Tuesday 18 January 2022

Creating Helga

 Scotland, Sheep, Clouds, Weather, Heaven

So, I’m going to be starting the sixth book in the cycle in the next few days. Helga appears in Girl in a Smart Uniform. Part of the story is already there. This is why this is a cycle not a series. It is possible to read the books in any order.

I’ve decided to set part of the novel in the early 2000s and tell the story partly from the point of view of her granddaughter who lives with her. Helga and her granddaughter are experiencing in Wales in 2002 similar attitudes to those that Helga experienced in Germany in the 1940s.

She is resilient, though, because of what happened before and reaches a point of stasis. Helga and her granddaughter are allowed to resume living peacefully in the Welsh hills.   

I have a profile for Helga: German Jewess, but blond-haired. Refuses to leave Germany but goes into hiding there. She has a child; Bear, a main character in book three is the father. She becomes strong. She meets an American at the end of the war. He buys a sheep farm in Wales. She loses her son and daughter-in-law and has to bring up her granddaughter.

The granddaughter I have yet to create. I actually quite like doing that sort of work when I sit in cafés.

There’s a lot to do yet about firming up the plot but it’s something I’m looking forward to doing over the next few weeks.

This will probably be another book with lots of dates in it. Some people have criticised this practice – not just in my work but as a general principle. I’ve read quite a few books where this happens.  I tend to not take in the dates as I read them, but can get into a chapter and wonder what is going on, then have to look back at the date.

The granddaughter will be a young adult. I don’t think this will make the book a YA text but it will certainly be read by young adults.   

I’m toying with writing each strand separately and then weaving them together afterwards. Even if I don’t write that way, I shall certainly plan that way.


Sunday 2 January 2022

Create a ghetto – or share a few gems?

 Venice, Sightseeing, Italy, Water

It happens so easily.  We can slip into this at any time.

I’ve known about this since I was about eight years old. By then I’d got used to Celestine and John, black siblings who attended my junior school. Celestine was in my year and John was a little younger. They were always very smartly dressed and I envied the smart pleated skirts and machine-knitted jumpers that Celestine’s mum got her from Marks and Spencer’s. Celestine was born in Jamaica but John was born in England. They were Windrush generation. My but I hate these labels. I don’t even like describing them as black. I don’t remember ever being in awe of them. They were just other kids at our school. Okay, so Celestine was so much more sensible and practical than me and she was taller but that was nothing to do with her colour. We accepted them totally and they fitted in as a family. Yes, they brought along a few novelties but those  just enriched our lives actually.  

Unfortunately though that was not what happened to all of the families like theirs in my home town. If one such family moved into a house on a street, the white families started to move out. That left a group of people not knowing how to integrate into an English way of life as they didn’t have examples on their doorstep. So, they continued with the habits and routines from their homeland – even though our weather challenged these.  Now, there is nothing wrong with those routines and habits but they seem odd to the people who watch them from outside the ghetto and so misunderstandings arise. What ought to happen is an exchange of ideas. A gem-sharing.

Yes, at just eight years old I could see clearly exactly what was happening.

My grandmother and aunt lived in another small town nearby. The same issues existed there. I started going to my grandmother’s church and so did some more young people who looked like Celestine and John. They became very close friends. They weren’t “Windrush” or even “black”. They were just Celestine, John, Ingrid, Theo, Elaine, Monica, Mavis and Renee.  It’s useful being colourblind.

My aunt’s home was in private rented accommodation. She lived alone after my uncle died suddenly. Gradually Asian families moved in either side of her. It was difficult for her to move. Thank goodness. Because that stopped a ghetto forming. At first she complained about the cooking smells. “I had to tell them to stop cooking in the garden,” she said. “I couldn’t stand it.” Well arrangements were made for them to keep the kitchen window shut when they were coking. And it was her two sets of neighbours that looked after my aunt when she became very ill. She learned to like and even cook curry. She taught them the secrets of Yorkshire pudding and Victoria sponges. Gem-sharing again.

Can we live in hope? There is a building near where I live that is used as a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple. In our local Tesco’s a Jewish man helps a small Muslim woman reach the Halhal food from a high shelf.

We don’t have to give up what we believe in or what we value. But we can take a look at what others find important and show them what we take pride in. Gem-sharing. And we certainly shouldn’t run away scared when people who seem different from us come to live nearby.