Working on ‘Black Country Women’ was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my writing life. The whole project was friendly, well organised, adventurous and full of discoveries. It was a fine opportunity (and excuse) to meet and chat with all sorts of different people; a dream project for me.
I’m delighted to participate in this project, which really does bring photography and writing back to the community.
In 2012, Multistory invited Dame Margaret Drabble to visit the Black Country to write about the lives of women living and working in the Black Country. The project resulted in ‘Black Country Women’,a magazine produced by Multistory with, for and about Black Country women, with stories by Margaret Drabble and photographs by Martin Parr.
Margaret spent a number of days in the area, over several trips, visiting Susan’s Hairdressers on the High Street in West Bromwich; Teddy Gray’s sweet factory in Dudley; The Crossroads Café in Willenhall; Pat Gorman’s pork pie factory; and many other Black Country locations to meet with, and talk to, local women. Margaret was supported by local writer and performance poet, Emma Purshouse, who used her local knowledge and relationships to introduce Margaret to local women.
Margaret has written three beautiful, locally resonant, short stories: ‘That Lucky Dress’, ‘Hot Pork Sandwich’ and ‘Going Home’. Each of the stories has been informed and shaped by the conversations and stories that Margaret experienced from talking with local women and they brilliantly capture the qualities and strengths of Black Country women. Click on the image to the right to listen.
Martin Parr has produced all of the photographs in the magazine, from the adverts to the top tips. He’s also created a fashion shoot with local women for ‘What you’re wearing’, and was invited into women’s homes to photograph them making their favourite dishes for the ‘Fine Fittle’ food feature. The magazine also features an eight – page, photo spread including, Teddy Gray’s Sweet Factory, Dudley Zoo and Tescos in Dudley, from Martin’s extensive archive about the Black Country.
‘Black Country Women’ follows the format and design of the traditional women’s magazine; it is the Black Country version of ‘Woman’s Realm’ or ‘Woman’s Own’, but with a twist! All of the additional content has been contributed by local women including: the top tips, problem page, fashion, food and craft features, book club and much, much more!
Black Country Women launched on Friday 20 September 2013, at a special event at the West Bromwich Town Hall with Margaret Drabble, Martin Parr and the women who contributed to the project; all of the women who took part in the project received a free, signed copy.
The magazine was distributed to local libraries, women’s hairdressers and doctors’ surgeries in Sandwell. It is for sale via Multistory’s online shop.
You can hear Margaret talking about the magazine on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour by clicking here.