Talks and Tales: The Childhood Writing of Christine Orr

21 August 2019 – 22 March 2020

Writers’ Museum, Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close, EH1 2PA

Free admission

The Writers’ Museum is now exhibiting two beautiful manuscript illustrated magazines produced in Edinburgh by Christine Orr and friends between 1911 and 1916. Born in 1899 Orr was a hugely important contributor to Edinburgh’s cultural landscape and was a founding member of the Fringe, publishing poems, plays and 18 novels during her lifetime – despite her name being little known today.

Talks and Tales: The Childhood Writing of Christine Orr reveals the budding talent of a woman who could be considered worthy of inclusion in the roll call of authors of the Scottish Literary Renaissance, as well as providing a fascinating glimpse of middle-class Edinburgh during WWI.

A contemporary of Neil Gunn, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Naomi Mitchison and Nan Shepherd, her first novel, The Glorious Thing (1919), set in Edinburgh during WWI and published when she was only 20, was republished in 2013 by MSc Publishing students at Napier University as part of the commemoration of the centenary of WWI.

As well as publishing numerous plays and writing for BBC Radio, Orr formed amateur theatre companies in Edinburgh including the Christine Orr Players, The Makars and, with her husband, Robin Stark, the Unicorn Players. In 1947 they staged a play to coincide with the Edinburgh International Festival and became known as one of the ‘uninvited eight’ who kick-started the Festival Fringe.

The exhibition will feature two of the manuscript magazines along with a short story written by Orr, some of her personal possessions, such as a pencil box and inkwell, and a selection of her published works. This will be the first public display of this material and the aim is to celebrate the achievements of a woman who was once a principal player in Edinburgh’s cultural life, to generate further interest and awareness in her work and secure the legacy she rightly deserved.

Councillor Donald Wilson, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture Convener, said: “Edinburgh was the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature and remains a genuine hub for all things linked to literature. Christine Orr was an important contributor to the Scottish Renaissance of the early twentieth century and this exhibition reveals her early talent for the very first time. I hope many will visit and learn about the writer herself and the important role she played in Scottish literary history.

This month, Edinburgh is home to the largest public celebration of the written word in the world, the Edinburgh International Book Festival and of course visitors to our Writers’ Museum can discover the city’s rich writing heritage all year round.”

Curator Susan Gardner said: “While I was doing some research for the displays in the Museum of Childhood’s new gallery, Changing Childhood, I came across the 2013 publication of The Glorious Thing by the Napier publishing students. It was then that I made the connection between the material in the Museum of Childhood’s collection and Christine Orr.

It was wonderful to be able to flesh out the story behind the Talks and Tales magazines as well the many other personal belongings donated by Christine and her husband, Robin Stark. I was amazed to discover Christine’s connections with Edinburgh theatre and the birth of the Festival Fringe as well as the novels, poems and plays she wrote, all very much centered on Edinburgh and the Lothians. It seemed appropriate to stage an exhibition in 2019, the centenary of the publication of her first novel, The Glorious Thing, and it would be wonderful if the exhibition helped to spark new interest in the life and work of Christine Orr.”