Monsters and Moonlight

At the opening of the Staffordshire Hoard Gallery, there were hundreds of precious objects on display, but I was searching for just one; the Story Hoard.

The front cover of the Story Hoard book

The front cover of the Story Hoard book

This leather-bound trove of poems, stories and riddles, which now sits on the wooden table in the Mead Hall area of the new gallery, is filled with creative responses to the Hoard. Here are not just facts but characters, not just information but imaginative reflections too. All written, and illustrated, by talented local people, including writers at the Kings Norton Writers’ Group, ESOL students from Birmingham Metropolitan College, metal detectorists and members of the public.

Story Hoard open

Story Hoard open at the frontispiece with illuminated text by Doreen Goodall

In our writing groups, which ran from winter 2013 to spring 2014, we aimed to be inspired not just by what we know about the Hoard but what we don’t know. We wanted to dream up characters and scenarios, to imagine life and people then. We thought much about what might have happened to the treasure before, and after, it came to lie in the ground.

Writers from the Kings Norton Writing Group at work on Story Hoard

Writers from the Kings Norton Writing Group at work on Story Hoard

We also examined works of Anglo-Saxon literature, such as the mysterious poem Deor. We thought about what it means to be human, and inhuman, now and then. We read the epic poem Beowulf and though about the role of the hero, and the antihero – the monster, in the Anglo-Saxon mind.

The writing group at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The writing group at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Then we got down to nuts and bolts. We began to write and write and write. We paid particular attention to working with detail, and capturing our imaginative ideas with images, metaphors and accurate, unusual words. The opening lines of Evan Wang’s poem, The Hoard, rage us back through time in a most thrilling and ominous way.

The sword
goes through the body
Just like thunder.

The natural world, particularly weather and the seasons, is revealed in many of the responses, perhaps prompted by our imaginings of what has stayed the same and what has changed in human experience. In Lisa Grace’s poem Untitled, sunlight reveals an ancient warrior:

Coppery tints shine in sun’s midst
Catching my image powerful and true
Of warrior, spear, helmet and shield.

We tried hard to use rhythm, rhyme and vocabulary in meaningful and forceful ways. In Lorraine Boyce’s poem, My Monster, words, and their effective placing, awaken a magnificent creature on the page.

It’s shining metallic, thick headed, foul mouthed
Lurching much closer it marks out our time.

 That last word is important. Much of our thinking was around time, and timelessness, particularly what has changed in our lives over the last fifteen hundred years, and, more importantly, which elements of human nature and experience have stayed the same. Anglo-Saxon soldiers Hagan and Edwin, in Lavinia Bousfield’s story Two Brave Warriors, speak for fighters in many battles:

‘Edwin huddled in his cloak to keep the night air from his body. Time passed slowly until he saw the dawn coming.  He turned in the direction he heard a bird whistle. Too late, he realised it wasn’t a bird.’

Story Hoard  open

Story Hoard open at one of Heather Anderson’s images and one of Lavinia Bousfield’s pieces

Things are often not what they seem in these tales. In Doreen Goodall’s The Pilgrim and The Shepherd an elderly traveler’s journey takes a very unexpected turn when a mysterious shepherd befriends him:

‘During their walk the pilgrim found that the total of the shepherd’s conversation was sheep, goats and monsters. Apart from that, much to the old man’s chagrin, he moaned incessantly about everything.’

There’s a good, odd, reason why, but you will have to read the story to find out what it is. Surprise and suspense is everything, and everywhere in this collection.

We tried to explore structure, and worked hard to give our stories beginnings, middles and unexpected endings. We thought about journeys as a crucial part of a story. We looked into motivation, particularly what a character wants and why. In Heather J Anderson’s story, The Dream, a hen-pecked schoolteacher experiences a strange escape from his marriage and job:

‘My students are looking at me to help them clarify what they have heard on the news report. I feel all the colour drain from my face as I pick up my marker to point to an area on the map on the board behind me.  Suddenly I get the stabbing pain in my shoulder…’

Just as the Staffordshire Hoard is abundant with riches and gems, so is the Story Hoard. I hope you will search through, either using your hands in the Mead Hall, or using your keyboard; you can view the Story Hoard online here. I promise you will find treasure.

Helen Cross,
Writer

 

Writing group participant comments

Lavinia Bousfield adds:

‘I would like to say how much I enjoyed viewing the Saxon Hoard and the completed Saxon Book on display. I felt proud to see the stories and art work submitted by our writing group from Kings Norton Library, and all the other contributors involved in the project.
The sensory table displaying the pieces of gold was quite fascinating. I found the beautiful workmanship that went into producing the gold pieces by our ancestors quite remarkable. History is here for all to see, and we can learn more about the lives of the Saxons.
This is an exhibition well worth visiting.’

Ann Cullen writes:

‘I found the Stafford Hoard Exhibition exciting and very interesting. I was amazed at how clever the Anglo Saxons were, particularly in jewellery making. Some of the designs on swords, daggers and other items are so tiny and yet they are perfectly set out. The garnets are beautiful.
There are some very significant stories about  the way of life of the  Anglo-Saxon people – the superstitions, the constant battling  of tribes, the burial of the hoard and much more.
I would recommend the exhibition to all. It is a story of history set in a great presentation. I recommend it as a suitable and exciting exhibition for young and old.’

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One response to “Monsters and Moonlight”

  1. Doreen Goodall says :

    First of all – a huge – mongus ‘WELL DONE’ to the creative team at the gallery for getting this event ‘so right’. It has been thoughtfully laid out and everything is beautifully displayed. The information about The Hoard and Anglo Saxon life is both concise and interesting. The Story Hoard Book has been given its own place where visitors can sit and read the various stories, poems and riddles – and can even play an Anglo Saxon board game (now there’s a first). Nothing has been forgotten, there’s even a dressing up box full of costumes for the kids to try on. I enjoyed it immensely – twice.

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