Dugald Bruce-Lockhart (MA 1990) recently had his debut novel The Lizard published and it is already receiving excellent reviews. He has agreed to host our first ever online Meet the Author event to talk about what inspired him to write it.
Here, he describes how closed squash courts at Butts Wynd put him on the path to treading the boards and becoming a published author.
Bob Marley put it best, in Coming in From the Cold:
‘When one door is closed… when one door is closed, many more is open.’
Truer words were never uttered.
One rainy afternoon during my first year at St Andrews, thwarted from playing squash on account of the Butts Wynd courts being closed for repairs, I decided to branch out in my quest for kicks and agreed to help out my pal Nick Vellacott with an audition he was up for – he needed someone to accompany him on the guitar while he performed a song (Ape man, by The Kinks). He got the part, and I was asked by the director if, by chance, I might fancy playing guitar for the production, as a sort of actor-musician-stand-in-extra. For the hell of it, I said ‘yes’. But then the play was pulled and it never happened. Somewhat put out, I recklessly decided I’d audition for the next play that appeared on the drama department notice board – and found myself going for the lead role of Mr Sloane, in Entertaining Mr Sloane by Joe Orton. I was subsequently stunned and terrified in equal measure when the director, Richard Baron, offered me the part.
Little did I know, I’d end up going to RADA; or that my first professional acting gig would be touring the world with The Royal Shakespeare Company; or that Richard Baron would go onto become a professional director and hire me to play the part of Brick in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, some twenty years later.
As it happened, I made an okay fist of Mr Sloane, and as a result, was invited to act in a few other productions at St Andrews. However, it was playing Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire at The Byre Theatre that opened the door to the next chapter of my life. Maggie Kinloch, the then artistic director, asked me if I’d ever considered a career in acting. I hadn’t. I knew the foreign office wasn’t for me and I had just been rejected for a job teaching English in Japan. So I thought, why not? Sent my £20 off to RADA, and to my astonishment, got in.
Twenty years treading-the-boards later, my storytelling instincts evolved to prompt me into write a one act play, The Cage – a psychological thriller, which was produced at The Edinburgh Festival in 2010 by the now head of the Society of London Theatres (SOLT), Julian Bird. Encouraged further, I stepped out again and attempted a screenplay, a comedy this time – Mr Squirrel: a buddy-movie along the lines of Sideways meets The Hangover (which has yet to be made – any film producers out there, take note!).
And yet, movies are notoriously hard to get made, and several years of sending out the script trying to film companies soon wore thin. Which was when I decided to tackle that novel I’d always meant to write. Writing a book was surely the ultimate test of a storyteller, after all? Better still, it meant fewer cooks. Less fuss.
Turned out, The Lizard had been waiting in the wings for some time. Although, when I left St Andrews for the Greek island of Paros, in the summer holidays of 1988, I had no idea my trip would become the inspiration for said novel. I’d left in search of humbler goals: to get a tan and be a beach bum; to ditch academia for the hunter-gatherer existence. I wasn’t to know, that I’d end up being chased off the island by the police; that I’d suffer two years of flashbacks having OD’d on hydrochloric-acid-based diet pills (Ponderols: you were supposed to take one a week, but I popped five in one go, under friendly instruction from the ‘Beatles’ – four teenage bricklayers from Liverpool with more tattoos than hair); or that I’d spend a moonlit night being pursued through the hinterlands of Paros’s capital town, Parikia, by a gang of irate, knife-wielding Turks.
Unlikely antics, perhaps, for a Moral Philosophy and German student whose sole experience of drug taking up ‘til then had been soluble Aspirin. And yet, these mischievous endeavours proved to be fruitful. Because, on the flight home to the UK, I began to wonder if there might just be a story in there somewhere.
Thus, The Lizard was born.
And now here I am, poised to host an online book club for my alma mater.
So, here’s to you, Bob Marley. The door to the Diplomatic services may have been firmly shut, but four wonderful years in the East Neuk of Fife opened up others. Just a crack. But enough.
Thirty years on, I’m a published author.
All because they closed the squash courts.