Following the completion of ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ this Summer 2016, Isabelle King undertook a Writer in Residence position at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse to work on a potential second children’s book ‘Children of the Workhouse.’
In this piece, Isabelle explains the inspiration behind ‘The Norfolk Story Book’, how she came to be on site at Gressenhall and her fascination with Workhouse history.
Inspired by the Norfolk Collections Centre Isabelle wrote a series of children’s stories. Now she has turned her attention to the workhouse.
My first children’s book is inspired by objects in Norfolk Collections Centre, situated on the same site as Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum.
The first time I set foot in Norfolk Collections Centre, just over a year ago, I knew that I wanted to write about it. An atmospheric cabinet of curiosities, the store is full of exciting objects; Snap Dragons, a Mammoth tusk and equipment used to make mustard and toffee, to name but a few. Even though the building was open to the public, there was a sense of secrecy in the air, almost as though you, as a visitor, had stumbled into the store by accident -which I believe, is a huge part of what makes the store so utterly unique and which certainly captivated my imagination.
I am very excited to have a book launch October 2016 at Norwich Castle – three storytelling sessions will take place at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm. All families are welcome!
Whilst in the completion stages of writing ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I was delighted to be invited to the ‘Collaborate with Gressenhall’ day. This was a fantastic day in which Gressenhall staff and freelance creatives got together for a meeting of minds with a view to collaborating on creative projects. The day consisted of talks and activities, led by history professionals, which focused on the lives of people in the Workhouse, as well as discussions with creatives about the ways in which they could bring Workhouse history to life through collaborative projects in community spaces.
There was even a chance to touch and examine some of the museum’s objects; particular favourites of mine were some of the hand-made dolls. It was awe-inspiring to think of how many’s people’s hands had touched those objects throughout history and how these artefacts had played a part in people’s lives. It sparked some very interesting questions; who made them; who played with them; how were they made?
Naturally, I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Gressenhall and last February, taught a day’s creative writing course on site in the Learning Centre. The course was an introduction to creative writing which drew inspiration from real-life stories and images in the ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ focussing on how to create character in the narrative. I was thrilled to receive five stars from everyone who participated on the course, in the evaluation.
I suppose it goes without saying that all this work and meeting interesting people had got the creative juices flowing!
Coupled with the fact that I’d experienced such a fascinating insight to the Workhouse through teaching the course, I was eager for my next book to be based on the ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project at Gressenhall. ‘Children in the Workhouse’ will explore what it was like for a child to be an inmate at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, inspired by real life stories.
It is extremely important to me that the book is historically accurate. As with ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I intend to root the stories in historical fact and combine this with imaginative interpretation.
Throughout the Writer in Residence position, I dedicated much of my time to research. Thanks to the new displays at Gressenhall, I was hardly short of resources!
The ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project beautifully highlights, through interactive displays, the many stories of real people who lived and worked at Gressenhall, from how they washed to what they ate and where they slept. In particular, I enjoyed listening to some of the audio interviews from Workhouse inmates, as well as the film clips of actors portraying Workhouse characters, which radiated with warmth and humanity and really brought home the fact that these people could have been you or me.
As a nature enthusiast, I was keen to make the most of my time on site and explore the Farm where I saw some beautiful Suffolk Punch Horses, piglets and chickens!
In the morning, my writer’s desk was situated in the staff offices where I could bounce some ideas at my computer screen and where I was introduced to that most vital of research devices, the staff photocopying machine which, in spite of its evident simplicity, I could never quite get the hang of!
In the afternoon, my writer’s desk was situated back where it all started, at Norfolk Collections Centre which was open to the public and I had the pleasure of chatting to visitors. It was a joy to work on the second book in the store which inspired my first!
Having explored the collections at great length, I am now in the process of writing! In the initial stages of working on this book, it becomes clear that the process will not be without challenges in the sense that these stories will differ greatly from my first book. In ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ the majority of the characters are fictional. I believe it is an uplifting book; each story celebrates local history by shining a light on the magic, warmth and fun associated with this region.
As ‘Children of the Workhouse’ is inspired by real life stories, of course, I cannot fail to acknowledge that this should be handled with sensitivity and respect. However, this does not mean that the stories cannot be without warmth, humour and humanity and I fully intend for each tale to have a positive message at its heart.
As I have learned with all writing – ‘heart’ is the key!