Writing a career home and away

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott, this week focusing on Kirsty McKay.

Sunday, 9th June 2019, 10:30 am
Kirsty McKay

Although she was born in Sunderland, Kirsty’s heritage is Northumbrian.

Her father, Dr Keith McKay, loved getting to know the people and traditional ways of Coquetdale. He formed the Upper Coquetdale Film Group, which aimed to film the old ways of life before they disappeared.

Kirsty remembers dressing up with other children to take part in activities such as the Goose Fair, which would be filmed for posterity. Using Dippie Dixon’s famous book, Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland: It’s History, Traditions, Folk Lore And Scenery as a guide, Kirsty, her father and others re-enacted many events to be caught for future generations on camera.

Kirsty is a very successful author. She was living in Boston, USA, when she wrote her first two books, Ogres Don’t Dance and Ogres Do Disco. Aimed at children seven-plus, these stories are funny and engaging.

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The first novel for teenagers she had published was Undead, an hilarious book which manages to also be heart-poundingly scary at the same time. The zombie theme has proved to be rewarding, with publishers vying to have the rights to Kirsty’s work. Undead, and its sequel, Unfed, are popular in America, published by Scholastic.

Kirsty’s books are not only successful in the UK and the USA – many have been translated into other languages.

And Undead was made into a short film in Germany; readers had the opportunity to vote on who should act in it.

Self-taught as a writer, Kirsty actually trained as an actor at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

This grounding in improvisation, voice, and dialogue has been an enormous benefit to Kirsty as an author.

“It makes you think about each section of a book as a scene,” she said.

In 2018 Kirsty was asked to write and produce a BBC 4 radio programme on Northumberland dialect poetry. This project was very fulfilling as it made a connection to the work her father had been involved in when he produced the Bygone Coquetdale films.

“I went out on location with a recorder and it felt wonderful – the curlews and skylarks overhead,” said Kirsty.

“I went to Barrowburn and I recorded James Tait reciting The Mists o’ Barrowlaa. It was very emotional for me as I had recordings my dad had made of Allan Wood (shepherd dialect poet) in the 1980s.

“It was really satisfying and moving.”

Kirsty is currently working on another three books. Her most recently published novel, Killer Game, has its location based on Holy Island.

See www.kirstymckay.com