Saturday 28 January 2012

Expanded Pieces

So, as promised yesterday I’m now including some expanded pieces on this blog.

Scene 1  

The added in bit is in red

Renate 25 December 1941

It was all different, English Christmas. The Smiths took them to church in the morning. Renate quite enjoyed singing the carols. They attended the family service, so the vicar made it all into a story suitable for children.
When they got back to the Smiths’ house, there was a lovely smell of roast chicken coming from the kitchen.
“Miriam will be home in about an hour,” said Mrs Smith. “So we’ll eat at two – that leaves her a bit of time if she gets delayed.”
“We’ll help you with the vegetables,” said Mutti.
Soon the three women were scraping and slicing. John and Mr Smith brought in some more firewood from the store at the bottom of the garden and then arranged the Smiths’ presents under the Christmas tree.
“That really is beginning to look very pretty,” said Mrs Smith. “We’re not going to let any old war ruin our Christmas.”

Miriam arrived at just after one.
“Very good timing,” said Mrs Smith. “We’ve finished all of the vegetables now.”
Miriam giggled. She was a very pretty girl, Renate thought. She’d already let her hair down and soft springy dark brown curls framed her face.
“Go on. I’m only joking,” said Mrs Smith. “Go and get out of the uniform.”
“Will you come and help me choose what to put on?” Miriam said to Renate.
Renate nodded her head vigorously. “Yes, I’d like that,” she said.
She followed Miriam into the small bedroom at the back of the house.
“There isn’t a lot to choose from,” said Miriam. “But it’s still nice to get out of my work uniform.” She opened her wardrobe door. “Well what do you think?”
Renate spotted the pale blue woollen dress straight away. “That looks nice,” she said.
“Yes, you might be right,” said Miriam. “It’s really comfortable, that one. And it’s nice and warm.” 
 A few moments later, Miriam had the dress on. She had unpinned her hair and put on the slightest smear of lipstick. “Well, how do I look?” she asked.
Renate nodded. Miriam looked so pretty. “You look really nice,” she said.
Miriam grinned.
Renate knew that the two of them were going to be good friends, even though Miriam must be at least six years older than her.
I put this extra bit in because I felt that both Renate and the reader need to get to know Miriam a little better. I ties up quite nicely to a later scen within this shortish chapter.

Scene 2 Original

Hani, 2 June 1939

It was a glorious day. The sun was streaming down and the sky was a deep blue. Not a cloud in sight. And just a gentle breeze, enough to stop it being too hot. It was such a pity that they couldn’t take the children outside to play. They just daren’t though. Hani could feel the cap falling off her head. It was really making her feel hot. She longed to pull it off.  Not yet, though. Not until she was inside.
She wheeled the bike up the path and put it into the shed and then made her way as quickly as possible to the back door. She wasn’t so sure how convincing her disguise was close to and they didn’t know whether they could trust the neighbours. In the kitchen she resisted the urge to look at what was baking in the oven and making the place seem so warm and welcoming. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Now that she was a little taller and a little slimmer – despite Frau Lehr’s excellent baking - Christoph’s clothes fitted her well. She would have to do something about her boobs soon if they carried on growing at this rate, but, at a distance at least she no longer looked like Hani Gödde. Here she was Hans Tellermann, Christoph’s younger brother, if anyone asked.
Once indoors she got rid of the cap. She took it off and slipped it into her pocket so that it would be handy if she needed it in a hurry.
She could hear Doctor Schubert’s voice coming from the cellar. The class seemed to be going well and it was clear the children were listening attentively. There was a note on the hall table addressed to her in Frau Lehrs’ handwriting.
“Dear Hans,
Can you please wash out the paint tubs and see if the pictures are dry? It will be nice if they can take them home today. I’m sorry I can’t greet you personally.  I’m having a meeting with Dr Kühn this afternoon. I hope we’ll be finished before the children go home.
Clara Lehrs.”
Hani smiled to herself. She loved the way Frau Lehrs took her disguise so seriously.
The paint pots were, as she expected, already in the utility room. Hani smiled at the sight of the children’s paintings all pegged on to the line as if they were washing. They were certainly colourful. That was something you could always say about children from the Waldorf School: they certainly knew how to draw and paint.
It was so good to be here again. After the incident with Trudi Müller, her parents had stopped her coming to Haus Lehrs.
“I know you want to help,” said Frau Gödde, “but it’s just too risky.”
“You’re always doing things to help people,” she’d protested. “And Vati doesn’t like doing the ‘Heil Hitler’.”  
“But he does do it,” said Frau Gödde. “And he knows when and how to be discreet. You’re not mature enough to do that. Look how you told those despicable girls about Renate.”
She had been furious that her mother seemed to think she was nothing but a silly child.  She would show them. So, she’d become a model school girl and a model BDM member.
Then one day she’d bumped into Christoph at the sports centre. .
“We miss you at Haus Lehrs,” he said. “When are you coming back?”
She’d told him about what had happened.
“Well, we can disguise you as a boy,” he said. “Then your little friend won’t recognise you again. Neither will the nosy neighbours.” 
The next week he’d brought her some of his clothes. She’d taken them home and tried them on. She stared at herself in the mirror. She really did look like a boy. Except for her hair.
Her mother had knocked at the door at that moment but as usual she hadn’t waited to be invited in. 
“My goodness,” she’d said when she saw Hani’s’ strange outfit. “You’d look like a boy if you put your hair up and wore a cap. What on earth are you doing?”
“I want to go back to Haus Lehrs,” said Hani. “Nobody will know it’s me if I go dressed like this. Christoph said I can pretend to be his younger brother.”
Frau Gödde did not capitulate straight away. There had been a few more arguments.
“All right,” she’d said at last. “You are being much more sensible now. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
Then she’d smiled and hugged Hani. “And I’m really proud of my brave, thoughtful little girl.”
“Not so much of the little,” said Hani. “And I’m big enough for you to tell me what really happened to Renate.
So, she’d found out that Renate had gone to England, through a special scheme that transported Jewish and Mischling children away from Germany. She was safe and well and living in England. And she was going to a Steiner school, very similar to the Waldorf School that Hani had had to leave.
“Perhaps Frau Lehrs will tell you more,” said Frau Gödde.
The part in red and green have been expanded to make two further chapters:

Hani 7 May 1939

Hani was bored. Even though school and the BDM meetings gave her plenty to do she wasn’t really doing anything she enjoyed.
“Why can’t I go back to Haus Lehrs?” she said. “I’ll be really careful.”   
“I know you want to help,” said Frau Gödde, “but it’s just too risky.”
“You’re always doing things to help people,” she said. “And Vati doesn’t like doing the ‘Heil Hitler’.”  
“But he does do it,” said Frau Gödde. “And he knows when and how to be discreet. You’re not mature enough to do that. Look how you told those despicable girls about Renate.”
How could her mother think she was nothing but a silly child?  She would show them. She had already become an excellent school girl and a model BDM member. But none of that mattered. What she’d been doing with the Special Class was real work.
This was all just so unfair!
“Oh, I’m going out,” she cried.
“Where are you going?” Mutti shouted after her.
“I don’t know and why should you care?” she answered.
She stomped out of the house and slammed the door behind her. She really had no idea where she was going but soon found herself at the local sports ground, watching some people she knew vaguely playing tennis.
“I didn’t know you were into tennis,” said a familiar voice.
Hani turned to face the speaker. “Christoph!” she cried. Then she felt her cheeks burn. She’d never noticed before how good-looking he was. But then, she’d never seen him with bare arms or bare legs before. The white shorts and shirt really suited him and showed up his faint tan.
“I don’t,” she said.
“So what brings you here?” he said.
“I’ve just had a row with my mother,” she said.
“Oh dear, that’s not a good idea,” said Christoph.
“I’m so bored with everything,” said Hani.      
“You should come back to Haus Lehrs,” he said. “We need you. When are you coming back?”
“I can’t,” said Hani. “That was what the row was about. One of the BDM girls saw me going there and she knows that Frau Lehrs is Jewish.”   
 “Well, we can disguise you as a boy,” said Christoph. “Then your little friend won’t see you going there again. And the nosy neighbours won’t know who you are either.” 
“What?” said Hani laughing.
“Yes, you could be my younger brother.  Hans Tellerman. The girls wouldn’t recognise you. Nor the Hitler Jugend boys.”  
“You’re not serious are you?” said Hani.
“Naturally I am,” said Christoph. “I could meet you here next week with some of my clothes.”
“Do you think it would work?”
“Why shouldn’t it?”
Could it work? Hani wasn’t sure.
“Ah, look. It’s my turn to play,” said Christoph. “I’ll bring the clothes, right? Meet you here the same time next week?”
It was worth a try, she supposed. She nodded.
She watched Christoph play a couple of sets and then slowly made her way home. She’d have to apologize to her mother, she knew. But she might be able to get back to working at Haus Lehrs.  Fancy that! Now that was something to look forward to.   

Hani 14 May 1939

Hani looked at herself in the mirror. It really worked. The trousers fitted her well. The shirt was a little big on the shoulders but otherwise it looked good. Christoph had found her a whole pile of other clothes. There would be enough for several changes of clothes a week.
These are really comfortable, she thought. I could get used to this.
There was a problem though: her hair. What could she do with that?
The door to her bedroom suddenly opened.
“Goodness,” said Frau Gödde. “If it wasn’t for your hair, you would look just like a boy. What on earth are you doing?”
Why didn’t her mother ever knock when she came into her room? She really could be annoying.
“Where did you get all of these clothes?” said Frau Gödde.
“Christoph gave them me,” said Hani.
“Christoph?” Frau Gödde suddenly looked very serious. “Why?”
Hani sighed. “I really want to go back to Haus Lehrs and carry on working with the Special Class.”
“I don’t understand,” said Frau Gödde. “What has that got to do with these clothes?”
“Hans thought I wouldn’t be recognised by the likes of Trudi and Gisela,” said Hani, “if I looked like a boy.”
Frau Gödde raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know,” she said. “It’s so dangerous.”
“You still go,” said Hani. “Why shouldn’t I? I want to help as well.”
“I know,” said her mother. “But there are so many risks.”
“I know I was a bit careless before,” said Hani. “But I didn’t really realise how bad it really was. I’ve been really good since, haven’t I? A real model German girl.”
“You have, you have,” said Frau Gödde. “Vati and I are really proud of you.”
“Well why won’t you trust me then?” said Hani.
Frau Gödde frowned and pursed her lips. “Hang on a minute,” she said. She went out of the room.
Hani looked in the mirror again. She held her hair up over her head again. Could she make it work? Probably not! Anyway, her parents would most likely not agree to her going back.
A few moments later, Mutti came back into the room. She was holding a man’s cap.
“It’s one of Wilhelm’s,” she said.  “I don’t suppose he’ll mind. Try it on.”
Hani placed the cap on her head.
“Here, like this,” he mother said, scraping Hani’s hair up and fixing it with the cap.
“Gosh!” said Hani, as she saw herself in the mirror.
“Yes, said Frau Gödde. “More Hans than Hani, I’d say.”
Neither of them spoke for several minutes.
“All right,” said Frau Gödde at last. “You are being much more sensible now. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
Then she smiled and hugged Hani. “And I’m really proud of my brave, thoughtful little girl.”
“Not so much of the little,” said Hani. “And I’m big enough for you to tell me what really happened to Renate.”
Frau Gödde sighed. “All right,” she said. “She’s gone to England. There’s a special scheme for Jewish children. She’s been especially lucky because her mother has been able to go and join her. Not all of the children have that chance. But she was on her own for the first couple of months.”
“England?” said Hani. “But she doesn’t speak English.”
“No, but she’s at a Waldorf School,” said Frau Gödde. “You know they’ll treat her kindly.”
Renate was at a Waldorf School? Unbelievable. Hani almost felt jealous but then remembered it must have been really funny for her friend, finding out that she was Jewish and then having to go away like that, on her own, to a country where she didn’t speak the language.
“Perhaps you can ask Frau Lehrs more about it when you go back,” said Frau Gödde softly.


Friday 27 January 2012

Making more backstory into frontstory

So, yes, I’ve managed to do it now. I’ve finished the eighth edit. This was all about tension, which I think is there. It is a little difficult to tell sometimes, when you’re looking at your own work.
As is often the case, it’s the other things you notice that are even more significant. This time I’ve actually expanded some scenes. It’s always about bringing the reader more into the characters’ moments. So, I’ve added a little extra scene where Renate finds a new friend.
Most importantly, I’ve made two bits of Hani’s backstory into short “frontstory” scenes. I’ve really known for some time that there was too much backstory and too many flashbacks. Somehow I couldn’t figure out how to fix this. Then suddenly it was crystal clear. I think also I have a rather stubborn streak that says enough is enough just before the script is actually ready. Have I overcome that this time?      
So now, do I also have on the web site and posted on this blog some scenes that have been expanded? Maybe, especially on the blog, given its nature.  
I’ve also rechecked some logistics about boyfriends’ names and the history of the Rundbrief. I did have everything correct, but best to check if you’re in doubt.   
The upshot of all of this is that the novel, to the nearest thousand, runs at 100,000 words. Maybe not such a bad thing, given how much I want it to cross over.   

The last day of freedom?

  “So, what are you going to do on your last day of freedom?” a colleague asked yesterday.
Pretty much what I’ve generally been doing, I guess. At least two hours on the creative writing aspect of the project. A couple of hours on designing materials for my talks. An hour reading further appropriate texts and an hour using the internet. Then, I’ll carry on with the sort of tasks that more normally occupy my time.
One difference today is that I’m writing this blog now, rather than when I’ve completed a certain stage.   
Having said that, I’ve almost finished the eighth edit of the novel, so I may even be writing about that as well later today.
This blog will of course carry on – to start with roughly at the same frequency as it’s been posted since about the beginning of December 2011. Once the novel is completed postings may be slightly less frequent.
It’s felt like an incredible privilege, being able to take a sabbatical in order to complete this work. It says that my employer and my colleagues have faith in me and in my project. One could interpret this as being the best paid writing I have ever done.
It’s been quite heavy at times, and almost every day I’ve shed tears.  Just very recently I’ve become a little desensitized. That probably means it’s a good idea to step away from it for a while; you mustn’t sanitize the Holocaust. Thank goodness for Stephen Fry, Alan Davies and QI, though. They’ve kept me sane.
This project will leave ripples for a long time. There’s another one growing on the back of it. The writer’s life goes ever onward. I’m thankful that the ideas are still flowing.                        

Monday 23 January 2012

The importance of less important characters

I’ve now completed another edit of Potatoes in Spring. I was generally looking to see that there was enough tension and that the story rattled along at an acceptable pace.  Generally, I think it did. I’m actually going to put one extra scene in about two thirds of the way through and that is it.
I also noticed, however, that two of significant minor characters seemed indistinct, even to me. I went through the whole text and found that I had made them different, except in one scene when I’d confused the two of them. I have to admit I tend to think of them as pair – B & C. One of the main characters has a group of friends.  A is the gang leader and tends to boss people about. B & C are two other girls in the circle of friends.  D is C’s brother and I suspect a romantic connection between him and A after my particular story has finished.
Now that I have corrected the misleading scene, I have a much clearer idea of the two girls.  B is leaning towards feminism and tends to offer slightly shocking opinions. C is very caring and a little old fashioned. Now that I understand their personalities better I have a much clearer picture of how they look. B has strong straight blond hair and a roundish face. She will have to make efforts to curl or wave her hair. C has naturally curly dark hair. I see A as also having dark hair but not as curly as D’s. I don’t mention this explicitly anywhere in the book. It will be interesting to see whether my readers pick up the same images.
Perhaps I’d ignored these medium strength characters somewhat. Hopefully my further examination of them and the corrections to that one scene will create a clearer picture for the reader.     

Thursday 12 January 2012

Creating a web site

I’ve now completed the relatively straightforward content for the web site. This content:
  • Explains the true story behind the fictional one
  • Gives a background to the story
  • Describes the main people in the true story.
  • I’ll also include on the site the glossary I’ve written for the book.
I’ve yet to produce:
  • Lesson plans – I’m going to work on my presentations for schools for a while and see if that inspires. I’ll also need to finish my stock of rhetorical questions I’ve been posting at the end of each section. Some I’ve done. The rest may come as I upload the content.      
  • Links – these will be easier to put straight on to the web site once it’s live
  • Reading lists
  • Section on fiction / reality interface for the writer – this will take  a little more thought and in any case, I’m attending a couple of conferences where I’m giving papers on this topic.
  • Other examples of fiction that have examined the Holocaust – in many cases I’ll be able to clone from this blog.
  • The experience of writing Potatoes in Spring.  Again much of this will come directly from this blog.        
I’m now looking forward to getting this web site up and running, but still want to wait until I have a publisher’s and the university’s approval.