How 'Other Worlds' was born

Stuart Delves reflects on the birth and development of Other Worlds at the Story Museum.

It all started with an ad in the Guardian, late autumn 2010. Fundraiser wanted for the Story Museum in Oxford. Story Museum? Oxford? Mm – interest2: on the net in minutes, and there beside a kindergarten portrait, the name Tish Francis, a contact of an Edinburgh-based Dark Angel. The fledgling project sounded great and perfect, I thought, for a venture to visit as part of the research exercise we run on our Dark Angels Master Classes that take place in Oxford. A few emails and phone calls later we’re fixed to visit Rochester House (once old Oxford’s Jewish quarter and more recently the city’s GPO and telephone exchange) in early April 2011.

Merton 2011 was quite something for Dark Angels. BBC Radio 4 came and did a feature on us which put us on the world map. We had interest from as far afield as Papua New Guinea and as close to home as professors of language. (Neither have signed up.) And we went to see the Story Museum – me, Rachel Francis, Roger Horberry and Mark Watkins – and were taken on a magical tour by the wonderfully enthusiastic Co-Director, Kim Pickin. The labyrinth of abandoned rooms, deserted canteens, vine-invaded mail rooms and beckoning, keyless safes fired our imaginations, and the team created a brilliant presentation on how to promote the project.

The visit got me thinking: here could be a great creative project and a great creative partnership. Roger was also having similar thoughts. The theme of Other Worlds came almost immediately. Oxford is that portal. Inspired by artist-in-residence Ted Dewan’s marvellous shop window on Pembroke Street, with artefacts from the other worlds of Philip Pullman, C.S.Lewis et al, my first thought was a fantasy packaging project with writers and designers working together. But John (Simmons), after he’d visited, took it one step further – an exhibition of installations, bringing light and shadow, sound and story, wonder and laughter to the haunts of echoing corridors and dusty rooms: heralding what hopefully will one day be there, more permanently, in the renovated building.

So, that’s what we’ve got, the extraordinary outcome of 20 or so writers working in collaboration with visual artists, film makers and designers. For me it was an opportunity to work with my wife Catriona and daughter Caitlin to evoke the other world of lost childhood. For the Dark Angels graduates of our two Master Classes it was an opportunity to pull out all the stops –and they’ve certainly done that! Go if there’s still time! For the Story Museum it was an opportunity to invite guests like Michael Rosen, Roger Dean, Korky Paul, Kate Clanchy and Erin Bannister-Townsend to be involved and to launch an exciting programme of events. (And thanks must go to Kim and Tish, Cath and Sarah, Alison and all the volunteers for their tireless work on making this happen. And from our side (the dark side) John, for his unstinting input.)

Finally for Dark Angels (John, Jamie and me), Other Worlds has been an opportunity to showcase the kind of work we do (or rather the creative juices we get going) on our Advanced Course in Andalucia and our Master Class in Oxford. It has set up an expectation, of course. What will follow on from the next Master Class in 2013? Well, we’ve started to think about that. It will be something different, something wonderful, something grand and ambitious. Something fun.

But that’s jumping ahead. In the meantime, if you haven’t been, go and see Other Worlds. Let visitor comments from the Story Museum’s website tempt you.

  • Do NOT make this like a ‘normal’ museum. Keep it as dilapidated as possible. Pleeeese. We love it.
  • The Story Museum is like the most favourite bits of the inside of my head.
  • An amazing and inspiring exhibition. I think I will go home and write a story.
  • Thank you – and if I was 8, I would want to live here.
  • Great experience – best museum I’ve ever been to…loved every single bit.
  • I came with an open mind and I leave with it full. Thank you.
  • I want to move in!
  • This is one of the most exciting things I have seen in Oxford for decades.

Other Worlds is showing at the Story Museum until 27 May.

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