Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Tin Shed Experience

The summer is warming up and it’s pleasant chatting in the little courtyard between the two main parts of this fascinating and unusual little museum.

You won’t find neatly labelled exhibits here nor lengthy descriptions of historical events. Rather, you are left to browse and if anything catches your eye you can find out more by asking co-owner Seimon Pugh-Jones or a volunteer guide.

It’s all 1940s material and therefore fascinating for me of course. There is even an Anderson shelter in the garden.

For me personally the most interesting is the 1940s’ tin cottage, also in the garden. I spend a while in there and can really imagine what it would be like to live there.

We chat for hours, and the guides also chat to the two other visitors. It’s quite difficult to get them to take our money. I find a seat in the shade.

Finally Seimon pops his head out of the main exhibition area. “Are you all right there?” he asks. “Do you fancy a cuppa? I was just going to put the kettle on.” It’s that sort of place.

I tell him all about the Schellberg Project. “That sounds interesting,” he says. “Send me some material.”

So I’ve spent much of this week putting together a small pack consisting of some general information about the project, some extra information about the girls’ letters scans of three of the letters with their transcripts and translations, and one of the board games from the school pack. I’m also going to send him a copy of The House on Schellberg Street.

The Tin Shed also has a performance space. Some fascinating events have taken place there and more will take place in the future. If you’re ever near Laugharne do check out this intriguing little museum.  Details here.      

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The five stories - or is it six?

The five stories – or is it six.

Here they are:
The House on Schellberg Street.
This is about Renate leaving Germany, coming to England on the Kindertranpost and making changes in her life. It is also about the people she left behind in Germany – her grandmother, her best friend Hani and her other friends     

Clara’s Story:
This is the story of Renate’s grandmother. Her life might be construed as a tragedy. Or was it?  She remained ever hopeful and it was largely thanks to her that a school for the disabled managed to survive the Holocaust and World War II.

Girl in a Smart Uniform
Two girls who are at first love their BDM uniform and are a little in love with the Nazi regime have to make some difficult choices that leave them having to leave their home.

Facing the Fürher
Käthe, Renate’s mother is quite feisty. She is one of the first women to study at the university in Berlin. She chooses particle physics and studies under Einstein. She is the first woman to get a driving license in Jena. The she comes face to face with Hitler in a most bizarre situation.

The Round Robin
A group of German girls write letters in exercise books and send them on to each other.

I’m currently taking a break from writing these and writing a fourth book in my Peace Child series. This is a young adult / new adult science fiction series. They’re curiously similar, actually.

In fact, as well, a sixth Schellberg hovers in my mind: Helga’s Story. But who is Helga?

Can you guess the links between the books? Let me know via the comments box or the contact form. Prizes offered!                

Sunday, 30 April 2017

More development of the workshop – discovery packs

I’m now working on a further section of materials for my workshop. These are discovery packs. There is one for each of the main characters:
  • Renate
  • Hani
  • Clara
  • Käthe
  • Gisela
  • The school girls
 I’m also bringing in a gender balance so I’m including:
·         Hans Edler (Renate’s father)
·         Christoph (the young man who helped at the house on Schellberg Street)
·         Karl Schubert (the man who ran the school in the house on Schellberg Street)
·         Ernst Lehrs  (Käthe’s brother)
·         Thomas (Gisela’s neighbour)
·         All about the Hitler Youth

These are all taking quite a long time to create. I’m providing six sheets of A4 for each character. Each sheet contains a mixture of materials:
·         Facsimiles of real documents
·         Useful links
·         Public domain pictures or ones to which I own the copyright
·         Extracts form the novels

Groups of up to six students should work on one character. There are probably twice as many characters as needed here. Each sheet hints at information and should prompt further questioning in the students. I’m suggesting in an hour’s lesson they spend forty minutes or so on this, aiming for each group to spend up to five minutes presenting to the rest of the class any extra information they’ve found out using the packs. They could of course also lead to a much larger piece of work.          

I also intend to create some creative writing prompts to go with each activity.  

Friday, 7 April 2017

Workshop at Hartford High

Friday 31 March found me at Hartford Church of England School delivering a Schellberg Cycle Workshop. We arranged it there slightly differently from the way I normally do. You can read more details about this on my Writing Teacher Blog.    

I was very pleased with how attentive the students were and how hard they worked. Their teachers really engaged with the material as well. I’d sent the workshop pack over in advance so they were able to study the details. Each teacher worked with their class in slightly different ways so different emphases came out in each group. I was pleased to see discussion of the following topics:
·         How difficult it must have been for Renate, finding out only a few days before she came to England, that she was Jewish
·         Why we only rescued 10,000 Jews and all of them children
·         How life wasn’t all bad then – it had its ups and downs (This comes out very much in the board games and the Hanna Braun letters)  
·         Why the girls liked the BDM uniform
·         Seeing the Allies as the “baddies”   
·         The subtle indoctrination that made the girls appreciate camaraderie and duty.

Interestingly, I’d suggested to the teachers that they might include a gender balance in the groups. There are in fact three male and three female roles in each board game. They didn’t do this but allowed the students to stay in single gender groups. However, the boys happily took on the female roles and the girls the male ones.

If you’re a teacher wanting to learn more, sign up here to get updates on the workshop, which is still evolving, and download the teachers’ notes will give you a real insight as to how the workshop functions.         

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Interview with Frederik Nath on his novels set in World War II

What led you to writing your fiction set in World War II?

Although like a lot of people, I’ve always had a vague interest in the French Resistance, it was not something I ever had a burning desire to write about until I was on holiday in the Dordogne and was in the market square in Bergerac. I found the inscriptions on the war monument very moving and thought – well now there’s a story in there somewhere. 
The early morning sunlight flickered from behind the high clouds and reflected golden and crisp from the monument in Bergerac’s market square. Around me, shoppers bustled and in the roadway a car beeped its horn. The grey stone pillar rose fifteen feet above me, its shadow pointing away towards the elm trees that line the roadway. A smell of garlic wafted as I read those brave words that showed the strength of the French and France’s indomitable leaders. The monument was a reminder of the valour and sacrifice of those brave local partisans who gave up their lives in the struggle against the occupying Nazi forces all those years ago.
Yes, it is moving. Surely there’s a story here.
In my head a story began to form. What would it have been like to have to make the choices needed to protect oneself and one’s family yet still remain French? The main character would need to do something admirable. He would need to depart from the norm. If you became a partisan you would endanger the people nearest you. What if you were caught? 

I began to think of how it would be to be the one who is rounding up the local Jewish people. Would you hate it? Of course you would, even if you were forced to it for fear of endangering your family. For a religious man it would be even harder. Surely one would do anything to avoid such ‘duties’ if you had a conscience?
The story began to form. A Vichy French policeman, a man of conscience, a family man working with evil Nazis whom he secretly hated. I created Auguste Ran, a good policeman, but in essence weak, until a certain event tips him over the edge and slowly he begins to fight back.
That’s where THE CYCLIST came from and it was my springboard for the other books in my French resistance series. Each takes a character and makes life hard for them, allowing them to become. In the end, THE CYCLIST sold 30,000 copies. It was Editor’s choice in the Historical Novel Review in 2011.

You can catch all six books on Amazon: a policeman, a teacher, an artist, a chef, a philosopher and in THE PROMISE a medical student.
THE PROMISE is the last and most recent of the series. Jean Valois, a medical student before the war, swears to his sister he will protect her. But in war, who can keep such promises? Trained to kill by SOE, in a desperate bid to save his sister Rebecca, he undertakes a mission deep into enemy-occupied Poland, risking all for the sake of a promise made long ago. A story of love, war, hatred and revenge, THE PROMISE tells a tale of courage and staunchness.

Why is this era so important to so many people?

Important may not be the right word. I think many people understand and empathise with what the French put up with during the occupation. It takes little imagination to see how those terrible time wove a fabric of anger and resistance. In the second book (Farewell Bergerac) one of the characters says in relation to a child he had seen painting out a German slogan: ‘That child is what the resistance is all about. Each of us must do what we can do. No one expects you to become a soldier. What use would a fat innkeeper be against the Hun? Not fighting, but resistance in every way, subtle or obvious, it doesn’t matter. Resist, object and show it, then die.’ I think that particular sentiment is applicable to many countries and many people who feel oppressed. It creates a kind of kinship with the past which in our minds we interpolate with our present.

Did you have to do much research?

One can do too much research and end up with a history instead of a story. I tend to write picturing the scenes and the action and when I need to make the picture in my head vivid enough to relate, I look up details which give the feel of the time. So, I guess I do much of the research as I go along.

 Which is your favourite book about this era – either one of your own or one by someone else?

My favourite book that I have had published is Francesca Pascal. Its written from the perspective of a woman who is an artist and describes how she believes in her country and seeks revenge in her way against the Nazis. Ive lived with and loved women all my life, but have no understanding of them, so writing from a womans POV was daunting to say the least.

Could you give us a two line summary of that book?

When Francescas daughter is killed by the German invaders, she vows to obtain vengeance in any way she can. She discovers that vengeance is no source of closure and there are better things in life with which to become obsessed.