jaipur for Gods’ sake!

EMILY:     Don’t shout.

JOHN:     OK. Sorry. But Emily, a kitten? Now?

EMILY:     It will die without its mother.

JOHN:     We can’t go round saving strays.

EMILY:     Just this one.

JOHN:     Not possible.

EMILY:     Why not?

JOHN:     Be realistic!

EMILY:     Realistic like you, you mean?

JOHN:     What’s that supposed to mean?

EMILY:     You know what it means.

JOHN:     Emily, you agreed.

EMILY:     Did I have a choice?

JOHN:     You know you do, we’re a couple, we make joint decisions.

EMILY:     Do we?

JOHN:     The cat’s not staying.

EMILY:     It’s a kitten. That’s a joint decision?

JOHN:     No, a practical one.

EMILY:     Since when did you become the practical one?

JOHN:     We’ll find it a home.

EMILY:     How?   

JOHN:     I don’t know, we’ll ask the desk.

EMILY:     I want to keep this kitten.

JOHN:     Why?

EMILY:     Why not?

JOHN:     That’s not an answer.

EMILY:     Because it needs love and care and I…we can keep it safe, by the end of the week we could…

JOHN:     No. Not interested. Come on, we’re going out.

EMILY:     The kitten.

JOHN:     Give it here. I’ll ask the receptionist to find it a home.

EMILY:     How will we know it will be OK?

JOHN:     It’s only dogs that end up in curry.

EMILY:     That’s horrible. And racist.

JOHN:     Lighten up. I don’t know...I’ll think of something. Let’s get out of here. It’s like the walls are closing in…


THE CHILD’S VOICE:     Sing the music of chance, time passing.

                                          Sing of stars born of dust.

                                          Nebulae, Novae, Neutrinos,

                                          light shrouded, cocoons of gas.

                                          Galaxies of dreams.

                                          But in the dark, dark secrets grow,

                                          spill over the pillows, dust to dust.

                                          Ashes to ashes.

RUPINDER dances.

EMILY and JOHN return drunk and loving to the hotel room. JOHN and EMILY sleep. JOHN dreams of his 40th birthday party, EMILY carrying a cake full of flaming candles, friends drinking and toasting and singing happy birthday. JOHN cuts the cake. He cuts his hand, there is blood. His friends carry in his father’s coffin and leave. EMILY guides JOHN to climb in beside his father. EMILY hammers the lid home. She cleans up the blood.

© Carolyn Yates. All rights reserved.

Carolyn Yates studied with Tom Pow on the accredited module for creative writing at the Crichton Campus, University of Glasgow, going on to join Crichton Writers, and has a postgraduate diploma in writing for performance, with merit, from the Arden School of Theatre, Manchester University. In 2010, she took up the Literature Development Officer post for Dumfries & Galloway, with dgArts Association, moving to Wigtown Festival Company in 2011, before going on to study for an MSC in playwriting at the University of Edinburgh in 2015. She is a member of the Society of Authors, and co-founder with Vivien Jones of Buskers, a spoken-word performance company that explores creative writing, voice and performance for older women.