On tunnels and female freedom fighters: archives inspire local writers

Guest post by Emma Filtness, Creative Writing Tutor

Over the course of this academic year, I have run two more writing workshops with Brunel’s Special Collections. The first involved a session with the Creative Writing class from the Brunel Arts Centre – a mix of staff, students and members of the public – the second with the London Borough of Hillingdon’s Creative Writing group based at Uxbridge Library.

The participants spent an evening browsing a selection of materials from across the collections. The materials were introduced by Katie Flanagan, Special Collections Librarian, who provided the writers with some information on the specific item and the archive or collection it was from, including entries from The Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiogrpahies, editions of the Ladies’ Home Journal from the 1940s and 1950s, items from the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive (SADAA) and books and memorabilia from the Channel Tunnel Association collection. Participants then picked an item that particularly appealed to them and used it as a springboard for creativity, producing poems, short stories and articles in response to the item they chose.

All our own workA poem and a short story inspired by materials in the collections were recently in an anthology on display as part of the All Our Own Work exhibition at Brunel’s Beldam Gallery.

Memory is a poem by Viraj Chouhan, an Anthropology Master’s student, inspired by an article in issue 18 of Outwrite, a feminist newspaperfrom the South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive. “It described the plight of Zimbabwe’s female freedom fighters who had participated in the guerrilla struggle for independence from white colonial rule,” said Viraj, speaking about the article that inspired his poem. “Soon after achieving an independent state, they were somewhat spurned by society, particularly older women who were loathe to let their sons marry these strong-willed girls.”

TunnelsOubliette is a short story by Joseph Norman, an English PhD student and Brunel staff member. His story was inspired by The History of Tunnels by Patrick Beaver in the Channel Tunnel Association archive. “If I’m honest,” said Joseph, “I judged the book initially by its cover: for this edition, a wonderfully gloomy photograph of workers down a coal-mine. This image spoke to me of hardship and toil in an environment largely unfamiliar to myself, and – allowing my imagination to stray somewhat – with connotations of mystery and buried secrets. Flicking through, I isolated key words and phrases that caught my attention. I was struck by the variety of uses that tunnels have had throughout history, but more by the small details of life underground. Most important of the phrases that I chose was “an underground global system to connect the major cities of the Earth,” which forms the premise of my story. During the workshop I wrote a very loose and rambling first-person account of one man’s time working underground. Later I used this as a basis for a dystopian narrative of a man enticed into working underground, seeing the work as an escape from a suggested traumatic past. This gave me plenty of scope to play with metaphors linking tunnels and digging with remembrance and forgetting.”

 

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