I’m thrilled and grateful to have been awarded Arts Council England Project Grant funding to do Research and Development on a new idea – Aunting. Aunting is a new show I am currently developing and writing, about my great aunt Kate Branson, and about becoming an aunt myself. Supported by partners In Good Company, ARC Stockton, Hull Truck Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse, and working with dramaturg Luca Rutherford, I will be conducting research, sharing ideas with audiences, and writing a first draft of a script between December 2018 and April 2019.
I always knew my (late) great aunt Kate Branson – known to the family as Auntie Bun – was a fascinating and eccentric woman. My childhood memories are of receiving postcards from her while she travelled the world – month long trips to China, India, the Middle East, cruises around the Artic Circle – and hoping that was how I would spend my seventies and eighties. After her death – when I was 20 – I learned more about her pioneering career as Scotland’s second ever female surgeon, at one time cited in a House of Lords debate as one of only two female surgeons operating in Scotland, working as a consultant surgeon at a female-led hospital (The Bruntsfield). She never married or had children and as a member of various groups including the Soroptimists, Bellringers and the Women’s Medical Federation, she was surrounded by people and as busy during her retirement as during her medical career.
The birth of my niece Juno in February 2017 coincided with my inheriting my great aunt’s belongings – including archaic medical instruments, photo albums, correspondence, and piles and piles of travel diaries, (thanks to a long overdue clearout of my dad’s attic). I have learnt more about her sifting through these items than I ever knew while she was alive, and contacting the friends and colleagues who fondly remember her has sent me on a journey down even more pathways of discovery, and through the Edinburgh streets where she lived and worked. All the time this has been going on I have been discovering my own identity as an aunt. I’ve been reading recent research on the importance of aunts in raising independent young girls and women, improvising giraffe-based puppet shows and reading stories to Juno over Facetime, and coming to terms with my own decision to not have children and what that means about the stories I’ll leave behind and who might tell them one day.