We’re really happy to announce the launch of Writing the Asylum – a website showcasing the creative work of 28 writers and artists, inspired by the stories of former patients and staff at Gartnavel Royal Asylum (Gartnavel Hospital).

A project inspired by Gartnavel Royal Asylum

Writing the Asylum is a creative project funded by the University of Glasgow and Wellcome through the Glasgow Medical Humanities Early Career Awards in 2022 and 2023. The Glasgow writer and editor Gillean McDougall had carried out extensive research into the archive of Gartnavel Royal Asylum in her academic writing and proposed a collaborative project involving 28 writers and artists who would create new work based on the stories of former patients and staff at the Asylum or inspired in some way by its remarkable presence in the West End of Glasgow. The site is both a landmark and memorial to the many people who have passed through Gartnavel’s doors – at one stage nearly 1000 patients were accommodated there – and the new creative work is imaginative and wide-ranging; an appropriate remembrance.

Writing the Asylum – capturing stories and memories

The 28 writers and artists had free rein as to how they interpreted both the archive records and the history of the Gartnavel geography, and this is reflected in the range of work included in the project which was completed over an 18-month period. Poetry, short story, life writing and hybrid forms using words with image are all featured. Writers have written about family mental health challenges as well as treatment journeys undertaken elsewhere in the Gartnavel medical campus. There are drawings, photographs and textile work. One contributor uses the ‘lumen’ photographic technique to combine cherry blossom from the Asylum grounds with hand-written patient records. The resulting package is left in the light to develop with uncertain results – perfectly summing up Gartnavel’s motto in dealing with mental ill health over centuries, Reluceat (Let there be light again).

Showcasing the work in a new website

As the writing was nearing completion, Gillean approached us to discuss a project website. There were many challenges – numerous images, and often the creative writing needed to be presented in a particular formatting to satisfy both writer and reader. Gillean’s original ideas for layout, presented as rough pencil sketches, were converted into digital layouts and always with a keen consideration for the best representation of the creative work.

Gillean commented: “The Writing the Asylum website showcases the project beautifully, and the ethos of care, patience and attention to detail in Gerard Donnelly’s work reflects the other creative elements of the project.”

You can view the website, and the wonderful work of all 28 writers and artists at www.writingtheasylum.co.uk.

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