For Hidden Places, I would like to explore the idea of generating an urban myth for a local area. I am interested in the oral tradition that is strong in young people for telling of strange and mysterious events that (supposedly) happened somewhere within the locale. These tales are always told as if they happened to someone close enough to the teller to be believable, but just distant enough to not be verifiable; the locations are never very far away and are visitable and the time that the events happened is never so long ago; these stories occupy that wonderful line where fiction becomes fact.
For the Hidden Place, I would develop an urban myth that develops around a young girl who mysteriously disappeared some years before, leaving at the Hidden Place site a pair of old shoes and a letter to her father who is away on a trip to Pakistan. The storyline might develop along the lines of the young girl had been waiting for her father to return from a trip to Pakistan, bringing her back a promised pair of red slipper shoes. But the father never returns, she writes him letters but he stops replying to them. The girl is said to have made her way to the site, removed her shoes and is never seen again.
The visitors site might, therefore, be created as though it has become a tribute to the mysterious girl, part memorial, part tribute, part gifts for the young girl as though the public have come over a period of time and left things for the missing child. At the site there could be text made up through a collection of ‘found’ documents: letters, newspaper cuttings that could be presented as information to help the public make sense of the site - like a ‘mockumentary’ information board as well as being gathered into a collection of documents that appear as part of the marketing for the site as well as excerpts from the texts appearing at the site itself.
The installation itself would contain some ‘concrete’ evidence that the girl had indeed disappeared without trace; the site would have some information about the girl, old photographs in frames, text carved into trees or left in envelopes by the public in response to hearing her story. The centre of the Hidden Place might be the old pair of shoes that the girl left behind as well as tantalising excerpts from the text that survives about the girl. The site would make use of artefacts as if they had been left by local people to remember the lost girl - red ribbons tied to the site, red shoes left as gifts for her. The site would encourage local people to ‘fill in the gaps’ in the story of the girl by thinking about what might have happened to her - why her father never returned, why the girl took off her old shoes before she disappeared, engage in whether they believe the ghostly sitings of her around the site in the late evening are true ...
Depending on what is possible technically at the site, the myth might employ soundscapes of local people telling the ‘story’ of the girl. The site could potentially draw from two cultural traditions through having the link to Pakistan - the soundscapes could be bi-lingual, as the girl might have been, the myth would have skeleton details that the visitors to the site can fill in for themselves as they create the myth in discussion and imagination.
It would be possible to provide a series of workshops for young people around the site - drawing on my experience as a writer in education which develops the myth and growths the mythology of the site in response. This would therefore be a dynamic site which develops through word of mouth and grows as the public add their own gifts to the mystery girl.
Everyone loves a local mystery - is this Hidden Place the site where a young girl was last seen/did she set off to find her father/did she die here/is this the place she comes back to in order to read the letters left for her, wear the gifts of red shoes people leave for her?
Alison White is a Burnley based writer. She is regularly published in poetry magazines and journals and her first play The Hanged Man, written in conjunction with Dean Ashton, was nominated for a prestigious Manchester Evening News Theatre Award. She has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing. Her first chapbook of poems is a handcrafted pamphlet entitled Being Heathcliff’s Boot which collects her published and newer work. She works as a writer in education and as an agent for creative change in education. Her particuluar interest is writing with young people for creative community building through writing and storytelling. She has managed large scale projects within education for creative change, many of which have explored the effect of the use of space in learning. In the new year she will work as a living art installation exposing the process behind writing through working and writing ‘live’, her work in draft being projected onto screens within Burnley Library as she writes a collection of short pieces in response to the people passing by - a fact to fictionalised snapshot of Burnley town in 2009. As part of that project, she will invite the young people of Burnley to engage with her on journeys of discovery in creativity. The work will use the very fabric of the building to turn what goes on in libraries literally inside out - the building becoming a creative work in its own right with the young people’s creativity projected onto it at night.