Saturday saw the launch of our creative writing workshops with, myself, Sheree Mack. Working with one of our partners, Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives Services, a group of writers were given exclusive access to the Rivers at War exhibition displayed within the archives.
Taking the lead from one of the information panels within the exhibition detailing the involvement of RMS Mauretania during the last year of the war, where she completed seven trips between New York and Liverpool carrying American troops to the Western Front, the focus of this workshop would be the waters, women and America.
The workshop started with a reading of Eavan Boland’s poem, ‘The Women’. This poem explores how beside her role within the home, caring for her family, this woman within the poem slips away to write about the women of the past. She sees her writing as a means of connection with them as well as keeping their legacies alive.
The hour of change, of metamorphosis,
of shape-shifting instabilities.
My time of sixth sense and second sight
when in the words I choose, the lines I write,
they rise like visions and appear to me:
women of work, of leisure, of the night,
in stove-colored silks, in lace, in nothing,
with crewel needles, with books, with wide open legs
who fled the hot breath of the god pursuing,
who ran from the split hoof and the thick lips
and fell and grieved and healed into myth,
into me in the evening at my desk
The Women by Eavan Boland
We used this piece as a means of rooting ourselves into the workshop and free wrote off using any words or phrases that hit a cord. We then shared our knowledge about the war, both general and regional, and touched upon the women’s involvement through taking on the roles and jobs that the men left behind when they went off to,fight in the war. Traditionally male orientated jobs such as within the shipyards had to be supplemented with women who leaned new skills and freedoms as riveters, platers, plumbers, caulkers and coppersmiths.
At this point, we walked around the exhibition and took note of anything that interested us so we could feed back to the group. We found out about the Neptune Shell Factory, the scale and importance of the regional rivers to the war effort as well as an interesting discussion about the language used to name such vessels, for example SS Protector
built by J. P. Rennoldson & Sons, South Shields in 1907. On December 31st, 1916, Protector was sunk by a mine from the German submarine UC-31 (Otto von Schrader), off the North Pier, River Tyne. 19 persons were lost.
Using all this knowledge and discussions, each writer then had to choose a from a selection of women characters provided who they were going to develop. They characters had a name, age and profession during the war. For example, there was Lucy Grey, the painter, who painted the dazzle on ships as camouflage. There as Gracie who added the metal plates to the ships. For each character, the writer had to respond to a series of questions in order to flesh out their lives, dreams and concerns. After this there was time left to create a piece of writing from their answers that they were willing to share with the group.
It was a most enjoyable session of writing, where I was truly surprised and humbled by the writing created in such a short space of time. You will be able to read some of the work here within the next couple of weeks.
If you are inspired by this workshop then make sure you get signed up for the next one at the Hatton Gallery exploring the Screaming Steel: Art, War and Trauma 1914-1918, exhibition on Saturday 13 December, 2-4pm.
We roll out information about the rest of the workshops in this series, due to start in the New Year, from the end of the week. So keep checking back for details.