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Writer's harrowing story of spinal injuries gets its Scottish premiere

IT is a work about disaster and recovery so raw, painful and personal that its writer cannot bear to hear it, read it, or see it performed.

Tonight will see the Scottish premiere of Spinal Chords, the work of music and words created by the composer Sally Beamish and Melanie Reid, the leading Scottish journalist who suffered a catastrophic fall from a horse in April 2010.

Ms Reid, a former assistant editor and columnist for The Herald and now a writer for The Times, broke her neck and her back in 2010, and has written a series of lauded columns about her accident and her life as a disabled person since.

Spinal Chords, originally part of the 2012 Olympic Games Cultural programme, will receive its Scottish premiere at Aberdeen's Music Hall tonight as part of the Sound festival of new music.

It will be performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with composer Beamish as the narrator of the words written by Ms Reid. "I packaged up a lot of pain and put it all in," she said yesterday, as she recovers from another operation resulting from her accident and a "rough year" in which she also broke her hip.

"I just let the pain spill out. I am not strong enough to go and see it. I have not actually seen it performed: I find it too painful. Once Sally came to my house and played me the music, with the words, and I just sat and wept."

She added: "I could not read the words myself - which is why it was so wonderful that [in the original staging] we got Juliet Stevenson to do it, an actress whom I have had a girl-crush on ever since I saw Truly, Madly, Deeply."

Ms Reid, who is tetraplegic, has continued to write her award-winning columns.They inspire significant responses from the disabled and those who are experiencing illness and suffering. She said she was very pleased that Spinal Chords, for orchestra and narrator, is to be performed in Scotland for the first time.

"I think Sally had the hard part - I wrote the words and they were very raw and real and in a sense that was the easy bit," she said.

"For me that was a very harrowing time. I took off my skin to write that piece.

"Will I ever be able to be strong enough to see it performed? Ask me in 10 years' time."

The work of Ms Beamish, who lives in Stirlingshire, encompasses chamber, vocal, choral and orchestral music. Her compositions have been played and broadcast across the world.

Ms Beamish, originally a violist, was born in London but moved to Scotland in 1990 to develop her career as a composer.

Her music embraces many influences including jazz and Scottish traditional music.

The composer is working with poet Sir Andrew Motion on a joint commission from the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Scottish National Orchestra,

The project is called "Equal Voices", and it is being written to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Ms Reid added: "I am delighted that the work will have an audience, because it not only tells something about spinal injury but, I hope, helps people in that world.

"There's not a great amount in the arts world that is really about disability, and I think it is great that there is a chance for people to see this and I am pleased to be part of that.

"Because, as I have discovered, there is a great parallel world of people who are disabled or who lack mobility and have fought all kinds of things.

"It is a hidden world that through this, perhaps, is getting a little bit of a voice."

Ms Reid is hoping to recover from her recent surgery and return to physiotherapy.

She said: "I am still fighting and still very, very positive. A lot has changed but I am still alive."

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