Tag Archives: creative writing

50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

Fiction and the Cultural Mediation of Ageing”  was a project run  at the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing  between 2009 and 2012, as part of the cross council New Dynamics of Ageing programme.

One of the research methods used was to set up eight reading groups of University of the Third Age members across London in order to read, write about, and discuss postwar novels featuring different representations of ageing. The data generated by these reading groups now forms part of Brunel’s Special Collections, and is available for further research. Aspects of the participants’ writing complements the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, in reflecting the everyday ups and downs of the lives of ordinary people; they also give first-hand accounts of issues related to ageing and to the way society views the elderly.

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Some of the books used in the reading groups

A flavour of the content is given by a brief study of the information given by one participant. Each reader was given a unique identification code in order to preserve anonymity; this one is known as SEL003, and she participated in a reading group in South-East London. From SEL003 we have a brief life history, and three diaries recording her reading of the set novels, her views of their representations of aspects of ageing, and her group’s discussions of them.SEL003 was born in Dublin in 1938 to a well-off family, reared by a nanny, and sent to a Quaker boarding school. Her favourite school subjects were maths and handwork, and since neither she nor her mother could think of a career formed of those two things, she became a teacher. She is now thoroughly enjoying her retirement, and her writing constantly reflects her joy and optimism about her current, fulfilling, lifestyle.

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The end of SEL003’s “Life History” document

She writes in a lively, enthusiastic, style. The reading diaries cover her thoughts in general of the books, characters, and authors, but also her perspicacious comments on subjects arising, including how one’s writing style changes with age; whether it’s possible to predict which individuals will get Alzheimer’s; how society is geared towards younger people and how the young patronise the elderly; whether it’s appropriate for an agile old lady to run for a bus.

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She is insightful about character attributes and how world-view and morals change over time, and she adds in anecdotes about her own experiences and those of her family and friends.

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Reading through the diaries gives the impression of someone lively and thoughtful, who analyses the problems that ageing can bring but who enjoys life to the full.

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50 objects 32: Poetry of the Now

Poetry of the Now is a collection of contemporary poetry and text-based work, including small press publications, chapbooks, and magazines. It was founded at Brunel University’s Centre for Contemporary Writing by Dr William Watkin and Dr Angela Brady in 2005. William Watkin is Divisional Lead, Creative Writing and English, at Brunel.  Angela Brady is now a Professor in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University London.

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Part of the Poetry of the Now collection

The print collection of poetry and related materials remains at Brunel and can be consulted in the Special Collections reading room, but the closely related collection The Archive of the Now is held at Queen Mary University London. Both collections aim to preserve material that could otherwise be lost, to represent the diversity of poetic practice, and to support emerging artists.

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Amongst authors represented in both these collections is Angela Brady; you can find out more about her work at her page.

Much of her work is also held in the main library collection at Brunel: search the library catalogue.

50 objects 20: Neglected Voices

Neglected Voices is a project by Allan Sutherland, a leading figure in the Disability Arts movement, who was poet-in-residence at the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University during 2010-11. Sutherland interviewed disabled people about their experiences and life histories, then wrote poems based on his transcriptions of the interviews.

The project listens to, and shares, the voices of the individuals. Sutherland explains in his introduction how these are the stories that aren’t heard; how too often the voices of people with disabilities are ignored in favour of stereotypes or perceptions from outsiders.

The poem cycles are poignant and thought-provoking, tragic and funny, displaying a wide range of emotions and experiences and highlighting at once the speakers’ individuality and their common humanity. There are stories of abuse, of fierce independence, of miscarriage, of teaching and learning, of relationships, of hope, and of an essay that had to be handed in with squirrel footprints on it.

The poems can be read at Disability Arts Online. The interview transcripts can be read at Brunel, and the interviews can be listened to via the British Library.

 

Stories from the Special Collections

Earlier this year, postgraduate students from Brunel University London’s Creative Writing and Creative Writing: The Novel masters courses did some work in the Special Collections section of Brunel Library. This was part of a module called ‘Writers at Work’ (EN5540) which explores creative writing projects in education and in the community, giving students the skills needed to design, run and evaluate writing workshops and other activities, as well as exploring the opportunities that exist for writers in educational and other contexts, such as archival research and residencies. The module is taught by Tony White, author of novels including Foxy-T (Faber and Faber) and visiting lecturer at Brunel. White has also been writer in residence at the Science Museum and Leverhulme Trust writer in residence at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Brunel Library’s Special Collections is located on the top floor of the library, and is home to a varied range of collections, used by undergraduate and postgraduate students and to support teaching. They cover a wide range of subject areas, including transport history, the Channel Tunnel, poetry and dialect, equality and advocacy and South Asian literature, art, theatre and music. You can read descriptions of them on the Collections page.
For ‘Writers at Work’, the creative writing postgraduates focused on the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, which contains,

over 230 autobiographies. […] The criteria for inclusion were: the writers were working class for at least part of their lives; they wrote in English; and they lived for some time in England, Scotland or Wales between 1790 and 1945.

The Burnett Archive is a fascinating resource, and the autobiographies that it contains are rich in day-to-day detail of family lives and relationships, expressive language and dialects, and the gritty realities of poverty and working class lives in the UK during the 19th and 20th centuries. Here you might find a tale of running away to join the circus, or a grim account of institutional life and injustice that might have made Dickens blanch. The Burnett Archive provides unique source material for Brunel researchers like Claire Lynch from the Department of Arts and Humanities who has written about the lives revealed in these manuscripts. For Lynch, “the Burnett Archive is one of Brunel’s treasures, I’m impressed each year by the innovative approaches our students take to the letters, diaries and memoirs held here.” Sociologists and historians from across the UK and beyond have also drawn on the archive. One excellent example of this is the Writing Lives project by students at Liverpool John Moores University. For Tony White, the opportunity to introduce creative writing postgraduates to the Burnett Archive is also a reminder that working class and other marginalised voices are often excluded from literature and mainstream culture.
By using creative writing as their research method for the ‘Writers at Work’ module, Brunel postgraduates have been able to respond to the literary qualities of these historical texts, but also to use them as the inspiration for new pieces of creative writing, which in turn might offer opportunities to create new kinds of insights and focus, as well as finding new ways to relate the historical accounts to contemporary life. In the selection of stories offered here, Samreen Shah’s powerful ‘Madam Button Queen’ connects experiences of the 19th century textile industries to garment factory workers in contemporary Bangladesh, while in ‘Home for Friendless Girls’ and ‘Market Night’, Lucy Jane Gonzalez and Suzanne Bavington-Drew respectively offer dark tales of orphanage life, and of domestic violence in the shadows of the old Smithfield Market. Laura Brown uses the epistolary form—letters—to allow a young female character called Maggie to tell her own story of the harsh consequences of a brief love affair. Reflecting on the process, Laura writes:

Working with the archives was really interesting. Throughout my degree we’ve read fictional pieces and responded to them in creative ways, but this is the first time we’d had the chance to engage with real people’s stories, and it meant that the work we created somehow felt more personal and more meaningful. It was a great experience and I’d like to try it again in the future.

Students’ engagements with the Burnett Archive can also be irreverent and playful, as in this excerpt of a longer prose poem by Chukwunonso Ibe, a ‘joy full roasting’ inspired by Edward Baker’s untitled account of his life in the 1920s (Vol. No. 2:865):

Edward baker,
The man,
The legend.
He is here with us now
With me now,
In spirit and kind
Words that chose to grow on me.
Words I have to grow on me.
Words I want to grow on me.
Words I kinda need to grow on me.
Ed-word, I wish I could tell you this in person,
But you are dead
And all I have,
All we have, the public, are your words,
Parts of your memories you chose to share.
My thoughts of you I chose to bare,
My silent contempt disguised as care,
But not really.
I think you are a cool dead guy
and I would probably have bought you a glass of beer.
© Chukwunonso Ibe, 2015

You can read a selection of the Creative Writing postgraduate students’ stories here (all works are copyright the authors, and all rights reserved):

Lucy Jane Gonzalez, ‘Home for Friendless Girls’
The ones I love aren’t here anymore. I’d like to say they passed at the end of long, fulfilled lives, but that is not so. They were taken unjustly. As for me… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Laura Brown, ‘Letters from Maggie’
Joe, I miss the mornings we used to spend together. Mother says you left for a job in the city and I’m so very happy that you found employment, even if it is… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Samreen Shah, ‘Madam Button Queen’
My name is Nabila and I am 10 years old. I used to live in Khulna, my village, but four years ago we came to Dhaka. We came to make money. My baba says that one day… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

Suzanne Bavington-Drew, ‘Market Night’
It was Sunday night. Johnny wouldn’t sleep. He never did, not with the racket going on outside. It was so loud he couldn’t even hear the… [VIEW/DOWNLOAD PDF]

The Engineer’s Corset

A blog post by Janet Goddard, writer and director of The Engineer’s Corset.

 

“I wanted the genuine voices of working people of the 1840’s to play a substantial part in The Engineer’s Corset. While I love reading histories and biographies of the Brunels and spending many a happy hour trawling through old newspapers in library archives one of the most inspirational sources in terms of listening to the voices of ordinary working people and their experiences is John Burnett’s Useful Toil.

John Burnett worked at Brunel University in the 1980’s when my father, Prof Crook, was Vice Principal and he alerted me to his work for another of my writing projects. A friend then gave me Useful Toil, she having found a copy at a car boot sale. It is one of my favourite books for dipping into whatever the reason so The Engineer’s Corset has given me the opportunity to turn my leisure pursuit into my work.

Having read the book cover to cover I came to Brunel Special Collections to look in the archive of working people’s diaries and journals kept there and while I didn’t spend as long or read as many as I would have liked – there’s always a next time – the information I gleaned has gone into the play – both in the voices of the working men and in the references the maids make to a range of fabrics and textiles and the means to keep them clean and well presented.

Horror stories of household fires and swirling skirts are also a shocking reminder of the risks women took when they dressed in highly flammable, voluminous clothing and sat of an evening in front of the fire sipping gin! Keeping up appearances is also well recorded in the working people’s voices – and it’s these forgotten voices that, along with Mary Brunel, who is always centre stage, that permeate The Engineer’s Corset and the message of the play – that history is rarely recorded as it was – and fictional interpretations can be as illuminating as factual ones. A proviso in this is to start with factual information and the Special Collection, John Burnett’s archive and Useful Toil, all entirely factual, have been the best starting off point for my fictional telling of the incident involving IK Brunel and his swallowing of a gold half sovereign in The Engineer’s Corset.”

Romesh Gunesekera

Post by Verity Anne Jones, creative writing student doing a work experience placement in Special Collections. Been wondering what the writing process of an author looks like? Want to reassure yourself that even professional authors edit? Love Sri-Lanka born Romesh Gunesekera and can’t get enough? Look no further! Special Collections has a collection on Romesh Gunesekera, the Sri-Lankan Novelist and author of titles: Reef, The Match, Moonfish Monk, The Sandglass, Heaven’s Edge and Noon Tide Toll, waiting for you to make use of. Not only is he a novelist, Gunesekera also writes poetry and short fiction too. Gain an insight into the drafting of these pieces and into Gunesekera’s processes, through handwritten notes, sources of inspiration and draft work for his various novels. Even Gunesekera had to do drafts –

Copy of a draft

Copy of a draft. Copyright SADAA

The collection even includes bits like this handwritten gem:

“Full fathom live thy father lies, of his bones are coral made: Those are pearls were his eyes, Nothing of his that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange, Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell- Hark! Now I hear their Ding-Dong bell.”

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Copyright SADAA

Titled “DARWIN, Ariel’s Song, written when he was researching “Reef””. Romesh Gunesekera is a British author born in Sri-Lanka, who is a novelist, short fiction author and poet. He was short-listed in 1994 for the booker prize, for his novel “Reef” and now chairs the Commonwealth Short Story Prize board of judges.

Writing the 1940s

Ever wanted to find out more about writing historical fiction and give it a go?  Our FREE workshop on Tuesday 26 May, between 6 and 8pm is the place to find out!

Historical fictionWe’ll be looking at primary sources from the 1940s, all specially chosen from Brunel’s Special Collections. You’ll have the opportunity to read and handle original documents, to help you find inspiration. The tutor, Emma Filtness, will help you plan and begin writing a poem, story or other creative piece that explores the time period. This workshop is suitable for those new to writing historical fiction as well as those more experienced who are looking for fresh inspiration and the chance to work with original documents.

The workshop is free, but places are limited so that everyone can have a chance to see and handle the documents. Please book a place in advance. If you have any questions please email Special Collections.