That Was the Year That Was (2013): Margot McCuaig, director, purpleTV

GOOD year, bad year? As 2013 draws to a close, we ask Margot McCuaig, director of purpleTV: ‘How has it been for you?’.

Briefly, what is it that you do?

I’m one of the company directors at independent production company, purpleTV. We’re relatively new, formed last year, and, along with my colleague, we work on creating the strategy for the company, developing our business plan and programme ideas as well as essentially looking after the day-to-day running of purple, including our staff.

We’re a digital company that also works on creating high-end traditional television output (we love a good story!) so a purpleTV day can range from discussing the marketing strategy of our mobile apps to managing the shoots for our filming across a range of subject areas.

I’m also a working producer/director so, as well as creating programme proposals and pitching to commissioners, I also go out and shoot them and write the scripts for the productions I’m working on.

I’m also the managing director of mneTV and look after all our sport and entertainment output. It’s a busy life!

Choose three words that sum up 2013 (so far), from a professional point of view.

Creative. Invigorating. Exhausting!

In 2012, what was your biggest professional ambition for 2013, and to what extent did you achieve it?

The biggest ambition for 2013 was to see the purpleTV mobile app strategy come to life and that it did, with great results.

Our first product, the Edinburgh Book App (Book City), earned the prestigious mantle as a top 20 app in The Guardian. We were a main sponsor of the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2013 and it was very satisfying to see that our product – which involved a lot of work – was available for download for the world’s literary-loving public! It was a massive project, and the process wasn’t without its issues and challenges but we got there with excellent team work and a lot of energy.

There were other very satisfying moments in 2013 – no less the completion of seven hours of traditional factual entertainment programming for purpleTV which received fantastic feedback.

It was a year in which we achieved what we set out to do in both key areas of the business, and learned so much in the process.

How has 2013 (so far) been for you, personally?

2013 has been a year of many brilliant things. Telling stories on-screen, albeit on a professional basis, is personally very satisfying. Taking a kernel of an idea and shaping it into something that is inspiring and creative is very powerful. When you work in the creative industry, it’s very difficult to separate the professional from the personal and that’s because you invest so much of your inner self in the projects you work on.

It is very satisfying to see your work on-screen manifesting itself in the way you had hoped, particularly in programmes like Gothenburg ’83 and Honeyballers, which so many people immersed themselves in. Taking people on a narrative journey is what enables our creativity to thrive, both personally and professionally. The two are often mutually exclusive but in the work that we do they are more often than not directly related. A perfect marriage in some respects…

On an absolute personal level, 2013 has been magnificent. My debut novel, The Birds That Never Flew, was published last month. The book was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012 – it was a hotly-contested year with over 500 entries, so to make the list was a terrific achievement. But I still had to find a publisher willing to take my creation to the world.

Thunderpoint did that and have been terrific for both me and TBTNF. It has been an ambition of mine for as long as I remember.

To be able to say I am a now a novelist is a truly brilliant thing. The reviews so far have been incredibly positive and it’s a lovely, lovely thing to know that readers have shared my characters’ tumultuous journey. It’s an absolute honour. The task for 2014 though is to finish the next book, so the pressure is on.

Also on a personal level, I realised another ambition. In less than nine months, from the demolition of an existing dwelling, through to the interior and exterior design, to completion of the project, I have built a house (well, the builders have!) on Rathlin Island in the north of Ireland – a dream of mine since I was a very small child.

My father is from the island and his birthplace has always been integral to family life so to be able to build a home on a remote island, up a hill accessed by a single track road – from my residency in another country – feels like a major achievement and one that I am extremely proud of.

So between the creative successes with purple, my debut novel and the building project, it has been an unbelievably busy year but one with extraordinary outcomes that I will celebrate – if I ever find the time.

Any changes this year in technology, legislation, the economy, etc that have had a relatively significant impact on the business?

The economy obviously has an overall impact on everything we do. Budgets are tighter, clients/customers expect more for less and the markets are changing rapidly, especially in a digital context.

My fellow director and myself were working in an entirely new field in 2013 – neither of us had any experience in the build and design of mobile applications – so it was a challenge to try and get a handle on new technologies and markets, especially as they keep changing.

The product we have created is new to market – merging traditional TV with mobile technology – so it was a little bit scary but we just trusted our instinct and went with it.

If there is one thing we have learned, instinct is absolutely key. You can’t legislate for what’s going on around you but you can make sure that you are driven in the right direction if you pay attention to your own ambition. The industry is a precarious one and there are so many variables to contend with but with good support and ideas there are avenues to success – if, of course, you are willing to work hard and accept that the rollercoaster of ups and downs come with the territory.

As to legislation, I guess 2014 is the big one. Who knows what is ahead but, whatever it is. we have to make sure we are prepared to embrace change and seek out and exploit any new opportunities.

What looking forward to, in 2014 – personally and professionally?

Personally, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to work on my next novel. It’s very different from my debut and I’ve been distracted from it by the preparation work that was required to get TBTNF ready for publication. It is my absolute aim to have it complete in 2014.

I’m also looking forward to spending time in Ireland, on my island, in my home; a creative space that has emerged from my imagination. The island is a place of absolute inspiration so I know it will fuel my creativity, both personally and professionally, and hopefully help me contribute towards a successful year.

My son is getting married to a beautiful girl in the summer so I’m also excited about being mother of the groom and reading a poem (that I will be writing for them) at the ceremony.

In terms of my professional life, I’m very much looking forward to working on the ‘fact-ent doc’ that purpleTV will begin in earnest next month – a wonderful story that I can’t say too much about yet – and I’m also very excited about the launch of our second purpleTV app – Sport City, Glasgow, which I hope will be very well received.

We’ve also got a four-part observational documentary, beginning production in the Spring, that I am very excited about.

Fortunately, we can look ahead and say that 2014 is going to be as busy and hectic as 2013 and in the current economy that can only be a really good thing. Throw yourself into living and squeeze whatever you can from every single second, that’s what makes life as invigorating as it is.

You only get one shot at it, take the good with the bad, and make it all count.