Saturday, 31 August 2013
“Dark” is a good word for rather sombre, thought-provoking stories – just a “light” in this context means something that is warm and sunny but also something that has a gentle touch. These two words work rather well together in the context of prose fiction because often depth is given to a story by including both rather like light and shade make a picture more three-dimensional. Have you ever noticed the darker, sober moment, perhaps a moment of pathos in a good sitcom? It usually comes at that Golden Segment point which is between two thirds and four fifths but never exactly three quarters of the way through. Without it, the sitcom doesn’t quite work.
In a darker story we need a streak of light. When I wrote Nick’s Gallery now republished as A Gallery forNick, the story about Barney coming to terms with the death of his best friend, I worried about my character Cynthia who is a bit of a punk and quite comical with it. I introduced her to my critique group and my writing teacher and the reaction was unanimous: everyone wanted more of her. Now, I can’t believe I ever thought she wasn’t appropriate.
I’ve just written a scene “stolen” from The House on Schellberg Street. I’m showing several of the same scenes included there, but from Clara’s point of view. Throughout Clara is shown as good-hearted and with a sharp sense of humour. Here, though she excels.
· Whilst pretending to be the mother of the German man who has bought her house she claims that the Jewish woman who used to live there had excellent taste.
· She says “Heil Edler” instead of “Heil Hitler”
· She says it is very sensible that her own name has been changed to Klara Sarah Lehrs.
· She claims that the money her son gave to the Jewish lady was very fair.
· When Hani, the young girl who helps in the house form time to time comes out with “Oh bugger old Fury-Chops.”, meaning Hitler of course, she laughs uncontrollably and decides form then onwards she will call him the same.
For the reader, hopefully, much of the humour comes from the way the SS officer constantly “puts his foot in it”.
Interestingly this comes at about 70,000 words. The novel / biography will be about 100,000 words.
Saturday, 24 August 2013
Normally I know the end of the story before I start. I know the main hurdles it will go through and I have the structure firmly in my head, even if I haven’t written it down. Sure, the characters take off on their own a little but the skeleton of the story remains intact. This time it is a little bit different.
Wednesday, 14 August 2013
The night of the broken glass. That night 9-10 November 1938 also crystallised the beginning of the Holocaust. Synagogues were burnt, windows of shops owned by Jews had their windows smashed, the shops were looted and in some cases already Jews were pulled out of their homes. This may have been the final push to make Clara’s daughter Käthe and granddaughter Renate want to leave Germany. The Kindertransport came into operation shortly after this and Renate was able to come to England towards the end of January 1939 on one of the especially arranged trains that evacuated just under 10,000 Jewish children. Clara’s sons Ernst and Rudi had already been in England some time by now. Clara was still determined to stay.
Wednesday, 7 August 2013
I’m still pondering why Clara did not see the warning signs. Was it simply because of her refusal to believe that it could really be that bad or because she had that ultimate faith in human nature? Was there another factor? Did she have a need to be at home?
She considered herself fundamentally German and had homes at various times in Mecklenburg, Berlin, Jena, Stuttgart and Rexingen. She was a home-maker – for her own family, the people at the Lauenstein and at the house on Schellberg Street first of all for the boarders form the Waldorf School and then for the Hilfsklasse. In TheHouse on Schellberg Street she is a home maker for the people around her in Rexingen. I imagine her making the most of her time in Theresienstadt and her journey there. At the moment I think I’m going to make her optimistic on the way to Treblinka.
There is one scene in The House on Schellberg Street where she meets the girl who had been helping with Hilfsklasse before Clara was forced to move to Rexingen. Clara is at the North Station, waiting to be transported to Theriesenstadt. The girl has followed her boyfriend on to the station. In this scene Clara remains optimistic. I’m wondering though whether she takes this attitude for the sake of the girl or whether she really has clearer idea about what is to happen.
This is something I feel will only become completely clear in the writing.
Friday, 2 August 2013
Clara had too much faith in human nature. She believed that people were fundamentally good and that common sense would in the end prevail. She supposed that:
· Jewishness was nothing to do with race, only religion, and as she was not religious and anyway had converted to Christianity, she could not be labelled Jewish.
· Her son had fought bravely in the Great War so Germany should be glad to retain him.
· Times were hard and some Jews and other wealthy people ought to be made to share a little more.
· Lots of Nazis were deluded but couldn’t help it. Life had been difficult. It was no wonder people started behaving this way.
· It was fair enough that she was made to sell her house, even though she didn’t like it.
· Once she had sold her house, that would be it. Enough was enough, wasn’t it?
· Although she didn’t like her name being changed to Klara at least now she matched her granddaughter.
· There was some good in these people – they allowed her to live in Rexingen in some peace for a while.
· Surely they would be kind to someone as old as her when she was obliged to give them the rest of her money and move east to an old people’s home. (Thereiesenstadt then Treblinka.)
The story is a tragedy – Clara’s fatal flaw is her trust in human goodness. This stops her leaving when she could. Possibly her faith was so strong as she was such an immensely caring person herself. She remained loyal to the children in her care and in particular to the Hilfsklasse.
I’d like to think she was right. Unfortunately she wasn’t quite. Yes, most people are decent. The few who aren’t can cause havoc and can take us unawares. That is why this story must be told.