Content POV: Helen Shaw

Helen Shaw has been a member of the Radio Awards Grand Jury since 2013. Her award-winning company, Athena Media has previously earned the Grand Award, six Gold, 2 Silver, and a Bronze for work submitted into the NYF Radio Awards.

New York, NY | June 01, 2020

Helen Shaw has been a member of the Radio Awards Grand Jury since 2013. Her award-winning company, Athena Media has previously earned the Grand Award, six Gold, 2 Silver, and a Bronze for work submitted into the NYF Radio Awards. Additional accolades include both the Celtic Media Festivals Awards and the Irish Radio Awards. Athena Media also runs Podcasting Ireland. Prior to starting Athena Media, Ms. Shaw was Head of RTE Radio for five years, launching RTE Lyric FM and leading the digital transformation. She sits on the board of Arts Council and is a member of the Royal Irish Academy’s Social Sciences Committee. 

The Gold for “Mother’s Blood, Sister Songs” brings that total to seven Gold trophies. In this edition of Content POV, Helen shares the backstory of the transmedia project.

“Mother's Blood, Sister Songs' began with a chance conversation one day on the first visit to Reyjkavik, that Iceland had many red-haired women and that their gene pool was predominately Irish. That thread became a story of discovery, of our past as Irish women and our shared present with Icelandic women.

It's a story that began with women taken, often by force, during the Viking era in Ireland and brought to Iceland to begin its first settlement. The stories of these women had been lost, seen more as myth and folklore, like the Melkorka character in the Icelandic Sagas, the slave Irish woman who turns out to have been a captured Irish princess, but the more we explored and questioned, the more we found our common connections; in story, music, poetry and of course genetics.

Yet in deciding to make a documentary series I did not want it to be a solely historical or scientific narrative, I wanted to find a more poetic way of bringing the story of these women alive, and to see voice to our connections across one thousand years through song and music. I had met the Irish composer Linda Buckley before and knew she was obsessed with Iceland, with its landscape, its soundscape, and music, that she had gone there to write music and had brought the language and sounds of Iceland into her own work.

Yet Linda herself knew nothing of the roots of the connections between the two places, except that when she was there she often looked into the faces of Icelandic people and saw her own people reflected back. With Linda as the anchor, the voice that takes us on this journey from her own home in the isolated tip of southwest Ireland to Iceland, we could hear and see this story, of factual discovery, in a soundscape of place and song and so it became 'Mother's Blood, Sister Songs', the song of how the genetics of Iceland reveals its Irish motherhood.

Throughout the recording and edit, I wanted people to feel immersed through the very layered sound design that underscores the historians, scientists, folklorists, and artists and we used two particular tracks of Linda Buckley's own work as motifs and themes, both connecting Ireland and Iceland but also giving a sense of the loss voice of women like Melkorka, the slave women who become the pioneers of such an incredible and fascinating people.

We recording both in Ireland and Iceland but we also filmed the audio record sessions so that the project was designed as a transmedia story, a website with individual resource pages and podcasts for each person we met so that a sister podcast channel 'In Search of Melkorka' was created and released as we were editing the final radio documentaries, two full hours, for RTE lyric FM and it was this final documentary which was entered into New York Festivals Radio Awards 2020 and won Gold.

The project was for us a joy to work on. It felt like a wonderfully long intricate walk into a deep forest, at times difficult and challenging, but when it was over we felt that tinge of regret one feels when you arrive, relieved to have finished but knowing you've never quite made that journey again.

"Mother's Blood, Sister Songs' dominated one full year for us and while we've been lucky enough to win a few awards at the New York Festivals Radio Awards this felt extra special because of that, and we cherish this recognition by our peers.

Helen Shaw - producer 'Mother's Blood, Sister Songs' on behalf of Linda Buckley, presenter, John Howard digital editor, and Pearse O Caoimh, audio mix editor.

The entire audio project, podcasts, and final documentaries are available now on YouTube and in all podcast places and through the website