Musings of the University of Dundee MLitt Publishing Writing students

What I did today at my placement

Glasgow Women’s Library

I’ve visited three archives recently; the National Library of Scotland to see the Saltire Society documents which are housed there; Dundee University archives and Glasgow Women’s Library. Over the next few posts, I’ll give a tast of each of those different experiences and what I discovered there.

When I visited GWL, the papers I had requested were waiting for me on a large round table in the corner of the big open gallery space. The heater next to me was on and there were even blankets on the chairs. It felt cosy and welcoming, like I was in a community space rather than an institution. I was greeted by Nicola the archivist and asked to read an A4 sheet on the table with the usual archive rules on (no pens, food, hand cream etc. near the documents) then she left me to it. She’d brought out several grey boxes containing the records relating to Section 28 resistance. This was a law in place in the UK from 1988 to 2001 in Scotland and 2003 in England which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools and council provision. There were many groups who campaigned against it both when it became law and leading up to its repeal. I was inspired to research this topic after reading a short story in Juliet Jaques’ collection Variations, which uses historical records to create short fiction about queer lives in the UK. I’ve long been interested in the resistance to Section 28 because my primary and secondary education took place under its shadow and I often wonder what might have been different if it hadn’t existed.

There were so many documents to go through that I spent almost the entire day going through them, and even then only flicked through. Because I was exploring the documents from a creative writing perspective rather than a historical one, I was fairly scattergun in my approach, passing over anything that looked too dry or procedural. The things I photographed for later were often images or hand-drawn posters – anything that showed the humanity and passion involved in the campaign rather than the ins and outs of law reform.

My favourite artefact was a photograph of a drag queen all in pink, complete with feather boa and impossible platform heels stood in front of a bus, the bus driver visible but blurred. As I flicked through the stack of photos I found another few depicting the same scene a few moments later. She was spraying the number 28 on the windscreen in the same bright pink as her outfit. I haven’t used the images as prompt yet, but I know it’ll make a great story.