Playwright Michael Cameron: The last few years have brought me challenging health diagnoses

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Playwright Michael Cameron

Gail Bell

Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

My morning routine is always managed by my two dogs who literally nudge me out of bed when they decide it's time to go out. Every day I go to Antrim Round Tower, a beautiful ancient site that seemingly no-one knows about. We walk for an hour or so and I spend that time thinking about whatever writing I will be doing that day.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

The last few years have brought me some very challenging health diagnoses and as a consequence of medication I have very little by way of appetite.


Something small. Throughout the day, I eat regular small portions of fresh food because of my medication.

Evening meal?

It is sadness to me, my appetite being affected like this, as I've always loved fine dining and cooking for friends. Very occasionally, though, I will enjoy some seafood at the Boathouse, our local restaurant in Antrim.


Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

Too many medications to allow for health supplements, but I do enjoy lots of fruit in my diet now.


Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

Yes, actually - a few years ago I did a carb-free diet and was amazed at how easily the weight fell off - almost a stone and a half which I've managed to maintain.


Weekend treat?

Oh, the theatre is always a treat if going out, although at the minute I'm at The Theatre at the Mill every day with our Christmas show. Saturday afternoons at the Oval watching Glentoran always brings back happy memories of going there with my late father.


How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Having been diagnosed with a functional brain disorder which affects my balance amongst other things, my physical activity is limited to dog walking. Brain activity is tested daily by my Open University part-time degree course in Creative Writing. I recommend anyone taking up education opportunities later in life.


Best tip for everyday fitness?

Do whatever you can to get away from the screen and the phone - get out in the fresh air at every opportunity. We are blessed in Antrim with so many lovely walks and the dogs ensure no opportunity is wasted.


Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

I hated PE but loved games and enjoyed hockey and rugby for a few years at Bangor Grammar. I was actually pretty rubbish and this was partially explained by an eye test in my early teens which really discovered that the school might have played better if I had been at outside left...


Teetotal or tipple?

I was recently diagnosed with non-alcohol-related liver disease and unfortunately it is at a very advanced stage. It developed due to a genetic fatty liver and as a consequence I have little or no desire for alcohol. Again, like food, I was always very fond of a nice wine or a whiskey but now everything is in absolute moderation or nothing at all. Thank goodness for the new popularity of alcohol-free beers.


Stairs or lift?

The lift every time - and I'd even accept someone carrying me up a flight or two if the offer was there.


What book are you currently reading?

For my OU course, I'm reading Hotel World by Ali Smith which is not my cup of tea at all and a real drag. For pleasure, nothing spells Christmas more to me than a roaring fire and a copy of The Ghost Stories of M.R. James.


Best Netflix?

Any good crime drama - I enjoyed the early series of The Crown until it lost the plot (literally) with its latest attempt. The problem is, we all remember these newer events when they really happened, so now they just look like ridiculous caricatures on screen.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself over the pandemic?

How much I cherish absolute silence and the absence of crowds and traffic.


Any new skills or hobbies?

When I was a child, I spent years building model kits and it's a hobby I've returned to. It allows hours of quiet relaxation and there's a product at the end of it. I'm very much hoping that Santa might bring me an Airfix 1/12 scale Bentley vintage car model.


How do you relax?

My great problem is actually allowing myself to relax and I often think I should be writing or doing something productive around the house. A perfect relaxing day would involve fishing off the coast somewhere scenic. We haven't had a proper holiday since 2019 so I'd love to go back to the Greek islands and do nothing for two weeks.


What are your goals for 2023?

To produce more successful plays and to continue to develop as a writer. Every day is a learning day.


What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I struggle to stay awake late these days and will often head to bed at 11pm to listen to a good radio drama which helps me get off to sleep.


Biggest gripe or regret?

Spending too many years trying to please others and then beating myself up when I failed in any way.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Yes, very much. I now refuse to let anyone else define me and even though I'm a latecomer to the world of writing and theatre, I'm determined to do things my own way and to my own standards. I cannot abide egotists or bullies in any shape or form and will always act to prevent any of my workspaces being brought into disrepute by the actions of someone else. Everyone deserves respect, no exceptions.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

No, I always was very aware of my own mortality and have never taken life for granted. I would say that whilst I don't practise any form of religion, I have a deep sense of spirituality and that is usually my guide and comfort.

:: The Shop at the Top of the Town written by Michael Cameron continues at The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, until December 31.