Norah Elliott (b.1903): Researching Writing Lives

From the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, I chose the untitled memoir of Norah Elliott. Her biographical entry intrigued me as she has experienced familial illnesses and deaths, adoption, education, immigration, political movements, war, physical disability, and being a woman in the 20th century. And what made Norah’s memoir completely irresistible was the inclusion of her own poetry, which is both personal and universal. Enjoying poetry myself, I thought it would be a pleasure and a privilege to publicise that poetry for Norah, who was never published. Norah’s perceptive insight and compelling writing gave her memoir an almost fictitious voice, as though she were trying to really capture our attention in a poetic manner. Her natural literariness makes her memoir entertaining, evoking happiness, humour and sadness.

Norah’s poetry was the main reason I chose her memoir. Being an English literature student, I also thoroughly enjoy poetry and, like myself, she dreamt of becoming a writer. Norah’s voice throughout her work seems passionate and determined, and she appears to me as a very strong woman. Yet, she also seems almost haunted by the ghosts of her past. The working-class, single and childless Norah achieves a lot during her life, considering the devastating childhood she had, and her memoir shows this (without becoming conceited).

Family group picture at Halloughton Wood 1923
Halloughton Wood Farm House

Towards the end of the module I was contacted by a descendant of Norah’s adopted family. Wonderfully, this contact shared images and information about the Elliotts and their own family tree. It was really great to get fresh, personal information that wasn’t included in Norah’s writing. And not only did I benefit from this contact, but they were able to access Norah’s memoir which they never knew existed before reading my blog posts.

Becoming a researcher on this Writing Lives project meant I could develop a professional side to my social media skills and learn how a blogging site it managed. Having no previous experience with blogging before taking part in this project, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. But since starting the project I have learnt how to write accessibly, remain professional online and operate a blogging page. I now fully appreciate the great influence of social media and the positive ways it can help promote projects such as this. Also, I am now aware of a great community of people that are involved with working-class writing, something I’d never known or experienced prior to this project.

The Researching Writing Lives project has enabled me to develop my skills online, on social media and in blogging. It has had a significantly positive influence on my writing skills, needing to be accessible but also remain professional. I have provided a descendant of Norah’s with her ancestor’s autobiography and I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about working-class writing, and Norah’s life in particular.

Norah writes that herself and her little brother found a golden sovereign one afternoon whilst playing on a hill, and she believed that finding this gave them immortality. I’d like to think that the Writing Lives project has immortalised, or preserved Norah Elliott, as well as all her family members, experiences and poetry.

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