Friday 25 November 2011

Micky Mitchell A Country War: Memoirs of a Land Girl

This books is full of useful information and I am quite pleased that is has confirmed my view of what it was like living on a farm in the 1940s.
Life is difficult in the 1940s, and not just because of the war. It seemed peaceful in the countryside though everyone was very busy. The farm work was hard but the workers were fed well.  Micky Mitchell became part of the family for whom she worked.
She actually did all of the jobs that I have my farm girls doing: milking, helping with harvest and mending fences and ditches. Micky helped to make cider. My girls don’t – but Renate did live on a farm that produced cider.  
They seemed too to have quite a busy social life – dances, ENSA evenings and big supper parties at the homes of other farmers whom they’d helped or at their own home when other farmers had helped them.          
This is a content rich book and is well written even though it is not a great literary masterpiece. It is certainly very informative.  

Thursday 24 November 2011

The First Rewrite

This is now complete. I felt I had to check all of the girls’ timelines. I found that they were actually correct. No two year pregnancies and nobody got engaged to two different people. The change in the letters was also subtle and at the right speed.
I wanted to bring some more tension into the Renate strand. I think I have managed that but I haven’t had to alter it a lot. I’ve made a little more of the voices in the head and added a few more examples in. I imagine it to be the voice of the collective Nazi spirit. If it does become a stage play, I imagine a narrator / chorus type character dressed in an SS uniform. This voice stops after her breakdown. I feel that I want to replace it with something but I’m not sure what, yet. Hopefully it will come.
I also wanted to make up my mind what to do about the German words. Translate them or show meaning by example the first time they’re used? I’m still not sure, so I shall revisit that during the next edit.
I’ve taken some bits out but also added in some other sections. So, it’s still running at just under 100,000 words. Hopefully, some natural tightening might help there. The question is, does it all really work together?       

Tuesday 22 November 2011

The Holocaust Centre

I visited the Holocaust Centre yesterday. It is a really good museum and appropriate memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. I managed to get to talk to one of the survivors, Ruth Barnett. Like my mother-in-law, she survived by coming to England. She experienced similar feelings of unworthiness that my main character shows in my novel.
The two exhibitions at the Centre are very impressive: the Holocaust Exhibition and the Journey. The main exhibition is quite hard-hitting. It seems likely, from what I read there, that Clara Lehrs was shot, not gassed. That seems quite frightening but actually being gassed was not a pleasant way to die. Many victims lingered for quite a while.
The Journey is aimed at KS3 children and gives a real sense of what it might have been like to be a Jew in hiding and then a child on the Kindertransport. It is an extremely well thought-out exhibition. It replicates a German house where a Jewish family lived, a German school room, complete with picture of Hitler on the wall, a street scene on Kristall Nacht, a Jewish tailor’s shop with a hiding place, and a railway carriage which show films about the Kindertransport and the transportation to concentration and death camps. The final room is an exhibition. Throughout the Journey, one hears extracts for Leo’s diary. Leo is a young German Jew who starts to find life difficult and is then brought to England on the Kindertransport.
There are many opportunities to listen to and read survivor reports throughout the museum. The library also has a vast collection of many more. Normally, if there is a school group visiting, a survivor comes to speak and if there is enough space, the general public can listen as well.
The Memorial gardens are beautifully peaceful and provide a good space for some quiet contemplation. Over 800 people have planted white roses in memory of an individual who perished in the Holocaust.  A pity we did not know about this in time to do something for Clara Lehrs. But perhaps we can find something similar or start our own initiative.
If you know me, you will not be surprised that I bought three more books whilst there.     
I’m hoping to get there again. I was really well looked after by all of the staff there yesterday.          

Friday 18 November 2011

Working on the web site

I’ve already decided on the content for the web site, written some of it and designed the shape of it. As soon as I can find a decent place to host it and can obtain some quality illustration I’ll let it go live.
I’m including the normal ‘home’ and ‘about’ pages, and sections on the three story strands, fact and fiction and their interaction, the blog, alphabetical subject lists of books, links and other resources, the background issues, the people, some primary resources, deleted scenes from the book, articles, fiction as fact and writing historical fiction. I worked from a mindmap and everyday I’m revisiting it.
I’m looking for a web hosting service where I can author my work easily myself and I don’t use HTML. I want something that can look good and can have all the interactive services but I’m happy to avoid the sillier ones. I’ve used Weebly and Yola in the past but find them a little difficult to use. I’ve also used Office Live but that is no longer a good option for new sites.
Any suggestions gratefully accepted.        

Thursday 17 November 2011

Hani, 2 January 1939 (Deleted scene)

Here is one of those scenes I’ve deleted. I rather liked this but it had to go. Typically, it was a passage I needed to write to help me to get to know the character. The reader does not need this.  

Hani, 2 January 1939

The sun shining through the gap in the curtains woke Hani up. It felt as if it was going to be another lovely crisp and sunny day. There was something else as well. Now, what was it that she was feeling so pleased about? Yes, of course. Renate would be arriving this evening, and then there would be six whole days of long walks in the snow, then warming themsleves up by the woodburner and gossiping, and setting the world right. And a break from those wretched meetings. She didn’t mind the actual meeting that much, really, because they all had to be there and she liked spending time with the girls in her year had to be there as well. But it was that uniform. It looked so dull and it was all scratchy and it was a bit too tight for her. 
Hani jumped out of bed and ran over to the window. She flung open the curtains and the window and took a big breath. The air tasted so good. Everything was so fresh and clear this morning. She could see for miles, over the fields out towards the other hills.
Her eyes drifted down to the nearby woods. At least that was one good thing about the Hitler Youth Movement, she supposed. They had made a keep-fit trail through the forest. She needed it. Perhaps she and Renate could go and try it out. Not that Renate needed to. She was as fast as a hare and as skinny as a twig.
It was going to be so good to see her again.  And this time, they were going to sleep in the garage room. Nobody would disturb them there, and nobody would know whether they had stayed up half the night talking. Plus, they wouldn’t be keeping everybody else awake either. Mind you, she’d have to get cracking today and get it sorted out.
Two hours later she and Rikki were carrying armfuls of rubbish out of the garage room.

The USC Shoah Foundation Site

Click here to find out more.
This is extremely useful, easy to navigate and very informative. It allows access to may clips of Holocaust survivor accounts and some full accounts. Some of the other full accounts can be viewed through Bristol University and Royal Holloway University.      
The Scholarship and Research section allows online access to its archive. It has a list of useful publications, it describes some of the research projects currently underway and lists some courses, though the latter are disappointingly out of date.   
It has copious material for school teachers, offers some teacher training and some very good interactive resources for the students. Again there is access to witness statements.
I spent a long time on this site. There was a lot of material of great interest. However, as usual, with witness reports, one has to remember that a lot has happened to those people since then. They are using memory rather than describing experiences as they happen.       

Ball,(Don) and Roger E. Whitaker ‘Decade of the trains the 1940s’

This is mainly about American trains and mainly about the engines at that, though it has some items of interest:
The stations with the servicemen’s lounges
The posters
The complexity of running a railway system
The clothes of the passengers
The mixture of white and black steam coming from the engines How the needs of the war dominated the activity of the railways

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Vaizey, Hester. ‘Surviving Hitler’s War’

Vaizey, Hester. ‘Surviving Hitler’s War’ This is a scholarly work and the writer has accessed several relevant archives of interesting primary resources, including letters form the Feldpost service. Much of what she describes could probably be found in any post-war population: couples have grown apart, returning menfolk have problems readjusting to civilian life and children who are shy of fathers. No doubt the same happened in the United Kingdom and amongst the Russian population, and quite probably does after any major conflict that lasts for any substantial period of time. Hester Vaizey does give an account of the emotions involved, though this remains a scholarly text because of her use of primary resources and reliable secondary resources. Almost half of the book is made up of references, appendices and a comprehensive bibliography. These are of course also extremely useful.

Hester Vaizey's web site is: 

First Draft Complete

Well, I finished yesterday. I’ve managed, I think, to bring closure to all three strands of the novel in those final three chapters. I’ve gone: girls, Hani, Renate. Renate is the biggest strand. It is the most important and also the longest, for in the end, this novel is her story. Yet I’m the least satisfied with this last chapter - compared with almost anything else in the whole novel. Is that because it’s so important? I’m in the process of printing the novel out – it’s running at 402 pages (A4 double-spaced) 93,000 words. Over and above my normal editing processes I’m going to try to read it first time through just as a reader. I want to get some sort of feel for how the three strands dovetail. I’m going to try and do this away from my desk – maybe even away from my study. The three strands seemed fine from the timelines I invented and as putting them together was quite exciting. I’ll only now blog about the novel itself after each edit, though today I start the work on the web-site. I’ll probably only start the planning today.

Monday 14 November 2011

Almost finished first draft

My goodness, I’m at the end of my first draft. I have about 4/5 of the last but most important chapter to go. I’m bringing closure to all three strands. Renate, the most important one, is proving to be the most difficult although that could be because I was interrupted then couldn’t start again until after lunch. I’m trying to make her pleased about being English but still accepting friendship from Germany plus beginning to face the reality of what has happened to her grandmother. That isn’t revealed in the book, except possibly in the appendices. Readers will probably guess. I have a feeling that the three strands will blend well together. My next steps then: Finish the final chapter Weave the strands together Start the edits I am already aware of two or three places where the structure needs firming up. No doubt a read through will reveal more. It’s currently running at about 90,000 words which is actually just about right for this sort of novel. I know of two bits that need shortening and another couple that need expanding, so it probably will stay at about 90,000 words. It’s looking good. I still have to find the right title though.

Friday 11 November 2011

Remembering all of my girls and their men and boys

Quite poignantly, today of all days, I completed the girls’ letters’ strand on the novel. So, I have just three chapters to go which hopefully will bring closure for all of them but leave the story open-ended enough for my readers.
In my poppy-wearing today I’d like particularly to think of:
Clara Lehrs who lost her life in Treblinka.
Kathe Edler who lost her homeland and her husband in the Holocaust.
Renate Edler who lost her teen hood and her opportunity to go university because of the Holocaust and World War II.
More generally I think of all the men and women, whichever side they were on, symbolised in my novel, who were killed in World War II.
I think of all those who lived with the burden of war upon them.  
I’d like to thank those who arranged the Kindertransport and who in other ways showed mercy and kindness to the Jews, and to enemy prisoners of war.
I’d like to thank the real people, symbolised in my story, who enabled the Hilfsklasse to carry on at Haus Lehrs throughout the Nazi time.
Poppy day originally commemorated the Great War. For me, though, now it is for all wars. It’s a complex issue. At which point do you fail to defend your country, your home or your family because of some greater moral or political issue? Or your own person if you are afraid? Sometimes fundamentally good people appear to do bad things. More often than not they didn’t intend to be bad but they have misunderstood something. And sometimes they’ve pledged to serve even though they don’t agree with everything being done. That people are prepared to give their lives to defend what they hold dear – even if they’ve lacked judgment – has to be honoured.
Some of these issues are important in my novel.