sailmaker 3 - Scottish Set Texts National 5

by Alan Spence
Amabo. I will love.
Amazin the things ye remember.
Glasgow made the Clyde, the Clyde made Glasgow.
Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.
Ah had a yacht
Y’ought tae see it.
Purpose of the workshop:
Life and work
Spence’s Glasgow
Ways into the play
The Title Sailmaker
Plot summary
Critical Reading Paper Task
introduce the text to those for whom it is
underline the text’s most obviously
significant features;
think about teaching and learning in
relation to the play;
understand the play in the context of the
Critical Reading Scottish Text paper.
Alan Spence’s Life and Work
From his webpage
• Alan Spence, author of poetry, novels, short stories and plays, was
born in Glasgow. As a poet, Alan has made zestful use of haiku in
'Glasgow Zen', 'Seasons of the Heart', 'Clear Light' and 'Morning
Glory'. He uses the haiku form to explore the essential paradox of
life, discovering timelessness in cycles of changes, immanence in the
finite, simplicity in the intricate. He has received many awards for
his writing. Alan Spence is based in Edinburgh where he and his wife
run the Sri Chinmoy Meditation Centre. Contemplative meditation is
at the heart of his life and the perspective derived from this practice
informs all of his work. Alan is Professor in Creative Writing at the
University of Aberdeen, where he is also the artistic director of the
annual Word Festival.
Spence’s major works, his life and its impact upon Sailmaker
• Alan Spence’s oeuvre includes Its Colours They Are Fine, The Magic
Flute, Stone Garden, the plays Space Invaders and Sailmaker, and
books of poetry.
• He was brought up in Glasgow in a staunchly protestant culture, and
Sailmaker certainly reflects this experience.
• Spence’s mother did die when he was eleven years old, and his father
did struggle to successfully navigate them through the subsequent
years of their lives, both financially and emotionally.
• Sailmaker is a largely autobiographical play.
Spence’s Glasgow
• Glasgow’s cultural/religious divide; The Orange Order; Glasgow Rangers
• 1960’s poverty
• A qualified affection
for his Glasgow
60’s poverty largely caused by:
Industrial decline
• ‘Glasgow made the Clyde, the Clyde made Glasgow’ (Exploring the
‘essential paradox of life’?)
• From 1870 until the start of the First World War Glasgow produced
almost one fifth of the world's ocean-going ships.
• By the 1960’s only a few shipyards remained.
Ways In To The Play
Quick research projects: culminating in presentations, project folders or both
• Glasgow’s cultural / religious divide
• The history of the Clyde, or any other major port
• Alan Spence – a biography
• The ancient history of sails, or any other transformational invention (how have they affected the world?)
• Your generation – how does it differ to those of the past?
• Your generation – which are the most evocative / memorable songs of your life so far and why?
• The economy of the future – how might jobs change?
The Title
• The title Sailmaker refers to the main character Alec’s father’s trade.
For millennia, sailmakers had been fundamental contributors to the
story of human endeavour, trade and civilization. The first sails were
used in ancient Egypt and the Indian Ocean. Several thousands of
years later the industrialisation of shipping during the 19th and early
20th centuries made sails unnecessary. This was a major departure in
terms of economic and technological progress.
• The obsolescence of sailmakers in general is an amplified, global echo
of the obsolescence of Davie (Alec’s father) in the play. A sense of
huge and inexorable departure and loss is imparted to some extent
through this parallel.
Plot Summary
• The play follows the lives of two main characters through approximately
ten years of their lives. At the beginning of the drama we see the initial
impact of the loss of Davie’s wife and Alec’s mother. Davie subsequently
struggles to provide for his academically gifted son. A model ship becomes
an important symbol in the play when Davie promises his son he will make
sails for it. Despite promises to the contrary, he never does. As an implicit
means of dealing with his mother’s death Alec joins a number of religious
organisations but they fail to fill the hole in his life. Eventually, learning
seems to do this and Alec’s rise as a student seems to correspond with
Davie’s decline as he loses his job largely through his own errors of
judgement. At the end of the play Alec and Davie are in a state of poverty
and they break up possessions in order to burn them to keep warm. The
boat is symbolically and pathetically burned along with a number of other
articles, and we are left with an ambiguous impression of completion,
dissatisfaction, loss, acceptance and forgiveness.
• Grief / Loss / Disappointment (The wooden boat)
• Departure / Change / Social mobility
• Acceptance / Healing
The themes of the text provide ample
material for the production of a
reflective (or discursive) writing folio
• Family relationships / Unconscious attachment / Conflict (‘What is it I’m looking for?’ ‘It sailed in the
fire, like a Viking longboat, out to sea in a blaze with the body of a dead chief.’)
• Poverty / Social class
• Timelessness in cycles of changes (‘Matter can neither be created nor destroyed’)
• Immanence in the finite (See the story about the Buddhist monk burning the statue of the Buddha – ‘Ah
think the idea was that everything’s holy’)
• Alec – Alan Spence, basically: he experiences the loss of his mother at an early age, an
increasing awareness of the flaws of his father and separation from his roots (personally,
socially, intellectually).
• Davie – Alec’s father: he is incapable of adapting to change and loss; he is a sail-maker
(and therefore is highly skilled) to trade and is self-educated to a certain extent (has read
Dickens…); he does not meet his responsibilities effectively and is a procrastinator
(symbolised by the model yacht for which he never does make sails).
• Billy – Davie’s brother: he is a ‘Big Orange head-banger’ according to Davie. He
emanates casual bigotry. Yet, he does get things done, and can adapt to change. The
fact he moves to Aberdeen and that his son becomes an Aberdeen supporter would
suggest either that the prejudice he evinces will disintegrate through generational,
economic and cultural change or that it will continue in a different form.
• Ian – Davie’s son: a simpler, less intellectual lad than Alec, he sees a ‘chib’ where Alec
sees a ‘marlinspike’; he associates the intellect and higher social status with a negative
perception of homosexuality. He will follow in his father’s trade – painting – and will
move away from Glasgow.
Students could mind-map these symbols,
explaining them and linking them with
characters and motifs (the sea (its
wonders, adventure, holy journeys,
human intrepidity…))
• The yacht
• The broken mirror
• The ‘holy medal’ – The Star of the Sea
• The shell
• The sail-making tools
• Davie’s furniture
• Songs: ‘Last Train to San Fernando’, ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘My
• The play has a fairly regular dramatic structure
The exposition introduces the characters, the situation, the atmosphere and the central symbol; it depicts the initial
reaction to the death of the mother, the hope attached to the model ship and the world of ordinary poverty.
Some of the stylistic / dramatic devices:
Alec’s thrice recounted reaction to the news of his mother’s death, as if searching for some kind of unified
understanding or memory of the traumatic event; this sense of fragmentation is prevalent in the play and is recalled
when Alec says of his dad’s mirror at the beginning of Act 2 ‘Look at it! There’s a big crack doon the middle… Canny
get a good look at yerself’.
Sound and music are important in the play and the atmosphere of grief is accentuated at the beginning by the
solitary boy who repeatedly plays two notes on the mouth organ. This is reinforced by the author’s use of
repetition and by the sense of ordinary decay and damage in the setting.
The symbol of the model yacht is introduced near the beginning of the play, and Davie’s pun ‘Ah had a yacht.
Y’ought to see it.’ is introduced. There is irony in Davie associating the homophones yacht (the model ship) and
y’ought (moral responsibility) given that he does not keep his word to mend the model (an object which may later
be interpreted as a symbol for Alec’s grief / loss). Ian’s words ‘Put it in the canal. Ye can all see it.’ are repeated by
Davie at the end of the play and their significance is emphasised.
Structure continued
The turning point – find parts of the text that for you represent the
turning point in the play (see pages 27-30).
In what ways is it a turning point in the lives of the characters / the
dramatic structure of the play?
Structure continued
Climax of the action - the father/son conflict and the symbolic fire in
Act 2
Resolution – The symbolic burning of the boat
English Critical Reading: Section 2 - The Scottish Text
• Example
• For the purposes of this example, we are going to use the ending of
the play as our selected passage. The passage begins at ‘DAVIE: God.
MA auld sailmakin tools.’ and ends with ‘(Tape: Fats Domino, Red Sails
in the Sunset)’.
20 marks in total
1. How do Davie’s words between lines 1-23 develop tone and mood in the
scene? (2)
2. With close reference to the text, show how the playwright reveals tension in
relation to the possibility of Alec leaving home. (2)
3. With reference to the passage selected, discuss the ways in which the burning
of the following objects is significant:
a) Davie’s tools (2)
b) The furniture (2)
4. How does the playwright develop the dramatic impact of the burning of the
yacht through structure and imagery? (4)
5. Symbolism is an important technique employed throughout the play. With
reference to the yacht (and any other symbolic feature) discuss the ways in
which symbolism strengthens your understanding of the play as a whole. (8)
Now write a set of critical reading questions for
either the opening or the turning point of the play
• Try to give students the chance to demonstrate their skills in
commenting upon some of the following:
word choice
dramatic impact
symbolism ideas
theme character development

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