Saturday, 25 April 2009

Tall Tales at Easington and Horden

Easington Colliery in East Durham is a strange and fascinating place. It is, they say, on a ley line that leads right down to the sea. For most of the twentieth century it housed and served a great colliery that had seams under the sea. Still almost too fresh are memories of the nineteen eighties, which was dominated by the destructive and divisive year long miner's strike. After a long and debilitating action, the miners and their enduring wives and families won the moral victory but the state won the power battle.
Coming here as a stranger I am haunted by the ghost of the great pithead where there is now greensward by the sea. And the memories of people I meet - however forward looking they may be - are peppered with the bruising memories of that and earlier times. Outside the big Welfare building where we meet a line of beautiful trees dressed in spring green memorialise 83 lost lives in the colliery disaster of 29th May 1951. The explosion was caused by firedamp propagated by coal dust, ignition caused by sparks from cutter picks striking pyrites.

But we are not here to hark on the past. The Tall Tales Project is a substantial writing group project. Lottery funded, it is the baby of Susan Robinson, Mary Bell and the Easington writing group. The brief is to talk with up to two hundred Easington and Horden people, young and old, and come back with inspiration to write stories. The idea is not to write yet another social history, but to use these insights to develop original creative writing which will somehow shine a new light onto this remarkable place and its present day identity. The invitation is to write fiction inspired by what they hear, to tell 'tall tales'.

My role here is as writer- consultant and mentor to support this group to help to drive this project to completion. My writer friend Avril Joy (avriljoy.com) is on board to help and support, to inspire and to be inspired. After some familiarisation writing workshops, today it the first of ten workshops from which will emerge a book of original writing that defines this place in 2009.

The group - today consisting of Susan, Mary, Terry, Agnes, Mavis, Joan, Chris,and David - have been hard at work interviewing, talking with groups and have sheaves of notes and some recordings. They tell us some of the stories and the inspiration emerging from their work in the community. They bring stories and poems already drafted. They read them and we all comment on how they are progressing. We address the particular skills of self editing. Already some extraordinary stories are emerging, as these writers add their considerable imagination to the tales they have heard. Sometimes they will take a single phrase or incident and build a tale around that.


Joan reads a poem about a flirtatious old man called Bert that has us all in stitches. Mavis reads her ghost story. Susan reads her inspired story based in a quest for identity. Agnes tells a tale of two brothers and a muskett ball lodged in a tree. Mary tells a tale which seems quite straighforward but has a dark heart. We all speculate how Terry may incorporate vampires into his tall tale. Chris, rushing in later after a meeting, brings in her research, papers rustling. I feel she will write about the sea, as she already has in our workshops. David tells of his intention to write a story from a dream he had, about being press-ganged into the navy at Hartlepool.The readings are interspersed with unforced personal storytelling which seems to stream from these individuals. There must be something in the air in these parts.
What strikes me is how original these voices are, how unique to themselves and different to each other. I am now very optimistic now about the quality of this emerging book. Watch this space.

8 comments:

  1. Wendy - I too feel very optimistic about The Tall Tales Project. From our very first visit, Easington and its writers stole my heart.There is as you say, 'something in the air,' which makes this a very special place to work in and draw inspiration from. The writers here are dedicated and determined and I envy their natural story making talent. I am looking forward to our continuing work in Easington: our Friday trips east, our glimpse of the sea, our meetings with new found friends and - the book -the final product which will showcase these unique writing voices.

    Avril

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  2. Hi Wendy,

    Great stuff about Easington. The photos too showing we are hard at work writing. You have certainly caught the character of us and the place. I am going to the Youth Club on Wed. to hear their thoughts and stories in exchange for helping with their project which is Timeline

    Cheers
    Mary x

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  3. Dear Mary
    It's really good to hear your comment! I am very excited about the Tall Tales Project.
    Sorry, though, that you've had a problem 'posting' here. BUT all you need to do is click on 'Comment As', then on the menu that rolls down click on 'Anonymous'. Then write your message and sign your name (if you want to) on the actual message.
    Like learning another language, once you've got it, you've got it! Magic!
    Keep me posted about the project and watch the blog for our French adventures!
    Have good times across there in Easington!
    wx

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  4. Hi Wendy, Just to say thank you and Avril for your invaluable time and energy you give to the group. Once again the workshop was invigorating.
    I was struck by your comment about my own story -a quest for identity - it resounds with what I feel that Easington in particular is searching for. Having lost identity when the pit closed I don't think we've found a new one yet. Horden feels somewhat stronger but that might just be my own distance from it - albeit only from the next village; yet having lived there as a child there is also a distance of 50 years. These new thoughts must surely add to the writing.
    Susan x.

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  5. Dear Susan

    I have a feeling that through this years our quest with this project might be to pull together some fragments of experience and inspiration and mould from these a new forward- looking identity that takes with it the best of the old, but also recognises and celebrates the modern day world as we see it, and as we would wish it. You are a talented writer Susan and your contribution to this will be a key aspect of the quest. Keep writing while I am away. Build up that treasure chest of writing.
    wxx

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  6. Hi wendy.
    On holiday at my sister,s at Hertford reding a book of yours called. Where Hope Lives.
    Trevor Chaimberlin Lives in hertford. Enjoying the book love reading My email address is
    david57687@yahoo.com.
    Will see you next time no more hoildays till Christmas,. God bless wendy Love to Joy David Lee

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  7. In 2016. Just remembering what a perfectly inspiring project this was with an extraordinary group of interesting people. Thank you Mary and friends for giving me such a great memory. Love
    Wendy

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