Hello everyone! I’m so excited to share a project I developed in the spring of 2022: a brand new podcast shining a light on Edinburgh’s forgotten women writers.
You’re probably familiar with the blue plaques placed on buildings across the UK which celebrate historical figures who lived in those places. In Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland partners with different organisations to determine who should be celebrated with their own plaques, and in the past couple of years they’ve worked with Edinburgh City of Literature to spotlight literary figures in the city. In the spring of 2022, five women writers who lived in Edinburgh are being celebrated with their own plaques: Mary Brunton, Christian Isobel Johnstone, Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane, Lady Margaret Sackville, and Dame Rebecca West.
To provide a bit more context behind the plaques, Edinburgh City of Literature and Historic Environment Scotland commissioned us at I Am Loud Productions to develop a podcast telling the stories of these remarkable women. We were delighted by the opportunity to dive into our city’s literary history and to shine some much-needed light on these writers’ lives. And thus ‘Building Stories’ was born! I researched, wrote, and hosted the podcast; Bex Sherwood produced the project; and Mark Gallie did the audio production.
Researching the lives of these women was simultaneously fascinating and frustrating: fascinating because each was a powerhouse of creativity, resistance, and innovation, yet frustrating because so little is remembered about them today. To my shame, I hadn’t heard of any of these writers prior to creating the podcast; despite their enormous and important contributions to Scottish, UK, and global literature, they’ve faded from public knowledge. It was challenging to find reliable information about their lives and works, which was particularly galling given that their male counterparts are well documented in the history books. Telling their stories meant tracking down rare texts, trying to fill in gaps in their biographies, and banging my head into the wall when information was (frequently!) contradictory or simply missing. I’m very grateful for the scholars currently working to re-instate significant women into history, including the editors of The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, Sara Sheridan (author of ‘Where Are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland’), Dorothy McMillan and Douglas Gifford (authors of ‘A History of Scottish Women’s Writing’), and Glenda Norquay (author of ‘The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women’s Writing’).
The fact that this research was difficult makes it all the more vital: it is so important that we remember the women who shaped our literary history and culture. This historical detective work isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. For me as a female writer living and working in Edinburgh today, learning about these women deepened my relationship with this city and my appreciation for those who made it such a global literary capitol. Each of the five women we feature in the podcast is utterly unique – some are novelists, some journalists, some poets, all with radically different views and lives – but each was central to developing literary styles, cultures, and norms in her time.
Our ‘Building Stories’ podcast features five 20-minute episodes, each devoted to one of the writers receiving a plaque this year. Each episode tells the story of that woman’s life, discusses the importance of her work to the Edinburgh literary scene and beyond, and includes excerpts of her writing. Tune in to learn about Lady Margaret Sackville’s scandalous affair with the Prime Minister – and, more importantly, her biting, powerful pacifist poetry protesting World War I. Hear how Christian Isobel Johnstone built the foundation for today’s media industry in Edinburgh and advocated for affordable access to reliable information. Chart the transformation of young Edinburgh feminist Cicily Fairfield into the world-renowned journalist and author Dame Rebecca West, who in 1947 was named “indisputably the world’s number one woman writer” by Time Magazine. And more!
It was such an honour to tell these women’s stories; I very much hope you enjoy hearing them. You can listen to Building Stories via the Podbean app or through your web browser here. Learn more about the project through this STV News article. Hope you enjoy the podcast! -K