Matthew Knights is a playwright and creative writing tutor, based in Dundee. Over the last six weeks, he has partnered with Abertay Historical Society to deliver a series of Creative Writing Workshops, based around the history of Logie Scheme, as part of the second stage of the project.
The last installment of the Creative Writing Blog has been kindly contributed by Helen Nugent, who grew up near Logie. Below, Helen shares some of her reflections on attending the sessions.
I headed to the venue with mixed emotions: Matthew had been away the previous week and I had missed the week before, so I was very much looking forward to our meeting. If there were any way I could have rearranged my plans for the week I missed, I most certainly would have. I was sad, though, that it was going to be our final formal meeting together.
The room was soon buzzing. Penny has been trying to encourage me to start writing. She had brought along the novel Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart with the aim to both help inspire and direct me. I had recently read the book!
We had a short discussion about writing and writers. We found we had much in common. Catherine had evidently spent a long time looking through Logie Parish Church Magazines, to find some which might have proved of interest to Lynsey. Lynsey seemed delighted to see her name in print. I subsequently learned that Lynsey had discovered records of some of the most precious occasions of her life: When she joined the church; her marriage; and the baptisms of both her children! She and her mother also later spent time together perusing the magazines, conjuring up memories – both sad and sweet.
As usual, Matthew was very well prepared. He had organised the chairs into a semi-circle and had placed a podium at the front. He had also written the word Logie using Werthers Originals. Sweet nostalgia; nostalgic sweets. A thoughtful touch! Matthew went on to explain that we would be sharing our work whilst standing at, or near to, the podium. Public speaking is most certainly not one of my fortes!
In any other setting, the thought of having to stand up at a podium would have ruined the whole experience for me. My only focus would have been on when it was going to be my turn. We had shared so much together over the weeks, however, and so – much to my own surprise – I actually felt safe. I was confident too that there would be no negative judgements. I, therefore, sat back to enjoy, and enjoy I most certainly did! Most of us took our turns at the podium. When I read out my poem, I received a short round of applause! Catherine also read out a piece written by Jean. In addition, Matthew, I think, most thoughtfully, re-read out a piece by Penny – who had been very humble about her writing – in an attempt to emphasise her skill and to give her confidence a boost!
Most of the others have direct links to life on Logie. My only link was to the ‘Washie’. I went there as a small child. I recall, it was always bustling and cosy. I loved it! It was the ‘Washie’ session I had missed and so I was eager to hear all about it. I was far from disappointed.
Matthew showed me the pictures he had chosen for the group to work with. One task was to choose a person – which as we all know, in reality, meant chose a woman – and talk from their point of view. Another task was to create a dialogue between two of the characters.
Without exception, the empathy expressed was profound. Three involved pleas for money; the other a plea to share a pram. All were heart felt: Each, trying to lighten their load both metaphorically and literally! I wished that I could have stepped back in time and help them all! In reality, however, as the others had made clear, such pleas mostly resulted in a deafening NO! Those with little or nothing; have little or nothing to give! Their own burdens, and the burdens of others, that they were in no position to shift!Helen Nugent
Denise could not make it to the last session, but that did not result in her being left out. Lynsey had suggested that Matthew should still try to get hold of some of Denise’s work, especially one piece which Lynsey had been particularly moved by. Many others have also been included in the process. Indeed, the project continues to snowball! Most, if not all of us, have shared with family and friends and Matthew has clearly worked extremely closely with the Abertay Historical Society and Dundee City Archives, to name but two!
Lynsey and Catherine had brought along family photographs taken at Logie. They showed them off with pride, to eagerly interested recipients. Matthew was going to pass the photographs on to Sarah from the archives to support her research. Sarah has provided much valuable information about Logie and, on request, provided information as to the first residents at the relevant addresses for those in the group.
On reflection, I noted that our group consisted of three teachers, two nurses, a full-time mother, who later became a massage therapist, and Matthew, a teacher and an artist. Many of us have specialised in working with vulnerable individuals and groups. I firmly believe that this was far from coincidence, and it helps explain why we, as individuals, were keen to join the group. For me, it also helps to explain why we gelled so well as a group.
Penny and Jean still live on the Logie Estate. They both very kindly invited us into their homes. Unfortunately, I could not make it to Penny’s but I had a great time at Jean’s, as did we all! Some of us are going to a reading of one of Matthew’s plays on Friday and some to a related event on Saturday. Catherine has kindly invited us to her house on Monday. It is all good. Such special people, each and everyone! All so caring; all so sharing! I feel most privileged to have been – and to continue to be – a part of it!
I have attended many, many groups over the years and none have come close to the two which were led by Matthew (I also attended his Balgay group). In my experience, teachers are mainly managers or entertainers. Matthew is both! His love for – and commitment to – writin
g is palpable. To me, and I am sure to most – if not all – who have had the pleasure of working with him, he is truly and genuinely an inspiration! Hopefully there will be many more opportunities, for caring and sharing, to come.