Connecting Lagos and the Scottish Highlands with Manchester in the middle: Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road comes to HOME this September

  • NQ spoke to writer Jackie Kay about the production of her autobiography
  • The book tells of Jackie's journey to find her biological parents
  • The adapted play runs from 11-21 September at HOME

One week ago, I was tasked with reading Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road in preparation to interview her.

Shortly after picking the book up, I found myself completely transfixed by the incredible story.

Jackie was born to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father in Glasgow and grew up never knowing her biological parents. At the age of 26, she started to track them down. The journey she went on to find these people was remarkable, moving and often humourous.

Nairn, Scotland
The story journeys from Nairn (pictured) in the Highlands to the Igbo region of Nigeria. Photo credit: David Dixon on Geograph

The read was great fun – it just so happens to be a great story – but I didn’t lose track of the fact that there was a personal human element to the whole thing.

Jackie said she began writing Red Dust Road to help her digest the experiences she was going through, to help her deal with the trauma.

“When something big happens in your life like that… you feel that the writing of it actually grounds you.”

One of the best parts of the book are short chapters in-between each chapter, titled with the year and capturing a moment in Jackie’s life-experience as she grows up. I was delighted to hear these will be worked into the play as well.

It is yet to be cast, but Jackie already realises it will be strange to watch her life story be played out on stage, like an ‘out of body’ experience. It may not be easy to find actors to play her, though as Jackie explains.

“It’s quite tricky in some ways, because finding a black Scottish actor of my age is not that easy.”

Jackie Kay
Jackie Kay spoke to NQ about bringing her autobiography, Red Dust Road, to life on the stage

One of the themes touched upon in the book is how her curiosity has pushed her to find her parents and that not every adopted person shares this curiosity. She says she needed to be really pretty strong and it’s likely if one were to find their birth parents, having given them up, they’re likely to be vulnerable people.

Which led us to some of the more humorous parts of the book. Though she reflects upon them with humour, at the time, they were alarming or upsetting and really gives creedence to the comedy is tragedy plus time theory although Jackie goes further to say that comedy and tragedy evoke similar emotions:

“We laugh at things that are actually very deep. The impulse to laugh at something is just as strong as the impulse to cry. They’re twins! 

Tragedy and comedy share a bunk bed!

But this is the most important part of writing autobiographically, she says. The tone is important: ‘If you have a self-piyting tone, then your reader doesn’t do the feeling for you’, and in the end, just like the play will eventually be, the writing of the book is just as much of a performance.

Red Dust Road will debut at the Edinburgh festival, and comes to HOME from 11-21 September this year.