The Now In Then project was the brainchild of Kate O’Malley, who was then working with Creative Ecology Wiltshire, aka CEW. Kate has created a unique programme of opportunities for writers in Wiltshire which features writing workshops in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, mentoring for writers, a schools’ project, writers’ in residence, workshops for Sparksite journalists, talks with guest writers, and the creation of an artist’s guide to using the archives. I was appointed as the workshop leader and mentor, with the project being managed and made possible by a great team of people: Meril Morgan, Claire Skinner, Laurel Miller, Rachael McDonald and Anna Harriott.
Now half way through the project, we’ve already provided 15 creative writing workshops for Wiltshire residents with an interest in combining their writing practice with historical research. Before each session Claire Skinner, Senior Archivist, researches the subject area and provides copies of archival material for the writers to work with or the original documents and artefacts in the reading room. The group have a programme of topics, (Women’s work in World War One or Lives in the Landscape) and are encouraged to play around with a range of writing genres outside of their normal practice: poetry, short story, monologue, letters, radio, drama, comedy, and social media.
I have to admit it’s been a revelation for me working with archival material, and discovering how much fun can be had, however, one of the great things about the Now In Then project is the way writers react when they see the original documents, letters and photographs. Everyone is silent. There’s a sense of awe and reverence in the room as they handle the material and get a real insight into the everyday lives of local women and men.
Working alongside Laurel Miller, Head of Education at the History Centre, we ran playwriting workshops in Wiltshire primary schools in the summer term. Inspired by Wiltshire’s most famous embezzler, William Sharrington, and guided by some fantastically creative teachers, I’ve marvelled at the way the children created their own characters and short plays in which Sharrington’s dog was one of the most popular characters.
I’m now in the process of writing two guides: “How to use the Archives” and “A Creative Guide to the Archives for Artists and Archivists”. The next step is a meeting with a web designer who, I firmly believe, is going to sprinkle it with fairy dust and make it appear online in full Technicolor.
But the best outcome so far of the Now In Then must be the way it’s brought people together in the now and given them a relaxed creative venue for their writing. Each term the group have bonded and trusted each other enough to share personal stories which have surfaced through the archival material. And by using different writing genres in the workshops, writers have discovered new techniques, for example the poets and novelists in the group are now introducing dialogue into their work and, as one of them said: ‘I used to write dialogue in my novels but I didn’t know why, I just thought I should, and it was just conversation. It all makes sense now.’
The third and final term of writing workshops, where we’ll be looking at Leisure and Games in the last century starts on Saturday 22 November and ends in March 2015.
We’ll be gathering together all the writing from the whole group written over the course of the year to present at an event in the Spring, and the rest, as they say, will be history.
Writer, Mentor, Workshop Leader