On 23 March, Ten Writers Telling Lies made its Aye Write! debut at the Mitchell Library. The project is a collaboration between songwriter Jim Byrne and a host of other writers across Glasgow. The premise is simple: Byrne joins with one of ten other writers to compose a song or two together, after which the latter writes a story or poem inspired by the song. There is also an added twist that all the writers involved are telling a lie, though this seems somewhat gimmicky to me – although perhaps I’m still bitter that I couldn’t discern the lie.
The show ultimately functions as more of a "taster" for the book (which is out now) than a self-contained performance, featuring only four of the ten writers in addition to Byrne, excluding an intended fifth writer who fell ill. However, while the show may not provide much the book cannot, it does emphasise the relationship between the songs and the stories/poems much more, following each reading with a performance – for the most part – of the song that inspired it. Yet rather than clearly showcasing the progression from song to story/poem, these back-to-back performances only highlight the considerable disparity between each pair, the similarities ranging from merely incidental to almost artificial. Should there have been any particularly enthusiastic fans of the original songs, they would have surely censured these adaptations as failures.
What Ten Writers does, however, is challenge the very notion of an adaptation. Each of these writers took whatever ideas, themes or emotions the songs evoked in them and translated that into a whole new creative perspective through prose/poem. In Pat Byrne’s story Sweet Gone Tomorrows for example, she incorporates the theme of untimely death from the song of the same name. Yet she also deconstructs the idea of "gone tomorrows", additionally applying it to those with debilitating conditions such as dementia – asking, if all your tomorrows will inevitably be forgotten, are they not in a sense already gone? Similarly in James Connarty’s story The Other Half, he subverts the central metaphor of the song A Picture of You – a picture of your loved one next to your heart – and focuses instead on the pain of being unable to move on from heartbreak; of being unable to remove that picture next to your heart. It becomes an interesting exercise in perspective and the value of interpretation, through quite literally performing the notion that art and creative output doesn't necessitate exclusive meaning. Besides, when each writer helped write the song that inspired their story/poem, no one can really claim they didn’t understand the original piece’s vision.
Interestingly though, Jim Byrne does not follow the final two stories with the songs that inspired them, but with the songs that inspired two other stories in the book. This seems an odd thing to do when the core premise relies on this combination – and is justified by him only on the basis that since he specifically brought two other musicians to join his performance, he shouldn’t perform any solo songs. However, these arbitrary songs reveal a commonality across the entire project. While they may not be directly related to the stories that precede them, they complement them no less than the songs that are – not because the links between the pairs are tenuous, but because every piece explores similar themes of isolation, doubt and heartbreak. This gives a cohesiveness to the project as a whole, but not necessarily on purpose. Just through writing fiction, through trying to capture human experience, these themes may have arisen naturally. Perhaps that’s where this project's potential to connect really lies: none of these pieces are really adaptations of each other, any more than they are adaptations of life. How faithful an adaptation they are, I suppose, is left to the audiences perspective.