Mapping Our Memories

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After what’s been a pretty tough week of early starts and late nights and wrestling writer’s block and insomnia and wasting two hours of my life watching The English Patient, this morning I had a timely reminder that I have the absolute best job in the whole of Belfast.

Poet Laureate, TS Eliot Prize winner and all round wonderful person Sinead Morrissey and I have been scheming up a wee writing project for the last few months. It began over coffee and chats in Harlem, grew over further conversations and this morning kicked off with our first eight participants. Over the next three weeks we’ll be spending the morning with small groups of older people, swapping stories and memories attached to particular places around the city and shaping these thoughts into pieces of writing with a view to holding a reading and exhibition in early May.

I knew the “Mapping Our Memories” project was going to be good. It involved cake, Sinead, Belfast and older people; a handful of my favourite things all in one place. However, I was absolutely blown away by what happened this morning. We spread dozens of photos of Belfast across the table and spent three hours listening to the past come alive. Sailortown was a big topic, boxing, the Blitz, poverty, shopping, local characters, cinema and music but it would be impossible to convey any of these stories with the same energy and wonderful language employed by our participants.

I’ll keep you all updated on what transpires over the next few weeks but this morning’s session was so rich with incredible stories, well-told that I had fifteen new short stories in my head by the end of the workshop. I am a very lucky girl to get to sit in the presence of some of these master storytellers, there’s a rawness and a honesty to the way Belfast people of a certain generation tell their stories and, if nothing else, I hope a little of their veracity rubs off on me over the course of this project.

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