Monday, 17 July 2017

The House on Schellberg Street as a play script

I'm now about half way through creating the first draft of this. It's my first attempt at a play and I think this is very much a first draft. I worry a little that it may have a few too many scenes and some tricky set changes, though I see it on an abstract and minimalist stage.

There is a fairly large cast but there are many minor parts that can be covered by a chorus.

Might it work better as a radio play?

All to be looked at and all up for debate.

In any case, it is intriguing how the narrative translates into dialogue and a few stage directions. Inner monologue from the novel is replaced by acting in the play.

The voice that speaks to Renate at the end of some scenes I'm giving to an actor who actually comes on as a Nazi officer. The same actor must play the benign border official in one of the final scenes.

Today I wrote the scene where Renate looks for him but in the novel doesn't see him. In the play he comes on stage but does not speak. I've posted that scene below. Let me know what you think.


ANNE , CHRISTINE, CHORUS  and THE HAIRDRESSER  are in a bathroom. RENATE is sitting in front of a mirror. Her eyes are closed and she has her hands over her eyes.  Her hair has now been cut into a modern bob. She has a towel around her shoulder. There is hair on the floor.

CHRISTINE:  There, you can look now. Open your eyes.

RENATE takes her hands away from her face and looked in the mirror. She gasps.

HAIRDRESSER: You do like it, don’t you?

GIRL 1. It looks really lovely. Don’t you think so, Renate?

ANNE:  Will you cut mine like that?

HAIRDRESSER: Yes, of course. But maybe you’d better come to the salon. She looks down at the hair all over the bathroom floor.

CHRISTINE. Oh, don’t worry about that. We’ll soon clear it all up.

HAIRDRESSER You’re really lucky that you have such a nice natural wave. It will be easy to keep it like that. You’ll just need to set it each time you wash it.

CHRISTINE: You’re not saying much, Renate. Don’t you like it?

RENATE: Of course I do. It’s lovely.

ANNE: It makes you look really pretty.

HAIRDRESSER: Well, I’m glad you’re pleased.

NURSE: enters centre stage. Goodness.  She looks first at the floor and then at Renate. Girls, you need to finish up now. And tidy up this mess. Renate needs to get some rest.

CHRISTINE: Oh, we’ll do this very quickly. Do you have a dustpan and brush?

NURSE: Follow me. She hesitates as she goes to exit centre stage and turns back to Renate. It makes you look so English. It really suits you. THE NURSE and CHRISTINE exit centre stage.

RENATE looks back at her reflection. Then she looks around. The lights dim and the other girls freeze. The NAZI OFFICER appears briefly stage left but he doesn't speak. RENATE stares at him. He blinks then exits again stage left. Lights come up again fully.

CHRISTINE: enters centre stage. Still admiring yourself? Come on girls.  She hands the dustpan to Anne and the brush to GIRL 1. Let’s get this cleared up before matron has fifty fits.

RENATE: Thank you for thinking of this.   


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.