Diaries Inspire Stromness Writers

200 years of diaries

200 Years of Diaries (F Grahame)

The Orkney Library and Archive has been exhibiting a wonderful collection of diaries spanning a breadth of 200 years.

In a collaboration with London-based artist Dylan Stone the archivists in Orkney have brought together local diaries as well as this collection of everything from shopping lists and postcards to diary entries.

The Stromness Writers Group have used a selection from the collection to prompt their own creative writing. Out of scraps of information from random diary entries and even a photograph they have brought to life characters and built short stories around them.

Stromness Writing Group

Stromness Writing Group (F Grahame)

On Saturday 8th July they shared their stories with the public. Some of the writers used the same extract producing a different response to the development of the chosen character. The Stromness writers paired up for each reading with one taking the part of the diary writer and one the voice of the created character.

Alongside the almost 500 diaries in the exhibit are contributions from the Orkney community with diaries from their own family archives, as well as items from the Orkney Library and Archive.

Assistant Archivist Lucy Gibbon said:

“We had quite a few local families come forward with material, so we have farm diaries including those of William Tait from the period 1880-1930 – each day he has recorded the weather and notes about how many cart loads of neeps were brought in – so an obsession with weather was quite clearly a feature of past generations of farmers too!”

Other items on display from the Archive’s collection include:

  • Several diaries by well-known 19th century Orkney writer Thomas Stewart Traill, documenting his journey round war-torn Europe during the Napoleonic wars.
  • Diaries by local historian Ernest Marwick and filmmaker Margaret Tait.
  • Salvage log books recording the retrieval of WWI German warship Kaiserin in 1985.
  • Intricate estate management records in Orphir from the Halcro Johnston papers.
  • Diaries from the Omand family recording an 1823 trip to Glasgow and an 1860 visit to Orkney.
  • The diary of a Westray man aged 54 recording his first ever train ride in 1993 – in Chicago.

The exhibit includes writings from a boy scout noting everything he hears on the radio during WW2; a farmer seeing a car for the first time; all the films a teenager sees in the 1950s; an elderly woman in New England eating Thanksgiving dinner alone; a Belgian schoolgirl on a trip to Paris in 1906 who sees the headlines announcing the earthquake in San Francisco; the flight schedule of an airline pilot from the 1960s and 1970s; a visit to a sickly relative in 1900 and a musician travelling to concert engagements around Europe in the 1980s.

The Diary exhibition has been extended by a week to 18th of July so if you haven’t been yet it is well worth a visit.

Stromness Writers Group welcomes new members and have a Facebook page

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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4 replies »

  1. This is something which bothers me about everything being on-line these days. Diaries – who keeps diaries now? on paper, that is – and all that insight and information, can so easily be lost.
    To see what happens if/when t’Internet crashes – read ‘Galapagos’ by Kurt Vonnegut.

  2. Apropos of nothing in particular – my brother was a teacher, and there was a boy in his school called Justin Casey. His parents either had no sense of humour at all, or were naughty people!
    So now, there are certain things which I do for Justin – Justin Casey.
    Always a story!

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