Following our first two creative writing sessions, at Armley Mills in Leeds and the LSE Women’s Library in London, run by creative writing specialist, Hannah Stone, here are some examples of the kinds of work that was created at the workshops. The output at both workshops was fantastic; participants responded with empathy, flair and originality to the stories of past women in engineering.
You see my dear, it is my pleasure
to wring from iron these drops of golden light,
like honey from the hive in summer,
saved up to serve a feast on winter nights.
The curlicues and cormorants weave
graceful coils and drapes, enhance
a dining room, a writing desk, breathe
life into a hidden gloomy niche.
You see that dragon over there?
His head hangs low and in his metal
mouth he holds a ball of shimmering air.
A Cupid swathed with loincloth sheds
sun-drenched rays onto my dinner guests.
Moreover, should your safety be a fear,
please rest assured, compared to gas
or candles, there is no hazard here.
It is the future. Now, if you’re agreeable,
I’ll switch it off. See how the spark
is quenched at once - we’re frugal people
in this house and also (you’ll remark)
we marry science with exquisite art.
My dearest Richard
These past few days, I have found myself more and more frustrated by the lack of progress on our joint project and the fact that I cannot represent both of us in public, at meetings or ask questions of colleagues that you work with because I am a woman and your wife.
I feel so excited about our work and the potential it has to change peoples lives but I find myself racing ahead in my thoughts and realise that you are not racing along side me.
I know you are committed to the project but I worry that you don’t have the same sense of urgency about it as I do. I sometimes feel like I could burst with the ideas I have in my head and the desire to translate the ideas into concrete answers to the problems and challenges that the project poses.
I have spent hours asking myself why we are advancing at different speeds and I can only conclude that it’s because you are a man and I am a woman and you don’t feel the need to change the world as quickly or as urgently as I do.
I feel imprisoned by my sex and I am acutely aware of the many things I cannot access and cannot do and I am sure that you do not feel this level of constant anxiety or concern, as you are more at ease about your place in society as a man… A man who has the right to think and do and act without fear of judgement or obstruction.
Of course, my dearest I am not suggesting that you are trying to block or put obstacles in the way of the project but I believe that you are simply not as keen to move as fast as I am and that your thoughts are not in turmoil as are mine.
I am sure you will be surprised when you read this as you probably feel that we are working together in harmony, but little do you realise that my mind cannot be calmed and my desire to change things has become unbearable to me.
This is why I must go to London where the suffragettes are mobilising for a demonstration outside of parliament. I need to express myself, my desires, share my concerns with other women and feel a sense of togetherness and solidarity and find my voice.
The project can surely wait a few days and maybe this letter will give you an insight into my thoughts and give you time to think about the next steps that we can take to advance our project.
As I write I suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of liberation, just from sharing this with you and expressing my feelings but it’s not enough… I must go to London!
It’s as if there is a fire inside me that has been stoked by coal. The news of the suffragettes has given me hope that I will no longer have to walk in the shadows whilst you are able to walk in the sunlight.
I beg you to read this, knowing that it is coming from a place of love and good intention. Try to imagine yourself walking in my shoes and accept that the progress of our project and the progress in society and the struggle for women’s rights are so closely linked as to be impossible to separate.
If I cannot be free to use my brain, take an active part in our work and in society as a whole, I cannot be a happy and productive partner and a fulfilled and loving wife.
THE UN-ENGAGEMENT OF MS. CAROLINE HASLETT
Ms. Haslett, a young woman of 18, stands in a large abandoned dusty barn over tables assembled in disarray. Three, other women, clad in large dresses fuss over some drawings. Ms. Haslett is unrolling some copper wires when the large barn doors suddenly open. Sunlight pours in. A tall dark handsome suitor stands in the doorway. He is wearing a tailored suit.
The women quickly cover their drawing plans with clothes and sewing material.
Ms. Haslett sits down promptly, putting both her hands on her lap. She does not hide the copper wires which are on the table next to her. The suitor stares at them with mock fancy.
SUITOR: It’s complicated, isn’t it.
Ms. Haslett stares at the coppers.
MS. H: Oh, but is it?
SUITOR: It is not as simple as tossing a couple carrots and onions in a pot to make a broth.
Ms. Haslett only notices the basket at Suitors feet. A basket of vegetables he has brought for her as a gift – a gift to make him dinner so as to judge if she is a suitable cook. Cooking; a suitable skill for a wife to have.
Ms. Haslett prods her wires as if in thought.
MS. H: Go on.
SUITOR: Go on, what?
MS. H: (staring at him intently) Go on, toss a couple carrots and onions in a pot. Go on, make a broth.
The other women snigger. The sniggering makes the Suitor angry. He approaches, angrily kicking the vegetable basket. The vegetables roll askew.
SUITOR: Oh, nasty woman, must you be so snide? (he snatches some clothes from the table) Will you ask me to wear an apron and a duster too?
Ms. Haslett takes hold of the cloth in his hand.
MS.H: As far as I can remember, I did not emerge from my mother’s bowels wearing aprons or holding dusters. I fancy to imagine she wasn’t wearing one at my birthing nor was yours.
SUITOR: Must we bring our mothers into this? (a stray chicken enters the scene) Your imagination is a wild goose.
The other women rush to stop a school of chickens from entering the barn. The chickens cause a fracas. Ms. H and Suitor ignore all this.
MS. H: Indeed, the goose so wild it said nay when the farmer tried to slit its throat, pluck its feather or give it a warm coddle over the spitfire.
Suitor is stunned. He stands back. The disarray from the chicken and the women chasing them has exposed Ms. Hasletts and her friends secret lab.
MS. H: Now, if you will excuse me. My imagination has only spun a little something to ease the domestic drudgery imposed upon my sex.
SUITOR: (staring at the soiled vegetables) And the broth?
MS. H: And the broth? What about it?
SUITOR: It need be made.
Suitor clutches his stomach.
MS. H: See. When the stomach groans for something hot, it does not consider whether it is a female or a male stomach. Indeed, there is no such thing. Nor will this invention at my fingertips.
SUITOR: (alarmed) You are a wild goose.
MS.H: That I am. And no, you cannot corner me, undress me, or turn me over at the spitfire.
Suitor turns to leave, upset.
SUITOR: You are a problem!
MS.H: Problems have no sex, I’m glad.
Stray chickens suddenly rain down on
Suitor. He runs away, upset. The ladies have a good laugh and get on with their
Dawn’s breaking, dreams fading,
Run quick to the station, to take papa his tea.
Intent amid the steam,
Voices rise above the din, wheels and whistles clamouring.
I would join you in a flash, stoke the engine, make the dash –
North as fast as wheels can fly, choo choo…! But sigh, I must turn my steps away, for
Girls do not drive, or so they say.
Dusk falling, day fading,
Returning to the station,
Engine’s whistle, today’s last stop,
All passengers, please disembark, and go, pass on the spark,
Miles we’ve covered to reach this mark; track, toil and years led us here, my dears to say,
See, girls do drive, now lead the way!
Pitch for a screenplay
« The lasting tooth » (working title)
by Barbara Muller
Amelia Rose has taken part to the greatest engineering adventures of her time. Along with the management of her household – her husband was supportive, but there were limits –, she beat the gender gap and worked alongside great female colleagues and male counterparts. Having specialized as a TFE – a Tooth Fairy engineer –, Amelia Rose revolutionized the industry: she developed new protocoles to electrically and chemically treat milk teeth, creating means and ways to put to use the overlooked commodity. Thanks to Amelia Rose, milk teeth were not only harvested from under children’s pillows, but also treated to produce material such as emotional intelligence or resilience to be redistributed to the needy.
Now that Amelia Rose is retired, she is brooding: the « senior » role is as ill-adjusted to her personality as the « housewife » role had been. She had beaten the gender gap. She would now beat the age gap.
« The lasting tooth » (working title) will tell about how Amelia Rose took up the gauntlet then, and takes it again now. This new enterprise leads her to find a use to another neglected and even despised commodity: the fallen teeth of elderly people. The movie will show not only how the challenge is a scientific and engineering one, but how it is also a social one: once again, Amelia Rose must deal with the reaction of her family, entourage and of society at large. Allies and foes come in all sizes and shapes, and from ever surprising stocks.
Amelia Rose Tilda Swinton
Voice over Tom Hiddleston
Paul, husband Steve Buscemi
Sophie, daughter #1 Amy Adams
Maid Frances McDormand
Best friend Maggie Gyllenhaal
lasting tooth » (working title)
INT. HOUSE – MULLION COVE
House is Victorian, overlooking a raging ocean; sky is low and very tempestuous.
A woman in her early seventies, thin and with a stiff upper lip, is sitting in one of the large red armchairs of the reading room. She is surrounded by books and 2D and 3D models of submarines, engines, brains and teeth. On the mantelpiece lie framed photographs showing her in her lab coat with various people and teams, smiling, shaking hands or focused on a blueprint.
The woman doesn’t pay attention to her surrounding but gazes at the horizon. Her right index finger endlessly and mindlessly follows the curve of her teacup.
Amelia Rose was grumpy. She peeked at a book lying on the adjacent console and then back to the ocean. Teresa, the maid, kept leaving here and there books about knitting, cooking and gardening. Teresa had always disapproved of Amelia Rose’s professional choices. At least, she did it openly whereas other members of the staff and of her family communicated their views through sighs and looks. Her daughter Sophie – an ill-suited name after all – had become the queen of looks. Amelia Rose didn’t care. She never had. Admittedly, she couldn’t cook, knit or keep a plant alive. She could, though, draw the blueprint of any sort of machine, engine or robot, she could run a factory – and she had –, repair a submarine or a toaster.
The view was breath-taking. Paul would want to go for a walk. She had always preferred the smell of chemicals, the greasy atmosphere of shop floor and the light of neons – what a blessed invention, really – to a « walk ».
One of her teeth was loose, had been for quite some time now. She could feel it move when she pushed it with the tip of her tongue. How ironic.
Her mood darkened.
She had worked with splendid minds such as Amy Johnson, Hilda Lyon or Annie Wilson. She had flown alongside Amelia Earhart. She had had a splendid career and; as a Tooth Fairy engineer, she had had a leading role in the teeth industry. She had designed the machines and formulas to transform the harvested children’s teeth into emotional energy and into resilience, at a time when milk teeth were merely gathered and swiftly disposed of, and when women rarely approached a machine and only to dust it. Amelia Rose had first devised the means to redistribute the precious result of the process to the needy. She had done it all right under the nose of the patronizing lords, sirs and gentlemen, and while raising five children and attending to a household. She had been a great and happy engineer.
And she didn’t want it to be over. Hence the grumpiness. She had been retired for two weeks – the toasts and speeches of her retirement party were still echoing – and she despised it.
She had beaten the gender gap. She would beat the laws of old age. She would give Sophie, and the others, a good reason to give her looks for another decade or two.
Oh, she had an idea alright. Old teeth. As Tooth Fairy engineer, she had done miracles with milk teeth. On the other side of life though, teeth were disregarded. As were old people; as she, as a woman, had been. But Amelia Rose knew better; she was sure there was much to be gained from this raw material.
That Idiot Finch
Where the fuck is my brush?
Is it possible, he asked, to rewrite history
with a feminist agenda?
The patents not under my name
But they’ll comment on my masculine brain
Once I’m dead
Is that her voice? Do we give recourse to
Bad History by adding linguistic flair for a
Matter of effect?
She’s there again finding ways to engineer
Me back to her son, the
Inglorious inventor, the
It is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy
To imagine the panache of her privilege
I want her to be loud
I want her to be the septic cackle of a bulb
He’s there again, in the stables, where he should be
But somehow I am uneasy
He watches me like I am a liquid flowing for his easy drinking
He knows what I do with my estranged husband’s circuitry
Worse than adultery to this fucktard
He strokes my horse
Takes her soft mouth close to his tweed breast
Where the fuck is my brush?
I lose her there
Become uneasy with my inventing
Because I have no eye for details, only become
Subsumed in what they call the Bigger Picture
I want her to be loud
I don’t want her to be drowned in my own anguish
I am Leda, not about to be taken by the swan
(It is always good to include a classical touch)
I am Leda, separated, frowned upon
At some point the pitchforks will come for me
But for now I’m simply tinkering, in velvet,
Waiting for the sparks to dance.
Mrs Gordon’s diary 1885
Well thank heavens Jim has got a limited company to support his work on the new dynamo.
I don’t have to placate the cook any more – she always used to cry blue murder each time he ‘borrowed’ her utensils. Mind you, it doesn’t stop him talking incessantly about the Paddington station Lighting project at dinner: I’ve become quite expert in all the plans now that I’ve heard so much about it. I’ve even given him a few suggestions which he’s actually taken up – not that he notices let alone remembers he got them from me
Did my regular weekly visit to the engineering works to Jim and his workmen. He has been teasing me mercilessly for likening his Brobdingnagian dynamos to mechanical but sentient daughters. He forgets how he himself talks about these same machines fondly and proudly with the feminine pronoun! What with engineering wives like me supporting everything night and day, and the machines being cast as females too, perhaps engineering isn’t so completely a man’s world after all!
Hurrah The new Paddington lighting station is now working in an orderly fashion. And all our – and I say ‘our’ advisedly – dynamos are working perfectly. Strong, stable and resilient – no wonder!
James now is looking for new customers for the company. Households and homes, as well as businesses. Something will have to be done about the horrific glare of the electric light! Most men – Jim included seem to love the garish brightness of the new incandescent lamps. I hate t as do all my lady friends. What to do?
Have been trying to think of how to win my lady friends over to the electric light. I hear that Lady Thomson has been using coloured silk to shade the lights in her home. I tried this myself and it works beautifully to soften that evil glare. I have decided to write a book on this for the benefit of all. I think I will call it ‘Decorative Electricity’… might take me a few years to write though!