Frontlist | Book Present in Past reveals the lost world of Upper Wharfedale

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Nine members of the Upper Wharfedale Arts and Literature Society (UWALS) have been inspired by an unearthed hoard of antique photographic glass plates, first discovered in a Kettlewell shop store room.

With the onset of lockdown they have devoted their considerable literary skills to exploring the images’ enduring resonance, the memories they provoke and stories they have to tell.

The result of their labours is Present in the Past, a truly remarkable collection of highly original verse and prose, alongside some of the poignant photographs which were its inspiration.

The writing group’s convener, Ron Norman of Arncliffe, said: “As we began to explore these images in the collection, many of us found ourselves drawn to related ideas – especially the relationship between the people who live here now, and those who lived out lives in the not-so-distant past which were both recognisably similar and yet radically different.”

He adds that each contributor has adopted a distinctive approach and developed a uniquely individual voice.

Mr Norman added: “The joy of this anthology is the sheer diversity of voice, style and genre explored by each writer.

“For example, take Eileen Leahy, the author of several beautifully told short stories such as The Last Laugh and Back End Baby. For her, the photographs (some of which are reproduced in the book) served as catalysts for richly imagined and wryly observed narratives in which we are invited ‘inside the skin’ of a central character.”

This year, 2020, was to have been the year of the society’s ambitious celebration of photographs, research, art, music, film and writing inspired by the photographic archive.

Despite the disappointment of having to postpone this event until May 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing restrictions, the collection of original writing produced as part of the project has now been published.

The group of authors, who first came together in the summer of 2019, included previously published writers as well as those with less experience.

They had been meeting regularly pre-lockdown to share new work with their fellow contributors, and it soon became clear that there was sufficient common ground between them to enable Present in the Past to be organised around several broad themes.

Among other contributors, recent creative writing graduate Jack Paul (in poems like Now and Then and Reversed), Ron Norman (in poems such as Snowbound and song lyrics such as The Excursion) and Geraldine Norman (in Tied) found that the beguiling snapshots of Dales people going about their lives were the starting point for carefully crafted and thoughtfully reflective pieces of verse.

Heather Lane, who penned poems such as Hawkswick,27th April and The Skirfare, draws intensely on her own closely observed responses to the history and landscape of the area.

For others like Mike Stephenson, Jane Hargreaves and Andrea Thompson, the images were triggers for vividly recalled reminiscences from childhood.

By contrast, Ian Smith’s The Perfect Village trilogy consists of three very different and creatively re-imagined prose pieces informed by extensive historical research.

The publication of Present in the Past is timely; with its variety of verse, short stories and personal anecdote.

This handsome volume is a fine companion for these lengthening evenings and the perfect antidote for the autumn blues

This unique collection captures all that is special about Upper Wharfedale: its people, its history, its customs and, above all, its wonderful landscape.

The group was founded in November 2016 out of a need identified in the community for Arts & Literature events which could be accessed locally.

Membership is open to everyone over 16 who supports the aims of the society and the group welcomes all new members who share an enthusiasm for the arts and literature. There is an annual subscription of £10 which entitles you to priority booking and preferential ticket price to any of our events.

The Committee is made up of three elected members plus four elected officers.

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