A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance
Bernard MacLaverty
Bernard MacLaverty
Born in Belfast in 1942, he lived there until moving to Scotland in 1975.
His first novels, Lamb (1980) and Cal (1983), were produced as films,
and were followed by Grace Notes (1997), which was shortlisted for
the Booker Prize, and The Anatomy School (2001). His short story
collections are Secrets, A Time to Dance, The Great Profundo, Walking
the Dog, and most recently in 2006 Matters of Life & Death. He has
written screenplays, many radio and television dramas, and was
named Scottish Writer of the Year in 1988. His other awards include
the RTÉ Jacobs Award for Best Play (1981) and Evening Standard Award
for Best Screenplay (1984). He has written and directed a short film
‘Bye-Child’ which was nominated for Best Short Film 2003 (BAFTA) and
won him Best First Director (BAFTA Scotland 2004). He lives and works
in Glasgow.
Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast (14.9.42) and lived
there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland with his wife,
Madeline, and four children. He has been a Medical
Laboratory Technician, a mature student, a teacher of English
and, for two years in the mid eighties, Writer-in-Residence at
the University of Aberdeen.
After living for a time in Edinburgh and the Isle of Islay he now
lives in Glasgow. He is a member of Aosdana in Ireland and is
Visiting Writer/Professor at the University of Strathclyde.
Currently he is employed as a teacher of creative writing on a
postgraduate course in prose fiction run by the Research
Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of
He has published five collections of short stories and four
novels. He has written versions of his fiction for other media radio plays, television plays, screenplays. Recently he wrote
and directed a short film 'Bye-Child'
A Time to Dance – Close Reading
practice pages 1 and 2
1. Who is Nelson Skelly?
2. Describe what you think he looks like. Find
quotations on pages 1 and 2 for evidence.
3. What is his mother like? Quote evidence from
pages 1 and 2.
4. Where do they live? What is the area like?
5. How do you know? Quote from page 1.
6. Where have they come from?
7. What do you know about Nelson’s father?
A Time to Dance- Characters
The main character – Nelson Skelly
Write down what actually happens to Nelson in the
Write down two things that tell us Nelson is clever.
Why do you think he skives?
Write down all the reasons why we should feel
sorry for Nelson.
Nelson’s mother – Mrs Skelly
Give as much information about her as you can.
What do you think happened to her in the past?
Why might she have moved to Scotland?
Why do you think she works as a stripper?
Why should we feel sorry for her?
Themes / Ideas / Main Concerns
Nelson - Small, undernourished, poor, going
Why are there so many references to eyes and
eye patches in the story?
Why does Nelson tear off his eye patches at the
Why do you think the story is called A Time to
Questions – your turn
Ask your own questions about A Time to Dance.
Think about anything you find strange, interesting,
or confusing.
Make up a question about it.
Write your questions down in your jotter.
For example, if you think it’s weird that Nelson
does not have any friends, your question might be,
Why does Nelson not have any friends?
Nelson Skelly is a young boy who is about 12 or 13 years old.
He is in S1 at high school.
Nelson lives with his mother. They live alone in a housing
scheme in Edinburgh. It is a poor area of the city. We know
this because it says there are tin cans and broken glass in the
Nelson has no friends and he has very poor eyesight. He has a
squint in one eye which means that it turns sideways and does
not look ahead. Because of this he has to wear an eye patch
on the other eye to make the muscles in his bad eye work.
He will go blind if he does not wear the patch.
Nelson’s mother is just called Mrs Skelly. We never find out
her other name. She is a single mother and struggles to bring
Nelson up by herself. She came from Ireland to Scotland but
she does not like it and wants to go back to Ireland. She was
not in a permanent relationship with Nelson’s father. She is
always shouting at Nelson.
Mrs Skelly and Nelson are poor. She finds it difficult to give
Nelson enough money for school activities. She works as a
stripper in a bar to get money. Nelson lies to her to get more
In the story Nelson is caught skiving school by his mother. She
takes him back to school but first has to take him to her work
as a stripper or she’ll be late. While she is on stage, Nelson
stays in a cramped little room where she changes. It is obvious
what she is doing.
Mrs Skelly then takes Nelson to school. He has skived school a
lot, even at primary. She is worried that she will get into
trouble if he is caught skiving again. When they get to the
school, she does not know what year he is in. He is in S1.
They go to see his guidance teacher. He is called Mr Mac
Dermot. He does not seem to know Nelson very well and has
obviously never tried to help him. He sends Nelson off to class
while his mother chats him up.
Nelson goes into the lesson, RME. In those days, pupils had to
read the Bible in RME. The teacher snaps at him and tells him
to follow what she is reading. It is in tiny print and he cannot
even see it. The teacher reads a bit from the Bible which says
there should be a time for everything. Nelson tears the patch
off his eyes. He knows this means he will go blind and that is
what he wants.
Make a list of Nelson’s problems.
Make a list of his mother’s problems.
Who helps these characters?
Why should we feel sorry for Nelson?
A Time to Dance by Bernard
MacLaverty - Essay
Task – Write an essay about Nelson, the main
character in A Time to Dance, by Bernard
Explain who Nelson is and what happens to him
in the story.
Write about his problems and why you feel sorry
for him.
Paragraph 1 – Introduction
Nelson Skelly is the main character in A Time to
Dance by Bernard MacLaverty.
Now say what happens to Nelson in the story.
Skiving in Edinburgh
Caught by his mother
Takes him to her work
Back to school/ Guidance
Into class
Tears patch off his eye
Paragraph 2 - Nelson
His eyesight
Where he lives – what it’s like
His mother
Her problems
How all this affects Nelson
Paragraph 3 – Nelson at School
His difficulties – no help/eyesight/his guidance
Why he skives – why he has no friends
Paragraph 4
Why you think we should feel sorry for Nelson.
Why he tears patch off at end
Say what reading the story made you think

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