On Monday I went to a talk given by Sara Sheridan, author of Secret of the Sands and explorer of the archives. It was hosted by the Section for Specialist Repositories and I went along as a baby archivist and as a dabbling writer (I should really mention there was also a fantastic free lunch). Some of my inspiration for my writing has come from handling documents in the archives. The first story I wrote in years was based upon my work with Gartnavel psychiatric records called Weber’s Puzzle (which will remain in the dreaded ‘To Edit’ pile for some time). Historians can lean towards writing historical fiction; especially if their research covers time periods with large gaps in the records. I attended a talk given by Alison Weir a number of years ago and she stated that such writers have to make a decision: do I write a monograph or do I write a novel based on the facts? Sara mentioned that a lot of historians are jealous of her job of ‘making things up.’
Sara was a fantastic speaker and I wonder if she has some archival fever in her blood. She covered topics that are important to today’s archivists: access, digitisation, copyright, the dawn of e-book readers. She spoke of chasing people through the records which struck a chord with me. I have dealt with many enquiries about individuals that bounced in and out of Glasgow’s asylums in the early twentieth century. My heart would break as the records revealed the sad truth of someone’s life. Post-natal depression was a common feature. Today that would be treatable. Back then, women were kept locked away for years with a little note that said Cause of Insanity: Post-partum melancholia. Many times I have wondered what that woman’s story was. What was their house like? How many children did they have? Did they miss being around their family? What was their favourite food? and on and on.
I was fortunate enough to chat to Sara over lunch. I was touched she had looked at this blog after I said hello to her on Twitter. It reminded me that I have neglected it over the past couple of months. She gave me advice about publishing my work for the Kindle; something I had not considered. At times I felt guilty about the advice she was giving me: after all, she was here to give a talk about archives not fight off a plucky young writer. It made me realise that I need to do something with the things I make up.
With this in mind, I have managed to borrow a house for a week in July. I plan to use this week to fire through my ‘To Edit’ folder which holds at least twenty doc files. Hopefully I will end the week with a decent body of work that I can create a collection of short stories from. Perhaps I’ll find a character I can squeeze a novel out of during that time. I am in awe of people who can write novels or find characters that they want to spend that amount of time with. My character might be languishing in my C drive, waiting to be discovered.
So thank you, Sara, for giving me that push and tweeting a link to this blog.