When setting a scene, you need to create a convincing world for your reader. As a writer, you need to be able to see, hear and smell the location. While that is largely a matter of imagination, you can prompt your senses by reading, looking at photographs and visiting places that have an association with your subject.
Here are a few suggestions:
Read some contemporary writing, perhaps a family diary or more generally known works such as
Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Memoirs of an Infantry Officer’ or Wilfred Owen’s iconic poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est’.
Museums and Online Sites
The British Library: find a fascinating essay on Owen’s famous poem by Dr Santanu Das together with a wealth of other information on the Great War here
Imperial War Museum (London): the Museum re-opened after refurbishment on 19 July and features the new First World War Galleries. There are a number of other IWM sites, including IWM North in Manchester that has a special exhibition entitled ‘From Street To Trench: A War That Shaped A Region’.
Browse the IWM website for fascinating items such as the British shaving brush with concealed information – a perfect prompt for a spy story!
Read about The Lusitania Camisole and the remarkable story of Margaret Gwyer’s shipwreck survival following a U-boat attack in 1915.
National Archives: this page provides links to various categories of relevant information, including: RAF officers, Army nurses, Merchant Seamen and Prisoners of War.
Local Museums and Libraries
There is almost certainly an exhibition near you. There may also be a war memorial or cenotaph in your town. Local churches are often overlooked but can provide valuable information. Memorial plaques can supply a surprising amount of information.
Use your local library card to access online material such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) and contemporary newspaper reports.
Seek out the works of Stanley Spencer. An exhibition is currently running until November at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham, Berkshire entitled: ‘Paradise Regained. Spencer in the Aftermath of the First World War’. http://stanleyspencer.org.uk/
There is also a display of War Artists at Sea at the Royal Museums Greenwich
Music and Culture
Podcasts featuring highlights from BBC Radio 3 programmes relating to the art, culture and music of WW1 can be found on this site
For film related to WW1, including examples from the British Pathé Archive, click here
Note: These writing tips have been prepared to accompany the SaveAs Writers’ competition “The Bigger Picture – Reflections on the Great War”. Entries are invited of poetry or prose written in response to any work of art (e.g. a painting, song, poem, film or soundtrack to a film) connected with WW1. The closing date is 23rd August. For more information, click here
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