PLUG is a fine catch-all name for the annual festival of new music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which is the showcase for the work of Gordon McPherson’s composition department. This year’s programme in Glasgow runs until Friday and includes musicians from the RSNO and Red Note, pianist/composer Rolf Hind and a prize for a young composer in the name of Scotland’s Holywood soundtracker Craig Armstrong. It is, however, unusual for one of the first year students to be following her debut in the Plug line-up with a premiere at London’s Purcell Rooms under ten days later.

Zakia Fawcett is 19 years old and the daughter of a Fife postman. Tomorrow her short piano duet will be fighting for attention alongside the work of 13 other young composers at a Plug lunchtime recital. Next Thursday, a longer piece for string orchestra, Lost in this Moment, is part of a Cohen Ensemble programme that also includes Jean Sibelius and Arnold Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. It would be wrong to suggest that she is not excited by this – life is full of excitement for her – but she also seems to be taking her speedy ascent in her stride.

“Before I came to the RCS I was studying at the Purcell School and Jacques Cohen was one of my teachers. We got on well and he said he’d like to give me further opportunities.

“The string orchestra piece is to go in a triptych with the Sibelius Romance in C. The way the structure of the programme works is that there is a piece by Jacques first, then the actual Sibelius and then my piece to finish. I’m very excited to hear it.”

Alongside her younger sister, Fawcett was home-educated by her mother in Newport-on-Tay until she was 16, and although neither of her parents are particularly musical, they encouraged their daughter’s interest from an early age.

“When I was very young I saw someone, perhaps Vanessa Mae, playing the violin and started asking my parents if I could have a violin. Eventually, when I was seven, they got me a little violin for Christmas and I started lessons with Morag-Ann Elder in Tayport. She was very open-minded and taught a mixture of traditional and classical repertoire and ran these tune-writing competitions, so for me it became very natural that everyone who plays music also writes music.

“Her students always played in the Fife Festival and when I was ten I wrote a tune for me and her daughter, who played cello. It was three little movements based on a trip I’d taken to a museum and I won the competition with that and I was really chuffed.”

Playing in bands and joining the youth theatre at Dundee Rep, Fawcett grew up with friends she had made through the arts, and believes that always being surrounded by people with the same interests, rather than the broader constituency of a school, only made her more focused. So when a school came to her, she was uncertain.

He parents were always on the look-out for courses that might develop her talent and at the age of 15 she went to a summer school at the Purcell School, the oldest specialist music school in the UK, in Bushey in Herfordshire. Its alumni range from composer and conductor Oliver Knussen and pianist Julian Drake to contemporary songwriters Mica Levy and Jacob Collier.

“It was a composition course, although at that time I didn’t really know that being a composer was an option as a career. I play violin and viola, but when I went to the course, from day one I thought ‘This is it’.”

Even so, when Alison Cox, head of composition at the Purcell, suggested that she apply to the school and sit her A-levels there, she was unconvinced.

“At first I was super-hesitant because I didn’t want to be ‘a boarding school person’, but it is not a choice that I’ve regretted at all. It was a fabulous two years.”

It was another summer course, at the Royal Conservatoire while she was still at the Purcell School, that decided Fawcett’s next step.

“On the final day of the week I had a lesson with Gordon McPherson and it just blew my mind. He was just so blunt and I thought ‘This is exactly what I need’.”

Fawcett auditioned that October, as well as for three English music colleges and was accepted for all of them.

“But I had my heart set on coming to study with Gordon – and I can be quite stubborn. I like the fact that he is incredibly political. He’s very interested in making music very human and comparing music to speech and actions, make it feel as natural as possible, as instinctual and emotional.”

Fawcett credits her teaching for making her own work more direct as well as encouraging her to extend her ideas. If that means music about junk food and the sugar tax, she is ready to write it.

“I have just finished an electronic piece, as part of the sonic arts module, looking at how taxes work. I was thinking about the ecstasy and enjoyment of things that you know are bad for you, like fizzy drinks and crisps.

“I have an addiction to crisps, so all of the sounds in it were made by people either talking about crisps or eating them. It is not as grotesque as it sounds, because all of the sounds have been heavily developed, and in a way that is like the digestion of the products and how that affects us. I hope it is raising a lot of questions, but without putting any answers too strongly across.”

“My piece for Plug is called ‘Collect the light that enters your eyes’ and it is about hope, but not in a religious way. I was looking at the contrast between light and dark, and the way that when there is a crisis politically and things look dark, as a reaction you have this surge of positivity because people have to become so much stronger in their beliefs. The darker the shadow, the brighter the light.”

But whether or not these ideas communicate themselves to the listeners she thinks is less important. “One of the things that is nice about music is that you can explore something very directly but unless you tell people what it is about, they wouldn’t necessarily know. That’s quite amazing – there is not another art-form where the interpretation of the message can be so broad.”

Fawcett has maintained her interest in theatre as well, having been invited to take up an internship with the women-led Stellar Quines company, assisting sound designer Torben Lars Sylvest on Jemima Levick and Scottish Dance Theatre’s Fleur Darkin’s collaborative production, The Lovers.

“They are both incredibly strong women directors so that was really inspirational. You have to be so flexible working in theatre, and I’d really like to do more – and there are very few female sound designers.”

Forging a path for her gender is also firmly on the Fawcett agenda. “I am very interested in work by female composers and how to promote that. I am looking to form a female string quartet that will just perform work by female composers, and hopefully at the Women’s Library in Glasgow which is a lovely venue.”

You would be foolish to bet against that coming to pass before too long, but for now Fawcett is busy completing a piece she is writing for the final year recital by fellow student, violinist Harry Gorski-Brown. No stranger to accolades himself – he and guitarist Andrew Herrington were nominated for this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards as duo Josiah and Ludwig – he quickly spotted to talent in the new intake and commissioned her. Smart lad.