Sounding Borders – oral history / creative writing

Sounding Borders was led by Scotland’s Sounds and Historic Environment Scotland with funding from the Esme Fairbairn Foundation. It aimed to raise the profile of sound collections across Scotland. The project used archived oral testimonies from people living in the Scottish Borders as a starting point, reflecting on their domestic lives, school lives, working lives and social lives in the 20th century. The interviews, mostly recorded during the 1970s and 1980s, were taken from the collections of Scottish Borders Archives and Scran (

Sounding Borders brought these voices out of the archives and let them speak again. It focused on the idea that oral history archives can be used as a source of inspiration for creative writing by encouraging people to LISTEN to their oral history heritage, WRITE a creative response to it, capture extracts from these creative pieces in the form of PRINT and finally have the opportunity to READ their work to an audience at the annual Borders Book Festival in Hawick.

An oral historian and writer led a series of writing workshops with local people at Peebles Library. The group were encouraged to listen to oral history recordings of locals, including domestic servants, railwayman and shopkeepers and to respond through writing in whatever form they wanted.

They drew on the recordings for historical detail in their writing, with oral history providing eye-witness accounts of, and adding a subjective layer to, events and places in the past. The voices in the archives also offered a rich seam of inspiration for the writer through the spoken word: dialect words, accents and turns of phrase were used to trigger ideas. Analogies, metaphors and images feature in spoken testimonies. There is a natural rhythm to the human voice which can offer inspiration for poetry and give the writer food for thought when considering how to pin down the spoken word on the page. This act of pinning the spoken word to the page was explored at a follow-on workshop held at the National Trust for Scotland’s Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen where participants used traditional letterpress printing techniques to transform extracts of their written works into artworks. The project culminated in participants performing their work at the Borders Book Festival and a printed anthology of poetry and prose which was distributed locally.

For more information contact Helen Foster

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