Video about the project

Monday, 24 June 2013

The academic, books and the tax-man



I actually never stop being amazed at how many of my colleagues buy their own books for courses they’re going to teach and for research and never think to put this on a tax return. These days, money for travel has been cut right back also and I’m funding myself for a forthcoming conference to the tune of about £350. I don’t mind too much. I can afford it.  But it will go on my tax return. As will all my expenses for the research on this book.

In Clara’s Story I’m getting quite close to the start of the “Hilfsklasse” part. I’ve done quite a chunk of research on this already for The House on Schellberg Street. But there is more I need to find out about what happened before 1939. I’ve had to access some of the sources quoted on the Stolperstein site.
Two books I need there are quite unusual. I found them on the publishers’ sites but couldn’t order them from the publisher. I did manage to order one through Amazon UK. The other I managed to order thought Amazon DE – unusually. Also very odd was that it had my new credit card already registered even though I’ve bought nothing from them in years.

This is not a cheap hobby.  There are no e-books available of these titles. One cost £33.00 the other £16.00. I’ve already bought three other books at similar prices for this project, and a few more for The House on Schellberg Street and some papers for an academic article I wrote. All at similar prices.
It doesn’t matter, though. I’m building up a fascinating picture of Clara Lehrs.        

Friday, 21 June 2013

Stories Crossing Over – where “Clara’s Story” meets “The House on Schellberg Street”



I’m at the point now where these two stories meet. I’m actually going to recreate many of the “Hani” thread scenes in The House on Schellberg Street from Clara’s point of view. I’ve also got to build up more of the background to that. So I’m revisiting much of the research I did for the first novel.
I’ve been unsure about when to introduce Hitler. I know Clara will see through him and dislike him. She will also understand why people want him in power, however. I have to remember there wouldn’t be so many photos around in those days though there may be the wireless so she may hear his voice.      
I now have to handle Clara’s Jewishness carefully. I must also remember that the identity conflict she feels is a big part of the story. Clara is not particularly religious and anyway the whole family have become Lutheran Protestants. She will resist being labelled Jewish. She will see many Jewish friends being humiliated. She has kept cultural links with her roots. The “Blutschutz” rules introduced in 1935 firmly define her as Jewish. She will recognise the threat for herself, her children and her grandchild. A belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity and her care for the children of the special class will keep her at Schellberg Street until she is forced to move to Rexingen.
I’m currently doing a little more research into the exact timings of events leading up to the Holocaust, deciding which to include and also deciding which episodes from The House on Schellberg Street to use and about how best to integrate them.
Up until now I’ve been mainly building up Clara’s character. There have been hints of what is to come. I’ve put a few of them in deliberately but many of them slipped in without me noticing. One of the joys of writing?               

Monday, 17 June 2013

Understanding how people used to understand



We know that many of the children that Clara Lehrs used to shelter at the house on Schellberg Street were Downs Syndrome. We also know that at that time people didn’t call them that, nor did they know as much about the condition as we do today. It’s possible, actually, though, that the anthroposophists understood them a little better than the rest of the people at the time and it may have been exactly this condition that the teachers and healers at the Lauenstein were working with a lot whilst Clara was housekeeper there.  
I worried a little about which word I was going to use to describe the children in this book. Should I use the modern one or the one used at the time? Would it be unrealistic if I used the modern one? Would it make Clara sound crass if she used the old one?
Then I realised that Clara is definitely not the sort of person to label anyone. Part of her character I need to illustrate is that she sees and brings out the best in everyone.
Quite probably Kurt, who was instrumental in getting her to accept the position at the Lauenstein, is Downs Syndrome. I’m currently writing the final scenes of Clara’s time at that institution. Kurt actually becomes quite a spiritual mentor to her. Although she will be leaving him shortly I’m going to have her remember his words of wisdom from time to time, including in the all-important last scene.
I realise now don’t have to label these children at all in the book. Neither will the people who work with them. I need to show the reader them, not tell the reader about them. I can of course do some research into the qualities found in such children and how they were handled at the time Clara was with them, particularly by those associated with the Steiner Foundation. Maybe Clara might even have some insights that were ahead of her time.     

Friday, 7 June 2013

Untangling facts from a subjective autobiography



I’m finding out some facts about Clara’s life form some documents we have but also from her son, Ernst Lehrs’ autobiography Gelebte Erwartung. It is a little confusing. He tells us (44-45) that she worked at the Lauenstein from 1924 but then that she was taken ill in February 1926 with a severe chest infection. Her son offers her some spiritual encouragement. A doctor tries the rather drastic measure of sitting her in a body-temperature bath and then throwing cold water on each side of her chest. This makes her breath in suddenly and clears the airways of the sticky mucus. The doctor admits he took a risk – the patient must have a strong heart in order to be able to endure this.
Lehrs now skips forward to sometime in an indefinite future and tells us of Clara visiting another doctor who tells her she has a “Heldenpuls” – a hero’s heartbeat. Ah. We all know that she will have to have one of those for what lies ahead in an even further future.
Lehrs then tell us (45) that there are changes at the institution in 1927 that make Clara almost wants to go back to Berlin. He must prevent this. He remembers a conversation that he’d had with her at the time of the hyperinflation. He told her the story about the rucksack – he’d seen it for sale and had been shocked that it would cost 1,000,000 Marks so had hesitated. When he went back a few days later it cost 5,000,000 Marks. He did buy it then. Clara then mentions that she could perhaps sell her pearls – jewellery that she had kept as investment – and set up a house for him and other Waldorf School teachers.
He is able to remind her of this idea and in fact they do this though by 1927 -28 when they begin the work the hyperinflation is no longer and selling the pearls doesn’t quite cover the costs. At this point, confusingly, he tells us that she is still convalescing. A long convalescence? Or is she taking a cure? He actually talks of “reconvalescing”.  
Lehrs is not precise about the dates and I’m having to piece them together. It’s a little like doing a jigsaw puzzle. Where does each piece fit? I have made ups some bits and pieces though I now think I have them wrong and now need to rewrite. Here is an interesting thought: it’s only through writing that I’ve found out that they didn’t fit. Writing becomes a try-out. So, there’s even more writing and rewriting than normal.