First reaction when I tell people about Eileen O’Shaughnessy and George Orwell is…‘Who…Orwell the writer. THE Orwell. 1984 and all that ?…. ‘Yep, that’s him’ I reply.
In May 2012 I was in the Local Studies library when the librarian Anne Sharp showed me a South Shields birth certificate with the name Eileen O’Shaughnessy. She wasn’t sure but thought Eileen was the wife of author George Orwell. (real name Eric Arthur Blair). A few weeks passed and I was doing some research in the library when I saw a display at the back of the room that Anne had put together.
There were three large boards. On the left was a birth certificate and census records. To the right was a photo of George Orwell, a newspaper cutting and a picture of a cemetery in Newcastle. I thought this looks interesting. In the middle was a large black and white photograph featuring about a dozen men standing near sandbags and a machine gun at the front. It was obviously a war image. I found it was taken during the Spanish Civil War. Then I noticed a dark haired woman crouching behind the machine gun. I looked closer. Hair’s stood up on my arms. Goose bumps. I needed to know more.
There wasn’t much information out there about Eileen, just a few bits and pieces that had been mentioned in Orwell books. So there was extensive research over the next year or so. Phone calls, letters, checking and re-checking details. Interviews on camera were arranged around the country. One led to another and to another, as phone numbers and emails were passed on. It felt like being gently nudged along to find more about her. Weeks and months passed while information was gathered, I never come across any obstacles. Everybody I asked wanted to be part of the documentary and were only too happy to help.
During Summer 2013 I put the research to one side and started working on a film ‘Designs for Life’. The short film was about the growing demand for tattoo’s and that women are increasingly becoming part of the tattoo’d tribe. I’ve found having a couple of projects at different stages helps in the film making process. Spending time on something else gives you space away from the other project and finally return to it with fresh eyes and ears. ‘Designs for Life’ kept me busy until Autumn 2013 and further sales of previous documentaries funded my time to start piecing together the film about Eileen.
Who knew that a library visit in 2012 would take me and my camera, from South Shields to Sunderland, Newcastle, Stockton, Warwickshire, Oxford, London and finally Barcelona. I remember I had the camera in my backpack walking through Barcelona Airport thinking ‘how did I get here?’ It seemed so effortless, the whole process just fell into place.
On 26th March 2014 I screened for the first time, Wildflower the documentary about Eileen O’Shaughnessy in the theatre of South Shields Library where I first met Eileen. Her son Richard Blair, who is interviewed in the documentary, and friends from The Orwell Society came up North to watch the film. The Society also arranged a screening of the film on the Isle of Jura where Orwell wrote ‘1984’.
A short clip from the documentary edited this year. Why not check out other ALIKIVI films on You Tube and subscribe to the channel.
Gary Alikivi June 2018.
Secrets & Lies, Baron Avro Manhattan documentary, 17th July 2018.
Westoe Rose, Amy Flagg documentary, 19th July 2018.
Zamyatin, Tyneside-Russia documentary, 7th August 2018.
Why not check the ALIKIVI You Tube channel for more North East stories.