‘Lovely Nelly’: A Ship of Hope

Vivien Jones updates us on this wonderful project with local writers

12 January 2021

Vivien Jones updates us on her wonderful 'Lovely Nelly' project, which she started work on in 2019 with a group of local writers, and tells us how it has fared during the pandemic. 

In the autumn of 2019, I gave a writing workshop on creative non-fiction to the Crichton Writers as part of their regular programme. I had taken the boarding lists for the Snow Class brig, Lovely Nelly, who sailed from the Solway to St John’s Island, Nova Scotia in the late 18th century, carrying 150 Scottish emigrants looking for a new life.

The notion was that the factual details in the records might stimulate imagination and lead to some interesting creative work. Our two-hour session left the participants eager for more and their early work suggested real engagement with the project.

I approached the Wigtown Festival Company to see if they liked the idea of making a publication of such a project and they agreed to finance two workshops and to pay the publication costs of any resulting book. Dumfries Museum, as ever, was generous with a welcoming meeting space in their Windmill Hill building. 

I am always keen to site workshops in museums or historic properties – I find the proximity of artefacts that date from the time we intend to study extremely stimulating, and this proved to be so with this project. In the end there were fifteen participants, many of them writers with little or no published works to their credit, but what they had in common was enthusiasm and application.

For the workshops I assembled those boarding lists and other contemporary resources, principally the detailed account of a court case, heard in Dumfries, that helped us piece together the two voyages of Lovely Nelly and her passengers while tracking the financial dispute between the ship owners and the factor. This was written and freely shared by Frances Wilkins. By the end of the second workshop there was more than enough material for the book so we set about editing the content, with a view to a public launch at the Spring Book Weekend in Wigtown.

Then came Covid-19.

Printer closed, further workshops cancelled, Wigtown Book Festival went online, and our book was posted there, but I was keen that we would provide hard copies at the very least for the Festival Bookshop, the Museum and the participants. So it was I received permission to print in December 2020 and the resulting book can be seen at Dumfries Museum when it re-opens in 2021.

Click here to find out more about the project, and to read the digital edition.

Vivien Jones, January 2021