Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Heart of the Great Alone by Lynda Waterhouse

As writers how much attention should we pay to the emotional journey we taking our readers on? Do we have a moral obligation to care about our reader's feelings? Or is the telling of the story paramount and hang the consequences.

I was brought up knowing the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill fated journey to the South Pole. He was one of the star turns in my Grandpa’s book of heroes and heroines. On TV I watched the 1948 black and white movie ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ starring John Mills.Years later it was the adventures of another explorer, Ernest Shackleton that stirred my imagination as I watched the silent film 'South' accompanied by Neil Brand’s haunting music.

At the moment at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, there is an exhibition of Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic photography. I find this collection of black and white photographs taken in the first part of the 20th century incredibly moving and inspiring but will 21st century children feel the same?

Fellow author Bridget Crowley and I are currently leading creative writing sessions in the gallery for children between the ages of 7-11years. The children respond to selected photographs and we set them a series of writing tasks.

Then we move on to Captain Scott and The British Antarctic Expedition 1910 -1913. Most of the children have not heard about him and there is an awful moment as they gaze at the final photograph and they realise that this group of weary men ‘were destined never to return from the heart of the great alone’

Some children are upset.We move back into the education room and ask them to express their feelings in a letter to Captain Scott. Some children go back in time and rewrite history rescuing him. Others tell him about what is happening in the Antarctic now and thank him for the scientific samples that he sent back. Some just tell him they feel sad.

It just doesn’t feel right to end the session at this point so we tell them about the fate of one of the dogs that was washed overboard and then immediately washed back again!

( Spoiler Alert – if you a bringing a school group PLEASE don’t give any of this away)

These sessions have been a stark reminder to me to pay attention to the emotional journey in my own writing and that strong emotions need to be handled with care and discharged appropriately before the story ends.


Lynda Waterhouse said...

apologies for posting early - have been having problems uploading images etc and lost the plot!

Anonymous said...

I am so pleased that you are passing on this story to a new generation.
I understand about the negative ending though for your audience.
You could mention the banjo that Shackleton insisted was carried across the ice to Elephant Island because he knew how singing cheered up the men. There is a very funny banjo song that Frank Wild wrote about the hut they built there. I can send a copy if you like.
The children might also like to know that at the end of Scott's last expedition everyone was allowed to choose a dog to bring home. Apsley Cherry Garrard- Worst Journey in the World- chose Kris- the naughty dog- I think that might be the one in your photograph. Kris had a very happy ending.
There are wonderful photos on line of the Cape Evans hut, which is being restored 100 years on. Also copies of the South Polar Times that they wrote during the stay.
Lucky, lucky children who get to your workshop!

Hilary McKay

Penny Dolan said...

Such a wonderful subject to be working on with children, Lynda, and such amazing tales (and pictures) to be sharing.

Must be hard to get across the sense of the expeditions done without a tv film crew or gps-primed rescue team ready to be flown in to your young audiences, although they did use the facilities of the time.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Hilary I would love to hear the banjo song! I have seen some film footage of Frank Wild playing the banjo. The dog in the photo is Vida. There is a copy of The South Polar Times in the exhibition too.
Penny I have been amazed at the level of engagement with the photographs. They don't even comment on them not being in colour they are so amazed by the landscape

Anonymous said...

Elephant Island Banjo Song
(To the tune of Solomon Levy)

My name is Frankie Wild-o! and my huts on Elephant Isle,
The most expert of architects could hardly name its style.
But as I sit all snug inside while outside blows the gale,
I think the pride is pardonable with which I tell my tale.

(I believe there are more verses, but that is all I have ever seen!)

O Frankly Wild-o Wild-o tra-la-la-la
Mr.Franky Wild-o tra-la-la-la-la-la-la.
My name is Franky Wild-o and my hut’s on Elephant Isle
The wall’s without a single brick, and the roof without a tile,
But nevertheless you must confess, for many and many a mile
It is the most palatial dwelling place you’ll find on Elephant Isle.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to leave my comment at the end but it came out in the middle.

Should love to see the children's letters- what a fascinating time you must be having.


Sue said...

This is really wonderful stuff and, as others have said - lucky children! I've bought my son CDs with the stories of people like Captain Scott or George Mallory and he's fascinated by them. We recently watched "The Wildest Dream" - the story of the 1924 Everest expedition and it is fascinating to imagine just how little people had in those days in the way of communication technology.

I think that the sensitivities of children are often underestimated, too. From my experience, the ability to put yourself in someone else's (snow)shoes often diminishes rather than increases with age. For this reason you're absolutely right to end on a lighter and more positive note, without belittling the seriousness of what's come before.

Dentist Lititz PA said...
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Lynda Waterhouse said...

Hilary - Thank you so much and will work on getting some copies of letters to you. I haven't received any back yet - just heard the drafts.
Thank you Penny and Sue - I love running the sessions - and the teachers are amazed at the amount of writing we do and the level of engagement especially from the boys

Dentist Lititz PA said...
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