When Live Theatre announced its 2020 bursary winners last week I was beyond excited to be named alongside my lovely husband, Chris Connel. Yes – we are diving into a husband/wife collaboration which could go any number of ways – but I’m feeling pretty excited about it and so far, we are still happily married.

The project is a bit of a dream for me as it’s based on the first novel I wrote, The 27 Club – a story that explores the nonsense media narrative of the same name, and the fact that news headlines tend to tell us very little.

For those of you who don’t know what the hell I’m blathering on about, The 27 Club is the term that was coined after the tragic death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. Kurt was just 27 when he died by suicide, and, while comments had been previously made about the deaths of other musicians namely Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, at the same age, the ‘club’ concept really came into force thanks to the 90s media.

Since then, we sadly also lost Amy Winehouse at aged 27 and again the 27 Club narrative became overwhelming (alongside more shallow headlines).

I was intrigued growing up about this apparent phenomena – but I was also easily influenced by the apparent glamour of the ‘tortured rock star’. I remember telling my art teachers I wasn’t going to become a successful artist because ‘nothing bad enough had ever happened to me’.

The problem was that because the headlines were so shallow – The 27 Club, the rock star lifestyle, the drink and drugs – none of these things seemed real. It was almost as if our idols lived in some kind of fantasia and, when they leave fantasia, they’re immortalised anyway. So the real torture, the nuance, the pain, is all hidden from view. Rock stars become just that. Rock stars. Caricatures. We forget that they are also real people.

I grew up with generalised anxiety disorder and panic attacks. I often felt like I was going to die, and I spent much time telling my GP or therapist about these horrific experiences from the 90s onwards (in fact, I’m still being treated with medication and I still make calls to my GP or therapist when I need to). At the same time, like many teens, I was going out with friends, drinking and taking drugs, which, due to my anxiety disorder resulted in horrific hangovers laced with severe panic attacks, palpitations and feelings of darkness and doom.

In reality, I didn’t desire the rock star lifestyle and all that came with it – and, in all honesty, I hadn’t the stomach for it anyway.

Working in the media, enjoying music and living with mental health problems – not to mention having witnessed so many friends experience mental health problems that resulted in hospitalisation or worse – I was interested in stigma and shame and identity. So when I decided to write my first fiction book I knew it was going to be based on mental health problems – and, as a 90s teen, the 27 Club became the vehicle in which to explore these issues.

As a novel, it’s still on submission and, as I appreciate, punk rock isn’t the vibe that every editor is going to fall heavily for, so who knows what will happen there. However, Live Theatre are letting us create and make and bring it to life in the legendary Newcastle building of amazing new writing. However, even though I’ve spent years working in theatre and the arts, writing the book as a script isn’t something that’s going to come naturally to me. But it just so happens I married a man who has read, performed, directed and written more scripts than he’s had Gregg’s dinners. And there we have it – a match made in heaven.

We’ll be working on the project over the next few months and hopefully we’ll soon be able to do some work with actors to see how the story stands up.

In the meantime, however, to read more of my articles on mental health and the music industry, click the links below:

NME – Have we finally got to grips with the truth behind the tortured artist

NME – Facing the truth about mental health and music

Huff Post – How power perpetuates mental illness in the entertainment industry

To hear more about the so-called 27 Club, listen to the podcast of the same name from host Jake Brennan

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

One thought on “Live Theatre Bursary and The 27 Club

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